Trash on the roadside, trash in the ditches, trash in the rivers, trash on the beach, tons of pollution spewing into the atmosphere from tailpipes, smoke stacks, and cigarettes hanging from mouths – we humans have achieved greatness in our ability to litter and pollute the very planet that gives us all life.
The self-centered, uncaring, disregard for life and the environment that supports all of us – no matter what part of the planet we are from, our skin color, our sexual orientation, our chosen political or religious beliefs or lack thereof – coupled with a blatant disregard for the health and wellbeing of those we do not know, the manufactured disregard for science, the rise of fringe-dwelling conspiracy-worshiping evidence-denying, lunatic-fringe dwelling doubters, the worshiping of dusty ancient books and imaginary deities, hateful and harmful historical figures, flags, and imaginary lines drawn on maps – as if politics and religion were some sort of sport – as well as putting profit over people, planet, facts and evidence, and the acquisition of wealth, power, status, and excess at the cost of all else – I fear that all of this negative toxicity and wastefulness may be the beginning of the undoing of this country as a world power – the downfall of our global society, and possibly even the extinction of our species.
Unless we change, unless we grow out of our bullying, tantrum-throwing, finger-pointing, expert doubting, rule-breaking, nature and life trashing adolescence – I fear that COVID19 is just the beginning of a downward trend that will only accelerate the mass extinction scenario we have created for ourselves and are now all living in.
No matter who or what anyone chooses to believe or support – nature does not care at all about any of us little human beings.
Without us, nature will recover and life will continue.
Without nature, without clean air, clean water, healthy soil, diverse wildlife – we bipedal primates will sicken, suffer, and eventually die.
Natural selection is a powerful process and it will wipe us out if we pull the wrong strings, burn the bridges, remove the puzzle pieces, break the cogs and wheels, etc.
“To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” – Aldo Leopold
Thoughts, prayers, politicians, pontiffs, prophets, or profits – will not help you.
Only you can help you.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – Dr. Seuss
Do only good things.
“We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.” – Carl Sagan
Why do some humans* choose to so powerfully and so venomously put so much energy, trust, and faith in often archaically derived, intentionally tribal, and often toxically divisive, money and power-focused, temporally temporary political systems and/or countless, fearful, intentionally exclusive, endlessly ephemeral, dusty old ancient beliefs systems and religions**…
…yet they willfully choose to ignore the amazingly beautiful, daily, and deep-time realities of nature*** happening all around them and of which they are not only fully reliant for all their biological needs – but also physically, cellularly, atomically, and cosmically connected?
Yes, obviously, to each his own – but when each own’s freely chosen political system, religion, “thing” or “tribe” to follow was designed and/or has been recently re-designed, re-worded, by those in control of the chosen system and/or misinterpreted by the user to be exclusive, divisive, xenophobic, separatist, and toxically tribal toward those on the “outside” of the group, club, party, or flock…when these things serve only to prop up the “insiders” as somehow “special,” or “chosen,” or “above” the “others” and then label those “others” as “lost,” “damned,” “wicked,” “outsiders,” “infidels,” or “the enemy” therefore serving only to further divide friends, family members, loved ones, those with outward or inward genetic and/or chosen “differences,” those from “other” places, and even the very air, water, wildlife and natural systems that support our very lives, etc…
…then all we are doing is intentionally harming ourselves, our natural life-support system, and any possibility of a healthy and prosperous future for our species.
The founding fathers, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Amun, Ra, The Great Spirit, Zeus, Thor, Brahma, God, Allah, The Flying Spaghetti Monster and all the others are fuming with madness (or laughing deeply and heartily – depending upon your point of view) from wherever they are at the moment. (I will not speculate on their location or even their existence – that is not my place until I have more empirical evidence.)
We are one.
*Not all, just some. There are many truly beautiful, deep thinking, genuine people in the world of politics and religion that are doing so many great and wonderful things to support, help, heal, and give hope to others in need and to the natural world that supports all of us and everything moving forward. It is not these people I am concerned about.
The ones I am concerned about are those who are deeply entrenched in or drifting toward the lunatic fringe and those on the fringe few who use politics and religion as tools to acquire temporary wealth, power and prestige. They then use their power and influence to and control those who are seeking…something, someone, answers, guidance, a father figure…whatever each individuals case may be. Sadly, many of these power-mad charismatic individuals have the ability to amass great flocks of followers who, for whatever the reason or need, choose to blindly follow their chosen leader without question. They fail to see that those whom they follow or worship are only twisted charlatans and snake oil salesmen using their power and influence over others as a way to prop up their own egos, further their own agendas and/or the agendas of their party or prophet, often with the only end goal being to fill their coffers with the endless shower of profit, offerings, and accolades endlessly tossed at them by their gullible constituents/followers.
**It is the authors opinion that people are free to believe whatever they choose to believe unless that belief system in some way harms or oppresses other people, nature, wildlife, or the environment that supports all of us. In that case it is my opinion that any destructive, hurtful, harmful, exclusive, divisive, xenophobic, separatist, and toxically tribal toward those on the “outside” of the group, club, party, or flock, belief, religion, or political system – should be abolished and made forever extinct.
It is also the authors opinion that many of these ancient beliefs are simply metaphors – maybe some of them are based on actual happenings, others simply myths and legends of ancient “superheroes” created by their authors either undertaking their own heroes journeys , maybe documenting someone else’s journey/story, or the author just made it all up (fiction) in order to teach the readers a valuable lesson – or a little of all of these things. Their story was then presented to the readers in a way to help them make sense of life, the universe, and everything. Sadly, the meaning of these centuries-old lessons are often totally missed by the reader who often takes them literally, out of context, out of time, and then severely misinterprets them and attempts to apply them to the situations of their modern lives that could not have even been imagined in the simple agrarian world that existed when the words were first written down. These ancient, metaphorical guidelines for life are often so distorted and misconstrued by their transcribers and followers into the erroneous misunderstanding that they are somehow superior and separate from nature – that they have dominion over the earth and all of its inhabitants and resources and therefore they can do whatever they wish to with it. Sadly, some of those on the lunatic fringe of these belief systems are even more disturbing when they use the “word” of their chosen deity to cash in on the fears of the deity’s followers and/or announce that they believe that the world will be ending soon and therefore nature, their daily choices and actions, everything real and existing just does not matter at all because it is all “impure” and will all soon be destroyed by a vengeful omnipotentdeity – then, as they often say – “you will all be sorry you did not bow down and pay homage to (insert deity here).”
That kind of apathetic attitude is so incredibly dangerous and selfish.
(Note: I have personally heard all of the above statements from real people, good people, even family members and people I deeply care about, and I am just so saddened that there are people who still think and believe these things. I am so embarrassed and saddened at the actions of my own countrymen and fellow Human beings when they say and act like they do not care about anything but themselves. Where, when, and why did we go so wrong…?)
Just because you believe a thing does not make it true unless it is supported by measurable, observable, testable, peer-reviewed, evidence.
***as explored by personal observation, experience, and reflection and/or deeply and openly questioned, investigated, explained, and revealed by the careful and thoughtful exploration, observation, experimentation, and consideration, by countless experts over centuries of exploration, discovery, and invention – guided not by money or mythology but only by the evidence at hand.
Exactly twenty years ago today I was in college at Appalachian State University, sitting in archeology class, learning all about ancient humans.
A modern human’s face appeared at the classroom door – it was another professor. He motioned for my professor to come into the hall. He did. The other students and I waited.
A few moments later our professor returned. He stated that a passenger plane had hit one of the twin towers in NYC. He said it was believed to be an accident and that rescue operations were underway. One of the students exclaimed – my mother works there!!! They jumped up and ran out of the room.
We went back to class. I worried for the student who just left to call their mother –
A few moments later the same professor who had come to the door earlier came back into the room and called our professor back outside.
The students and I were silent as we tried to listen to their words through the open door.
The professor returned. He stated that another plane had hit the second tower and that this could not be a coincidence – it must have been premeditated. The question was – how, why, and by whom?
The professor then said the remainder of classes for the day were canceled so people could deal with this tragedy in their own way. I and the other students sat in silence for a few moments before gathering our things and exiting the classroom.
I wandered around campus for a while wondering what was going on. I decided to go to the coffee shop to get a drink and think. As I made my way through the thousands of other students wandering about campus I noticed that it was eerily quiet. All the students seemed to be with their own thoughts. I was as well. I walked into the student union building and noticed that TV’s had been set up on carts in the hallways reporting from ground zero. I stopped to watch with hundreds of other students. As we watched the destruction unfold – yet another passenger plane crashed into the pentagon. A student screamed, others wept. Some cussed out loud. I was silent and just could not grasp what the hell was happening. I stood with several others and watched for several hours as the numbers of the dead were reported, as the brave fire, police, and first responders worked so hard to help those impacted by the attack.
At a point I just became numb.
I stayed at school for the rest of the day and into the night. Sitting alone. Chatting with friends.
In the early evening I was sitting alone in the coffee shop when a young band began setting up. They introduced themselves as the Steep Canyon Rangers. I had no idea who they were. At that moment I did not care. I had no more room for thoughts. I was still numb.
Then the band started playing – it was some of the most wonderful, high energy, positive bluegrass music I had ever heard. They were amazing and their music was just what I and all the others in that room needed on that terrible day.
For the next hour or so we all sat and listened to these wonderful young musicians crank out tune after tune and it was exactly what we needed to help us get through the terrible events of the day. The magic of their music and their positivity helped me recover myself that day and I am sure their music that helped them cope as well. I have followed the Steep Canyon Rangers over the last 20 years and still today they are one of my favorites.
While their wonderful music helped me cope on that terrible day – it did nothing for the thousands of innocent people who died at the hands of lunatic fringe dwelling religious/political fanatics on September 11, 2001.
We can pray to our gods, think deep thoughts, and never forget the events of that horrible day – but if we do not want things like this to happen again – we must act. We must must never again let religious and/or political fanatics harm the living.
While thoughts and prayers obviously do not much to help those in need – they may help ease some of the pain and strife for those of us who remain. So please take a moment of silence to remember, think about how lucky you are to be here, say a prayer if it somehow helps you – do whatever you need to do to remember and honor the fallen innocents, the brave firefighters, police officers, and first responders, the passengers and crew on the planes – all those who lost their lives and had their families forever torn apart by the cowardly terrorist acts perpetrated on that day.
Also please remember that just because a twisted group of terrorists who were Muslim were responsible for these horrid attacks – it does not mean that all Muslims are bad people. There are also bad, hateful, and twisted people/ groups in the Christian faith and all other religions/races/ethnicities. There are bad Americans, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, atheists, agnostics, politicians, scientists, cops, doctors, lawyers, preachers, teachers – whatever. Just like eggs, any human being can go bad. It is up to all of us good eggs to smell the rottenness growing in our fellow humans and get them help – or, if need be, remove them before they spoil the whole bunch.
Nature does not care about us. There are only two options in the life of any living creature – animal or human animal: Adapt or Die. This is why we must care for ourselves – and others. Therefore, as I see it I still have only two options here:
1. I could choose to ignore the experts and treat COVID-19 like a religio-political control tactic or a hoax as some seem to believe it is. If I did this I would either: be just fine(luck)…or I would have a much higher probability of becoming sick (or dead) due to COVID -19 (and/or any other contagious disease). For me, the side effects of contracting COVID-19 have the potential to be far more damaging than the disease: lost wages, possible job/car/home loss, family, friends and coworkers and/or my students contracting COVID-19 from me and possibly suffering lasting damage to their health – or worse – death. Possible damage to the amazing company I work for, the life-long emotional and possible physical trauma associated with bad choices and their implications, the high cost of medical treatment.
2. I could choose to listen to the experts from many sources who are all saying the same thing and follow their recommendations and adapt accordingly. I could wear masks in public and at work, wash my hands more often, physically distance, avoid crowds, and get vaccinated. This road has been long and inconvenient, absolutely no fun at all, redundant, trying and tiring mentally and physically. However, even if I somehow still come down with COVID-19 – at least I am 100% certain that I did my absolute best to protect those I teach, those I work with, those I love, those strangers I do not even know, and myself from this virus.
As I have done since March 2020 and as I see it I have only one option here: I choose option #2.
If in the end, all the reports and “news” hype circulating around SARS CoV-2 one day mysteriously vanish from the scene and if all of it or most of it is exposed to be a religio-political* tool or cruel hoax** – I will eagerly, happily, and publicly ingest a large plate of deep fried, Cajun spiced crow and admit my error.
Until that time I will continue to choose option #2 and I will continue to stand by, support, and follow all the recommendations of the infectious disease experts.
To think that I know more than they do, or that some internet influencer or religious or political leader knows more about infectious diseases than the experts who study these things as their life’s work – is the ultimate of faulty logic and toxic hubris.
To choose not to listen to the experts would be selfish, incompetent, negligent, and potentially harmful to my loved ones, my friends, my students and coworkers, and even to people I do not know but may pass when I must visit a public place out of necessity…and obviously myself.
As I see it a little bit of adaptive inconvenience and a necessary deviation from the norm – is a small price to pay for the health and safety of my family, friends, coworkers, students, strangers, and for my own physical and mental health. I have far too much too lose to even ever consider Option #1.
*I despise how twisted and destructive religion and politics have become and IMHO I believe both should be totally and forever separated – and possibly even abolished. Our future should not be treated like the toxically divisive past and/or a business or a competitive sport.
**I do not believe COVID-19 is a hoax. I have looked at all the evidence, read the peer reviewed reports, have friends who work in the medical profession, and have friends who have had it. It is as real as you and I.
The needs of the many, outweigh, the needs of the few – or the one.
Improvise, adapt, overcome, evolve, survive, and thrive.
I – and many if not most of you reading this – would simply not exist without the findings of science, technology, and engineering. Unsure of what I mean? I have written about this topic before but here we go again because this cannot be overstated.
Starting off with the obvious: somewhere during your timeline of life a medical procedure/surgery, external or implanted medical or dental device, topical, or internal medicine, antibiotic, vaccine, or vitamin, – (that was invented, tested, guided, administered, and/or prescribed by the expert skill, advice, and training of medical experts we call medical scientists, virologists, immunologists, bacteriologists, prosthetists, orthodontists, dentists, plastic surgeons, doctors, surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists, and all the other “ologists,”) – has repaired, prolonged, enhanced, or saved your life – or the life of one of your progenitors.
Speaking of your progenitors; without one or more of the modern medical techniques and procedures I mentioned earlier – they may not have lived or lived long enough to bring those individuals who produced the being you call you into existence…in fact, they – and therefore you – may not have even been born at all.
Another fascinating fact: it is very likely that some of your progenitors would have never even met each other without a horse and wagon, car, truck, bus, boat, ship, aircraft, or possibly even a rocket bringing them to the instant in time where they first met – changing the course of history to eventually create you.
How many countless times in your life did a sanitation system such a water purification system, portable water filter, purified water from your local municipal water department, a simple wooden outhouse or gilded penthouse toilet – remove or greatly reduce the chance that you or your ancestors would contract a nasty parasite or deadly disease?
Where would you be and what shape would you be in without your soap, toilet paper, tooth brushes, contact lenses, eye glasses, dental implants, hearing aids, CPAP, Oxygen concentrator, hip, knee, and heart valve replacements, pacemakers, insulin, etc?
Then there was the discovery and implementation of better agriculture/animal husbandry techniques such as selective breeding, fertilizer, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, genetic modification, preventative medicines – just to name a few – working together to produce a higher quality and quantity of foods allowing you to grow up strong and healthy.
Think about your home appliances for a moment. Where would you be without your refrigerator, range, microwave oven, dish washer, laundry machines, blender, coffee maker, ceiling fans, HVAC, and all that electricity that powers them…how different would your life be without these technological wonders?
What about all that energy that powers and supports your lifestyle? Where would you be and what would you be doing without petroleum products such as oil, gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene? Then there is all that earlier mentioned electricity you use that is produced by all those coal, hydroelectric, geothermal, wind, solar, battery, and nuclear-power stations – and all the inventors, scientists, technicians, electricians, miners, roughnecks, refiners, shippers, managers, and other people who worked together to bring all that energy to you and to keep it flowing when you want and need it?
What about your modern clothes, tents, buildings, your home’s walls, doors, door locks, glass windows, the screens on the windows keeping out the blood-sucking and disease-carrying insects, all allowing you to live a comfortable and safe existence?
Do you perform work that requires the common sense use of PPE’s (Personal Protective Equipment) to protect you from the elements such as sunglasses, safety glasses, air filter mask/respirator, chain saw chaps, snake gaiters, clothes, boots, gloves, sunscreen, climbing helmets, life jackets, body armor, or a simple bandana to keep you safe and healthy?
Have you used a personal tool or weapon that has protected you from a predatory animal or human attacker?
Where would you be without all these things?
Would you even exist?
What about your smoke/carbon monoxide alarms…your seat belts and airbags, automatic emergency braking and self-driving systems in your cars…your skateboard, bicycle, or motorcycle…?
That advanced tool of some kind – that hammer, handsaw, cordless drill/driver, Bic lighter or matchstick, pocket knife, multi-tool, Swiss army knife, fishing pole, rifle, animal trap or snare, backpack, length of nylon rope, dry bag, plastic bucket, or tin can, or again the ubiquitous bandanna, – that allowed you to fix a machine, build a shelter, procure, preserve and protect, cook, and prepare food or water so you could beat the odds and survive on and on?
What about all those electronic devices – like the one you are using to read these words – that you love so much; your smartphone/watch, computer, iPad, television, stereo, 2-way radio, that Tesla or Toyota in the driveway – do you have the first inkling on how they actually function? Do you have any idea how much engineering, science, thought, research and development, and testing went into them to bring them to reality on this very day so you can use them and trust them to work as you wish and need them to?
How about the systems in place that allow you to know what the weather will be tomorrow, when the tides will flow, the fish will bite, your exact location on the planet, and then give you turn by turn directions to the bodega where you buy your baked beans and Beluga Caviar – do you even have a clue what it takes to make all these things happen and get those beans and caviar to your dinner table?
And what about your dinner table…?
And what about all the intricate supply chains that have brought all these things to you? Have you ever given any of these technologies and systems the first thought with even just one of your 100 billion neurons?
All these things and systems are products of our science, engineering, technology, ingenuity, vision, and invention.
All of these things are also the products of our own evolutionary development.
One of the defining characteristics of our unique species is tool-making and use. All of the technologies we create are nothing more than tools made of modified natural resources (complex combinations of liquids, rocks, fibers, and sticks spiced up with a little bit of fire, electricity, and lots and lots of science and engineering) that allow us to better adapt and survive in this thing we call life. Since the first time early hominids turned simple rocks and sticks into stone tools and then more recently (maybe 1.5 – 1 million years ago) harnessed the power of fire and added it to his fast-growing tool box – we human-animals have invented, adapted, and “MacGyvered” our way through deep time to bring us to this day in our lives.
The simple fact is this: without our tools (ancient and modern) and without all the inventors, engineers, scientists – without all the experts (ancient and modern) that made them – in all probability we would only exist as just another ape among apes at the mercy of predators, the elements, and the relentless nature of nature.
The simple fact is that many if not most of us living today would not even exist without the findings of science and the miracles of modern technology and engineering – yet, a vast number of people alive, existing, and living today have absolutely no idea how any of these technologies – and the science and engineering that developed and supports them – function – even at a basic level.
It seems we may have created for ourselves a broken system in which some individuals in the human population today – while they gladly accept and use many of these tools on a daily basis – have willingly chosen to nurture and perpetuate an irrational fear and distrust of many of these most important life-supporting, life-sustaining, and life-bettering technologies and sciences. The very same technologies and sciences and that have allowed many of them to exist, to continue to be healthy, to have the things they need, use, and enjoy. Yet, for whatever reason – they still choose to take many of these things for granted, to fear some of these things while accepting others, and to ignore the findings of the experts even if it brings hardship and harm to themselves, their loved ones, and those around them.
Strangely, a small but growing fraction of the population of planet earth has chosen to not only fear some of these technological tools – but also to use some of them as tools and/or weapons to spread irrational fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) about still others of these most important tools they have chosen to misunderstand and distrust. A great example is this: people with little more than a high school education – if that – sitting on a couch at home or in traffic – or in their production studios – safe in their comfortable bubble of air conditioned from climate change (which they also do not understand or believe) existence – using their high technology personal electronic communications devices connected to the internet via fiber optics, ground and space-based data relay stations, and wireless data transmission towers and access points – only to spread loads of made-up FUD and misinformation about the expert advice of an entire planet’s worth of medical professionals on the need to wear PPE’s (masks) and the need to use the medicines and vaccines derived by science to fight off a microscopic viral attacker in the middle of a global pandemic…and then they take livestock dewormer…and sell loads of marketing, paraphernalia, self-published books, “cures” and “potions” and just get richer and richer off the ignorance of their followers.
This last fact is the most dangerous of them all. These “lunatic fringe” dwelling, anti-science, anti-knowledge, illogical charlatans – are nothing more than knowledge terrorists working to bring down the progress of civilization by sewing irrational fears into the minds of those without the capability, the education, or the desire, to see through their toxic charade.
It seems as if a cold-war spy movie mated with Austin Powers and gave birth to today’s reality.
The only way I know to fight this growing anti-science, anti-knowledge, fear-focused trend is to teach, to work very hard to open young minds – and the minds of those that are young at heart and still open to accepting evidence-supported, peer-reviewed knowledge. The jobs of those of us who call themselves teachers is to plant the seeds of knowledge, inspiration, curiosity in how the natural world and the cosmos in which we float works. Then, we must continue to nurture those seeds with even more empirical evidence, adventure, experimentation, and lots of quality time outdoors in nature. Hopefully, the seeds of evidence and curiosity we plant will grow into great and wonderful trees of knowledge that will empower its gardeners to cast off their fear, hate, doubt, xenophobia, and anxiety and nurture it with curiosity, knowledge, evidence, wonder, love, trust, passion, and coexistence and a deep reverence for all life.
Plant that seed.
My personal science story:
The fact boldly stands that I would not exist without the findings of medical science, technology, expertise, and technique.
1. I was born premature – medical science, technology, and engineering supported my life until I could support myself.
2. Vaccinations protected me against all the things all the other kids carried – all the things that wanted a piece of me when I was just starting out.
3. I acquired Mycoplasma “walking” pneumonia twice – I may have died without treatment and medications and the experts who administered them.
4. I developed Appendicitis: I would have most certainly died without treatment and appendectomy.
5. I was bitten by a Timber rattlesnake: I may not have died but I would have probably lost the use of a finger and had lasting ill effects.
6. Both my biological and adoptive parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents – would have never met each other without ships, automobiles, and airplanes.
7. I have been in countless situations – many severe electrical storms and one hurricane come to mind – where a structure, vehicle, or technology provided shelter for me, and without it I would have died.
…and so on.
So yes, without the findings and application of medical, materials, chemical, food, engineering, botanical, and physical science and engineering – I would simply not exist.
It is as simple and as complex as that.
I do not fear the science, medical advancements, technology, and engineering discoveries, that have given me life – I accept and embrace them just as I accept and embrace nature – because science is our way of understanding and interacting with, and when the need arises – controlling the nature of nature. These things have given me life and are a part of me, and for that I am eternally grateful. I am also eternally grateful to all the teachers, scientists, engineers, botanists, doctors, dentists, nurses, immunologists, virologists, biologists, and others who have helped me along the way to become the living, healthy person I am today – and to understand the value science and engineering brings to all of us.
Several years ago, while visiting Savannah Georgia, USA, I found myself down on the historic waterfront exploring the myriad of boats moored at the docks. As I browsed the many makes, models, shapes and sizes of watercraft I noticed something unique at the far end of the pier. It was the largest boat there – an older, wooden, two-masted, schooner-rigged sailing vessel that looked as if it had been outfitted to travel the seas forever. I quickly forgot about all the other lesser little boats and soon found myself taking in the sea-seasoned beauty of the rustic old wooden ship.
As I took in all the intricacies of the weathered old craft – that to me looked as if it had been around the world and back again many times over – a man carrying an oddly shaped bundle in a canvas sack walked up and climbed aboard the craft. He was lean and muscular, possibly in his mid-60’s, had a skin tone of deep-brown sun-weathered leather, a medium length grizzled white beard, and a full head of white-blonde hair – he briefly looked in my direction and I noticed he had piercing jade-green eyes. He was wearing a faded, threadbare t-shirt with what looked like the Japanese kanji for “Mt. Fuji” printed on it – but it was so faded that it was hard to make it out – faded old khaki shorts, and pink flip flops. He eyed me again briefly then turned and knocked (what to me sounded like a secret knock) on the door to below decks – it opened to reveal an exotically beautiful younger woman wrapped in a tropical print sarong with bronze skin and a waist-length braid of thick, jet-black hair. She came topside briefly, picked up the bundle he had been carrying, and disappeared back below. The old sailor picked up an even older toolbox, stepped back down onto the dock, and began to make a minor repair on one of the boat’s portholes – and I took the liberty to strike up a conversation.
After chatting for a while I discovered that he and his partner, whom he never named – nor did he say his name and I did not ask – lived aboard the boat with their scruffy old mixed-breed dog he called “Bandar” (Bandar = monkey in Hindi).
He did not say where they were from and I did not ask but from his accent I would say he had been either Australian, Kiwi, or British. He said they did not have a land-based home and for over two decades they had traveled the planet’s oceans – their boat their only home.
The elements provided their energy – as evidenced by the wind turbine spinning almost silently on the mast and several solar modules (panels) of different ages and designs covering the roof above the wheelhouse and part of the deck area. He said they relied on the rains and island freshwater springs to provide most of their drinking water and they had built a simple but effective collection system of shade awnings constructed from what looked like old canvas and plastic tarps strung up over parts of the deck amidships. These tarps funneled water into a series of bamboo and plastic gutters, tubes, and pipes that lead to water storage tanks below deck. When water started to get low and they were far from land they also had a homebuilt solar distillation system that would provide them with just enough fresh water to survive until they were able to locate more.
When I asked if the boat had a secondary power source the old sailor said “I rely on the wind mostly but when the wind dies I just drop anchor until the winds return, or if in the deep – I just drift with the current and work on projects that need my attention until the wind returns. If close to port or if conditions are so bad that I need to drop sails to save them – or if the need be great enough to move faster than nature wants me to move – I will use the motor. It’s not petrol – the boat’s electric. The ancient old petrol engine threw a rod about a decade ago when I was about a week out of Darwin. I made it safe in to port and then, after finding out how much it was going to cost to replace the old petrol monster – I just tore it all out and sank it in the shallows where it is now a home for the fishes.” He went on to say that he replaced the old engine with a salvaged electric motor from a fork truck. He mated the motor with the transmission of an old lorry (truck), bolted it to the boat’s propeller shaft, dropped in several fork truck batteries in place of the old fuel tank and some ballast, and connected it all to the solar panels and wind turbine. He said “it works perfectly, is far less of a hassle than the old petrol engine ever was, doesn’t stink or leak, is silent, simple, easy to maintain, and also provides electricity for all of the boats navigation/radio/lighting/galley systems – and the best thing is that unlike petrol – it does not promote or support war and environmental pollution and destruction and therefore it is free from the subscription to dependency that is attached to all things powered by godawful petrol.” (I did not get around to asking him how often he had to replace his batteries or how he afforded to do it since batteries are very expensive but I’ll bet he had that one figured out as well.)
He said that Dolphins, whales, turtles, and the occasional other sailor were their neighbors. Fish, clams, crabs, shrimp, oysters, conchs, birds and bird eggs, coconuts, taro, yucca, agave, mango, oranges, limes and other citrus fruits, papaya, bananas, breadfruit, and other island fruits provided most of their food.
He said he occasionally made use of ports all around the planet to acquire certain things that he could not easily find at sea such as some “land fruits,” veggies, and parts for his boat. He stated that he did not usually need or like to stop in port – while stopping did sometimes make life easier and more convenient, it was also dangerous…he did not say why and I did not ask.
While in port he would service other people’s boats in return for the cash needed to buy the supplies/parts he needed to stock up for a while – then he would set sail and move on.
Then he said “Money is one of the most evil and destructive things ever invented and it pains me deeply that I am occasionally forced to make use of it to get what I need – I would rather fish, forage, scrounge, or barter to survive – but sometimes that is just not what works out.”
I asked him what the other evil things were and he thought a moment and said “greed, selfishness, the childish need for power and control of others, division, slavery, war, people breeding without thought for the future or for the new life they are bringing into existence, the infantile, fearful, self-centered idea of white supremacy, twisted religions that denounce the earth and claim to be the way to salvation for those that follow them – at the cost of everyone and everything else that does not. And above all else the disrespect and disregard for other living beings and for the living earth that freely gives us all our very lives.”
I sat in silence while he worked, thinking about his words. While I first found his views on society somewhat shocking, I also found them very refreshingly obvious but often not observed by those who are so caught up in them on a daily basis. His insight had the wisdom of the truly awake and thinking outsider looking in from beyond the wall of society at the bizarre and troublesome puzzle we have created for ourselves, the full puzzle we cannot usually see because we are stuck on the inside of this matrix of society – forever bound up as slaves to this dangerous and divisive illusion of freedom that we are fed from birth.
He worked for a while in silence then put away his tools, reached aboard his boat and grabbed the same canvas sack his partner had taken below earlier – only now its contents had been reduced by about ½ – and started walking down the dock, I followed at a respectful distance, interested in where he was headed. He went to the dock master’s office and proceeded to pay him for his time moored at the dock. From my perspective it looked like he paid him in tropical fruit, a silk garment of some kind, and what appeared to be a small flask of a clear fermented beverage – all this made me smile – they obviously knew each other and had a friendly barter agreement. I would bet that somewhere below decks of his boat the man had a very detailed log/map listing all of the ports and individuals who would accept nontraditional payment for docking fees as well as all the tiny uninhabited tropical islands with safe anchorages, fruit, good fishing, and fresh water.
He shook hands with the dock master, said a few parting words, turned, and started walking the dock back toward his boat. I asked him how he had made it all work for so long and he said “Because I was done. Done with the garbage. Done with the hatred. Done with the killing. Done with the greed. Done with the lies. Done with the illusion. I had no other choice.”
I did not ask him what he meant by that last part.
He then continued “The sea and small islands provide me with almost all I need to survive and what the sea does not provide I will often find washed up on beaches and in the horrible floating garbage patches of your modern civilization – I make use of the cast-off flotsam and jetsam from your society to help me continue. People like Frank (the dock master I think) also help me when the need arises – but that is not often.” He said he was saddened deeply that so many people chose to pollute the planet without a care at all for nature or for future generations but he was also grateful that some of the cast off refuse was still so very useful – and free. He made use of many of these items turning them into everything – from the earlier mentioned rainwater collection system, to fishing tools, kitchen utensils, and even the solar still for making fresh water and seasoning salt from salt water.
As we walked back to his boat this most intriguing man then said one of the most interesting things that has stuck with me ever since. When I asked him where he was from he said; “I do not have a state or nation that I call home. I have cast off all connections to my previous citizenship – from when I was a slave to the system.” He never did say the country he was originally from – and I could see that it was a sore spot so I did not go there. “My boat and the oceans are my home. I am not connected or beholden to any nation, governing, or supportive system other than the governing systems of nature and the vast ocean of the cosmos.” He then said “My heart hurts for the people caught up in the petty bickering between friends, between families, between nations, over childish soul and society destroying politics, evil money, cultish culture-dividing and soul-destroying religions, I weep for those lost in the horribly wasteful wars, insane terrorist acts, and loss of life all in the name of blind patriotism and body and soul-killing toxically divisive religions, the endless quest for oil, gold, and other material things, the tribal division, the skin deep hate, the denial of observable facts, the carelessness and callousness and frightening blind devotion to flag, nationality, and so many archaic faith-based systems.” He then quoted Albert Einstein saying “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind!”
Interestingly, in all his commentary about the state of things – his words were never bitter, mean or hateful – only a peaceful commentary on the sad status of the world that by choice he had distanced himself from as much as possible…and in some ways that he seemed to be running away from. I got the feeling that if he had the means he would leave this planet entirely and wander the cosmos – a nomadic drifter, searching for nothing and learning everything. I silently wondered what it was that had driven him to leave his home country and culture. The answer I am sure could be found somewhere in his commentary but out of respect for his journey, his privacy, and his freedom to truly be himself – I did not ask.
He then became really quiet and walked to his boat, when he reached the gangplank he stopped, turned to me and said “The only way to be truly free is to completely and forever let go of the illusions of freedom that your parents, your government, your society, your education, your religion – whatever illusions have been programmed into your mind by your culture and society that holds you like a slave in its grasp – and become your own person. That is what I did after…”
He abruptly stopped speaking, looked out to sea for a long moment and said – “Cast off the imaginary anchors and chains of the illusion of freedom and only then will you be really and truly free and only then will your eyes be opened to the true nature of things.”
With that he turned away from me, walked up to the ramp onto his ancient schooner and made ready to depart. Silently I watched as he was joined by the scruffy Bandar and his beautiful partner and together they pulled in the gangplank and moorings, used a long pole to push the boat outward from the end of the dock into the current of the outgoing tide, deployed a single sail – the soft mid-morning breeze slowly filling it out pushing old boat, its human and canine passengers and their entire free-floating world silently through the waters of the inter-coastal waterway and out into the Atlantic Ocean where they deployed the rest of their sails – and then within a few moments – they were gone.
No illusions, no limitations, no flag, faith, or nation – only mysterious residents of planet earth who were truly one with nature and well and truly free.