Why do so many humans so powerfully and venomously choose to put so much energy, trust, and faith in often archaically derived, toxically tribal, intentionally divisive, money and power-focused, temporally temporary politics and/or countless, fearful, intentionally exclusive, endlessly ephemeral, dusty old ancient 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, to each his own – but when each own’s chosen “thing” or “tribe” to follow seems to be designed and/or recently re-designed 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,” “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 prosperous future for our species.
We are one.
*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.
My sinuses and eyes are dry, my lungs feel congested, I have an occasional dry cough, last night I felt weak and “under the weather.”
No, it is not covid – I’m vaccinated for that damn plague.
My respiratory symptoms are due to the horrible air quality we are experiencing from the smoke we are receiving from all the wildfires on the north American continent mixed with all the pollution from burning fossil fuels for energy in our automobiles, power plants, and factories.
In my classroom I’m running the air filter on turbo mode so my students have cleaner air while in class…
…and all the while people seem to only be talking about the pretty sunsets while continuing to deny anthropogenic climate change and carry on like nothing is wrong.
It boggles the brain.
We are our own limiting factor.
In my opinion and experience, many politicians and religious leaders are nothing more than openly (or under the table) highly paid businesspersons who are adept at saying exactly what you want to hear so you will willingly feed them more of your support, time, and money.
They do not care one bit about you and are nothing more than charlatans and leeches feeding upon the fears and tears of the masses. They have nothing to offer me when it comes to making the important decisions that support us all.
The lessons of history show that many politicians and religious leaders are out for only personal gain or the betterment of only their chosen “side” or agenda. This side-taking helps only a very few and it only servers to widen the gap of division, doubt, fear, and hate.
To think that a politician, a religious leader, (or a random loudmouthed citizen on social media) would have better health, science, or environmental suggestions/recommendations than those learned individuals who have devoted their entire careers, lives, and passions to the betterment of human health, understanding the environment, energy matters, and the progress of everything moving forward – would be the ultimate in senseless, futile, self-sabotage.
Therefore, in great matters of health, environment, evolution, adaptation, life, and death, I will always first and foremost choose to listen to and follow the careful recommendations of the experts. If however, a politician or religious leader chooses to ignore the lure of money, status, power, prestige, and instead choose to actually listen to and act upon the guidance of the experts – then I might choose to give them a chance to live up to their claims.
So far this has not happened yet and we are spiraling down toward our species demise.
If we do not adapt – nature will have its way with us because in nature there are only two options: adapt or die.
In this case adapting means putting aside toxic politics and dusty ancient dogma in favor of following the evidence, logic, and listening to and accepting the findings and recommendations of the planets unbiased experts. Then, with this knowledge in hand we must all work together to do the following:
We must transition as fast as possible away from a fossil fuel based energy economy and replace it with a renewable energy based economy.
We also need to end single use throw away items.
We need to learn to eat far less animal protein – unless we buy locally and ethically produced meat or raise, or legally hunt/fish for them ourselves.
We stop having litters of children just because we can.
We all need to go get ourselves vaccinated when faced with planetary plagues.
We must work together to be more accepting of each others ethnicities, nationalities, choices, and differences – we need to be more humane humans.
We need to plant more trees, flowers, and vegetables.
We must help animals and humans in need.
We must help the young get a good start and help the old find friendship, support, and rest.
If we can find the will power to do these things – our species will thrive.
If we cannot do these things I fear that we will end up living on only in the fossil record.
Another trip around the sun completed successfully.
Some perspective: On this day in 1968 I came into this reality – whatever this reality really is – and as of today, I have existed in this reality for 53 earth years.
I was premature so I had to cook in an incubator for a while until my body took over and I could support myself without the assistance of science and technology.
I was soon adopted by two amazing people Cathy and Clayton – who accepted me into their home as their own child. They later adopted another child in need and named her Lesly who then became my wonderful sister. She met Jonas and they raised two wonderful children – Cody and Ashlyn – who I just know will go above and beyond and do great things. I am lucky and proud to be a part of this family.
I was born in the middle of one of the greatest scientific achievements humankind had and has ever experienced–the Apollo-era moon missions and landings… and, fitting the space exploration and cultural turbulence of the times, the first incarnation of Star Trek was on TV…and it still is!
I have been alive (whatever that means) for ~464,280 hours and climbing. I have orbited our closest star Sol – 53 times. I have now traveled around 30,952,000,000 miles (49,812,415,488 kilometers) through space in an ever-spiraling circle around a rather remote and average little yellow star while riding on a water-soaked living rock along with you and over 7.25 billion other naked, bi-pedal, mostly hairless, multi-colored, fire and tool-using, thinking apes, and countless other amazing life-forms – while spinning at an equatorial rate of around 1000 mph while at the same time passing through the icy blackness vacuum of space at around 67,000 mph in our orbital path around the sun while also orbiting around the supermassive black hole in the center of our home galaxy at a rate of around 514,000 mph. At this rate, it will take me, you, our wet rock, and our star – about 230 million years to make one trip around the galactic center thereby completing one Galactic Year. And all of this, all of us, everything, our entire Milky Way galaxy – is traveling through intergalactic space at around 1.2 million mph (1.9m kph) relative to the cosmic background radiation. Ponder it.
So far I have had an amazing existence full of tons of excitement, exploration, friendship, laughter love, and light as well as periods of loss, pain, hardship, and a little bit of darkness.
I was here the last time Haley’s Comet passed by our pale blue watery rock of a dot in 1986 (and I plan to be here to see it again when it comes back around again in 2062).
I rode along in spirit and in support of every space exploration mission humanity has launched since I can remember way back as a 4-year-old kid watching the last Apollo astronauts bouncing about the lunar surface in the early ’70s. I have since watched in awe, great appreciation, and hope as the incredible Space Shuttles flew and 15 nations set aside their differences to build the international space station – a castle of science, discovery, and international cooperation in the sky. Today I am elated at the rapid evolution of non-governmental space travel organizations and I hope to see us back on the moon and then Mars before too long. Go SpaceX!
I chased nature and wild animals, first as a child for personal interest sake, and later in the name of science, education, and conservation of species. My favorites being the misunderstood creatures of the world such as reptiles, amphibians, bats, Opossums, and vultures.
On a few occasions, my body was invaded by microscopic festering armies of “wildlife” that tried to use me as a replicator for more of their kind and/or end me, and yet, my own immune system as well as the findings of many, many scientists that came before allowed me to boost, augment, and bio-hack my body through the use of antibiotics and vaccinations thereby giving me a “force field of science” inside and out so I could continue awkwardly onward into the future.
I came closest to feeding the soil, worms, and trees when in 2014 a rather archaic and not that useful part of my internal anatomy (my appendix) malfunctioned and suffered a massive R.U.D. (Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly) – so I had it removed by a robot that was designed by science and piloted by a scientist we all call a doctor so I could continue in my present state of existence.
In 2016 I had an encounter with a wild venomous serpent (Timber rattlesnake) who was only defending himself due to my accidental stupidity and, while I was in no danger of meeting my end – it did really hurt a bit and slow me down for a few weeks (yes, the snake still lives in the wilds of the forest 🙂 ) The only way I was able to overcome this one without losing a finger and possibly suffering lasting damage to my body was through the findings of science. Yep, there is that science thing again. Ain’t it wonderful 🙂
On all these close calls (and many I have not even been aware of due to my science augmented/trained to recognize and destroy the “bad guys” immune system 🙂 I was given another chance at existing in this reality through the findings of science, miracles of modern technology and engineering…and possibly a little bit of some as yet undiscovered by science mystical energy field or omnipotent ancient and possibly extraterrestrial/interdimensional intelligence that, for some strange reason, many individuals/cultures/factions on the planet have coined different names/stories/belief systems for – yet cannot ever seem to agree upon…and often even choose to childishly take sides, argue, fight, and even kill each other over…so bizarre is the proudest monkey. IMHO – if this intelligence exists – it is as far “above” us as we are “above” our closest relatives the Chimpanzee and Bonobo…or maybe the bacterium…or the virus. Whatever the case, I’m pretty sure that if it exists it might be studying us as we study the animals and it cares not one single bit about the books we write about it, our childish bickering on who/what it is, who or what is right and wrong, who uses which bathroom, who’s skin is what color, who is left and right, etc. – just like we do not care about the comings and goings of bacteria and viral organisms…until they invade our personal space and become overpopulated…hmmmm…
At an early age I became tired with all the factions telling me what to do, how to believe, how to think, how to live my life, how to be a human – so I chose to follow my own path. I chose to listen to nature, to the evidence and logic and teachings of the wilderness and the findings of the great minds and philosophies of history. Some may call me a “free spirit” – nice! – thank you! Some have called me “lost” – really, how rude! But whatever the case this is my path and I will never try to force it on you or anyone. You must find your own path.
I learned to drone a didgeridoo.
I fell in love with a wonderful beautiful intelligent human female called Marian and we settled down a bit…but not too much 🙂
A few years later I fell into a wonderful career inspiring, leading, and sharing knowledge with at-risk amazing youth on the connections, beauty, and joy of nature, wildlife, science, and life the universe and everything.
While working to inspire tomorrow’s youth to better themselves by connecting with nature, wilderness, wild things, and to trust science and let it be their guides in life – my students, interns, volunteers, amazing friends Jim and Bob, and I all worked together to build a photovoltaic solar power plant that benefits not only our classroom and campus but the entire local community with clean, locally-produced renewable energy!
Around this same time, my wife and I started phasing out almost all our connections to nature and life-harming dirty fossil fuels. We have been driving mostly electric since 2013 and intend to soon go fully electric with most of our transportation, energy, and fuel needs coming from EV’s and local renewable energy sources.
Relatively recently the amazing findings of the science of genetics and DNA sequencing allowed me to connect with my wonderful biological father and other awesome family members and answer many of the questions about my genetic roots and my connections to nature that I have had since an early age.
And now I find myself near the end of a global viral pandemic that has sadly ended the lives of many and upset the lives and plans of most. As before, I will follow and trust the science above all other randomly repeated, vociferous, evidence-lacking, emotional, opinions and options. I rolled up my sleeve and gladly accepted the expertly recommended vaccinations against this microscopic attacker and I will continue to trust in science, even with its changeable and incomplete nature, to give me guidelines and support during this global human emergency. I hope you will choose to join me and in doing so, together, you and I will get through this thing – and hopefully, I will still be here to rewrite this yet again next year on this day.
Whatever all the facts and reasons may be, I am very glad to still be here on this incredible and sometimes bumpy but always interesting wild ride through the cosmos with all of you other crazy wonderful and beautiful mixed up mosh pit of humans and always wonderful animals.
I’m not sure where we are going or when, where, and why we exist – but wherever, whatever, whenever, and whyever – at least we are making good time and it has been and will continue to be one heck of a wild ride through the cosmos on this one strange rock we all call home.
Thank you all for being here and for riding along on this roller coaster called life with me 🙂 Now let’s all take another spin around the sun together on spaceship Earth!
Improvise, adapt, overcome, evolve, survive, thrive. Live long and prosper. Bring the change. Be the change. Do good things.
As I write this post it sounds like my neighbors across the cove to the south and down the mountain to the north are are launching an all-out war on everything and I am caught in the crossfire – and fireworks are supposedly illegal in my state…
About 5 years ago those same neighbors launched fireworks that dropped on my rooftop. I had to climb up on the roof around midnight to be se sure the rocket remains were not smoldering – and it was in the middle of a drought!
I’m all about celebrating Independence Day but I have never understood how blowing things up is anything more than intentional littering/air/noise pollution, a waste of resources, creates a huge fire hazard, and puts unreasonable unneeded stresses on wildlife, pets, and people/veterans with PTSD/sensitivities to sound.
Here are a few ideas for a meaningful, lasting, celebration of independence that can improve our neighborhood relations, our communities, our country, and our connections with each other and with nature:
Plant some trees that will provide oxygen, shade, and sequester carbon. You could make it an annual tradition and call them “Freedom Trees” and over time you would have a “Freedom Forest.” If you and your kids planted fruit trees you could produce some of your own “Freedom Fruit” and before long you would have a “Freedom Orchard” – you get the idea 🙂
Plant a vegetable garden to produce some of your own food. You could call it the “Freedom Garden” or as they did in WW2 a “Victory Garden” – whatever you called it, it would be a great way to grow some of your own food and teach your kids where their food comes from and how to be more self-sufficient and therefore, truly free.
You could add some solar panels to your roof/property to lessen your reliance on dirty energy (fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas) and in doing so you would become more energy secure and self-sufficient by farming the sun and producing your own “Freedom Electrons” to power your personal energy needs.
You could trade in that old gas guzzler for a new or used electric vehicle (EV). Even if you only used it to go to work/town and back as a daily driver for even just a few times per week – it will save you loads of money on fuel, oil, maintenance – oh and you can charge it up with those solar panels I mentioned earlier and have zero fuel costs.
True freedom and self-reliance come when you are not tied to the grocery stores and fuel pumps – which are tied to corporate farms and oil fields of the Gulf of Mexico and the Middle East by several hundred to thousands of miles long supply chains and dirty politics. Operating and protecting these supply chains – especially the petroleum “umbilical cord” without which all gas/diesel vehicles would be useless – costs billions of our hard-earned tax dollars, the lives of our loved ones in the military who work hard and give their lives to protect it, and what about the toxic, health, earth, life and future-destroying pollution that comes with every single step of the process?
For a moment why not just try and forget all your preconceived notions about this idea and imagine never paying for gas/oil/tune-ups and all those random bits that legacy automobiles often need repair or replacement – ever again.
Wow. What a grand concept. What would you do with all that money?
Imagine quietly making your own clean fuel/energy at home and being able to unplug from the subscription to dependency at the gas pump and the local monopolistic power plant and not needing to feed off of the oily teat of the twisted, toxic, corrupt, destructive energy system we have created over the last ~200 years…all while accepting/believing without question that it is the only option…
There is a better way to source our energy and get from point A to point B and it leads to true energy independence – I know how good it feels because I have done it.
I have been driving a fully electric car for almost 8 years – my first EV was a 2012 Nissan LEAF – and I charge it with “homegrown” solar-produced electricity so my fuel costs are only around 1 cent per mile! I never stop at gas stations, never worry about tune-ups, exhaust pipes, mufflers, catalytic converters, belts, hoses, fluids, filters, transmissions, etc…driving electric is free from all these things and it is an amazing feeling of freedom and it is a great feeling in every way. If I can do it, so can you.
Here are a few fun freedom facts:
Yesterday my wife and I took a close to 300-mile road trip. We needed to stop for fuel and were happy to discover that the Electrify America fueling stations we chose to use – were all offering free fuel to all patrons in honor of Independence Day!
During our sojourn, we met many other holiday travelers who were stopping for fuel as well.
They were voyaging in many different makes of vehicle but they all shared two things in common: they were all powered by electricity and none of their owners had to pay for fuel for this entire holiday weekend!
We also passed by a Tesla Supercharger station where several Teslas were charging up. I heard through the EV grapevine that some Tesla Supercharger stations were also offering free charging in honor of Independence Day.
Thank you Electrify America, Tesla, and the USA for making all this possible. This is energy freedom and energy security.
High above the solar array my students, volunteers, supporters and I built at my science and nature center classroom.
July 4th is my classroom’s “Energy Independence Day” – it is the anniversary of that wonderful day in 2019 when we energized our classroom solar array and achieved Energy Independence from fossil fuel-produced electricity!
Here is another good idea – what about eating less meat even if only for one day a week. Aside from the obvious health benefits, eating less meat means less land/water/energy resources will be used up for industrial animal farming – “Factory Farms” – and all the problems they create. If you just cannot fathom that move then maybe you can just raise or ethically hunt and fish for your own meat instead of supporting dirty, unhealthy, industrial animal farms. Like gardening, it teaches the next generation where their energy and food comes from, respect for other life forms, and self-reliance – aka freedom.
Besides all of the obvious benefits I have suggested above – getting outside in nature, be it for farming, gardening, hunting, fishing, planting trees, installing solar, driving your solar-charged EV, or taking a hike in the forest with your kids, family, or dog – is just so good for you and your loved ones and it is a great way to celebrate our country’s and maybe your own independence day 🙂
Yes, I am posting this one twice – it is that important.
In the early summer of 2020, as the world went into lockdown during the early days of the SARS CoV-2 (Corovavirus/COVID-19) global pandemic – I noticed many individuals declining to wear masks stating personal reasons and evidence-lacking “reasoning” as to why they would not comply with the recommendations of infectious disease experts all over the planet.
I also noticed several stories of different scientists testing masks to show how they were effective in reducing the spread of respiratory droplets/aerosols between people therby reducing the spread of the potentially deadly virus (as well as far less deadly but yet still annoying viruses such as the common cold).
I decided to perform a similar mask test for my students in my science education classes.
To do this I acquired some Petri dishes (from an Amazon supplier), then – with the mask off and a petri dish held at arm’s length – I coughed, sneezed, sang, and yelled at the open dishes. I then put on a two-layer cotton face mask and repeated the demonstration using a new petri dish. I labeled the dishes and let them incubate for a few days in a warm area – I did not have an incubator at the time but it was June so it was warm in the classroom, therefore – growth happened…LOTS of growth, far more than I expected…it was really gross and it smelled really funky.
The odd thing was that, while the dish that was exposed to my respiratory droplets/aerosols without a mask did in fact have more colonies of growth – so did the plate I had coughed on while wearing a mask. At first, it appeared that the mask did little to stop the spread of respiratory droplets.
I wrongly assumed the error was in the growth media of the Petri dishes so I acquired some new dishes (Amazon) with the same growth media used by many of the other researchers – 5% sheep’s blood – and I repeated the demonstration. This time I also added a table and placed several dishes out at .3, .9, and 1.5M (1′, 3′, and 6′) in an attempt to show how droplets travel outward from the body.
Again, the results were the same – not much difference between masked and unmasked.
I was perplexed.
I compared my results to the others and came to the only possible conclusion: my samples had been contaminated by the classroom environment. The natural dust and dirt on our feet, bodies, and hair that the students and I bring inside with us from the nearby forest and garden, our sloughed off human skin cells and hair, animal/bird dander (we have several free-range chickens), the fact that the building is an old log cabin. Along with all this fun with particulates – the classroom is host to many different species of reptile, amphibian, fish, arachnid, and sometimes even an Opossum. Then there are the billions of free-floating fungal spores and pollen grains from the forest all around us as well as the occasional wandering house fly or gnat – and all the fun little friends that hitchhike on their feet and faces. All these contaminants and contaminant vectors were, well – everywhere. So, my first two experiments were contaminated by the nature of nature.
What to do? How could I reduce the natural contamination factor of my classroom environment to produce a more un-contaminated result? A room air filter you say? Yes, I already had one of those – a big one. Obviously, it could only do so much.
Since it would be next to impossible to make my classroom free of natural contaminants – the only option was to build a Cleanroom to rule out some of the contamination in the hopes of obtaining a better result – so, that is what I did.
The video below shows the results of my efforts and I hope it serves to demonstrate the how and the why of why masks work and why it is important to wear them during a global pandemic. Watch to the end if you are interested in learning how I built the Cleanroom.
This video is long because I choose to be thorough and transparent. To demonstrate this requires procedure and patience. If you are in a hurry and want to bypass all the “meat” of the video and go directly to my findings – then feel free to do so by skipping ahead to the time index of 39:17
As a naturalist and trail ranger at many private, state, and national parks in the 1990s and early 2000s, I lost count of how many times I had to stop people – adult, seemingly intelligent, aware, thinking people – from climbing over fences (and doing other daft things) – usually just to get photos – but not always. More often than not these fences were at the top of sheer cliffs and waterfalls that were hundreds of feet in height.
These scenarios would almost always go something like this:
I would be quietly making my rounds on the park’s trails/beaches/backroads/highways, and byways when I would come upon a person on the other side of the fence holding a camera up to their face taking a photograph of the view. I knew the gravitational danger so I would quietly stand by and wait until they had finished their photo taking session and were starting to cross back over the fence and, therefore – as my reasoning went – they would be less likely to be startled. The absolute worse thing I could have done in these situations would have been to call out from behind them during their photography session, potentially startling them causing them to lose their footing/balance and topple over the cliff falling to their death on the rocks below. So, I would wait patiently and quietly until they were in a more stable position and then I would move forward making some slight noise with my feet on the rocks of the trail below to attract their attention, then, when I knew they had seen me, I would calmly ask them to come back over to the safe side of the fence. They would usually do so – while apologizing for climbing the fence. It was obvious they knew they were in the wrong and were not supposed to cross the fence. Maybe they just thought they would be able to get away with it… maybe because they did not see any obvious enforcement of the “Please do not cross the fence” warnings posted all over the place. For me, gravity – and the abrupt body-breaking, life-ending, sudden stop, on the rocks at the bottom of the cliff was all the enforcement I needed to tell me to not cross the fence…well, unless I had the appropriate authorization/climbing gear/PPE.
I would then ask them why they had ignored all the warning signs they would almost always reply – “The photos are better on the other side.” I would then reply “Really, how exactly does that work? You must have far better vision than I do because I am unable to see any difference in the view on this side or that side of this fence. The eye does not notice a difference and neither does the camera. The only difference is that you were on the unsafe side of the fence standing on a mat of moss/lichen that is very loosely attached to the rock and, had it or your shoes lost its grip on the rock, you would have fallen to your death hundreds of feet below – and I would have to clean up the mess.”
With this new knowledge the blood would often drain from their face and they would become silent as they realized the true gravity of the situation and the massive error in their recent decision making process. At this time they would then shakily apologize, and quickly move on – hopefully, never to make that same mistake again.
One of my most fond memories of this type of incident happened when I was working at Chimney Rock Park (now Chimney Rock State Park) in western North Carolina, USA. One warm spring day I found myself walking the trail near the top of 404′ tall Hickory Nut Falls – that’s it in the below photo.
After stopping at the cascade above the top of the falls to cool off in the natural creek shower, I then made my way along the Cliff Trail – a very narrow trail that hugged the edge of the cliffs following the mountainside all the way back to the area near Chimney Rock – the namesake of the park. After leaving the waterfall area I walked a short distance into the forest – approximately half-way between the waterfall and the outcropping left of center in the above photograph. I passed through a tunnel of Rhododendrons and was just about to pop out of the woods onto a more exposed section of the trail when suddenly, I noticed what appeared to be a female human crouching in the woods about 10 feet downhill on the cliff-side of the trail. Her back was to me and she was bracing herself against a small tree while holding something out of my view out in front of her. There were several small trees and shrubs between her and the edge of a cliff a few feet away so she must not have recognized the danger. She did not notice me as I silently made my way along the trail to investigate what she was doing. Then it came into view – she was holding a naked toddler! I stared in disbelief and then said – “Excuse me ma’am, may I ask what you are up to?” She looked up from the dangling child and snapped angrily back – “Can’t you see she is going to the bathroom!” I said, “No ma’am, I just arrived and was just curious because I have never seen someone dangle a child so close to the edge of a 400 foot cliff before.” She stopped, pulled the child against her body, and quickly clambered back up onto the trail, put the child down on the trail, hurriedly put on its diaper, picked it up, and started to head off down the trail without another word. I said to her back – “Excuse me ma’am, would you please return and pack out your used diaper? Not only is it smelly, unsightly, and an unsanitary danger to wildlife, but it could potentially spread diseases – and along with all that it is littering.” She had dropped the child’s soiled diaper on the side of the trail near where she had been dangling her kid near the edge of the cliff. She stopped dead in her tracks, shot me an eat shit and die stare, and went back to get the diaper without ever saying a word. She picked it up, shoved it in her bag, and stomped off down the trail. I followed her all the way back to the parking area because I feared she would just toss the diaper – or maybe even the kid – into the woods or over the cliff if I let her out of my sight. I wonder how long the trail of dirty diapers littering the woods and roadsides is for her and many more like her? Once in the parking area she jumped in her car and sped off down the mountain. While she seemed to clearly realize her serious safety error and was embarrassed by her mistake, at least she chose to keep most of her feelings to herself.
Sometimes, however, the individuals I would encounter and reprimand for their, often intentional infractions – would puff up, and strut and crow like a mojo-filled rooster, clucking loudly of this being a free country and/or an infringement on their personal freedoms, how much they paid to get into the park, and sometimes even cuss/insult my authority as a park ranger – or even insult me personally. When this happened I could only smile and calmly wish them luck because luck is all they had going for them – they clearly had zero intelligence/common sense and/or a great big chip on their shoulder – or all of the above.
On one of these crazy occasions, I was again working as Trail Walker ranger at Chimney Rock Park. I was again strolling quietly along the rugged, and wild, Cliff Trail on a beautiful summer day and I noticed what appeared to be several 20 something-year-old young men standing on a rocky outcrop I affectionately called “Turtle Head Rock.” Turtle Head Rock was about the size of a VW Beetle and it stuck precariously out of the side of the mountain and under it – open air all the way down for several hundred feet to the bottom of the cliff. On the top of the turtle’s head stood this troop of young men, one of them – the largest of the troop – let us call him Biff – stood upon a mat of the same type of moss I spoke of earlier (for those of you botany nerds out there it was Twisted-hair spikemoss (Selaginella tortipila). Biff then started to move forward on the moss mat…and then he started to lean out to get a look over the edge. One false move and Biff would have died a horrible death as his body impacted on the rocks hundreds of feet below. Outrageous! In this rapidly evolving situation, I had no other choice but to call out to stop him from continuing forward and making a huge mistake that ended only in a dead-end – so I forcefully said – STOP!
Biff and his comrades stopped, looked up, perplexed at the voice that came from seemingly out of nowhere. I stood in the middle of the trail, about 50 feet or so away, with the open-air gap between the cliffs and “turtle head rock” in between us. Biff stared with a glare of hatred that I felt might ignite me. I then said. “You are all in a very unsafe location. Please, everyone move back off the rock the way you came and cross back over the fence and onto the trail.” Biff stood up straight, put his hands on his hips, and said something insulting and guttural under his breath that I could not fully understand and then he said loudly – “WHY SHOULD I!?!?” I calmly said – “Gravity.” Biff looked at me in silent, beady-eyed, mouth-breathing, stupidity. Then, he and his troop of brainless bipedal primates turned and reluctantly started to make their way back over the fence to the trail. While they were clambering over the fence I quickly made my way to their location and waited for them to all cross onto the trail. Finally, the ape-like Biff crossed over the fence at which point he turned, and squared up with me – he was a head taller, a foot wider, and mighty muscled – his fists were clenched, his face was bright red, and he started spitting venomous words and insults directly in my face. I could smell the alcohol on his breath and this revelation helped me understand more about his recalcitrance. I let him finish his toxic diatribe and in answer to his final question of “Who gives you the right to tell me what to do!!??” Again, I calmly said – “Gravity.” He stared blankly at me and his face turned another shade of red. He then said, “What the fuck man, – are you some kind of know-it-all egghead!!??” I replied – “Yes, I suppose I am and thank you for the compliment.” He grunted, fumed like an enraged bull, with the veins in his neck popping out as he started moving even closer to me and at that moment I thought he was going to pile drive me into the trail with one of his meaty, sledgehammer-like, clenched fists. I backed against the cliff wall and had nowhere to go and simply said – “The moss you were standing on is not well attached to the rock. Had I not stopped you when I did, your dead, broken body would be bleeding on the rocks at the bottom of that cliff right now and your own stupidity – and gravity – would have been to blame.” He stopped, backed away from me, became very quiet, and stared at me for what seemed like a very long moment, a moment in which I could almost hear the tiny wheels turning in his minuscule, alcohol-soaked, monkey brain, pulsating somewhere in the dark void behind his squinting little eyes and his tomato-red, sweat-beaded face – he then backed off, turned, and said to his troop of muscle-bound monkey boys – “Come on team, this asshole is not worth our time.” They all then laughed at Biff’s lame comment and as a group then turned and started lurching like troglodytic cavemen along the trail. As I followed at a safe distance I could not help but notice that they looked like a troop of testosterone-fueled teen-aged baboons hell-bent on getting themselves into any and all mischief and mayhem they could find. Soon, we came to a fork in the trail where I found the group gathered around Biff looking at a park map. I asked if I could be of any assistance and Biff turned and yelled at me “Hell No! – you wimpy little MF!!”
That was it. These individuals – mainly Biff – were clearly unstable and a possible danger to themselves and to other park visitors so I calmly said “That’s it. It is time to go. Everyone head down that trail to the left and then to your cars. It is time to go home.” Biff turned and again squared up to me, his face even redder than before – and bellowed “you and what army!” I put my hand on my radio and said – “Just try it. In moments you will have a swarm of rangers, maintenance men, and police all over you and your “team” – and, by the way – there is only one way in – and out – of this park.” At this new knowledge, Biff chose wisely and backed down, turned, and they all headed down the trail to the parking area. I followed close behind – but at enough of a distance so I could discretely call ahead to the staff managing parking and let them know what happened. I gave them a description of the toxically masculine alcohol and testosterone fueled gorilla Biff and his troop of yes men and I asked them to escort them safely out of the park. When we arrived at the parking area Biff and his “team” got into their vehicles and sped off down the mountain – with the parking chief following not far behind. She later radioed me to report that Biff and his boys had stopped and tried to take off on another trail but she stopped them and made them get back in their cars and move along. By the time they reached the park entrance a few miles below, a local police officer was waiting to escort them out of town – just to put the fear of the long arm of the law into them and make them think twice about ever again acting like knuckle-dragging, slack-jawed, sub-human, primates* when visiting private property. *I know, this is an insult to respectable primates everywhere – but it is the best descriptivism I can come up with without getting really nasty.
Yet another example…
Once, again while I was working at Chimney Rock Park, I encountered a man and woman hiking down the trail in front of me – very slowly. This would not normally be an issue – people are free to hike at whatever speeds they want to. The issue on this particular day was the massive gray-green cumulonimbus cloud towering thousands of feet overhead and now starting to sink down under the mass of all the water it was carrying and about to unleash as fury on the countryside and all the tiny creatures therein. As I approached the slow moving individuals I could not help but notice that the male of the couple was a towering mass of tan, rippling human muscle with a neck thicker than my body, tattoos on his bulging, sweaty biceps, a tight mesh tank top, shorts that were several sizes too small, a buzz cut, and wrap-around mirror style sunglasses. The female was drop-dead gorgeous – maybe a model – with greatly enhanced centerfold/Barbie-doll proportions, a very revealing in all the right places red sundress, she had long flowing shiny-black hair reaching down to her waist, her hands ended in shiny black long fingernails, and her silky legs ended in red stiletto heels. Ah, that was it – the heels – that is what was slowing them up (why on earth would anyone try to hike this rugged, unimproved, mountain trail in stiletto heels – it is a wonder she had not already broken an ankle!) I ran up to them and said something like: “You folks need to get moving, the park is closing soon and you are the last ones on the trail and we are closing things up for the night.” The woman shot me a glare and the man turned his gorilla-like bulk toward me and said “What gives you the right to speak to us in that way!?” I just pointed up at the sky and said – “That massive storm and the fact that I am a park ranger and what I say, goes.” Then I said “Ma’am, if you don’t take off those heels right away and get moving a bit faster – we may all end up casualties when this storm unleashes its energy on us!” They both looked up and at that moment there was a huge clap of thunder and an icy wind screamed across the exposed cliff face where we were standing. Both of them looked instantly terrified and the woman struggled to keep her tiny dress from revealing too much – but the wind had other ideas. As she fought to keep her dress on she braced against her mountainous male partner, quickly removed her shoes – and they both took off running down the trail with me in hot pursuit. All the while I was hoping neither of them tripped and fell and broke a bone and I would then have to call for a carry-out in this kind of wild weather. Soon, we came to a great dark crack in the rocks known as the “Needles Eye” – if you have never ventured through the Needles Eye I will attempt to describe it for you – imagine a giant rock, several stories in height, with a narrow crack running through the middle of the rock. In that crack is constructed a precarious set of stairs with a spiral staircase at the midway point – it is probably one of the steepest spiral staircases in the world.
No two steps in the spiral are the same size – it was an amazing feat of engineering but sadly, it is no longer in existence due to safety code requirements. But on that day in the late 1990’s it was – and when we reached the top of the staircase we started down just as the clouds opened up and started dumping giant cold drops of rain – with embedded tiny ice crystals – all around and upon us. It was a beautiful show of nature’s power – but I also knew then that we were in for a monster of a storm. As we made our way carefully down the staircase we could hear howling winds and sheets of rain moving over the mountain and huge claps of thunder echoing throughout the gorge and the rocky crevice we were making our way through. None of us spoke, we just moved as fast as possible down the stairs and through the crack in the mountain – terrified at what was coming and hoping that we were not about to get washed out of the crack like the spider in the drainpipe. As we soon exited the relative safety of the Needle’s Eye the rain was now coming down in a torrent and our clothes were instantly saturated – I could not help but notice that “Barbie’s” tiny red dress was now clinging to her in a way that – even with the life-threatening storm screaming all around us – burned a mark forever in my brain (I blame my testosterone for that last comment). We all ran faster and made it to the trailhead at the parking lot just as larger hailstones began to fall. The couple thanked me, jumped in their Hummer, and sped off into the growing storm.
I made my way up the elevator to the Sky Lounge where I joined the other park staff to watch the storm unfold from the safety of the lounge. After the power blinked a few times and the storm did not let up, I and the other employees were dismissed to head home. As I drove down the mountain and through the gorge in my 1965 Series IIa Land Rover, I realized that this was not your average late summer storm – it was a real monster. Not only was the rain falling so fast and hard that my windshield wipers were useless, but the sheer volume of water falling from the sky and running across the road was unimaginable and truly frightening to witness. About a mile west of the park’s main gate I saw headlights shining up from the left at an odd angle – I slowed and peered through the torrent of rain to see a car half submerged in the Rocky Broad River! Its driver’s door was open and I could see that no one was inside as raging waves of water were crashing over the submerged trunk of the car. There was also no one around so I could only hope they had made it safely to shore. Then I heard one of the most frightening yet amazing sounds – a sound that I have only heard one other time in my life – the sound of huge car-sized boulders being pushed around in the river by the rapidly building flash-flood. Both frightening and amazing because the power of nature is both of these things. This was when I decided it was time to get the hell out of the gorge as fast as possible – or I may not be able to get out because I still had travel several miles of twisting narrow mountain road and cross one more bridge over the rapidly swelling river. After slowly making my way up the remainder of the road – and crossing several torrents of water gravity was pulling down the steep mountainsides from above – I finally came to the place where the bridge was supposed to be – and luckily, it was still there. I slowly drove over the bridge and started up HWY 64 towards home. The higher I climbed the lighter the rain became. When I topped out in the small community of Edneyville the rain had stopped and it was a beautiful afternoon. I pulled off the road and looked back toward the gorge only to see a massive towering anvil of a cumulonimbus cloud – one of the largest ones I had ever seen in the mountains. It looked more like a cloud one would see associated with a tornado on the Great Plains or a Hurricane out in the Gulf of Mexico – not sitting stationary over the Hickory Nut Gorge. It was truly a freak storm. As the hours passed that storm ended up being one of the most terrifying and terrible flash flooding events the Hickory Nut Gorge had ever seen. It dumped over a foot of rain in just a few hours and, due to the steepness of the terrain, it laid waste to almost the entire gorge area, destroyed several bridges, homes, and businesses, and shut everything down for several weeks until the damage could be cleaned up and repaired.
On that wild wet day I listened to the warnings of nature, helped two absolutely oblivious individuals move along (possibly saving their lives in the process), and, as fast as possible, took measures to get myself out of what was becoming a very bad situation.
Similarly, in many other situations, I have had to separate countless people from potentially dangerous self-imposed situations with snakes, bears, alligators, deer, thorny and toxic plants, moving water, wind, sand, and even sunlight, heat/cold, ice, snow, and rain. It boggles the brain how so many people can be so incredibly stupid so often – and it is almost always just to get a unique photo or “not have their vacation ruined by the weather.”
After seeing this kind of crazy exhibited by so many humans at so many separate locales and situations I, and many of the wonderful rangers, naturalists, and officers I have worked with in these locations and circumstances – have come to the conclusion that, at least with a portion of the weekend-warrior type segment of the human population of this country, it seems that some of these individuals may, in fact, develop a syndrome we ranger and naturalist-types call the “amusement park mentality.” This is the idea that if one has to pay for access into a private, state, or national park – then that this area must be safe – like an amusement park is presumed to be. Somehow to these people, it seems nature must somehow be “tamed” in these areas, or fabricated, fake, a show, and nothing can hurt you – apparently not even gravity. The animals are friendly and tame, the snakes are all non venomous, the bees can’t sting, and – yes, even the bears are friendly and are put up in their cages for the night along with the waterfalls which are turned off when the park closes its gates. This – nature cannot hurt me amusement park mentality – has been the cause of many an injury and death of countless individuals in countless wild places all over this country and possibly the world. Oddly, from my observations of people from almost three decades of personal experience, it seems that – for whatever the reasons – it is primarily Americans who exhibit this bizarre, common sense lacking trait. I wonder why that is?
And today I find myself wondering if some of the people that I – and all of us park ranger types – have asked to step back from the edge, cross back over those fences, distance themselves from the wildlife, get out of the weather, etc. – are these now some of the same folks who choose to ignore the experts and not wear masks, not stay out of crowded places, not get vaccinated, open up their businesses, cities, and states too early, and/or believe all the conspiracy “theory” nonsense such as but not limited to the erroneous belief that the virus was manufactured in a lab as a bio-weapon or as a way to control the population, tracking devices in vaccines, 5G will give you COVID and/or allow the government to track you via your vaccine – instead of listening to the actual experts, the peer-reviewed evidence, and good old common sense during a global pandemic?
Sadly, and to put it bluntly – many of today’s big brained bipedal primates do not seem to be in any way fit for survival on this gravity-created, water-soaked, rock we call home. The only things keeping them alive are dumb luck, laws, and those who enforce the laws therefore keeping those who lack intelligence and common sense from making the stupid decisions that would have quickly weeded them out of the gene pool.
From a purely Darwinian perspective – could it be that by asking a certain some of them to cross back over to the safe side of the fence – we may have unintentionally spawned many of the problems we are facing today…
Nature is a harsh mistress.
She does not care about us, so if we want to survive, we must care about ourselves and care about each other. We must learn as much as possible about how things work and become naturally and scientifically literate – we must listen to those who know and trust their knowledge until better knowledge comes along.
Nature only gives us two choices in life: adapt or die.