50,000 Years

Finished the VT, NH, MA, NC, VT, RI, Los Angeles, San Diego, MA, VT tour last night.

In my last few hours in LA, having had dinner (spicy Hunan frog) with our visitors from Malaysia, I drove past LAX and parked at the Pacific beach just under the airport.  Maybe 20 people straggling around the beach, drinking by their cars, bicycling, starting a fire.  I changed to jeans and rubber shoes.

Standing on the sand and watching the Pacific, I had a very strange and clear sense which I can best describe as a "vision".   Like Black Elk, the Sioux Indian whose memories were recorded by my great grandfather's friend John G. Neihardt, I had a vision of the earth 50,000 years from now.

Would there be humans?  50,000 years is not long at all from evolution's perspective.   But it's so much longer than recorded history.

It would be plenty of time for rain forests to grow back, but not enough time to evolve new species to populate them.

What can I do to make an impact that would make a difference 50,000 years from now? It was so clear to me standing there, the vision of standing there on the same beach in 50,000 years.  I cannot imagine anything I teach my children would not be washed away from the years.  I cannot imagine anything I write would still be remembered or recorded.  In geologic time, it is such a short period of time, but in human history, it's an impossibly long time to reach towards.

All I can do is try to have an impact on species preservation, to lessen the violent speed of extinctions.  Is that best done by improving human's life conditions, so they have fewer kids and more education?  Or does improving their living conditions make them aspire for more consumption?   Increasing populations ability to consume always increases their consumption exponentially.  Probably eliminating malaria and HIV will blunt population growth somewhat, but just as likely the smaller population will want more stuff.

The issue of e-waste remains the consumption of rare earth metals, as in consumption and disposal.  Ironically, tin (leadfree) solder increases the same consumption of the rare metals mining.  The story of ewaste which will be remembered 50 years from now will probably be the tantalum mining in Congo rainforests to make cell phones, which are held in drawers to tossed away in an eventual housecleaning.  We need to mine human ore before we mine beaches and rain forests.

That's the farthest I can see of my own impact, that somehow I'll slightly slow the speed of the bullet driving into the rainforest by scavenging metals from the waste stream.   In my vision of 50,000 years, it was not a meaningful contribution that I made.  But hopefully, the desire to do good, the desire to care about the earth 50,000 years from now, that itself is the impact we are not creating but experiencing.  Hopefully the selfish consumption is a pants-pooping stage of human endeavor.  Conservation itself, caring about future unknown, gene washed generations, is what will be more widespread in 50,000 years. The gut feeling that throwing away something which was created with such violent extraction as a cell phone retains some value that we cannot see, and that paying to recycle it seems right somehow.  In our gut, we see past the mining subsidies and superfund subsidies, and refuse to throw away the bloody copper, paladium, aluminum, and stainless steel.

That the same gut feeling must somehow survive through the next 5,000 generations, so that someday, 50,000 years from now, someone else may stand on the beach, wondering and caring about the next 50,000 years.

It makes me wonder who stood on the beach in 49,010 BC.

I remember when I re-read Neihardt's Black Elk Speaks.  I was lying on the carpet in the living room of my grandmother and great aunt, Frieda Ingenthron and Maude Freeland, in the home of William E. Freeland, my great grandfather.   My dad strolled by, and asked in "interrupting dad speak" what I was reading.

I sighed and told him, in certainty he would not know what I was talking about, so matter of factly, "Black Elk Speaks".  Expecting at most a "Huh," and hoping that another interrupting question would not follow.

"Oh, John Neihardt," dad said.  I was surpised he knew the author and the book.  Then, "Do you remember him?"

I didn't answer, surprised by the turn in the conversation.

"I don't suppose so, you were too young.  He was good friends with (great grandfather Freeland) Paw-paw.  They used to see each other a couple times a year, they knew each other from the Indian service."

I am very sure that I would have been moved by Black Elk's vision without this close call with with celebrity.   That I write about the connection seems trite, and cheapens the elder's visions, turning this into an excuse to write about myself rather than a description of the vision of 50,000 years.

But at that time on the beach, 36 hours or so ago, the sense of vision seemed profound.  I like profound.  I want profound.   Profound rules. 

The profoundness of the speech of Black Elk trumps Neihardt, trumps my dad and his grandfather, and means something because he was willing to speak about a vision.  Because I have read and believe in peoples with visions, I am able to hold visions and to recognize the difference between a vision and a celebrity encounter.  50,000 years from now does not make me more important, but 50,000 years from now, the best hope I have is that mankind will hold visions of what will matter in the next 50,000 yeasrs.   And we will have long banned restaurants that serve shark fins, and cell phones made out of gorilla habitats, and stop discarding a tiny piece of e-waste metal which came to us at a greater cost than a baby seal pelt.

I hope and trust the spicy Hunan frog was not an endangered species, like Ozark terrapin turtles, fox bats, whales, bushmeat, and baby shark fins.   Maybe it gave me visions.

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