On a Wisconsin prairie, my first education in the connectedness of lifeforms
The modern supermarket, with all its conveniences, makes it easy to forget the processes by which natural resources become food products on the shelves. On the other hand, working and living on a farm has a way of never letting you forget!
I was born and raised on a family farm in Wisconsin. As soon as I was old enough to work, I was taught to milk the cows and do other tasks to help out. This is where I began to experience first-hand the natural order of things. There’s soil and toil and the grass pastures. In the winter, there are large bales of hay. In other words, without fodder for the cattle first, there’s no milk in the grocer’s dairy case.
So, naturally, we took care of the land and the stores of hay. On the macro level, I saw how the soil, the grass, the herd, and the milk are interconnected. When I began my schooling, I started to see symbiosis at micro levels, too. My several years’ work on the farm laid a rough foundation for my work as a biologist and physician. Now, having studied subatomic particles, I know that the closer you look, the more connected things are.
Yet, a catastrophe like the deadly explosion and massive oil spill at the Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico, we’re told, is something that has been “cleaned up”! Oil industry officials want us to believe that they have miraculously broken the connection between their noxious pollutant and the trillions of living organisms in the waters and on the shores. Ask the fisherman and marine biologists if the gulf has been cleaned up. Only the visible damage has been removed.
When you peddle a product, petroleum, which has already been proven to cause global warming, even when you don’t spill millions of gallons of it into our most delicate ecosystems, you must learn the cynical public relations psychology of the trade. “Tell them what they want to believe: We cleaned it all up!” Enough will believe it, and the fishermen and biologists will be left to shrug and continue with their hard work.
It’s 4:30 in the morning, and I think of the boy just now getting out of bed to milk the cows on his family’s farm. In his bones, he knows that the pasture and hay on the dairyland prairie must be unpolluted for the herd. It’s not about the product. He cares for the animals’ well-being. The soil, the grass, the boy, the cattle – all are deeply connected to each other. If a nearby pipeline were to burst and spill crude oil or gasoline onto the prairie, so too would it be connected.
My upcoming novel, ULTIMATE ERROR, explores the hubris and avarice which have put us on the brink of self-annihilation. Like the Great Barrier Reef, which is 93 percent polluted and dying, we still have a chance at survival – but it’s a small chance.