Wednesday, February 8

Ex-Cyclist Finds a Soapbox

You remember when the Charlie Brown characters would get angry or frustrated and there would be a dark black squiggle in the thought-bubble over their heads? Yeah, I got one of those going on.

I carpooled again.

I've been trying. The last two nights I've gotten everything ready to ride, gone to bed feeling much improved and then I woke up the past two mornings feeling wretched. Double-whammy this morning: 13ºF not including windchill.

Another couple of days like this and I should start surfing craigslist for a used H2. Hang up my legband. Crush my bikes for scrap to dump in the ocean. Club a baby seal.

Well, carpooling is still better than buying that Hummer. Lord knows we don't have a place to park one in our 1950s driveway. The neighbor with the smart car might go into cardiac arrest.

On a happier note, at least for those who are gluttons for punishment, Transition Voice has posted an article/book review I wrote. If you have nothing better to do, no nails to clip, no engines to degrease, no Hummers to try and move off the lot today...check it out.

The piece is titled Seeing Berry's Wilderness Again. The book I wrote about is Wendell Berry's The Unforeseen Wilderness. The wilderness in question is Kentucky's Red River Gorge.

Back in the late sixties and early seventies there was a push for a dam on the Red River for flood control which would have inundated an area that is today a National Wild and Scenic River, a protected archaeological area, designated wilderness, a designated geological area and a huge recreational destination for much of the eastern US. The well known Senator William O. Douglas hiked along the banks of the Red River and an unofficial trail unofficially bears his name lo, these four decades hence.

Wendell Berry wrote The Unforeseen Wilderness to protest, to educate and to preserve. He strongly criticized unsustainable farming in the area, and turned the magnifying glass on unsustainable activities in the watershed as the reason for increased flooding dangers. He looked to the source of the problem and exposed the root of the matter for all to see. For many just believed a flooding river was to blame. Dam that river.

But Berry showed that it was man and his thoughtless and irresponsible activities that had changed the nature of the once wild river and had caused the river to silt up and overflow its banks. He showed the folly of building a lake for recreation when there was valuable landscape already there, providing all of the recreational needs that it should. He revealed the folly of building dear things in the floodplain, instead of on higher, more solid ground.

As I work toward furthering my education I am able to pull more and more out of this richly written book. Sustainability principles abound. Green building principles abound. It is still relevant, and in some ways more relevant today. What have we learned in the decades since the fight to "Stop the Dam?"

That unlimited growth is the only measure that matters? That while people fought to stop a lake that would have "created jobs" for the area and controlled flooding that even though the lake was prevented, no other solutions have been implemented in the area to counter flooding or the lack of job opportunity for the people of my native community. Land is still cleared on the ridges rimming the watershed and people still must look beyond the divide for employment.

The Red River Gorge area has unlimited potential in recreation and adventure tourism. Managed wisely, and foremost sustainably, that activity could help the region to thrive economically, socially and environmentally. Instead, the few dollars that come in do little to improve the quality of life for the residents and little to improve services and conditions for visitors. Potential is wasted. Vision is dim.

I would love to fire up a busload of stakeholders from that area and drive them down to Damascus, Virginia and show them what a small town can do with the natural resources it has at its disposal. And then a second busload, a third, until all the stakeholders saw great examples of how small communities took advantage of the landscape around them and in a responsible and beautiful way built something incredible.

There is no reason small-scaled agriculture and sustainable endeavors can't work there. There's no reason that the community cannot become more resilient and more robust. There is overlooked talent, strong-willed people, and a landscape that can sustain.

But I digress. These days I live in a different ecosystem, a different watershed. I am far removed from that place where I see potential sputtering, trying to ignite into an uncontrollable fire of opportunity.

My thought is: how can I fan the flames and warm the place where I grew up and where the greatest number of the people I love still live?

I can write.

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