In the 2010 movie, “Meek’s Cutoff,” a scout, claiming to know a shortcut through part of the treacherous Oregon Trail, led a wagon train of three families across a desert. Although the film doesn’t answer the burning question “Did they find water after many days without it?” the artful and realistic depiction of their difficulties made a lasting impression on me. In one scene, to lighten their load, the settlers dumped their furniture and other precious items out the back of the buckboards. In another, a runaway wagon is destroyed and the family’s water barrel breaks open. Adding to their mistrust of the guide—and at times each other—they argue over whether the Indian they captured is leading them to water or away from it.
In the novel I’m writing, the protagonist, an itinerant storyteller around 600 A.D., spends his days traveling jungle trails between cities, some of them seven days apart, on foot, through the tropical cycles of wet and dry seasons. I’m amazed by the resilience and determination of those who came before us, across cultures. Relatively speaking, the abundant American lifestyle that we enjoy is only a recent development, only a couple of generations in duration. When I was a sprout, my grandparents used a coal-fired stove, had a dirt floor pantry, got water from a well and had no indoor plumbing. Now, for Linda and me, any appeal of moving, even if within the same city, is quickly dampened by the prospect of needing to move our—mostly my—stuff.
I am amazed by what it takes for me to live from waking up to bedtime. A recent road trip provided a demonstration. Just to spend one full day photographing, my car was filled with stuff—peanuts in case I had a blood sugar problem, a cooler to keep water and film cold, four camera cases, tripod, filter kit, exposure log book, a flight bag with socks, underwear, a spare pair of shoes, items on hangers and more.
As life and living becomes more complex, physical systems expand. One shopping cart is not enough to keep them functioning and improving. Early on, Eastman Kodak Company profited greatly by the fact that cameras needed to “eat” film and paper—that needed to be processed—and there needed to be variations on these to meet the demands of special circumstances and discriminating photographers, thereby generating even more revenues. Every appliance is a system that needs to be continuously fed, or at least maintained. I can’t just have a computer. I have to have peripherals, applications, service contracts, cabling, bluetooth, backup drives and a printer, which eats ink. The same with smart phones, televisions, DVD players and other entertainment systems. Professionals and hobbyists alike, in every area, need a lot of “stuff.” Businesses have an insatiable appetite, as do sport-related systems—balls, bats, rackets and specialized clothing. Every interest area require the acquisition of “stuff.” It’s a guess, but I estimate that we use twenty times the number of disposable batteries that we used five or seven years ago.
Those of us who live in an abundance society are privileged, but with it comes the responsibility to minimize our ecosystem footprint. And at the state and governmental levels to manage natural resources wisely, that is, sustainably with long term vision. While “consumerism” and the uncaring, unconscious production and consumption attendant to it, can rightly be cited as a contributor to global warming and a variety of social ills, the argument that the earth is finite, a closed system, doesn’t hold water. As a living system, the earth is autopoietic—self-creating. It’s continuously making itself over.
Evolutionary biologist, Elisabet Sahtouris, observed that the Earth is an autopoietic system, a whole system, “A giant cell within whose boundary membrane other smaller cells evolve, multiply, die and are recycled—(all these are) holons forming within the great Earth holon.” The planet adapts and renews itself in response to change. Of course that doesn’t guarantee that the human species can or will survive such adaptations. And that is one of the good reasons to cultivate foresight and invest in planetary management, to look ahead and plan responses to devastating potentials such as rising sea levels, rogue diseases and asteroid bombardment.
What can I do? I can do little things like recycle my books and throwaway items, get books, CDs and videos from the library and save fuel in a number of ways. The list goes on. Mostly, I can make more responsibly choices regarding the things I think I need and want. Do I really need them? Is this a need or want? If I was compelled to surf, I would need at least one good surfboard. I’d maintain it and purchase new ones on occasion, but I certainly wouldn’t stop surfing for fear of forest depletion. I would however, do the research to consider products such as paint and wax that are environmentally friendly. Can the containers be recycled? In short, I want to become more aware of what I’m “stuffing” into my grocery and other shopping carts—on and off line.
Doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life.
About This Image
Title: Shopping Carts
File #: DC 5982
I’d spent the day photographing around Champaign, Illinois. After dinner, I was going to my car when I noticed these carts all neatly lined up. The long shadows on the pavement served as vectors compositionally, and the cast shadow of the light pole broke the static, bottom-heavy elements, so I got out my camera and took made this image. In Photoshop I increased the brightness and contrast so the textured wall would not be as prominent as it is in the original. I also increased the “clarity” in Adobe Lightroom so the carts would be crisp. I don’t recall the name of the store, but there is a big, backwards “R” on each of the carts.