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 scene, 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 my novel, Jaguar Sun: The Journey of an Ancient Maya Storyteller, the protagonist 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 few of generations in duration. When I was a child, 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, the prospect of moving, even within the same city, is quickly dampened by the need to move our—okay, mostly my—stuff.
I’am amazed by what it takes for me to live from from morning to night. A recent road trip provided a demonstration. Just to spend a day photographing, my car needs to be filled with stuff—peanuts in case I had a blood sugar problem, a cooler to keep water and film cold, four camera cases, two tripods, flash unit, a filter kit, exposure meter and log book and a flight bag with waders, socks, underwear, a spare pair of shoes, items on hangers and more.
As life and living becomes more complex, physical systems expand. Early on, Eastman Kodak Company profited greatly by the fact that cameras needed to consume film and paper, that needed chemicals to be processed, and variations on these to meet the demands of special circumstances and techniques, 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 that consumes paper and 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” in order to do their work or exercise their creativity. Businesses have an insatiable appetite for consumables, as do sport-related systems that require equipment and uniforms. It’s a guess, but I estimate that we use twenty times the number of disposable batteries we used five years ago.
Those of us who live in an abundance society are privileged, but with it comes the responsibility to minimize our ecological footprint. So also, state and governmental agencies that should be managing resources wisely, that is, sustainably. 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 natural and man-made change. Of course that doesn’t guarantee that the human species can or will survive such adaptations. And that’s one of the good reasons to cultivate foresight and invest in responsible planetary stewardship, to look ahead and plan responses to devastating potentials such as rising sea levels, rogue diseases, terrorism and asteroid bombardment.
What to do? I can get books, CD’s, DVD and more at the library rather than purchase them. I can donate books I don’t intend to use. I can recycle our everyday waste and save fuel in a number of ways. The list goes on. But mostly, I can reduce consumption overall by making decision more conscious of environmental consequences. Is this a need or want? Considering the above image, I can be more aware and selective in what I put in my 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 the shot. In Photoshop I increased the brightness and contrast so the textured wall wouldn’t be as prominent as it is in the original file. 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’s a big, backwards “R” on each of the carts.
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