Like most people, I’ve long been interested in the notion of my legacy. Will anything I produce outlast me on this planet? Has my teaching inspired critical thought, appreciation for the natural world, or empathy for humans and other animals? Will the pages containing my written work be used for something other than fire-starter and toilet paper? Not that there’s anything wrong with either, particularly in a pinch. After all, the pages are acid-free and therefore durable.
Indulge me this moment of vanity as I contemplate what I’ll leave behind. As usual, any number can play. What’s your legacy?
All of us reading this blog leave behind a depleted world. The world has no money and the emperor has no clothes, according to news anchor Brian Williams. As we peer into the abyss of chaos, the world we are leaving future generations largely lacks potable surface water, abundant edible food, materials for constructing shelter, and soils for growing fibers. The stunning richness of species that greeted the industrial age has been replaced by a living planet barely hanging by a thread. As Derrick Jensen wrote in Endgame, forests greet us and deserts dog our heels.
At least we’re leaving compost. I’ve come to appreciate compost quite a bit since I’ve launched my new career as organic gardener.
I’ve no doubt I’ll be there in a few short years, corpse to compost, along with most other Americans. It is difficult for me to foresee a situation in which I would survive the completion of the ongoing collapse. Unlike most industrial humans, though, I will gladly make the ultimate sacrifice in exchange for bringing the industrial economy to its overdue close.
With respect to the living planet, I’ve placed my picket-pin in this small valley in the southwestern United States, former home to the Apache warrior Geronimo. Like a Cheyenne Dog Soldier, I’ve staked my terrain and will defend it from further insults. This untamed river must remain wild, forever protected from industrial abuses and therefore able to support human life as we enter the post-industrial Stone Age. I’ve not yet achieved the expertise of one of my neighbors, who has spent the last couple decades sleeping outside, making fire with a fire bow, foraging wild foods, and drinking from the river. I doubt I will, either.
To ease the transition to the next Stone Age, we have created a durable set of living arrangements that will long outlast occupants of this property. Our infrastructure includes a house, hand pump, root cellars, and cooking devices that should persist at least a century, and probably much longer. I’ve little doubt these devices will outlast humans in this region, considering the dire nature of global — and therefore regional and local — climatic changes.
And then there’s the big stuff, difficult to measure though it is. What about ideals? What about our sense of humanity? We strive to illustrate a style of living, unique to this time and place, that keeps us close to the land and close to our neighbors. Will it persist beyond my own generation? Obviously, I’d like to think so. But there’s a problem with leaving a legacy: We don’t know what it is or how long it will persist.
This issue reminds me of teaching. One never knows if the messages will be received, or in what form.
For example, I taught my dog to whistle. She never did learn to whistle. But I taught with all my heart.
Will my legacy resemble my dog’s ability whistle? Or will I get lucky and leave something durable and useful? Besides the compost, I mean.