The Village Idiot: A fine balance

By John Hopkins

“You are a fluke of the Universe.
You have no right to be here
and whether you can hear it or not
the Universe is laughing behind your back.”
--Deteriorata, National Lampoon, 1972

The circular log seemed oddly out of place. Measuring about a foot in diameter and maybe two feet in length, the cleanly cut piece of wood had obviously originated in a woodpile somewhere. It did not belong nestled on the ground among the trees near our riverbank, where Nancy and I discovered it a few days after the rising waters of the Moira River had begun their recession.

Our own woodpile was about 30 feet away and had never been in danger of assault by the rising river. No, this log must have started a journey somewhere else upriver and travelled along the stormy channel before being deposited haphazardly in our vicinity.

We did see some curious things floating down the river during that dark and stormy weekend, and we were lucky we did not contribute anything to the floating garage sale. A family of garden gnomes was relocated numerous times, and the chairs around the firepit had to be moved to higher ground. At its highest the water had completely submerged the firepit, and it was ironic to consider that last July Nancy and her sister had enjoyed a bonfire at that exact spot without the remotest thought that the river could ever swell to that point, or indeed, beyond, in a matter of a few rainy days.

Others, however, were not as lucky as we were. It took only a walk around our neighbourhood during a brief respite in the rain to see the magnitude of the flooding. It was ironic to think of where we were a little less than a year ago, when the months were so dry and by the middle of August we were praying for even a semblance of rainfall to provide relieve. Now we were begging for some sun and warmth to dry the ground and redress the environmental balance.

Ah yes – the environmental balance. I always rationalize the vagaries of the weather in terms of the logical balance of nature. Drought is followed by a rain, a bitterly cold winter is preceded by more moderate temperatures, and spring and autumn provide some sort of middle ground. In the end, over the long term, we are left with stable, predictable, comfortable environmental conditions that allow life to thrive on this planet.

But what if I’m wrong? What if, rather than finely tuning the earth through a system of checks and balances, Mother Nature is starting to lose her cool? What if She really isn’t happy about the way we are treating her planet down here? Massive floods once every 20 or 30 years are one thing, but what if we go through the same experience again next spring, and then the spring after that? What if it gets even worse?

I have heard that the conditions that allow us to live on earth are quite unique, that a nudge out of our orbit one way or the other, a change in our atmosphere, or some other hiccup in our solar system could snuff us out in a second, so you’ll forgive me if I’m feeling a little touchy about getting on the wrong side of Mother Nature. I don’t like how it could end up.

One of the great lessons of our indigenous people, that it took European settlers centuries to comprehend, is that humans are not above nature. We cannot control it, we must learn to live in partnership with it. But we didn’t listen, and we overfished, razed forests, and eventually started messing up the ozone layer.

I thought we were starting to figure it all out, and then I heard that U.S. President Donald Trump was pulling the United States out of the Paris Accord on climate change, ostensibly due to economic concerns. Now, I don’t know if the Paris Accord is the great salve to Mother Nature we all hope it is, but these days I figure we need to give these things an honest shot. But in President Trump I see a guy taking our thinking back a few centuries, thinking that the environment is something to be bargained with and bartered.

Sadly, I’m afraid the world doesn’t work like that. Economic concerns will mean nothing when we wind up as just another one of those dead fireballs hurtling through space.

The National Lampoon lyric quoted at the beginning of this column was comedy, but like a lot of comedy, it has a ring of truth. We are flukes of the universe, not masters of it, and we’d better clue into that soon.