The Creeping Chill
Mulling on our ability to conquer the cold
Snow tumbles groundward
gripping fenceposts as it falls
icy fingers slipping with no sound
melting dripping down our walls
We delight! We laugh
knowing water water water
refills the well;
we think but of ourselves knowing
wood is stacked away in the shed
and electrons in the wires still dance:
we will be warm in our beds.
Hours before dawn
during our deepest dreams
the creeping chill
wakes us in panic from our sleep.
We go back to sleep after rousing the logs on the fire, without
thought to those who have no such control over their most basic needs.
The sheep sleep in stoic silence beneath the whispering trees. Mice
scurry frantically for any morsel we have left behind. We are not in
their situation anymore. If you are reading this on a computer, my bet
is that you also have the power to keep yourself warm, give yourself
shelter, food, and evening entertainment.
What a long way we have come.
Here on the plateau, the ability to heat ourselves comes from a
conscious use of carbon resources. We do have to fire up the wood
stoves at night, or sleep with electric blankets. There is no central
heating because there is no central place in which we all sleep every
night, unlike an apartment building or house.
The energy we use to keep ourselves warm is still carbon based, as it
has been for thousands of years. Only now, the electricity we use
comes from coal, oil, and natural gas. Wes Jackson, founder of the
Land Institute, speaks about the five carbon pools that we as a
civilization continue to use in the October 2010 edition of The Sun.
We began as a civilization with agriculture, which uses the carbon
stored in soil. Next we began using the forests to build homes and
create vast empires. We then began to be industrious [sic] through the
use of the coal carbon pool. And now, these days, we depend on oil and
natural gas to fuel our days.
Because we have learned to use these carbon stores, we have had the
opportunity to spend our time thinking about carbon pools, doing
penguin research, and contemplating the next chess move rather than
thinking about keeping the frost from biting our toes. Einstein
presumably did not have to think about his chilly bones, and instead
thought about the curious photoelectric effect and how it could be
better explained by photons, which eventually led to the much-touted
Theory of Relativity. Technology's march has a lot to do with how
comfortable we are.
Let me tell a bit about how this plays in to my life. When I am not at
Windward, I work as a field science educator in the Olympics. Although
there are many arguments about the particulars of Maslow's Hierarchy
of Needs, as an educator with the outdoors as my classroom, it is
clear to me that the most basic needs must be satisfied. Only after I
know that my students are comfortably warm and dry in the rain, not
hungry or thirsty, have used the bathroom, feel safe in the physical
environment as well as in the environment where their ideas will be
respected and listened to, then and only then can they learn. If they
want to, of course, and it's my job to convince them that they do!
So. I encourage you to think for a moment about the carbon pools you
use every day. How long does it take for that carbon to be collected
in the form that you now use? I encourage you to think about what
things you are able to do given the fact that your basic needs are
satisfied. Can you indulge in reading this article from start to
finish, for example, or is a mountain lion stalking you as you try to
glean a little perspective?
I saw you look over your shoulder for a moment there.
Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 71