Thursday, August 24, 2006

Come see the blood in the streets

It struck me today that the intersection of Kingston Road and Salem Road (in Whitby), is a perfect snapshot of the end of civilization. To the south is Highway 401 - the typical 8 to 10 lane highway allowing motorists to hurtle themselves in and out of Toronto. A bit to the west of the intersection, on the north side, is a sprawling monstrous box-shaped mall housing the unholy, polygamous marriage of Danier Leather, Starbucks, Black's photography, I think a Moore's clothing place, and a bunch of others. Just beside and behind the big box they're ripping up more land for further retail development. So, at this intersection, you get a first hand look at our devotion to the automobile, rampant consumerism, and the paving over of agricultural land. And as a cyclist, as you're sitting there waiting for the light to turn green, you're able to watch motorist after motorist after motorist pass by in their cars, bringing us closer to extinction.

It's probably similar to what native americans must have felt, looking out over a plain of buffalo, massacred to drive the natives away to make way for trainlines. The various plains indians tribes must have thought "those animals were alive, they had souls, they would have fed me and clothed me - what kind of creature would do this?"
At Kingston Road and Salem, as you gaze at this snapshot of the forces which are ruining the earth's ecosystem, it's almost worse. We're destroying the earth not to vanquish some enemy, but simply because we don't have the will-power to stop.

A poem which has always stuck with me is Pablo Neruda's I'm Explaining a Few Things. Although in other work he uses wonderful lines like I want to do with you what spring does to the cherry trees, I'm Explaing a Few Things is a fiercely bitter condemnation of the Spanish Civil War, and the political figures who allowed it to happen.

He tries through most of the poem to explain his anguish through the medium of a poem - through rhythm and phrasing, etc. But at the end it all overwhelms him, and he can simply cry out
Come and see the blood on the streets.
Come and see the blood on the streets.
Come and see the blood on the streets!

How much blood, in the form of increased skin cancer rates, Hurricane Katrinas, heat wave deaths, food quality degradation, Iraq Wars, increased respiratory disease, increased obesity and associated health-care costs, mountain pine beetle infestations, reduced agricultural ability, glacier meltdowns, mass extinctions, rainforest depletion, water shortages, the U.N. Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, which states that 60% of the earth's ecosystems are in decline (good summary from the BBC here), and everything else, are we going to have to see, before we stand up to the Big Three, Big Oil, George Bush, and say "Enough. Please. Give us gardens. Give us bicycles. Give us a chance."


Melissa said...

I once read a poem by Pablo Neruda that I loved but now I do not recall it so I must find it again.

cyclingdave said...

sad. i see it here in wpg as well. somebody supersized the strip mall as if that earlier manifestaion of sprawl was'nt enough.

griffin said...

This post stayed with me all day, embedded itself in the flesh. With every car I saw, it seemed as though I could feel the receding hoof beats of the disappearing buffalo, ever road I traversed seemed stained with the blood Neruda spoke of.
I made a point of thanking the clerk at the local grocery for the store's commitment to stocking local organic produce from small farmers, and did some serious thinking about how I could further reduce my weight on the world.

I just don't understand how it is that people continue to do things they know are destroying the world, whether it's shopping at the mall or driving. Theres this guy I know who is a biologist, and readily admits that he is acutely aware of the signs of global warming all around him. Yet he continues to drive 100 miles round trip between work and home every day. I just don't get it. But it is heartening to know there are stubborn cyclists like you out there. Thanks so much for the amazing post.

jj said...

now, if only winter wasn't so damn cold... wait a sec, i better be careful what i wish for.

curt said...

Very well said and heartfelt. Neruda is incomparable.
If you like Neruda you will probably also enjoy de Andrade, de Moraes, and some other 20th Century Brazilian poets I can't name right now, if you're not already familiar.

I think the very last sentence of your post sums it up best. That is really, truly all any of it is or has ever been about.