January 3, 2010

Perhaps I'll listen now

A guest on an NPR program that I was listening to on my car radio a couple of days ago was talking
about a movement in Sarasota to pressure the city into allowing people with the right kind of
property to keep a few chickens. Specifically hens (they’re less noisy than cocks). The hens lay
an egg a day, the good kind. They scratch around and eat beetles. Their droppings fertilize your
tomatoes. The conversation glanced off into the cycles of the seasons, the utopia we once knew,
the possibilities in getting off-grid.

It sounded deeply appealing. It occurred to me that if I had to strip my diet down to a few
essentials, I could get along with meat and fruit. Maybe I’d thrive in the jungle. I’d want a
caffeinated beverage, though, or maybe nicotine, so I’d need a patch of Camellia sinensis, at
least. Maybe my Jane, or Jason, could gather wild coffee beans and peaches while I hunt pheasants
in the forest. Did you know that chickens are pheasants? Gallus gallus. Or fish snook from my
kayak on the banks of the Caloosahatchee.

Yesterday I happened to tune in again while driving to the hardware store to pick up a file
cabinet lock. The guest was an author who wrote a book about the imminent collapse of
civilization. He posited what I myself had concluded some time ago: when the gig is up, probably
sooner than later, the developed world, being so cut off from nature, will be hit hardest. The
endemic tribes in the Amazon, for instance, won’t notice any difference, except probably a gradual
improvement. He did mention, however, that the natural world is smelly and cruel. Let’s not get
carried away. I get that, too. Back when Cooper was rhapsodizing about nature in one of his
thrilling flights, it occurred to me, in a contrarian mood, that our appreciation of nature rests
upon having first conquered it sufficiently to have the leisure to contemplate it. Get tossed up
on a deserted island, or lost on a snowy mountain slope, and maybe nature isn’t the great smiling
grandmother we’d like to think.

Cluck. My friend Walter used to keep a few chickens at the farm. Pets. He gathered eggs every day.
I was too busy, in my callow youth, thinking about my boyfriend Bo, and the Beatles, to pay
serious attention, in those lost days so long ago, those starry, starry nights ago. There was an
ancient orchard, neglected but fruitful, on the property. His partner Joseph made summer peach
pie. Strawberry preserves. We went stalking field greens and wild asparagus, while I dreamed of
city lights. I would not listen, I did not know how.