An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of August 7, 2005
issued from the Sierra Nevada Foothills
east of Sacrameto, California, USA

GASOLINE MAKES PISTONS MOVE

During Buck's visit he told me a story about his father, and when Buck does that he's going a long way back because Buck is well into his 80s. His story went something like this:

"When my father was teaching me how the engine that ran the sawmill worked he opened up the engine and showed me where the pistons were. He explained that gas fumes exploding above the pistons made those pistons go up and down, and the pistons were connected to a crankshaft in a way that made the crankshaft turn, and the turning of the crankshaft is what moved the blades that cut the lumber. And then he said, 'When gas fumes are being used up there above the pistons, you make sure that back there at the blades there's lumber being cut.'"

In other words, don't waste the gasoline.

I remember those kinds of notions being expressed by my people when I was a kid in rural Kentucky. Back then I thought of such sentiments as hillbilly talk, for I had seen that people in movies and on TV didn't say that kind of thing. Today, however, I'm of the opinion that such thinking suggests a much more sophisticated and realistic assessment of what has value in this world and how humans should behave, than the general principles currently guiding our culture.

Why is this matter relevant to a naturalist's newsletter?

It is because I love living things and there is nothing more threatening to life on Earth than the behavior of people who would ridicule the kind of close accounting favored by Buck's father.

In my opinion, when someone jumps into a car and drives someplace just to buy a hamburger, that is the moral equivalent of environmental terrorism. When people set their air conditioners at too cold a level and claim it's OK because they're working hard and paying for the electricity, it is a display of profound ignorance with regard to the environmental costs in producing and delivering that electricity, and they are showing how uncaring they are for those who will come later and have to pay the real costs. When voters allow themselves to be seduced by political demagogues, especially war-making ones, it is a rebuke to the Creator who endowed us with brains that when used enable us to see through such people.

How I long for the days when average folks with rough hands and honest smiles, and often with very little formal education, were endowed not only with the wisdom to speak in favor of frugality, self discipline, simplicity and country-style wholesomeness, but also the gumption to conduct their lives according to those sustainable principles.