By G.D. Maxwell
Evolution and erosion used to seem like such simple concepts. People evolved; the planet eroded; life proceeded apace. Simple.
But someone, maybe Albert Einstein though given the journalistic hangup about getting quotes right Im not about to put my neck on the line and say it was him said something like, "All major breakthroughs occur at the borders of known science when some smart cookie bridges the gap between whats known in two different disciplines." Of course, if, and Im not stating it as a fact, but if it was Einstein who said something like that, he said it with something like an Austrian accent which is devilishly hard to get across in print. So use your imagination.
I wasnt thinking particularly about either earth science or human evolution the day I finally grasped both the profundity of that idea and the oversimplification of my understanding of the difference between erosion and evolution. I was eating lunch hanging from a rope dangling more feet above the ground than I ever want to fall on a mountain. Eating lunch under those circumstances is more likely to lead to indigestion and numb legs than it is to deep thought but then, it was an extraordinary day.
A loud "crack", reminiscent of thunder and lightning occurring so close to where you are theres no discernible difference in timing between the two, broke my monotonous, cowlike grazing and I spun around in my sling to witness, for the first and only time ever, erosion taking place in real time. A flake of granite the size of a small subdivision, having not moved for maybe a couple of million years, secure in its relationship with the other granite around it since before tectonic forces thrust it up off prehistoric seabed, chose that precise moment to let go.
It slid down the face of a well-climbed route on a snaggletooth spire of rock called, unimaginatively, The Spire, broke into innumerable smaller pieces when it met the rocky approach slope below, dislodged several times its bulk and weight in other rocks, trees and earth, and tumbled ass over teakettle down the draw for a couple of hundred yards. It all took maybe 15 seconds, maybe 20, and in the billowing cloud of dust it threw up, silence returned to the mountain. Silence punctuated only by an insignificant cry of, "Hey Zeus Christo!"
When tranquility returned and the dust had settled, there was a new, boulder-strewn approach route to that aspect of The Spire. There were several new, unclimbed routes on its final third. In climbing terms, the mountain had, I realized, evolved. The weathering process of erosion had created new, exciting opportunities. Id be ready to accept the challenge as soon as I changed my pants.
My partner and I decided to continue on with our climb. We rationalized, in our anthropomorphic way, the mountain would have wanted us to continue. We really hated down-climbing.
On the way up, I began to wonder about my former distinction between erosion and evolution. I began, specifically, to wonder whether if, as Id decided, erosion could be evolution, might it not work the other way? If the earth can evolve, why cant humanity erode.
It was an Ah-Ha moment. It explained so much. It explained Nixon and Vietnam both hot topics at that moment it explained the stubborn determination with which racial prejudice continued to be a day-to-day blight; it explained the growing religious intolerance and tribal conflict that seemed to spread like wildfire across vast swaths of so-called civilization. Homo Sapiens had ceased to evolve and were, in fact, eroding. Our final demise was more likely to be a whimper than a bang. Wed seen the enemy and they were us.
Little did I know, those many years ago, the passage of time would reinforce that whimsical insight as opposed to relegating it to the dustbin of stupid ideas I seemed so capable of generating. Little did I know mine would be the generation whose greatest contribution to humanity would arguably be proving wed evolved as far forward as we could. The Generation of Greed was already blazing the trail on the path of erosion.
Lets face it, an evolving, enlightened people would, at some point, stop following failed policies. An evolving people would stop throwing fortunes down a rat hole trying to staunch the proliferation of illegal drug use by using the same, failed policies that hadnt worked for the past half century. An evolving people would laugh anyone out of office whod started a needless war, on false pretenses, with no exit strategy and who had the audacity to run for re-election as a "war" president. An evolving people would adhere to the basic tenets of their religious beliefs and find ways to live in peace with their neighbours who prayed to a different god.
And a people whod evolved at least to the level of a dog would know better than to shit in their own nest.
So why, unless we truly are eroding instead of evolving, are Pemberton councilors, some members of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and a number of residents in the area having to threaten to park their very fragile bodies in the path of logging trucks and bulldozers to keep Weyerhaeuser/CRB Logging from cutting trees in their watershed?
The aesthetic qualities of sightlines aside, can there really be any "scientific" debate that, at the very least, logging in a watershed is risky if not downright shortsighted? If logging companies would honestly post a sign at all their cut sites reading, "This operation has gone forever without screwing up a stream, seriously eroding soil or in some other way laying waste to the very systems that keep us alive." maybe then. But accidents happen. And in a town not too many years away from their last boil water advisory, what erosive reason could possibly be good enough to proceed with logging a watershed?
Weyerhaeuser and CRB, according to a spokesfolk, are like any other businesses; they need to make money. They can make it by logging a highly visible mountain feeding Pembertons municipal wells. Why not? Why not indeed. "What wouldnt I do for money?" the hooker asks the john.
Some day well learn. Maybe before we run out of clean water and clean air. Maybe not. Im not betting one way or another.