Two-hundred and six years ago, Simon Fraser halted his descent of the river that now bears his name a few kilometers from where I write. His diary entries for the several days he spent near Lillooet were full of angst. There was a mighty lot of people already here and they had wooden battle armor. His guide, an old man from another region up-river, made a vociferous plea for his case in a language he couldn't understand. When his advocate disappeared one night, he feared the worst.
Many years later, an old man recounted what he had heard from his own grandfather, who had been party to the event. Evidently, it had been discussed among the canyon people whether or not to kill the interlopers. It had been finally decided that more blankets could be gotten if the entourage was left alive. Let me say, now that I live in this canyon, that the wind sure can blow cold out here. Two epidemics and a gold-rush later, the sons and daughters of the old and the new inhabitants all buy their blankets at the same Sears Outlet.
History is history and people are people. The adjectives applied to written accounts are mostly employed for the leverage they afford the teller in shaping the outlook of the listener. In my view, there are no tragedies in the larger canvas, rather there are millions of individual choices. All the characters who people our history books and those who walk among us now, represent the full range of all possible types of humans and of human behavior. It cannot be otherwise.
The study of history tends to make the student feel as if the process grinds to a halt like a freight train in a switching yard as soon as they begin to examine it. It takes a long time to stop a train and even longer to stop a ship. We are daily creating tomorrows fossils. Interestingly, we shall, in my opinion leave less of a personal trace than our predecessors. Our dwellings are increasingly constructed of inferior materials and our implements of daily personal use are increasingly biodegradable.
We are constantly told that there is a problem. We are led to believe that we are the problem and that a good human is one who leaves no trace whatsoever of their existence. I pity the archaeologists of the future, digging through piles of gyp-rock and middens of granite counter-tops from the Open Concept House-Flipping Culture and pondering UV ravaged plastic siding fragments bearing the glyphs, “Made In China.”
It is interesting to me that a few kilometers from where I sit are the remnants of dwellings more ancient than the pyramids of Egypt. These, I am told are the houses of primitive people. I can take a five minute walk and see many of these people's articles and tools of daily use in a glass display where they lie awaiting hands to again put them to useful purpose. Jade is much harder than steel.
There is a new party coming down the rivers of the world today. They come by kayak, rubber raft, helicopter, Land Rover, zip-line and mountain bikes. Usually, they are led by a cougar in a powder-blue wind-breaker with a slight European accent. There will always be a local advocate on board as in the days of Simon Fraser. Usually this will be a man, a young man.
He will always have been educated away from his home in the land of bow-ties and very grateful for his new power and prestige. He translates for the lady as they intrude into “primitive people's” homes so she can wrinkle her nose at their supper. She will usually give a speech or have the young man do it for her after she has had a chance to visit all the sights of interest. She will make sure the locals know that everything around them is unique, precious and in great peril of disappearing forever.
Over time and training after generous outpourings of charity and volunteer workers, our village will find that their domain has become a B&B for the woman's friends. The local women have become empowered to make beads and baskets to sell in the gift shop of the new national park global heritage site that once was the hunting ground of their men. Their daughters will get good low-paying jobs cleaning the rooms, cooking the food and minding the visiting children. The men will turn to chemical escape for the most part.
Even the tourists will be allowed only on the marked kayak, mountain bike and wooden walkway areas. No one can fish, hunt or smoke. Within a year you will be able to buy crystal meth at the Starbucks. After the fence goes up and the hired military security forces set up the perimeter, the mapping and measuring of resources begins in earnest. This area is now under a new jurisdiction via treaties entered into between the newly empowered and the powerful newcomers.
A tragedy? Not at all. It is living history. It is a serial drama. The plot and characters haven't changed in any fundamental way for tens of thousands of years. The fact that it works so well accounts for the lack of change in the method. Social media's freely contributed personal data gives a running update on whatever tweaks are necessary for the script and caste of characters. Herding came long before farming. Hunting came first.
It is to be born in mind that the good well-educated people who identify with the niceness and normalcy of the lady in the powder-blue wind-breaker, are told in straight-faced documentaries that the Mother Earth is quickly running out of sand. These are fully domesticated humans and their taxes and donations pay for all the travel expenses of the wise. Mere words such as “empower”, “journey”, “tipping-point”, “renewable” or “global” can bring them to tears, frighten them or cause them to cheer.
They are frightened of the water they drink, the food they eat, the weather, the future and the world they live in. They are kept in this state by their own choice. They adore baby animals and would shoot one another over a parking spot at the mall. They are those who will bring after-tax prosperity to our speculative village. Beyond their gaze, in behind the newly protected carnivores, coltan extraction has already begun. They are guided by a charming young local woman called Niobia and reminded to recycle their Tantalum Springs Mineral Water bottles.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.