Once the world was wilderness with occasional islands of human inhabitation. Picture primeval forests where now urban sprawl spreads fragmenting the forest so cow birds roost where never before they would venture. Our ancestors often regarded the wild dubiously, certainly those from sedentary agricultural communities saw they competed with the forces of nature, the birds which steal seed, the locust which eat a field bare, the droughts and floods which take turns rampaging the world. And so those ancestors of ours promulgated a view that the wilderness was bad and that within urban environments humans could be most human.
Well, at this turn of the century, it seems apparent that urbanization has bred an wild inhumanity in humans. Picture the evening news, the hand gun murders, rapes, the daily acts of disrespect and disregard to which we subject ourselves. True we have great art and music and public parks and baseball diamonds and mechanical street sweepers and muzak piped through the mall, but we also have derelicted infrastructures, the homeless under bridges, and graffiti sprayed on every surface.
One of my intellectual and artist forebears, John Donne, the great metaphysical poet, said, no man is an island. He wrote as the wooden ships embarked from European harbors toward the West. He wrote during the twilight of feudalism, when sinecure and obligation still held community together, before the drive for capital abjugated the individual from the common weal. In the place of tithing, Adam Smith wrote of the Guiding Hand which would insure each man's decision to be the best for the whole. And so instead of a somewhat tattered tapestry of interdependence, we created the illusion of independence where we are each endowed by our creator with the right to pursue our individual happiness. Despite living atop each other in a proverbial sea of humanity, we have each become islands unto ourselves.
Yet today my friends and I participated in an ancient form of human engagement, we broke bread together and we shared in labor, tilling our gardens and swinging hammers, each participating in the sweat, and each benefitting from the fruit. Such was the norm three generations ago, when men and women would help each other raise the barn or thresh the wheat. Over this century cash has replaced the currency of sweat, and so our expectations for reciprocity have diminished. Sure, we all know the saw what goes around, comes around, but few of us take the time from our wage paying work to labor with another. Unfortunately, we have become commodities and we consider the other in the light of what they will cost us.
The cost is apparent: cow birds in fragmented forests laying their eggs in song bird nest, the wilderness expunged from our midst to be replaced by condominiums we visit on time-share. I consider my off-grid house to be an island of sort, a haven where those of us who are too antiquated, archaic or anachronistic to slide smoothly into the well oiled groove of the twentieth century mainstream can come together and create a world that seeks to bend the paradigm a bit, to adapt our now inherently islanded selves to create islands of community in a wilderness of corporate and individual greed.