A Drive To Work
(If you are a writer, you write about anything you experience.)
I now drive 40 minutes to get to work every day. As an environmentally inclined person, I feel bad about that, but I do need to make the house payments. And despite the fact it takes a bite out of my day, I enjoy the ride. It’s through rural areas, and a good stretch of it is along Lake Michigan.
What I notice most is the number of dead animals lying on the road: deer, racoons, skunks, opossums. Once, society took the time to remove the bodies from the road, but now we leave them there. We no longer have the resources available to do such things, no longer have the political will to do much of anything. Everything that is done is done through the market now, and the market doesn’t care about animals, dead or alive.
Perhaps it was only ever a matter of cosmetics anyway. Perhaps we were just lying to ourselves about how a technologically advanced society treats the natural world. We didn’t want to know what our need for speed was doing to the rest of God’s creatures, or the planet, so we hid the evidence. And now that we have come so far, we no longer care. We’ve grown used to it, like the factory farm I drive by that smells of animal waste, where semi-trucks daily haul out milk in shiny metallic tanks to be packaged in little cardboard containers imprinted with pictures of cows in a pasture.
A veneer of trees obscures much of the crops that grow behind them. Once I imagined vast forests lay beyond, now I know they are mere barrier walls for crops of corn to feed the cows to feed the people.
I reach the lake and soon I am driving past the closed nuclear power plant. Within its depths somewhere, God knows what is stored in God knows what kind of containers. There is no plan to deal with the radioactive waste, and so they sit and will gradually become forgotten about. It is part of our mental makeup to forget about things, no matter how important and dire they may be, if we don’t have a good way of dealing with them.
Not far past the mostly-abandoned nuclear station, I see several signs on people’s property warning about the health risks of wind turbines. I am incapable of understanding the degree of disconnect required to not notice the irony.
Working nights, I drive home in darkness. It seems I have encountered thunderstorms almost nightly this summer. I can never remember a summer so full of thunder. One becomes aware of such things when one has a skittish dog and a long drive at night.
I’ve become aware of the weather of late. It almost seems that nature itself has become unnatural. In late August, I noticed the moon was just a tiny sliver, but that sliver was more red than I ever remember seeing it. A harvest moon, I know, but still it seemed an omen to me. Perhaps it is just me. I know it is foolish to look for signs in the sky. And yet, the desire to do so is deeply imbedded in our species. Perhaps, like animals who can sense impending natural disasters, human beings too are capable sensing danger without being able to understand why.
Nightly I drive home and encounter the wildlife that must contend with traffic while crossing the road. I see a chipmunk speed across, a frog taking large jumps to cross as quickly as possible. I see a deer peering at me from a ditch, a couple of raccoons who, once committed, seem unable to turn back even with my car speeding right into their path. I brake and the disaster is narrowly averted.
My eyes are wide open, my mind alert. I do not want to hit anything, not even a frog. And yet there is something within me urging me to go faster. I need to get home, back to my life I’ve had to abandon in order to do my job to earn money to afford my car payments, car insurance, and gasoline. There is a subliminal urge too great for my conscious mind to control, and my foot applies a little more pressure to the gas pedal. Time is precious. I’ve calculated that driving even 5 miles an hour less should be sufficient to prevent an accident should something jump out in front of me, but somehow every time I look at the speedometer, I’m going faster again. Have to race my coworkers, have to beat them home, win the race.
What is wrong with me? Why do I love nature and yet not only drive so far to work, but drive so quickly from it? It is technology, it enables me to do what objectively I would never wish to do. It is like being home with a box of Twinkies: I would never imagine gorging myself sick on unnatural food, would certainly not go out of my way to do so. Ah, but if it is already there… If bad behavior is effortless and satisfying in the short term, it makes it far more difficult to do the right thing. If all it takes is pushing my foot a little harder on a gas petal, why not go faster? If gas is so damn cheap that I suffer little by polluting the atmosphere and endangering God’s little creations, it does make it more difficult to do the right thing. I do want to do the right thing.
The answer is to fashion a world in which it is easier to make good decisions. We’ve done a poor job of that. We’ve made a world where advertisement is constantly telling you to buy what you do not need, consume what is not good for you, trust in the system advertisers perpetuate. We are told that progress is our only good, and that progress means continually pushing further down on the accelerator.
We are, each one of us, driving down the road at too great a speed, heedless of the damage we cause to the natural world we ultimately rely upon for our survival. We must be reminded again and again that not only are we in control of the gas pedal, but we also have a brake.