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    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Pattern perception
January 5, 2010 - 8:20pm

Over the holidays (and yes, I enjoyed them, thanks for asking!) we had visitors at the Rendell farm. Friends and relations, as a childhood acquaintance of mine would say. And we had weather -- oh, did we have weather!

That combination of visitors and weather sparked a realization, or at least the beginnings of a realization, in my brain box. A subset of the visitors were up from the city for Xmas, and there was a teen-aged boy among them. It struck me first in his behavior but, upon reflection, I saw it in the behavior of his elders as well. He simply didn't have any idea of how to relate to animals, or nature, or what those of us who live there consider the "real world environment."

Now, to be honest, I'd probably be as out of place in the big city as this bunch was on a farm. But I think the disconnection from the animal/natural world that I was observing has broader implications than does my inability to hail a cab during rush hour. I haven't fully figured it out yet, but it was as if these folks kind of expected the animal world, and the environment in general, to operate in a manner very much to their liking. And that's just not realistic.

I first noticed a tendency to expect household animals to put up with fussing, kind of like a 4-year-old would visit upon a stuffed toy. "Ummm . . . she doesn't really like it when you do that!" is something I'd expect to say to the 4-year-old, but not someone older. Certainly, not repeatedly.

And the farm animals -- you need to watch out for them, because they're not -- on average -- going to watch out for you. They don't do that. They don't particularly come after you; they're just doing something of which you're not particularly a part. If you know how to communicate to them in body language they understand, you can get them to do their thing where you're not. But simply expecting them to defer to you because you're human is a losing stratagem.

And the night sky. Yes, it's dark. It gets that way pretty much every 24 hours. There's nothing particularly evil or threatening about it, it's just dark. Give your eyes some time to adjust. There is some light, although not enough to read by. So don't attempt to read.

And the wind. And the snow. And the cold. That's why it's called "winter". Like night-time, it happens at predictable intervals. And yes, it's OK to go out in it. Sometimes, for hours at a stretch. You get cold. When you go inside, you'll warm up.

I guess what I was reacting to was the implicit expectation that the real world including, but hardly limited to, the climate was something to be avoided and -- when it couldn't be avoided -- controlled. Controlled directly. Controlled NOW! Something that shouldn't, indeed shouldn't be allowed to, inconvenience [insert appropriate adjective here] people like us.

Social constructs -- governments, schools, businesses, traffic -- these folks were willing to accommodate and allow for. But physical reality beyond the social (if not beyond society's influence), they were not.

I wish I could be a little more explicit about the pattern I perceived. I really think there's something there. And, at a collective level, I think it's important. And unhelpful.

 

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