Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I surprised myself — maybe I should say, “shocked myself” — when I realized recently that I’ve developed a new admiration for my own species. It surprises me because this comes at a time when we all know the evidence of humankind’s worst qualities — our greed, our violence and our lack of foresight — is more compelling and more ubiquitous than ever. The media is, as usual, providing us with an exhaustive — and exhausting — list of our sins and excesses every day. Most of the good news seems to be about celebrities, although they have their own special sins and excesses, I guess.
But I’ve become a latent fan of my own species. I’ve come to think we are very, very special — and I’m not kidding about this. We’re unique among this universe’s living things. We face unique challenges. So far as we can tell, there’s only one species that can recognize its own impact on its habitat and its fellow species. That’s us. We are self-aware. It’s the characteristic that defines humanity.
And it seems to me that, while our political leaders and especially our media are bogged down in issues that date back to the Dark Ages, or perhaps I should say back to the Crusades, humanity as a whole is more forward-thinking. Humanity is working hard to solve its problems even if its leaders and its media sometimes seem not to recognize what’s going on.
I was thinking about this dichotomy last spring when it was time for the baby lambs and goats to start arriving on our farm. The ram and the billy goat are not kind, nurturing fathers, and so we generally separate them from the mothers before the first babies arrive. But we have this one nanny goat, her name’s Asnath, who considers herself a wild goat. A free agent. All goats have personalities, but Asnath particularly refuses to yield to our authority. She does her own thing. I couldn’t catch her last spring to put her in with the other mothers, so I left her in with the rams and billies and hoped for the best.
Two-thirds of the way through lambing season, about a month after I separated the rest of the mothers, I came home one day to find Asnath in the pasture with the other moms. I asked my wife Carolyn how she’d coaxed her through the gate. Carolyn sometimes accomplishes what I can’t because while I use a shepherd’s crook and two border collies to chase the animals, she keeps her pockets full of Cracklin’ Oat Bran, everybody’s favorite treat.
Carolyn asked me what I was talking about. I told her Asnath was in with the mothers. We just stared at each other. Somehow, Asnath had gotten through the fence into the other pasture on her own. The next day she had twin kids. She knew what she needed to do, and when she needed to do it. Sometimes humanity shows the same kind of wisdom. Sometimes we don’t.
Photo by Bryan Welch