Living Life In the Viking Tradition
My vision for a life lived on the edge, a life of daring and thrills and danger, of illicit trysts and outrageous risks and dazzling color, stems from a deep-rooted fear I’ve had since I was a kid. The fear involves me waking up one morning, only to discover that I’m eighty-four years old and have just a few days left on earth. You know how some old people, when they’re working up to their last gasp, often say something like, “Well, at least I’ve lived a full life”? In my fear-fantasy, I wake up and realize that my life was crap. That I blew it all selling toasters or lawn fertilizer or paper towels, and that I have nothing to show for it but a long trail of sales orders, weekly reports, monthly reports, quarterly reports, annual reports, and a little gold plaque that says “To Donovan Graham for 42 years of devoted service.”
To the best of our knowledge, we only get one shot at this thing called life. That’s why I decided to live on the world’s rough margins. That’s why I decided to become a journalist. I’ll travel the world and write amazing stories, maybe a nonfiction book or two, and a gripping memoir when I’m too old to row the Atlantic or traverse ice crevasses on the edge of McMurdo Sound. I’ll be rootless and unfettered, and I’ll tell it like it is without caring who objects. I’ll be blunt and tough and dashing.
In the spirit of this vision, I thought about the people of Grand Seal Island with a cold-blooded, objective eye. As Cory ripped the Baby Blue Bronco out of the Coffin driveway and throttled it toward town, I realized that she and her brood, in fact, are thieves.
The entire town of GSI is built on an enterprise that people call an “extraction industry.” In other words, the economic backbone of GSI involves people taking natural resources that don’t belong to them and converting those resources into money that does belong to them. The planet and all the people on it are poorer for the process, except for the villains who sell the stuff and pocket the cash.
Think about it. When the Europeans first arrived in the New World, they were floored by the abundance they found around them. The Grand Banks were called that because they had so many cod you could walk from one ship to another without getting your feet wet. There were lobsters everywhere, and capelin and whales and all sorts of other animals shared this part of the world in numbers so rich that we can’t even imagine it today.
Then came the “extraction industries.” First, the whalers came over from Scotland and England. Then the fisheries were set up in Newfoundland and the rest of the Maritimes. Then came loggers to supply the shipbuilders and the carpenters with wood. Then came large-scale agriculture and interstate highways and stuttering subdivisions filled with identical houses like metal ducks at a shooting gallery. Next: fast-food restaurants and pretty little golf courses and massive shopping malls that serve as cash-extraction machines built to empty the pockets of everyone who enters.
And throughout it all, we just kept on taking. We built ships that can haul in more and more fish each time they leave the harbor. Sometimes, those enormous nets catch dolphins or sharks or something else that wasn’t on the menu. Those animals, wounded and suffocating, are thrown back into the ocean and left to die.
We built trawlers that can haul huge metal fences along the bottom of the ocean, kicking up things we do want and a whole lot of living things we didn’t care about at the time. Those things — urchins and skates and starfish, mangled in the process — get tossed overboard without a thought. There’s no profit in them.
Now the Newfoundland fisheries are closed. The reason: Overfishing wiped out a cod population once considered “limitless.” There’s an international ban against hunting most species of whales. The reason: Over-“harvesting” wiped out a whale population once considered “limitless.” Lobster fishing is heavily regulated, and their numbers are dwindling. We haven’t killed the Golden Goose — we gutted it and ate it raw.
And now I’m sitting in a Baby Blue Projectile with one of the people who seem to think all of this is okay. Who can somehow justify the destruction we’ve done and the harm we’ve committed. Who can somehow sleep at night even though her very existence is based on the violent theft of Nature’s gifts.
We hadn’t gone very far before I challenged Cory with these observations. It’s a standard journalistic ploy; I wanted to see how she defended her town’s routine and industrialized pillage.
“Extraction?” she snorted, fixing me with a hard stare that went on far too long for someone who was driving. “Really? Is that how you see it?”
She shook her head. There was a long pause.
“And what about you? You’re a reporter. Do you pay for interviews?” she asked. I shook my head. “You mean you come into communities like this one and extract people’s stories for free? Damn straight. You gather information and beliefs that don’t belong to you, and you convert them into cash that does belong to you. And you get a byline to boot.”
We were silent for a moment. Then Cory did her no-smile-laugh thing again.
“It’s a wonder you can sleep at night,” she said.
—Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Comment—FreedomFirst: Give me a break. We’ve always had people whining about how the planet’s going to hell, and we’ve always figured out ways to fix our problems. Put smart minds in a competitive system without interference, and we can do anything. Hell, we might even invent an artificial cod.
Comment—PeaceNick: Right on, Van!!!!! We r using up this planet too fast—cant keep it up : ( FreedomFirst your just ignorant. Just cause we fixed probs in past doesnt mean we can do it forever.
Read previous blog entries in the Island Wars story by clicking here.