It must have seemed good sense to drain the swamps,
The marshes, sloughs, and other secret places.
For surely they appeared to be land wasted
On snakes, sawgrass, and other useless things.
They would have missed the wonders hidden there,
The rich detritus feeding tiny creatures
Who became meals themselves to feed the larger
Creatures who were surely of no value.
How would they know the secrets of the wetlands?
Why, even if the people there had told them
What did they know, those bands of savage stragglers,
All fugitives, and ignorant of progress?
Thus, everglades and swamps made way for suburbs,
Canals, toll roads and malls, airports and farmland.
Now all must vie for water become precious
Where once it seemed the wetlands stretched forever.
Professors prowl remains of once great systems
Describing remnants in scholastic volumes,
While Seminoles and Miccosukees get rich
Off gambling, booze and cigarettes for tourists.
[The title, a quote from George Carlin, has little to do with this essay, but I’ve always wanted to use it for something.]
I spent my earliest years on a farm at the edge of the Florida Everglades. It was at the base of the central ridge, where the prairie country segues into the ’Glades as the elevation slopes imperceptibly toward sea level. Until I was about seven we had no electricity. Our lighting was kerosene lamps. We had a wonderful, cacophonous silence: no radios, no television, and only a few human voices.
For the grownups, evening recreation was getting together in the “canasta house” — a little screened-in building open to the humid breeze — and playing cards or just telling stories. For a small boy with no other kids to play with, it was sitting in the darkness on the screened porch, comic books exhausted, and listening to that silence. Continue reading
GO AVIDLY amid the smog and waste, and rejoice in the comfort of owning a piece thereof. As far as possible, neither surrender nor otherwise kiss ass, except for profit. Avoid quiet, boring people, unless you are badly in need of sleep. Their stories are pointless. Practice consumerism. Speak glowingly of those who perceive themselves to be greater than you: it puts them at ease, and if you then play your cards right they will soon be sucking up to you. Avoid loud, aggressive and poor people, lest they harm your image. IF YOU compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter. This will provide incentive to achieve more. Remember that two wrongs never make a right, but that a third may well work to your advantage. Rotate your tires. Spread the news of your achievements, but hold close your ambitions until you have sufficient leverage. Whenever possible, put people on hold. CONCENTRATE on your career. It will not always be humble — nor will you. Along with your home, the Beemer and your family, your job scores you points in the game of life. Remember that he who dies with the most toys wins. IF YOU have not yet learned that the world is full of trickery, wake up already! But let this not blind you to what virtue there is: many people strive for high ideals, and they are ripe for the plucking. BE YOURSELF, but let no one know who that is. Do not feign affection, nor be cynical about love; buy people, so that you know where you stand at all times. Remember that in the face of aridity and disenchantment, avarice is as perennial as the grass, and that catering to someone’s greed will always give you the edge. TAKE KINDLY the counsel of the years, but take care not to surrender the things of youth. Distress yourself not with imaginings: many fears are born of fatigue or loneliness. A new trophy spouse will keep you company and help you sleep, and a good surgeon can help you keep from looking like a middle-aged fool when the two of you are in public. DESPITE TIME’S changing fortunes, continue to buy low and sell high. Beyond a wholesome discipline in the market, be lavish with yourself. So far you can’t take it with you, although in a manner of speaking you may end up doing so yet. YOU ARE a fluke of the universe. By destroying the trees and dimming the stars you have forfeited your right to be here. And whether or not you can hear it, the universe is plotting behind your back. Be careful. Paybacks are hell.