Stopping to smell the cactus

A while back I was between projects in California. After months of conference rooms, conference calls and continuing client alterations to previously approved work, I needed some quiet time for me. Besides, I didn’t have any other jobs on the books for another few weeks.

So I went camping in the high desert.

California was more broke than usual that year. When I drove my rental car into the state-owned campground, I found it was on the honor system. After driving around to find a place that looked good, I went back to the entrance, dropped my money in the appropriate slot and returned to my new home to pitch my tent and set up camp. I was the only camper there.

For the rest of the day I wandered along trails and clambered up rocks to see magnificent silence that stretched on for years. I noticed tiny lizards and other critters scurrying along the way that made me feel very Darwinesque. The reddish-colored lizards lived where the rocks and sand were reddish. The greenish ones lived in the few green environments. And so on. Tiny bugs lived on the cacti surface, protected by thorns from all but the smallest predators. Anyone who didn’t blend with their environment became bird food and didn’t survive to reproduce.

Back at my campsite, I fried up some water, dropped in some pasta and uncorked a bottle of wine. I also put on a sweater and a sweatshirt. Nighttime in the desert is cold, but not so cold that it kept me from pulling my sleeping bag out of my tent. The moon was new and the only light came from the stars I counted on my way to sleep.

Then the earth shook. The sky roared. I don’t remember my dream, by I remember feeling as if I’d levitated in my sleeping bag and come down hard on the pre-dawn ground. Thought it might be a good idea to open my eyes. I saw nothing.

Tapir - -18It happened again. Again, I saw nothing, but whatever it was definitely had my attention. If it was a quake, it was unlike any I’d ever been in before.

Time number three made the difference. I felt the roar. Saw some motion in my peripheral vision. I looked in that direction and saw a pair of afterburners skimming the rock tops. Then I remembered I was just down the road from an Air Force Base.

I wonder how the local flora and fauna are dealing with the military. What changes have they made to survive in their changed environment?

And I’m wondering how the American people – and the American economy – will deal if we ever change the permanent wartime footing we’ve been on since 1941. How many generations know nothing but the “other”, the outside threats that surround us, both real and imagined? How many factories would close, how many people would lose their jobs if there was no need to re-supply our armed forces’ inventory of young men, munitions and WMD’s?

What would happen to the American environment if peace breaks out?

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