Any story that begins, “I was having a few beers …” may not seem promising, but I am going with a version of “in vino veritas” here.
So, I was having a beer while waiting for Chrissy. I don’t mind at all waiting. It is a great time to think. I was thinking about land ethics and by the second beer, my thinking became clearer.
Ethics is simple, if not easy. It means that we practice self restraint. We do not take all we can, or demand all we “deserve.” We leave room for other people, and in the case of land ethics, other things.
I cannot tell you what a land ethic means, since it is not a final code but a process. We develop land ethics in interaction with the land over time. I can share my experience – eager to share – but I cannot share the feelings and the tacit knowledge. The best of what I think I know, I cannot say: the joy of finding a grove of cypress trees I thought had not survived, the resigned sorrow of finding one of my favorite beech trees blown down in a storm, redeemed by the little ones ready to fill the gap, the feel of the ground under my feet, the honest fatigue of a good day’s work … I could go on.
The meaning is not in the things themselves but in the mixing of ourselves with them and feeling the complexity of relationships. It is what is between them and us that make meaning. All of our lives have meaning. It is the fortunate among us who find meaning in life.
I know my love of the land and the biotic communities growing, crawling and developing on it will remain forever unrequited. That in no way subtracts from my experience. When we read and learn from the thoughts of some long dead thinker, we sure do not commune with him. We get to appropriate those things for our own use, our own benefit. I am not saying we make them better, but we sure make them more appropriate to our circumstances.
But I think it goes further. I believe in transcendence. I will not try to convince those who don’t. Suffice to say that I know that each of us adds threads to the great tapestry.
One more thing about ethics & self restraint. It is good for us as well as ethical. I am wondering about that next beer. I can afford this and nobody will know or care if I schluck down another. In fact, the waitress will be happier. But I am an intelligent man. I can bend the arguments to my desires.
You might say that ethics is a way to balance the legitimate needs of the individual with those of the community. My decision is easy. The waitress, the restaurant and the brewers are better off if I have another beer. I will suffer the consequences and risk a headache for the good of others.
I will have another beer.