On Wednesday we woke to a Winter Wonderland in North Carolina – snow blanketed lawn and dozens of birds queued up for birdseed at the two feeders outside our office window. Cardinals brilliant against the white sky, perched in the leafless willow oak. Every now and then a car hums by on the icy road in front of our house.
Front page center is a news story about Atlanta describing the sad state of affairs on the city’s commute paths. Twelve hours to proceed 5 miles, people tweeting for a Samaritan with drinking water, a woman giving birth, homeowners distributing flasks of cocoa – this sort of thing. People who no doubt were just on their way home from work or picking up the kids from school.
Not to be critical but, geez – an inch of snow in Atlanta triggers a crisis for hundreds. It’s hard to believe that we’ve evolved culturally to this point of helplessness. I say this with full awareness that we could easily have been one of those hapless motorists trapped on an icy highway for a day.
“Sakachilan!” is what our Mayan co-workers in Belize called we white folk who couldn’t just walk into the jungle and build ourselves a house of palm fronds, trap a gibnut, harvest some mammy apple and jack assed bitters.
It literally means White Chicken. Rolando explained it this way; the boony chickens were savvy and resourceful but the white chickens were stupid and unable to fly, they’d fall to their death if they tried to fly off a roof top. Poor sakachilan, they’d cluck at the tourists or at us if we didn’t know how to tie a certain knot, or which plant prevented malaria.
The car culture works great until it doesn’t. Our systems seem designed to fail unless all optimal conditions are met. If I were paranoid, I’d posit the possibility that World Oil Barons, the Bushes’ etc. were intentionally keeping us on the teat. But I’m not paranoid.
No, this is not the fodder of conspiracy theorists. This is about evolution, not design. Sure, the oil and auto industries kicked off our precipitous climb up the Industrial Highway. But they haven’t been the only ones shepherding our American lifestyle into the shape it’s in now. We are all complicit. In the name of convenience, freedom, safety and choice we steered ourselves into oil slavery, trapped in our daily commutes. Yankee ingenuity is only a dim memory.
It’s been a long haul since the 1800’s when people got around on foot, by train, in horse-drawn coaches, carts, sleds and astride saddle horses. Or side-saddle. Wearing a brimmed hat and perhaps an ostrich feather or two and within walking distance of an Inn. Were we stranded on an icy highway in 1800, we might have driven our sleigh through the woods to the nearest inn or home. Or we might have climbed down off the buckboard, unhitched our horses and ridden or walked a mile or two.
Most likely, we would not have been on the road in the first place. We would have stayed home enjoying the fruits of the fall harvest, perhaps some peach cobbler with a can of summer soup to warm our bellies. In the 1800’s only the most important business would have lured us beyond our chicken yards or outside our neighborhood in town with the General Store a short walk away. Today, every day is filled with important business. Poor sakachilan.