Notes from the Glebe

Pre-Serving Our Communities and the Icy Hand of Complacency

Oct 25, 01:28 PM

by Jaron Gaier

I face a crisis. I know no local culture. My family is healthy, but the surrounding community lacks a healthy cohesiveness. My friends are great, but my peers are, at large, in danger. This is especially a problem, because I was recently asked to be a part of this here team, these bloggers, these “sustainables,” editors, Glebes. I am now engaged in a project to help maintain any semblance of locality, of approximation, and to help my peers to realize for ourselves a truly “sustainable” future. But my twentieth birthday approacheth, and I find that I know this future animal less and less. All I can know is the past, what is history (and I know this seemingly less and less, too), what remains, what I can see. And I can see only a few things. The five-fingered, opposable-thumbed handprint on the ass of the natural world. Vacant seats in children’s school plays. Welfare homes with doorbell-high lawns and yawningly hungry doorways.

This website calls for communities (built to human scale, of course) preserving themselves and their respective places. But what does it mean to preserve? It’s from the Latin praeservare, “to guard beforehand”—I can say that much. But what does it mean in my life? I’ve always negotiated it in my mind to a near past-tense affectation. Maybe it perpetually associates itself with “preserved”—like a dead body, or “preserves”—not the same as jam or jelly, mind you. And both variations of this key term ascribe themselves to actions done in the past, in order to be consumed (by mouth or by earth) later.

Later. What a strange term. I have a dubious time preparing for this later business. Money never wants to stay in a pocket for later, food never keeps ‘til later. Preservation of even the smallest things in life poses a great challenge to me, as it surely does to my peers and the world at large. Everyone’s in debt, they say. Everyone’s hungry, they say. If we cannot preserve our dollars, our food production and intake, and our words, how can we expect to preserve, to keep safe beforehand, entire communities?

Much is wrong ‘round here—evidence of our ancestors inadequately pre-serving in their own time. The flooding of the Cedar River in Iowa put thousands of people out of their homes in the summer of 2008. The Iowa River, once surrounded by some of the most nutritious soil in North America, now ranks as the third most toxic river in the United States. A vast ice shelf (one much different than the receding, melting few, way up north and way down south) encloses us on all sides—one of ignorance and complacency. And, until we learn to pre-serve our way out of it, our communities (built on a human scale, of course) will remain in danger. Like this picture here, we must reawaken our structures left dormant in the winter. Our bridges, our connecting structures must be reopened—but, differently than is documented in this picture, without the use of dynamite. We must use sights and sounds—“lore and story and song”—to pre-serve, in a non-destructive way, our future communities. We must create something (not destroy something) spectacular, so that young men like me will not be deprived of two decades of local culture. We must pre-serve this future, this waiting world, and guard beforehand everything cooperating in that community, so that each, respectively, might pre-serve their subsequent communities and cultures.

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