Living with the past behind us is a balancing act. If we live in the past and don’t focus on making a better future, we’re doomed. With no social progress, people are miserable. With no technological progress, we’d choke on the fumes and cook ourselves to death while being stupid from lead poisoning. Sure, the 1950s were nice for many people, but we can’t live there forever, despite some people’s desperate attempts to stay there.
At the same time, though, we can’t have all future with no past. A lack of family connections can make people miserable. The traditions and culture that we grew up with may have some bad things in it, like bigotry against people who are different, but throwing everything out and starting completely over doesn’t work as well as some dreamers think. At best, it leaves people with a vague feeling of rootlessness. At worst, cultural revolutions that throw out all of the “olds” can starve and butcher millions.
So we have to find a healthy balance that keeps the good and gets rid of what holds us back.
Today’s American Caricature Characters
Sadly, clean energy has been politicized in recent years.
If you’re from rural America, you’re supposed to be a right-leaning Republican who’s opposed to reproductive rights, LGBT equality, and those damned cancer windmills Donald Trump warned us about. You’re not supposed to do “lefty” and “city slicker” things like drink a latte. Yep, that’s right, even one’s choice of hot beverage is politicized. Instead of stopping at Starbucks, you’re supposed to drink coffee that’s named after America’s favorite rifle while you stand in front of a funny light to tan your nether regions.
If you’re from the city, you’re supposed to be a left-leaning Democrat, drink expensive coffee at Starbucks, either be gay, “metrosexual,” or really supportive of such things, and drive a busted Toyota Prius with so many bumper stickers for every left-wing cause that you can’t see out the back. If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, you can get away with driving a Subaru for now, though. But you’d better be saving for a Tesla.
Yeah, I know this is a wild caricature of American life, but for some people, this is serious and sometimes even deadly business. On social media? People crank this crap up to 11 and make idiotic caricatures of the caricatures of themselves.
While rural-urban divides have always existed, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always like this. But, it really wasn’t.
A Story From My Family That Shatters These Caricatures
Not too far back in the family tree you’ll find some very interesting rural characters. My great-grandfather was a rancher in Mexico. One of my great-great uncles was a rancher in New Mexico, and some of his cousins were horse thieves, and this was back when they’d summarily execute you for stealing a horse. Why? Because losing your horse in the nineteenth century west could literally get you killed.
My great-great uncle lived in an interesting zone with a dry lakebed from the ice age, some grassland, and forest (pictured in the featured image above this article). He lived in the forest, but there was plenty of room on nearby grass for a bunch of cattle. Like everyone else in those days, he rode horses to take care of the cattle, carried a revolver for personal protection from animals and thieves, a lever-action rifle for more serious animal threats (New Mexico still had jaguars in those days), and tools for mending fences.
The nearest law enforcement was 50 miles away over rough terrain, so you had to be able to take care of yourself. One relative died from a tooth abscess because they couldn’t get to a hospital or doctor fast enough for treatment. People really were on their own out there into the 1950s, and in a few places, they still are. I once dated someone who lived on a ranch out that way, and they got stuck in the snow in their truck for a couple of days once with no way to get help.
His house didn’t have electricity or plumbing, even in the 1940s, but he wanted to give his family some modern convenience. Solar technology probably would have been ideal, but it was in its infancy in those days. But there are plenty of breezes out there to turn windmills and pump water for cows (some of these old windmills are still running today, pumping water from wells and into stock tanks). So, it wasn’t a big stretch for him to come up with a generator from a car and hook the thing up to the windmill.
Battery technology? It was also a lot weaker in those days. But, it existed and as we know, electric cars were even common in cities around the turn of the century. So, he got some batteries and put them in a shed near the house. The windmill sat atop the shed, and the shed had plenty of ventilation in the form of gaps in the wood to keep gassing and explosions from happening with the batteries. So, unlike many other ranchers, his house not only had sporadic electricity, but had electricity that was cleaner than that in the cities.
When my grandfather (who still tells these stories) went to visit, he was shocked at the way his uncle got electricity. Back in town near El Paso, you could get a power company to run a wire to your house, but out in the forest, that was the only way to get juice, even if you didn’t get much some days.
Even today, ranchers in the Southwest are sticking with renewable energy. The old windmills need mechanical work to keep functioning, and stock tanks out in the deserts and forests still are out of reach of the power grid in most cases. But you’ll often see a set of solar panels running an electric pump to pull water up the very same pipes the ranchers’ grandfathers got water from. They often don’t even put batteries on them because daytime pumping is enough to fill the tank and water the cattle all night.
There was no phone service out that far in those days, and in most of the area, you can’t get cell phone service even today. Just as then, one of the ways to really be sure you’ll get some help and hear from the outside world is by radio. My great-great uncle experimented with that, too. Shortwave broadcasts were great for the family to feel like part of the world, and he could make some transmissions and talk to people around the country, many of whom were in deep rural areas like him.
Today, I can fit all of the gear to do this in a backpack, but in those days, it took a windmill, a shed full of batteries, and complex homebrew gear to do that.
Taking Pride In Cultural Heritage Without The Nonsense
Me and my great-great uncle aren’t that different, even though he passed away decades before I was born. I can take pride that people in my family, living in places that are sparsely populated and off-grid to this day, were into renewable energy, even if for different reasons. But then again, some of what I do with renewable energy is geared around being able to take care of things in the event of a big disaster where we’re all on our own again, so that’s still much the same.
When my brothers and I go exploring in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico, we bring along things like solar power stations and modern ham radios. We also bring weapons along, for hunting and even for self defense, because help is still often dozens of miles away out there (assuming it can come at all). I don’t know what he’d think of me having a wife instead of a husband, or that my Chinese is better than my Spanish, but I’m hoping that people in the great beyond (whatever’s there) have a chance to grow.
Mostly, though, I’d like to think that our great-great uncle is looking down on us and laughs a little at how much things have changed, but how much things have also stayed the same.
Featured image from Google Maps.