A moment on the train

The passenger train creeps into the heart of North Dakota. Rickety rail and a constant procession of freight trains carrying oil and coal make for frequent stops and slow speeds.

Outside the observation car window stretches an endless sea of virgin prairie grass and herds of buffalo so thick that they seem to form one giant amoebic mass that threatens to engulf the horizon as if to digest the few small clouds that linger there. The feeling is one of breath and life and endless space.

And then my eyes blink through into the modern era, the mechanical now, and the prairie becomes coal and oil in the form of GMO corn and soybeans arrayed in GPS guided rows upon the sterile ground, and the black amoebic masses of buffalo are foreshortened into an endless passing parade of tanker cars, their sides dripping with the dark toxic lifeblood of civilization.

The word sabotage comes close, but misses the mark. It evokes a dark gallantry, careful backroom plans, cunning craft. We are not saboteurs. We are neither cunning nor crafty. We fight for no higher cause. We know of no higher cause than our own greedy oblivion. Self-immolation comes closer—a symbolic sacrificial suicide—but it too falls short, with hints of faith and virtue.

Imagine killing a lover because you were overwhelmed by your own feelings of love and compassion. Imagine your lover’s dying breath forgiving you.

Imagine a sea of dead coral or a forest of driftwood.

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Author: Mark Seely

Mark Seely is a writer, social critic, professional educator, and cognitive psychologist. He was formerly employed as Associate Professor and Chair of Psychology at Saint Joseph’s College, Indiana, where for twenty years he taught statistics, a wide variety of psychology courses, and an interdisciplinary course on human biological and cultural evolution. Originally from Spokane, Dr. Seely now resides in Lynnwood, Washington.

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