Fort Myers Florida Weekly

A little each week, or two




My pickup was red, not green like the 1957 Dodge Power Wagon with a 90 horsepower, 230 cubic centimeter, flathead six-cylinder engine my Colorado ranching uncles still owned, the only truck I ever admired.

Instead, mine was made by International Harvester in 1959. It had six cylinders too, upward of 150,000 miles on the odometer, and somewhere in the vicinity of 120 horsepower, giving it a capacity for speed that produced a blazing 61 mph if you had a slightly downward slope and a few days to get there. Running it above 50 even on a gentle incline was almost impossible.

This was 1972 in Douglas County, Kansas, where the rolling hills of the eastern prairie vaguely resemble the Lake Wales ridge country in Central Florida.

My girlfriend, Eva, had decided to go into natural living with me. So we bought the truck for $200 from an old farmer. Then we found another old farmer who would let us garden in his rambling corrals, plotting out 120 feet by 50 inch soil enriched from decades of cow manure. We grew potatoes, onions, carrots, tomatoes, corn, pole beans, peas, spinach, lettuce, squash, peppers and a few watermelons — the whole shebang.

That farmer, Burt Wilson, was a Cherokee

Indian adopted about 1905 from a Kansas orphanage by the postmaster of Lawrence, whose name happened to be Roger Williams.

That’s all it took.

The coincidence of names got us a carte blanche opportunity to work one of the tidiest farms in eastern Kansas, neatly tucked into 450 acres of Wakarusa River bottomland. We grew hundreds of pounds of produce, never anticipating either the size of the harvests or the hard work it would take while we were going to college about 10 miles to the north, in Lawrence.

Our friends, though, appreciated the food. So did we. And we loved those soft summer evenings in the fields: The cacophonous cricket symphonies performed spontaneously from stands of black oaks. The air above the valley floor settling sweet with the whispered promise of day’s-end cool. Fireflies sparking above the garden and across the road into the trees, while dusk slipped away west into night and Colorado.

We never considered that all of it, for us, depended on that old pickup.

And we never considered that the old pickup depended on roads built for its use; on the full-service gas stations that pocked the American countryside then; on oil wells stretched back from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and the Americas into North Africa; on ships that transported the oil, on ports where it was offloaded and moved out, on the refineries that prepared the oil, and finally on the railroads, highways and transports that carried gasoline to the service stations.

All of which created an elaborate system of economics — of international dependencies — neither of us would ever have been able to explain.

We were a little too proud of ourselves in those days for living simply and (as we viewed it) self-sufficiently. In truth, we weren’t.

The truck had a covered back so you could either sleep in it or haul tools and vegetables without getting wet, both of which we did. In addition, it got as much as 18 or 20 miles per gallon when gasoline was running 31 cents or so at the pumps.

That’s important. Volkswagens produced in the late 1950s and ’60s could get up to 50 miles per gallon, sometimes, but they were almost the only foreign-made cars you saw on the road. American-made cars and trucks did a nice unapologetic eight, 10 or 12 mpg, for the most part.

Unbeknownst to Eva and me (we thought we were rugged individualists), we’d embarked on typical 20th century American lives. Our century, the 20th, was distinguished not just by world wars and social change, but by the sounds of internal combustion engines and the sight of pole-strung wires connecting every town and almost every home in the United States and western Europe.

We used resources (in this case fossil fuels) like there was no tomorrow. So did everybody else we knew.

That fact to me — that reality — suggests the ultimate dependency, one far exceeding the dependencies of a mere international economy. Why? Because we’re still doing it now and now all of us know what we’re doing.

Now, we’ve become a conscious and willing part of a rising tsunami of resource exploitation by humans.

Our human tsunami is distinct from the Earth’s cycles of change in geology, geography, weather and biology that have unfolded since the planet was created four billion years ago.

But this tsunami doesn’t exist in a vacuum, by itself. In fact, it’s an accelerant. So the more we drive, or the less we drive electric or gas-saving vehicles, the more we have to accept blame for the horrific consequences our children will inherit.

What can we do?

The answer is, a little each day. And that’s not hard.

Plan to drive a little less: Make one shopping trip instead of two or three in a week. Buy locally produced foods that don’t have to be shipped great distances, requiring heavy participation in the tsunami.

And plan to vote. Vote for the candidates who take the tsunami seriously and look for ways to hobble it, to slow it, to break it up and inhibit it.

One other thing, too: recycle, like my cousin, Mike.

I no longer have my old IH pickup. But Mike still has and operates the Dodge Power Wagon.

He drives it just a little each day. Or week, or two. ¦

— This article first appeared in April, 2017.

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