The paradox of life: in order to survive, we must consume; by consuming, we create waste; however, we do not see our waste as detritus, but as the product of living.
Deep beneath earth’s surface, a miner drills a one and one-quarter inch hole eight to twelve feet deep into a rock face that is roughly twelve feet square. The miner repeats his task until the rock face resembles a block of Swiss cheese. Each hole is stuffed with explosive material. Then a blasting cap shaped like a metal matchhead, containing a fuse and trailing a wire pair sheathed in plastic, is gingerly inserted into each hole, buried up to twelve inches inside the explosive.
The miner and his partner (miners always work in pairs) connect the wires from each cap to a common grounded wire. The pair retreats to a safe area stringing out the grounded wire behind them, where they meet up with other pairs of miners waiting for permission from the mine captain to connect the trailing wires to an electrical junction box wired directly to a throw switch on surface. When all miners are assembled, they travel by hoist to daylight, where they hang their personal identification tags on the appropriate tag board confirming they are no longer in the deeps. The board is rechecked and the captain sirens a series of warning alarms and when certain that everyone is safe on surface closes the switch initiating the blast. All drilled faces explode as one.
The miners hang their work clothes to dry, shower and change into street clothes. Some head home to family; some go to the bunkhouse kitchen; some seek out the comfort of a pub and the company of their workmates. No one is allowed to go underground again until the air is purged of dust and noxious gasses.
A miner drilling into rock containing copper in sulphide, oxide or elemental form is not thinking about copper pots for cooking, or copper wire for electrifying his house, or copper tubing to carry water from well to sink. He is fully engrossed in the task at hand: break the rock into manageable sized pieces and transport it from the deeps to the surface. He is acutely aware of his dependence on number of feet advanced in the drift today, in the volume of ore bearing rock extracted from the stope. He gives no thought to the growing piles of waste rock strewn about the nearby surface.
Out on the greenish grey ocean the fisher sets his traps. The location of each cage is identified by a floating coloured buoy. The day is long and the sea rough. In nearby locations, trawler lines and weighted nets are released to scavenge the ocean at various depths herding schools of many fish species to a common fate. Some nets scrape the ocean floor to capture creatures succored there. Occasionally, fishers are forced to overnight on the ocean surface as their prey migrates below to nibble at the bait within the traps, to gather in large schools before the nets.
As each trap is hauled up, emptied and rebaited, the fisher is not thinking about lobster rolls. As he hauls in the bulging net and empties it into the ship’s hold, he is not thinking about blackened cod or fish cakes, sole adamantine or tender filet with baked potatoes and butter. He is focused on hauling the catch from the deep ocean and filling the ship’s hold; delivering the dead and dying sea animals to the fish plant for processing into human and other food. He does not count the discarded carcases of species that contaminate his daily catch.
The logger fells another tree, trims the branches and saws the tree into cordwood lengths. He inhales deeply while admiring his day’s work. Chainsaw in hand, he does not think about houses or furniture. He does not measure in board feet, nor does he envision dimensional lumber as he hews, stacks and hauls. He focuses on cords piled, loads counted. Trees are objects to devour, not treasures to be taken. He does not notice the acres of clear-cut whose topsoil will soon become prey to buffeting winds and torrential rain.
At the end of the day, perhaps on the empty street or in the local pub, the miner’s thoughts may wander to home, to sitting at his wooden table inside his wooden house, to eating a banquet of sautéed fish knowing only the supermarket as the meal’s origin. At the end of the day, the fisher may walk the dark street from dock to home, peer down an alley dimly lit by doorways leading to cavernous public drinking places. He may wonder at the hidden resources protected by the alley, exposed by the alley. He will not wonder about the light’s source, the tungsten filament in the lamp, or the clinking glasses as he enters the pub. At the end of the day, the logger will lay down his saw, turn in his axe, enter the pub from the street and take a seat near the alley door. He does not question the source of the fisherman’s platter he is served, nor does he think about the metal in the barroom tables and chairs, nor what goes into making a beer glass. He marvels at the burnished wooden bar rail, harbours a fleeting image of his chainsaw.
When the three, the miner, the fisher and the logger, by happenstance meet, they do not tell secrets of their trade. They speak instead of trivia and sports, avoid politics and talk of home. The angry metal teeth on the logger’s saw, the sharply honed edge of his axe, the height and girth of trees felled are no more in mind than the metal and wooden boat into which the fisher loads his catch, than the living, mineralized stope from which the miner draws his bonus. Each protects his space as surely as a mother holds her child from nosy passers’ by.
Stories of mining pass only between miners; stories of fishing remain solely with fishers; stories of lumbering are wedged into spaces between lumberjacks. No word is spoken of farmers plowing fields and harvesting crops.
And while we blithely drive our vehicles of iron, steel, copper and zinc, barbecue pink salmon and grey mackerel, slather slabs of butter on thick slices of homemade wheat bread, dance on decks of wood and nails and screws, the miner puts on his slickers and dons his hardhat and lamp; the fisher steps into his waterproof garb and rubber boots; and the logger twice ties his cork boots, sharpens his saw, and shoulders his axe. The farmer quietly steps into his worn overalls, mounts his high-powered four-wheeled tractor and attacks worn out fields with plow and harrow.
Comment: This morning’s piece by my friend Victor. I publish it here with great pleasure. Victor has a sharp mind and an elegant pen. Hopefully, he will continue writing for me and, always with his permission, I will continue to publish his oeuvre.