Sunday, July 29, 2012

Joseph Wood Krutch: the way of the desert and the way of the jungle

"The way of the desert and the way of the jungle represent the two opposite methods of reaching stability at two extremes of density.  In the jungle there is plenty of everything life needs except mere space, and it is not for the want of anything else that individuals die or that races have any limit set to their proliferation.  Everything is on top of everything else;  there is no cranny which is not both occupied and disputed. At every moment, war to the death rages fiercely.  The place left vacant by any creature that dies is seized almost instantly by another, and life seems to suffer from nothing except too favorable an environment.  In the desert, on the other hand, it is the environment itself which serves as the limiting factor.  To some extent the struggle of creature against creature is mitigated, though it is of course not abolished even in the vegetable kingdom.  For the plant which in the one place would be strangled to death by its neighbor dies a thirsty seedling in the desert because that same neighbor has drawn the scant moisture from the spot of earth out of which is was attempting to spring.

Sometimes  it seems to me that, of the two methods, the desert's is the kindlier and that, though I have never seen the jungle, it is there rather than here that I should feel the sense of discomfort (or worse) which the desert produces in some of those who experience it for the first time.  Certainly I am little aware of any such discomfort.  I wonder if it does not augur ill for the human race that its techniques have enabled it to produce for itself a sort of artificial, technological jungle in which too many people can live somehow--if not well--and where, therefore, as in the jungle, the struggle inevitably becomes ultimately the struggle of man against man and not the struggle of man against nature."

-- Joseph Wood Krutch --
from Baja California and the Geography of Hope

Having lived in Tucson, Arizona for over forty years now, and only a few miles from where Krutch himself spent his later years, I have to agree with him.  I have never seen a jungle, except in pictures, but I know I would much rather live here in a city in the desert than one in a jungle. 

Reading the headlines everyday, both local and international, leads me to suspect that Krutch, unfortunately, is right.  The human race now lives in a jungle of its own making. Perhaps that Garden of Eden was really a desert.

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