Tribute to Paul Salopek’s “Slow Down, Find Humanity” Out of Eden Walk

6 Jan

originally composed: 2016 December 31 23h45 EST

The deep south of the Great White North

On the north shore of a lake that you can’t see across


The evening started as if often does these days, getting a short espresso at the Jet Fuel Café.

waching the street from the Jet Fuel Cafe

watching the street from the Jet Fuel Cafe

Pleasantly, for this time of year, at this place in the world, it was raining very lightly.

But, as is the custom for this somewhat arbitrary date, December 31st, it is not a normal evening, and many people seem to be obliged to go out , many of them to bars, and drink, then celebrate the changing of the designation for year, this time, from “2016” to “2017”.

For me the significant day has already passed, over a week ago, when the angle of the sunlight hitting the surface of the earth stopped getting more acute, and started getting more direct, some time around December 21st or, on account of 2016 being a Leap Year, perhaps it was December 22nd.

Instead of going out, I decided to luxuriate with a wood fire in the fireplace, and chill out with my favorite libations.


wood fire – genetically imprinted into humans

I open the flue of the fireplace, so the smoke from my joint can blow out through the chimney.

Someone sends me a text [to my ‘dumbphone’].

Because of the way it is, as I ruminate on the passing of 2016, not an easy year for me.  There is a woodfire in the fireplace, I can’t help but think of Paul Salopek, walking from Ethiopia, tracing the outward migration of man from Africa, the fast migration, from around 60,000 years ago.  He’s come from Ethiopia, the great rift valley, up through the Holy Lands, then along the silk road.  He’s at the eastern end of Uzbekistan, approaching the Kyrzicstan border, on his journey following this outward migration of humankind, across Asia, to the north east corner, across the Baring, then down the America to the southern tip of South America, Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, by foot.

When I think of him passing his New Year’s Eve, now long gone, he’s well into the New Year, in Uzbekistan.  It’s cold there.  It’s not too far south of where I am here, but at high altitude in the centre of the largest landmass on the planet.  It’s cold there, and I hope he’s taking the pleasure of a wood fire.  Probably set up properly, so that the heat comes into the dwelling, and the gases, harmful to human kind, go out.

It wasn’t too long ago that I read in the news how some scientist, or group of scientists, had found that humans have evolved to tolerate the fumes from wood smoke.

It brought me back to my life-long fascination.  Raised with a fireplace, on the shores of Ontario, I’ve been around it for my whole life.  Lucky enough, according to a good custom, in my country, of sending children away to less urban places, less distractions from the actual environment, at the time I went, we were free to create wood fires no matter where we roamed.

When I stare into it, I find a strange comfort, one that really can’t be explained by the mere physics of the decomposition, through oxidization, of the wood.  How the heat flows from one solid object and is transferred to a second, to such degree that it becomes a self-sustaining oxidization process, in the heat sink that is created, and how that can be used.

As I’ve reacquainted myself with Paul’s journey over the last few days, I couldn’t help but think that this journey outward, from tropical climes, to climes of intense cold, for sustained periods of time, away from the sea, forced a much greater understanding, the development of the technology of managing the wood fire.  This is within us, the humans alive today; we evolved, so that it is hard-wired into us.

Yet, it’s still such a great luxury.  I’m taking joy from it now, knowing that it may be necessary in the foreseeable future, certainly within magnitude of time frames of this journey (of Paul’s), undertaken by this man, to cover that generic migratory path, by foot, as the cross-land migration would necessarily have been.  Though perhaps not the coastal migration, which likely would have included the development of marine technology, ultimately required for humans to reach Australia and the Americas; more on that later.

(Moving) across the continent, the knowledge of the technology of fire and the management of it, would have necessarily been acquired by our ancestors, the survivors of this trek, who, coming from a tropical climate, dead-ended at three walls of mountains, close to where Paul is now.  The people probably developed the technology, across many generations and genetic mutation(s).  I refer to work done by Spencer Wells, “The Journey of Man[1], which forms a big part of my context for understanding this journey.

After reading about (one of Paul articles) theGiant ‘Arrows’ Seen From Space…’, across the now deserts south of the rapidly diminishing Aral Sea, how many years ago, these large structures have been created to herd, and easily kill, the native ungulate, like a deer, or whatever, equivalent, on that plateau/steppe.  After the fall of the Soviet Union, they were just slaughtered, and are now, probably endangered.  Paul mentioned only having seen four.  It’s too few.

I’m happy to see 2016 pass by.

…   …

The major political events of the year are certainly fascinating.  After reading Paul’s stuff, the extraordinary results of the U.S. Presidential election snapped into an intriguing analogy, in my mind.

The book,Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep[2], a post-nuclear war apocalyptic world has two competing philosophies; one (according to Wikipedia) “Mercerism uses “empathy boxes” to simultaneously link users to a collective virtual reality of communal suffering, centered on a martyr-like character, Wilbur Mercer, who eternally climbs up a hill while being hit with crashing stones.”  The competing philosophies are never really developed in the movie, neither does Wikipedia mention the other polar philosophical force, the cult of Buster Friendly; this philosophy follows a clown, Buster Friendly, who propounds a belief that all detritus, garbage, waste, referred to as ‘kibble’, is multiplying when not being monitored, so that, eventually, the entire universe will collapse under the weight of it, so why fight it, worry about, or do anything at all to preserve the future, complete abandonment of all responsibility!

Abandonment of all responsibility seems to be a common trend in our own, so-called, ‘first world’, ‘western democracies’.  There is a segment of the population that behave as if, once having made a commercial transaction, they have paid in full for any and all responsibility, and those that just don’t believe, or have been trained by our society, to evade any responsibility that is evadable.

Not to cast too dim a light on the U.S. President-elect, there are so many people, seemingly devoted to that cause, but I do see his style as reminiscent of Buster Friendly.

Empathy enables unconditional internalized responsibility.  Unfortunately, empathic people are systemically disadvantaged in our society.  This stimulates memories of the study on brain trauma victims, who have had their capacity to empathize disabled, and how they outperform competitors in stock and bond trading so significantly, so as to undermine their viability at it as a profession!

At an individual level, de-empathification pays.  However, at a system level, where we have way, way too many people in the system, the loss of empathetic capability and associated appropriate social restrictions means that we, the humans, are systematically destroying the planet!


In one chapter of Wayward[3], the main character, somewhat associated with driving, like his literary icon, Jack Kerouac, is forced to travel by foot from San Jose (CR), to his house in a town about 50 kilometers away because of a civil demonstration.  He has made the trip countless times in a car; he is shocked by how different is seems, not being in a car, “The world is so different here, outside of the cage, free to move, flex, and stretch in exertion.  At the same time I feel the threatening violence of the cars, perilously close, again, and again, like shocks to the system.


I’m hoping everybody who reads this will take a look at theOut of Eden Walk”, and try to better ‘get with’ an existence outside the box.


In the meantime, I’m sending out positive vibes to Paul, and hoping he can get the chance to enjoy a wood fire, gaze into it, appreciate the beauty of the structure which brings the warmth of it to you, and the sheer chaos of it, and feel, if not remember, the comfort of it, especially if there are times when your spirit is low, because we, the surviving humans, are hard-wired to be better.

end notes—————————————–
[1] The journey of man: a genetic odyssey - by Spencer Wells - Princeton University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-8129-7146-9

[2] Philip K. Dick, 1968 United States, English, Science fiction, Doubleday, 61,237 words, OCLC: 34818133

[3] Wayward, Amongst the Vicarious Selves, is a literary fiction which tracks the journey of a man who wants to get away from the ‘first world’ society, because he feels there is something wrong with it; he spends the book trying to figure out what it is that is wrong with the emerging internet-enabled ‘global society’, and what to do about it

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