“It calls back a time when there were flowers all over the Earth… and there were valleys. And there were plains of tall green grass that you could lie down in—you could go to sleep in. And there were blue skies, and there was fresh air… and there were things growing all over the place, not just in some domed enclosures blasted some millions of miles out into space.”
In our previous post I shared an essay which I wrote in secondary school about how life would be in 2001. Our English teacher was fascinated with the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey with its beautiful music and photography, and she truly believed that the fictional reality of Arthur C. Clarke would be our reality in 2001. She was looking forward to teaching children on the Moon.
She thought my essay was too bleak and barren, but well written. She felt that too many of her students indulged in pessimism in what they wrote.
Society was evolving for the better, which she embraced, but as we sat in the classroom and watched the news and read the newspaper, pessimism seemed like a certain reality. People were behaving as though less evolved and civilized.
The next year a film would come across the screens with a message startling with yet another essential call to my generation.
The film was Silent Running. It dwelt with the ecological concerns which were becoming louder each day. Our ecosystem was fragile and dying.
In the film the earth was barren and sterile. Forest pods were created and sent to Saturn where the natural habitats were allowed to flourish, taken care of by a few men and robot caretakers. They always pointed toward the sun.
Adding to the story was the photography and music. Joan Baez, the folksinger of my generation, sang the haunting and inspirational songs: Silent Running and Rejoice In The Sun.
The story is simple yet complex. The order from earth is received to abandon the forest pods and nuke them.
One of the human caretakers, Freeman Lowell, cannot obey the order. What happens is a series of extreme measures undertaken by him to save what remains of an earth which once was and could never be again.
For in this film the children of earth could never do what their grandparents did as children: run barefoot in the fields and meadows of nature’s variety—to feel the dirt between their toes. They could never play in the forest. They could never listen to the winds caressing the bluebells and lilies of the fields. Watch a monarch butterfly dance on the wind or a hummingbird buzz about collecting nectar from the lantana and columbine.
Standing on a mountainside gazing down to the fertile dales and vales below would never be their reality or a memory shared with their children or their children’s children. With no mountains what they see is an industrialized planet of machines and building with artificial nourishment pills dispensed by the thousands from street-corner dispensaries.
This was the message of Silent Running—no mystery since life was defined and categorized like the old Dewey decimal system. Every life had its place on this utopian bookshelf of a human natural order.
I will close with Freeman Lowell’s words:
“On Earth, everywhere you go, the temperature is 75 degrees. Everything is the same; all the people are exactly the same. Now what kind of life is that?”
Indeed! What kind of life is it when there is perfect conformity and uniformity with no diversity?
G. D. Williams © 2013
“In the not very distant future, man has at last finished with Earth. The mountains are leveled and the valleys filled in, and there are no growing plants left to mess things up. Everything is nice and sterile, and man’s global housekeeping has achieved total defoliation. Out around the rings of Saturn, a few lonely spaceships keep their vigil. They’re interplanetary greenhouses, pointed always toward the sun. Inside their acres and acres of forests, protected by geodesic domes that gather the sunlight, the surviving plants and small animals of Earth grow. There are squirrels and rabbits and moonlit nights when the wind does actually seem to breathe in the trees: a ghostly reminder of the dead forests of Earth.”
Fields of children running wild
In the sun
Like a forest is your child, growing wild
In the sun
Doomed in his innocence
In the sun
Gather your children to your side
In the sun
Tell them all they love will die
Tell them why
In the Sun
Tell them it’s not too late
Cultivate, one by one
Tell them to harvest and rejoice
In the sun
Earth between my toes and a flower in my hair
That’s what I was wearing when we lay among the ferns.
Earth between my toes and a flower I will wear when he returns.
Wind upon his face and my fingers in his hair
That’s what he was wearing when we lay beneath the sky.
Wind upon his face and my love he will wear when swallows fly.
Tears of sorrow running deep
Running silent in my sleep
Running silent in my sleep.