We Live in the Aquarium We Make

We live like fish in an aquarium. Food comes mysteriously down, oxygen bubbles up.

Laurence Gonzales, Deep Survival

Few humans can live without changing their environments.

I once visited some caves in a tropical area which had evidence of pre-historic human residents. Maybe those people didn’t need to build shelter. Since it was on the coast with plenty of tropical trees nearby, they could get fish, fruit, and tubers easily—but surely they needed some tools. In the coldest weather, they must’ve needed clothes too.

There aren’t enough locations like that for the overwhelming majority of humans alive today to survive.

We’ve changed our habitat into aquariums so that more of us can be alive together at the same time. However, that causes us to lose touch with forces unmodified by humans.

I encounter this existential dread a lot when I garden, specifically when I garden around other people. I’ve heard many comments like, ‘you’d be a good person to know after the apocalypse’ because I know a few things about growing fruits and vegetables.

Because I garden, I know some of what it takes to have a reliable supply of fruits and vegetables (and those foods ain’t high in calories). They need fresh water, and some fruits and vegetable need fresh water in a particular way. They need certain temperature ranges.

Gardening newbies in San Francisco often ask about tomatoes. Yes, I’ve grown tomatoes in San Francisco, but it’s hard because our climate isn’t right. Much easier to grow lettuce (or plums, for tomatoes are botanically a fruit). It’s easier to go along with the local climate than to compensate against it, but gardening novices haven’t experienced that yet. They want gardening to be as convenient as picking fruits and vegetables in a store. (Heck, I want that too, that’s why most of the fruits and vegetables I eat I buy from others).

That’s to say nothing of the water we drink… it’s incredible when I drink water straight out of streams in the countryside. But even that water I treat or filter before drinking. Purification tablets and filters come from industrialized civilization…

The stability of civilization is an illusion. The normalcy lulls us into forgetting just how fragile the glass of our aquarium is.

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