Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Dangerous Caves Teenagers died of carbon monoxi...

Dangerous Caves

Teenagers died of carbon monoxide poisoning in bluff caves down the street from my house.

And I was just thinking about these caves last week. From what I hear, every teenager and his kid sister that grows up in Saint Paul spends a little time peeking in a cave. It would be impossible not to, I'd think. This is a godawful sad story. City mothers and fathers keep talking about sealing off the caves. They've been boarding them up for years and it's never worked. I can't blame the kids for being curious...Why am I babbling?

Here is a city. Here is part of its history, these man made and not so man made hollows and deeps carved in the bluffs, obscured by roads above, by the very grid of streets and lots and survey markers, stop lights and Dairy Queens. The news: the Apprentice, American Idol, Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant, and of course, Iraq. We are a species which evolved in a specific context. Depending on where one draws the line, our minds and emotions are a process over a million years old. For all but ten thousand of those years, natural selection operated on us in a context of selecting for traits--both physical and mental--which increased fitness in an environment of grasslands, forest edges, rocks and sun and rivers. No bridges, no dams, no hydroponic produce, no freeways and commutes, school busses, and no T.V.

Why are we surprised when kids want to explore caves? There's a confused avatar in every one of us wondering why all the skills and thoughts, loves and dreams which got us through the last million years are no longer relevant. One could argue that good sense, certainly selected for in any environment, should have told these teenagers to listen to the advice of their elders and stay the fuck out of the caves. The advice come down on a ratty sign--we get a lot of exposure to signs. We haven't exactly learned that it is worthwhile to trust our 'elders'. Sign your draft card, it's good for you--take a DDT shower, it's harmless--there are WMD in Iraq, that's why we have to bomb the shit out of it--See what I mean?

Here a natural inclination toward curiosity and wonder. Here a society which practically ignores the existence of nature, and demonstrates daily through distribution of resources that its priorities are anywhere but in the respect for and appreciation of the natural. I know most of the kids who wander down to the river, or to the caves, or just away, do so to drink and get laid, but once again we're talking about natural impulses. The attempt by all things paternal to pretend that there's a 'good' and a 'bad' and that if we all just said 'No,' and 'Abstain, abstain,'--Well this is all just a crock of shit, isn't it? Wouldn't it make more sense to consider the context in which we evolved? To set aside horseshit moral judgments which split souls and fill people with guilt and shame leading to perverted behavior, set aside the hateful, puritanical desire to control life, and at least acknowledge reality--wouldn't it make sense to educate kids about nature and their place in it?

Yeah, I know this was about caves. It was the city's reaction to this incident which set me off. Board them up and tell kids, "No." It's just like our government refusing to contribute our share to U.N. family planning efforts because those efforts include education about and distribution of birth control. To me, it's the same as refusing to teach sex education in schools, pretending that sex doesn't exist, that if we don't talk about it, nothing bad will happen. That everyone has his or her secrets, but a Slut is the one who gets caught, or pregnant. The city wants to board up the caves and basically pretend they don't exist. Tragic when teenagers die, but people always say, "They shouldn't have been there--didn't they see the caves were posted?" The cave in question was probably man made, as settlers often carved homes and warehouses out of the bluff, but they've become naturalized in many ways, being of living stone and no longer having a function for man. The impetus to explore them surely is natural. Whenever there is a tragedy such as this, I can't help but think the truly sad thing is that the kids knew so little about caves--or river currents, or riptides, or mountain lions, or lightning--that they had no idea how to survive. Then, instead of realizing that we should be curious about such things, that it's in our nature to be, instead of teaching our children what plants are poisonous, or taking them to the river to learn its ways, we sign them up for pre-school and hockey camp. Sunday School may be great for passing on one's mythology, but it is not a fucking substitution for sex ed. Not teaching a child about the beauty and danger of the natural world--without moral judgment--is like living in a house and not knowing where is the gas shut-off, the circuit breakers, the water main. Saying that sex education encourages immoral behavior is as silly as saying that teaching a child not to stick a fork in a socket is morally wrong, then branding the kid that gets zapped a loose little slut and blaming him or her.

So, was all this about caves, or morality? One could say I should organize my thoughts before sharing them, and one would be right, but I have to go pack and figure out those things I have to do before I go. The things I'll regret if I forget. Stand in a room and see my dad in these familiar things, smell him in his drawers, hear him in loose floorboards and querulous pipes.

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