We spent the day on the slabs, heading on Canadian “interstates” across the finger of Ontario poking down between New York and Michigan. There aren’t really many alternative roads, the distance is significant, and the country is somehow not that interesting anyway. Unfortunately, interstate is interstate, and aside from kilometer signs and a higher than average number of Tim Horton’s, there was very little to tell us we were in a foreign country. I’m sure it’s a lot more fun when you cross over from France into Italy or Germany.
At any rate, we made it across all right and headed up to Lakeport State Park as on my previous trip. Somehow it’s more of a city of RVs than I remember from last time. I really don’t understand why these campgrounds are so dominated by RVs. Are all the tents just going elsewhere to places we don’t know about, or are we really such a tiny minority? And of course every space has a fire ring, and they are all being used. Odor of smoke mingled with lighter fluid. If ever one has had a doubt that we are descended from cave men, let it be extinguished now. The impulse to burn wood and huddle around it will not be denied.
The amazing thing really is how much we accomplish despite being so recently removed from these roots. Take our motorcycles for instance. They are things of metal containing fire harnessed not for heat but for motion. Have you ever seen metal in the ground? No, I don’t mean rusty nails. It must have been an impressive process of discovery when colored rock/sand was somehow and for some reason melted for the first time to result in something shiny and hard. Countless lives spent after that finding and digging different types of ore, experimenting with melting and combining them in different ways. A thousand or more years from these first fumblings to bronze, a thousand more to iron and steel. And the motorcycle is a veritable work of art – aluminums, steels, exotic alloys; and let’s not even mention the rubber handlegrips and tires (a hundred years’ drama of European discovery and colonial exploitation of rubber trees, of Charles Goodyear’s patient experimentation with heating, and ultimately learning even to do without the trees).
And where does the fire come from? The Chinese found, by accident we must suppose, “rocks that burn” long ago. And then maybe tar pits or natural gas fissures, leading us to look in the ground for fuels that burn cleaner and more reliably than wood. A slow start rapidly speeding up in the 19th and 20th centuries, oil barons, giant companies we all say we hate but cannot and will not live without. Refining processes and distribution networks.
And beyond all that the ideas, the thought and design that make the engine go, the containment by metal honed by manufacturing processes developed over more years, the use of another force, electricity, to start the fire, the principles of timing, feedback, and automatic adjustment. All won at cost of great mental efforts by hundreds, thousands of people, working together, building on one another’s efforts. People who in their off hours go out to the woods and light fires to huddle around: cave men.
And let’s think about that for a second — a fire needs wood to be gathered, and flint or a rod and mortar to light. Or embers from a previous fire carefully maintained. And in the end a fire that is cooperatively enjoyed for having been cooperatively made. Do we see anything different in farming? Or in that process we spoke of of finding ore, smelting, and smithing it? Or in working together in an oil company to make money by digging the earth? The fire from burning the oil is not the true fire here; it is the fount of money created by selling it that is huddled around. In every commercial enterprise we can see the old instincts in play. And maintaining those embers — accumulating bits of knowledge in science and engineering, that allow us to take a shortcut by using earlier mens’ work, again it is the cave man we can see.
So, suppose we want to create an intelligent, Thinking Man, a Cultural Man. It seems we could get less far and do much worse than to create a Cave Man.