Volume 10: Editor’s Note — Surplus & Scarcity

by Kristen Grubbs, Editor

“Scarcity and abundance is a way of life.”
—Beth Kaplin

A year ago this March, I lay in my sleeping bag watching the first glints of dawn slide across dark cinder hills and swales, a bleak landscape of volcanic time in the Sierra del Pinacate of Sonora, Mexico. The only sound was a flapping: past the looming saguaro at the foot of my campsite, the shadows of two ravens swirled against the cinder cone. I had never been to a desert, and had the usual expectations: no water therefore not much life in a landscape dominated by prickly cacti and dry, dusty ground and air.

Yes, the air was dry, and one misstep and the black chunky aa lava tore your skin; the spines of the teddy bear cholla cactus had to be pulled from your body with a comb. But what first seemed only a black, forbidding landscape soon revealed colorful desert flowers sprouting from the cinder ground: the vibrant red of ocotillo blossoms and delicate purple nama, having saved their seeds, perhaps for years, until a recent arrival of spring rains. Tall stalks of desert lavender emerged from stark crevices in the lava. Owls burrowed into the cholla-covered hillside, while Pinacatel beetles, leafcutter ants, mule deer, phainopepla, coyote, and innumerable others shared their desert home with us. A landscape of seeming scarcity revealed its abundance, and I gave thanks to learn its stories.

Many of us who devote our professional lives to the cause of environmentalism have done so because we have found the joy of personal experiences in the wild. We know the abundance of a landscape like that of this Sonoran Desert, for we know to look deeper than the surficial scarcity. We give thanks for a world whose ecological systems defy and persist in the face of the many challenges to it challenges often human-driven. We gain strength from this source of surplus, and we fight to sustain it.

Our theme this year, chosen long before September 11, has unfolded into the events of the past six months with an unconscious flow. Looking at a history of wars fought over resources has lent Michael Klare a perspective to the “war on terrorism,” one that opens our understanding of the expansive impact of the scarcity of one of these resources, oil. Gerald Wheeler’s portrait of the Mariscal mine reveals one result of human greed for a resource.

Rob Hardy’s poem, “Food for the World,” questions global inequities. How much is enough, and how are so many rendered wanting in a world with such bounty? Catriona Glazebrook takes us on an even closer examination of the “dance of surplus and scarcity” in our global relationships. While scarcities of cropland, forests, water, and other renewable resources are felt around the world, concentrations of surplus often rest in the hands of a few. Globalization has become a “world force driving a growing divide” between those who have too little and those who have too much. Startling statistics report the long-favored traditions of our ”American Dream,“ and what the consequences of our dream are for the rest of the world.

Rose Rousseau’s portrait of Graciela asks us also to question our own social and cultural assumptions, exploring the nature of desire and of our acceptance of cultural norms. Perhaps our human longing is ”more than just wanting things that would make life comfortable and pleasing.“ What does it mean to live a life of surplus amidst a world of scarcity, or a life of scarcity amidst the unfathomable worlds of surplus?

Three writers explore the ironies of the world we have built around us in the United States. Bruce Berger reflects on images of excess and simplicity in a community, while Peggy Duffy tells us a fairy tale of our suburbia. Richard Fein presents images of urban renewal, asking us also to consider the true nature of charity.

Perhaps we need to consider whether even our language reflects our relationship with the rest of the natural world. Robert Fearn suggests we need to use not just science, but also the arts, to shape our actions. He states, “If the adaptive value of our brains, our language, and our cultures are to prove meaningful and ecologically fit, then they must be used to further sensitive use of resources.” Indeed, Thomas Moore proposes that to act in expressions of care for our community, we must endow even the things around us with soul. He says, “If we had things of more quality, more individuality, more presence, I think we’d be satisfied with less.”

In the end, perhaps we may return to the natural world to learn the wisdom of a system that has adapted to the cycles of surplus and scarcity. Five of Antioch’s faculty members, Tom Wessels, Jon Atwood, Beth Kaplin, Meade Cadot, and Peter Palmiotto, share their own naturalist observations. They explore habitats, landscapes, and ecological traits that demonstrate that even the most prolific habitats endure cycles of abundance and famine. South Dakotan writer Lanniko Lee explains that even in a bleak winter of cleansing snowfall, “the spirit is transformed like the landscape, evidence of life on different experiential planes. On the one level is the dormant and cocooned surface, like the frozen plane of the sloughs and the riverways. However, just beneath this plane, life forms of fish, muskrat, and beaver move. Likewise, the spirit moves inward to reflection.”

As you explore issues of surplus and scarcity in your own experiences, both local and global, we wish for you also the space to move inward to reflection—reflection, which may then lead to deliberate and positive action. As Thomas Moore concludes, “The issue is not literal quantity. The real question is, ‘How do you live with what you have?’”