©2011 By Bob Litton
One October night in Big Bend National Park I attended a slide show at the amphitheater. The title of the lecture was “Surviving the Chihuahuan Sun”.
I sat there with an army surplus fatigue shirt on, hugging myself against the night’s chilly air, and watched in awe as a lovely, blond-haired park ranger in a short-sleeved shirt explained how one could eat just about every plant in the desert. She also showed us why there wasn’t any reason to die of thirst.
One of the slides showed somebody cooking a cactus plant, which our lecturer asserted had a taste much like a potato. Other slides showed the varieties of cacti which served as reservoirs for water and how the water could be extracted from them. These examples are just the ones I remember; there were many more I can’t remember.
I was impressed. The year was 1974, at the end of the Arab fuel embargo; and I, like many Americans, had had the facts of economic life brought vividly home to me by the energy crisis. I was in a mood to consider alternative life-styles, even some that might appear bizarre, retrogressive, primitive. I had about decided it was time to go learn from Mother Nature. In spirit, I became a survivalist.
Then the sense of crisis—the first one—ebbed away, and civilization once again looked attractive to me. I gave over the desire to learn how to cook cactus potatoes. Still, I never forgot the park and the lesson that for those who have the courage and stamina and wits to enter Nature, She has a place for them.
Frankly, that’s one of the main reasons I wanted to move to Monahans. It’s the threshold between civilization and the wilderness of Big Bend.
Now, however, I read in a series of articles in the Odessa American that a bunch of other so-called “survivalists” have similar ideas. Only, these people are taking guns—big guns—with them to their wilderness refuges. The radical survivalists suffer the monomania of wanting to survive regardless of what they have to do to others to achieve that end.
I recently finished reading William Golding’s Lord of The Flies in which a bunch of English schoolboys find themselves stranded on an uninhabited island. At first they try to organize themselves with a chief, a type of parliament, and a division of responsibilities.
In a few weeks, major responsibilities are neglected, quarrels develop, and the organization—never too sturdy to begin with—deteriorates. Most of the boys succumb to their savage instincts and, before rescue arrives, kill three of their own.
There are several interesting themes in the novel, but the one most relevant here is the idea that civilization and law are fragile. Conscience and respect for any type of moral order disappear in some people sooner than they do in others, and they can disappear in all eventually.
The survivalists with the guns fear the collapse of society is imminent. In their efforts to guarantee their own survival they are contributing to the disaster they so greatly fear. They want to make of Nature a bastion for murderers.
They will pollute Nature.
— The Monahans News, March 3, 1981