Cartoonist Gary Larson had a knack for crafting the funny. For example, one cartoon showed a middle-aged couple out driving. The passenger was examining a map entitled ‘Nowhere;’ a road sign ahead read ‘The Middle.’ Seeing the sign, the passenger commented, “This doesn’t look good.”
One of my lower mainland acquaintances once asked me, “How come you want to live off in the middle of nowhere like you do?” It must have seemed a fair question to one who imagined himself living in the middle of somewhere.
I choose to live here because I find it satisfying compared to the manic hustle of places like Vancouver, Victoria, and the Fraser Valley. There’s less rush here. Finding our way around is simple. There aren’t that many places to go, anyway. Wilderness still tries to dominate the landscape, despite ugly clearcut scars and industrial rights of way.
BC’s lower mainland cities, though not in the geographic center of our polity, are like dense bodies around which the scattered settlements of rural BC orbit. Much of what is valuable out here on the edge gets sucked toward this center, particularly the “harvestable” resources drawn there by the gravitational pull of money, bits of which we are allowed to retain and use to bolster a simulacrum of urbanity—imported foods, manufactured products, and mediated entertainments. Even many of our children are drawn cityward.
At various periods in history, more settled peoples “bumped up against” nomadic cultures. The Greek historian Herodotus noted how most of these cultures saw themselves as the center of civilization, and were prone to labeling outsiders ‘barbarians,’ just as his own people did. When European immigrants swept into western Canada to settle the prairies, they were often mystified by the nomadic, so-called “savage” cultures they found there.
To the First Nations like the Cree, it was only natural to pack up your tents and other belongings and to follow the buffalo that roamed the seemingly endless grasslands. By contrast, to Europeans, the land was something to be measured, claimed, divided, ploughed and planted, bought and sold.
Ecologist William Rees noted that major cities today are like feedlots. They drain the life-sustaining resources of food, water, and energy from the vast hinterlands that surround them in order to support the densely packed populations within. The ecological footprints of modern cities may be tens or even hundreds of times larger than their geophysical area.
The centralization of city life is reflected in our financial arrangements. At one time the center of European cities was the cathedral, the embodiment of spiritual belief, and not coincidentally, the repository of vast sums of money. Go to any major city today, and the great buildings are often devoted to banks and financial institutions, the new secular churches that worship finance.
Titans of business such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk generated vast fortunes founded on producing goods and services for largely urban populations. Now they finance private space exploration, dreaming of boldly going where no man has gone before, and bringing so-called human civilization to the utter margins of possible travel, perhaps even encountering new specimens of the barbaric.
We may think of “living on the edge” as a suggestion of a high-risk life. Truly, living here on the edge in Terrace feels neither particularly civilized nor barbaric, but simply right.