Saturday, July 09, 2011

Reach for the Stars

They say if you were to save a penny the first day and double it every day after that, you would be a millionaire in no time. Flat out millionaire. Like pennies from heaven.
Today, I look up and the heavens are like a rope, clouds braided ahead of a storm, and rain is falling out there 20 miles away, you can see the gust front pushing it like bristles on a blue broom. There is a white streak in the rain; it's hail, penny sized hail rushing down like a mob of shoppers in December, outstretching each other to grab that limited-collector's-edition-styrene-based-children's-entertainment-device, wiping out some man's cornfield, stripping away the cobs, turning it to poor silage. Funny thing, the fellow prayed for rain a few days ago, that day he forgot to renew his crop insurance, and now this. Now he is penniless, scouring the fields for a few edible ears to feed his livestock. He looks at the porch, rustling with his untamed children. They chatter like racoons. He looks at a battered cob in his hand. Hey, what if? The insurance man shakes his head, calls it an Act of God and walks away, dusting off his hands. The children watch him walk until he disappears over a hill. The youngest begins to gnaw on the railing.
The farmer looks up at the sky and closes his eyes for a moment, letting the sun wash it one last time. Clouds quickly intervene and his face darkens.
"Maybe it's time to quit," says his wife. Her yellow hair stands straight on end, like husks from shucked corn.
"I never thought..." He picks up some dirt in his hand and tosses it into the wind. The dirt blows it back in his face.
The insurance man walks along the damaged fields and notices that the division between the damaged crop and the undamaged crop is a clear line, maybe a foot wide. Centuries ago this was grist for rumor mills; the man sold his soul, the wife is a witch, the children are possessed. The insurance man thinks, "I could have made a killing back then." He laughs to himself.
They say that while walking in dangerous neighborhoods you should carry the bulk of your money in your shoes and a few dollars in your pockets, to give to robbers. So, after the fall harvest, the neighbors cut down the shelterbelts and planted larger fields. Hiding corn in their shoes, I guess. Years later, their children crossed numerous strains of corn and fielded larger plants. Then they sought out the robber to get all of this stuff out of their shoes because they couldn't walk. After a while the robbers started to grow too, and in a few decades they had gotten so big that nobody had enough corn to satisfy them. This brings us up to date.
Off in a laboratory the farmer's grandchildren are splicing the genes of corn with crocodiles or coelacanthes or axolotyls or scrappy dockworkers or hamburgers. Fine. There is a pounding on the roof and the technicians look up. Asbestos filters down from the ceiling. They shrug. Looming over the lab is the shadow of a 900-foot tall robber hungry for his next meal. Same one that crushed the church down the road.
So, what lies ahead? It's this: First we planted simple native corn. Then it was hybrids, the Green Revolution. Then it was gene splicing, the Gene Revolution. Exponential growth in yields. Still not enough. Life is not fooled by life; it always recognizes its own kind. Like the grizzly that can smell the chocolate bar inside the wrapper inside the sealed container inside the ice chest locked inside the car with the windows rolled up, we just can't outsmart this biosphere. It knows what we are doing and tells us to reach for the sky and empties our pockets and strips us clean, even taking our shoes.
I mean, are you sure that those are your shoes?
Enough of this. If the biosphere cannot be fooled by its own kind, then the only alternative to introduce a truly alien life form to the human menu. A synthetic crop, inorganically engineered. Hail problems? Engineer a hail-resistant crop, with hardened cellulose and lignin, something developed under controlled laboratory conditions, something with atoms of sulfur or chlorine bound to the native molecules, hardening it like body armor. Field test it in the Midwest. Fire buckshot at it. Run the tractor over it. Thrash it with a bullwhip. Then set it loose. It can rain, it can hail, let it hail, go ahead, come down hard, the Weather Militia, like cluster bombs, cheap nail bombs with gasoline, let nature throw everything in its arsenal and watch as the clouds clear and the rain passes to the east and there, the cornstalks stand tall, glistening and glowing in the sun. A triple rainbow forms a backdrop.
I can see the advertisements now: After supper, a farmer steps outside to admire his fields. The sun has set long ago. The porch lights are off, the house is dark. But the field is lit up - the corn is still glowing. A smile forms on his face, and his skin cracks along his chin; he will be shedding soon. "Yes," he thinks, "Crops. Provide food for my livestock and light for my neighborhood." Then cut away to the Corporate Logo being held in the hand of a furry, three-toed child. Voice over: "A better world. Imagine that."
Sure, double your pennies every day. Exponential growth. Pennies from heaven. Problem is, we would end up eating all the copper for food because we used up everything else making pennies.