Remember that great movie Treasure of the Sierra Madre with Humphrey Bogart? Well, this post is not about that movie. This post is about yesterday as I was traveling through a part of the Sierra Madre in Guatemala. I didn’t see any of the gold Bogart searched for and found. What I saw was a vision. It was not a pretty vision.
The vision was not of the Sierra Madre. It was a vision of the future of the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas and Missouri. It is also the future of the Appalachian Mountains. And the future of all the other backwater places in the USA where the poor and politically disenfranchised (or perhaps I should say politically ignorant) live.
What I saw was reality in Guatemala. It was a reality created by unchecked population growth and a government that simply doesn’t care to deal with such human problems as healthcare, education, basic sanitation and infrastructure for the masses. The external signs of this neglect were everywhere from the copious amounts of trash along the highways, the pot-holes and landslides blocking the highways to the dirt-floored dilapidated hovels where the people lived without any of the basics of a healthy life like clean water.
As I passed mile after mile of the once great Sierra Madres, now denuded of most of the original vegetation and replaced by shacks to hold the ever growing population, that is when I saw the future of most of the rural USA. There are seven billion people now on this earth. When I was born in 1948, there were only two billion. I don’t think of myself as that old but when I was a kid in the Ozarks you could drink out of any stream you happened to pass by. Now, you do so at your peril. The closest neighbor was over a mile a way. That wasn’t an exception. That was more like a rule. Now, it has about got to the point, like in Guatemala, that if you throw water out your window it goes in your neighbors door.
But people just keep reproducing like the earth is endless. And the rich keep getting richer. The poor keep getting poorer. The ignorant keep getting more so and the sick keep getting sicker thanks to cut backs in education, healthcare, worker’s rights, and environmental legislation.
While the reality I saw in Guatemala is hard, it is not nearly as hard as the vision I see as the future for rural USA. All the gold and treasure that Bogart searched for and found in the Sierra Madres may be gone now but the people who live there still have some advantages over the rural USA. Most of them still live as they have in the past; by subsistence farming. They still have that knowledge ingrained deep in their souls.
Another treasure the Guatemalans have that is lacking in most of rural USA is the climate. Guatemala is known as The Country of Eternal Spring. So, they don’t need heating, or cooling, and they have a growing season that allows several crops per year.
Even these treasures won’t save an ever multiplying population in Guatemala though. Without that inherent knowledge and climate what chance do other areas have?