Over the Hill

Can we solve tough issues together? Our survival depends on it

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

He had blond hair and looked to be seven or eight years old. He wore shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flop sandals. I noticed him while I was watching otters in Morro Bay recently with members of my family. It was a pleasant, sun-filled day.

The boy caught my attention when he started to climb a big rock nearby. It is a huge boulder, looking like an offspring of the Morro Rock itself. To me it also looked to be as high as the roof peak of a single-story house.

That big rock has rough, steep sides. I would never try to climb it without a ladder. But the boy didn’t hesitate. He just started scrambling up the rock’s nubby surface. About halfway up he stopped and, while somehow hanging on, took off his sandals. I guess he felt he needed to have bare feet to help grip the steep rock. I don’t know where he then carried the sandals; maybe in the top of his shorts.

He quickly resumed climbing and reached the top of the rock. Then he sat or squatted and looked around. He probably felt satisfied and superior. But before long he decided to come down. He put his flip-flops back on and used them as brakes as he slid off the peak on the seat of his pants.

But when he reached the nearly vertical side of the rock he slid much faster. It was more of a skidding drop, maybe out of control. Somehow, though, he managed to land on his feet, apparently uninjured and undismayed. He seemed to walk with a bit of a swagger. I was impressed. The nearest thing to that rock climb that I’ve ever done was to walk on the high-up, hand-hewn beams of our old barn on the little farm where I grew up. I was born in 1930.

Oh how different the world was back in the 1930s—different but not better. Many people were out of work because of the Great Depression. We didn’t have AIDs back then but we had other dreadful contagious diseases, such as polio. We had polio epidemics every summer.

We also had a lot fewer people back then. National Geographic says that in 1930 there were just 2 billion humans here on Earth. But now the Census Bureau says there are more than 7.4 billion of us. You may have noticed it’s getting crowded in places.

I wonder how many billions of humans will live on earth 80 years from now when that energetic young rock climber reaches the age of 87. That number will depend, for one thing, on the sanity of the leaders of the nine nations on Earth that are known to have a total of 15,850 nuclear weapons.

The number of humans on Earth 80 years from now will also depend on whether we stop polluting our air more and more, and on whether we stop polluting and wasting our water.

It looks like the survival of the human race depends on whether we can learn to unselfishly cooperate with each other. That seems like an impossible task, but we must tackle it just like that boy tackled that big rock.

Phil Dirkx's column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every other week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.