The Good? Ol’ Days

March 18, 2010

I’ve been reading Mayflower: A story of courage, community, and war by Nathaniel Philbrick.  mayflower-8 I am not a history buff, but I have some ancestors who came across on the Mayflower – two great great great great great great great grandfathers – Stephen Hopkins and Edward Doty (one of Hopkins’ servants), and a 7-greats grandmother, Elizabeth Fisher Hopkins.  I don’t know which of Hopkins’ children I’m descended from (my mother knows – she has researched our genealogy quite extensively), but Hopkins had 4 children who came with him on the Mayflower: Giles and Constance from a first marriage, and Demaris and Oceanus whom he had with Elizabeth.  Oceanus only made part of the trip actually – well part of it as Oceanus – she was born on the Mayflower.

While I’m talking about Hopkins, he had been to the New World before on The Sea Venture,  which shipwrecked on Bermuda, a shipwreck that is thought to be the basis for Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  Hopkins was involved in an attempted mutiny with that trip and was nearly executed.  Lucky for me, he talked his way out. 

Edward Doty, Hopkins’ servant, took after his master in some ways. He is infamous for being in the first pistol duel in the New World with Hopkins’ other servant, Edward Leister.  They injured each other, but, again lucky for me, no one was killed.  They apparently both spent some time with their hands and feet tied together though in punishment.

But Hopkins and Doty really aren’t the point of this post.  Something that Philbrick wrote about the development of the colonies really grabbed my attention:

It took a tremendous amount of lumber to build one of these houses – even a modest house required at least twelve tons of wood.  Just as daunting were the heating requirements of the home’s open hearth.  It’s been estimated that the average seventeenth-century New England house consumed fifteen cords, or 1920 cubic feet, of wood per year., meaning that a town of two hundred homes depended on the deforestation of as many as seventy-five acres per year (p. 186).

Elsewhere in the book he talks about how the Europeans’ arrival, hunting, and fishing resulted in a precipitous decrease in deer and fish in New England that the Native Americans were very conscious of.  At one point the various tribes attempted to form a coalition. The plan was to kill the Europeans – but not the cows – because they would need them for food until the deer population increased to a sustainable level again.  The argument the Native Americans were making among themselves was they wanted to go back to living like their grandfather’s had.  Ah, the good old days.

When were the “good ol’ days” for the world environment?  Perhaps before Europeans came to the New World?  Well, one of the reasons they came was for North America’s natural resources, not least of all the wood since the Europeans had pretty well deforested all of Europe.  Perhaps humans and the environment were in pretty good balance in North American in the 16th century, but other parts of the world were already showing a people/nature imbalance.

I have a feelingworldpop that the environmental good ol’ days for the World were probably a thousand or more years ago.  It took from  0 A.D. until 1800 for the World’s human population to increase from 300 million to 1 billion.  In just the next 200 years the population skyrocketed to 6 billion. An increase of another 3 billion is expected by some in the next 50 years (source: NOVA)  Wow.  It does make you wonder how much the Earth can take.

The world has seen changes are an increasing rate as the human population keeps exploding.  I can only hope that I have great great great great great great great grandchildren who can look back at the 21st century.  I hope they don’t think these were the good ol’ days.


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