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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Wild Side of Y2K

Air Date: Week of

As the Big Day approaches, commentator Chris Bolgiano (bowl-gee-AH-no) has a prescription for relaxation: look out the window, where every day is Y2K.


CURWOOD: With less than 30 days to go before the calendar flips to 2000, Y2K is increasingly in the news. Businesses, government agencies, and institutions of all types are checking their systems to avoid disruptions in services. Meanwhile, citizens are being urged to have some emergency supplies on hand for any minor, temporary power outages. Commentator Chris Bolgiano looks at another side of Y2K: the wild side.

BOLGIANO: In the Virginia mountains, where I live, a butterfly sneeze can knock down the power lines. My neighbors and I have always had to be ready to supply our own essentials, like food, water, and a deck of cards, at any time. We've weathered two 500-year floods, three blizzards of the century, and annual bouts with that unique species of sleet and freezing rain we call Virginia sleaze. Even so, I'm hearing talk about Y2K that makes me wonder.

One neighbor is proposing a collectively-owned generator. Another is harvesting extra quantities of healing herbs. A third is fixing up an old shop so a family member from the city could move in if necessary. Even my bank is sending me soothing notices not to worry, which worries me. Fortunately, I have a ready antidote to panic. I just look out my window. Because, as it happens, I live in one of the oldest-known places on earth: the Appalachian mountains.

Here, in the shadow of rocks 800 million years old, human millennia look kind of puny. Our chronology means nothing to the oak forest that surrounds me, now losing its leaves in the seasonal rhythm that marks the only real calendar. In the wild, every day is Y2K, because systems are constantly resetting themselves in response to everything that happens around them. Take the long view, and apocalypse is just another day in the life of the universe.

But it's not the universe that we're concerned with here, just the world as we know it. And never before has there been an actual physical connection between the human construct of calendar and apocalypse, the end of the world as we know it. At the turn of the first millennium, in the Dark Ages of Y1K, people believed, erroneously as it turned out, that divine intervention would make that connection. Many of them renounced their belongings and fled to the nearest church. A thousand years of progress, and electricity and computers have rendered this second millennium tangible. Y2K is our self-made crisis of calendar, our Apocalypse Now only a few shopping weeks away.

So if you're feeling panicky, try looking out your window. Even the merest patch of sky, where day and night pass endlessly into an eternal present, regardless of anything we do, should be enough to make us think about the meaninglessness of millennia. But I suspect that this millennium will mostly make us think about our survival shopping list. And don't forget to buy toilet paper.

CURWOOD: Commentator Chris Bolgiano is author of The Appalachian Forest: A Search for Roots and Renewal. She comes to us from member station WMRA in Harrisonburg, Virginia.



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