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Earth Day Countdown:

Mother Nature on the Run – But Catching Up


April 21, 2016

ENGLEWOOD (Third planet from the center of our favorite solar system).   By a spark of illumination appearing eons ago in the head of one of the humanoids occupying Planet Earth (later mistakenly taken for signs of intelligent life by others from outside their sphere of influence) humankind learned to make tools (then, later, how to fashion them into weapons to use against living things, including one another) and other technological advances, discovering that they could remake the world in ways in their own image that defied Mother Nature’s ideas of how things should be.

Discovering much later that, after lunch at the Tree of Knowledge they should have resisted the urge to cut it down (along with most of the other ones) so as to try out their newly minted fire technology at the hearths they also were clever enough to invent, the humans still believe to this day that the very technology that got them into so much trouble with the natural world in the first place would be their savior from their own folly (most likely by creating an artificial intelligence that would presumably work much better than the one they had inherited from their parents).  

This point had been driven home by the pointed lyrics of one Neil Young in the title track to After the Gold Rush (1970) when he made the observation, which still rings true in the 5 decades since he first wrote them:

Look at Mother Nature on the Run

In the Nineteen Seventies

While the rest of the lyrics for this song are as inscrutable as the meaning behind 2001: A Space Odyssey (that came out a couple of years before After the Gold Rush) these words, put to the haunting flugelhorn and other music of Neil Young make for what SongFacts describes as an “ecological paean” that merits the lofty rating of Number 2 on the list of the best Earth Day Tunes of all time.  Indeed, Dolly Parton, among the many diverse artists covering the song (such as Prelude, Radiohead, Patti Smith, Natalie Merchant, and Dave Matthews) is quoted as saying Young himself did not know what the lyrics mean, reportedly confessing:

Hell, I don't know. I just wrote it. It just depends on what I was taking at the time. I guess every verse has something different I'd taken.”

Despite this demurrer by the song’s author, biographer Jimmy McDonough has said that it (and the album as a whole) is loosely based on a screenplay of the same name written by Dean Stockwell and Herb Berman, the former of whom is quoted as describing the gist of this as-yet produced “end-of-the-world” film (Young read the screen play before it became “lost” and reportedly wrote the song to serve as part of the film’s soundtrack) in these terms:

"I was gonna write a movie that was personal, a Jungian self-discovery of the gnosis... it involved the Kabala (sic), it involved a lot of arcane stuff."

Although the song in two previous verses evokes, first, imagery of medieval knights in shining armor (the past?), followed by a scene of a man lying in a burned out basement, blinded by moonlight and then the sun bursting through the sky (the present?), that are more than a little open to many different interpretations, the final verse clearly embraces the expectation that humans will be saved from their self-destructive behavior by a higher power, spirited away from the place they had befouled, to a new one they (hopefully) learned to be kinder towards:

Well, I dreamed I saw the silver

Space ships flying

In the yellow haze of the sun,

There were children crying

And colors flying

All around the chosen ones.

All in a dream, all in a dream

The loading had begun.

They were flying Mother Nature's

Silver seed to a new home in the sun.

But in their search for intelligent life worth inviting onto a modern-day, intergalactic ark, hoping to save them from a dying Earth, higher life forms coming to the rescue this time around may just as well pass on the humans - a species that had evolved into one believing in its superiority over all others, but, given the power to change the world, never quite figured out the first rule all the other animals knew instinctually:

What kind of creature fouls its own nest?   

UP NEXT (at Number 1): Mercy Me, Marvin!

DOWN ONE (at Number 3): Child’s Play

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