We held our 4th Ampersand LIVE last fall at the Moore Theater, with 1200 totally engaged guests. I mean totally engaged. Those on stage told stories, showed pictures, played music and danced. Some of the performances embraced us and some starkly challenged us. It summed to a cross-section of the many voices of our Pacific Northwest. The 90 minutes covered the worries of this place, the hopes of this place and the changes we need to make in this place to be all it can—a sustaining community for everyone here already, and for those yet to come.
I took my turn on stage to open Forterra inside out, to explain ourselves and to also explain why we go all out hosting Ampersand LIVE. Of course we are focused with the intensity of the moment on securing those lands keystone to our future in the Pacific Northwest, from land for affordable homes in our cities to the most pristine of wild places in our region. It’s what we stand for and there is not a minute to lose. But we have come to understand, fundamentally so, that we can’t stop with the acquisition and deployment of these keystone lands. As we work for a sustainable region, we also need to be part of the work for a sustaining community—a place that cares, a place that nurtures all of us. If we are not working for both, we risk getting neither.
This isn’t just a clever word play. Fact of the matter is that its embedded deep in the DNA of our odd species. How so? To answer, we’ll need to step away from both this moment and this place. In fact we need to think about where it all started, with our first ancestor. That’s right—mine, yours and everyone else on this fragile green globe.
She wasn’t much in stature—barely 4 feet tall. We don’t know a lot about her and undoubtedly she went about her life nameless. Though today we call her ‘Lucy’ because she was unearthed when the Beatles Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was playing on every transistor radio across the globe, including the great Rift Valley. All we have of Lucy is this (see Picture 1, above).
But science being what it is, and with a little art, we know she pretty much resembled this (see Picture 2 below, an artist’s reconstruction of Lucy). Take a look at her, past the cheek bones any movie actor would kill for. The artist has captured the dawning of our humanity in those eyes. A dawning 150,000 thousand generations ago.
There’s a wariness in those eyes too. For good cause. Here’s why (see Picture 3, footsteps). These fossilized footprints are from Lucy’s time; one bigger, one close by and tiny. You can imagine Lucy upright, protectively shielding her daughter with one of her free swinging arms as they scurry to the safety of a clump of trees. These footprints are a shred of our shared history in a little—caring and unyielding world.
Now, half the time distance between Lucy and us. Homo erectus is what we evolved into. Erectus because our posture back those 75,000 generations ago was not too noticeably different from anyone you see walking down the street. We have plenty of fossils. Erectus spread to most all corners of the old world after all. Reconstructed, Erectus looked like this (see Picture 4, within the slideshow, an artist’s reconstruction of homo erectus).
A stronger sense of humanity no doubt, but also a new found confidence. Look at the jut of his jaw. It speaks of our growing mastery. A mastery that Lucy could not claim. Here’s why (see Picture 5, within the slideshow, early hand axe).
A crude tool. A hand axe. With it we started to control our environment in ways no animal ever did in this planet’s 3.4 billion year history of life, as we also began to cleave away from nature. So there it is. For the last 75,000 generations this duality. A growing humanity to embrace all and live enduringly on this planet, but also an enthrallment with technology to help make sure we in fact survive to our allotted four score and ten.
A duality we are struggling to reconcile right up through, and to, us. That’s right, Homo homo sapiens to give us our full scientific due. No need to show fossils or pictures, but take a look at this (see Picture 6, below, an example of finger fluting). Scientists call it finger fluting. You and I more likely would call it finger painting, except that it’s 2,000 generations old and is on a cave wall in southwest France. Look at its bubbling exuberance. Amazingly, science can also tell us it’s by a girl, 7 or 8 years old.
Here’s the part I find so moving. Its six or so feet up on the cave wall. Think about that. This girl was likely on her mama or papa’s shoulders. It’s like a modern day in the park with a little girl laughing, giggling sitting on her parent’s shoulders as she traces her fingers through the clay. The immediately recognizable humanity in this glimpse of our remote selves is overpowering. And, it is not an accident, a one-off. Look at this picture from somewhat less than 1,000 generations ago (see Picture 7, below, of hand stencils on a rock wall).
These are hand stencils from a cliff face in South America. Our long-ago direct relations made them by spraying a mouthful of ochre or iron oxide pigment across their outstretched hands. You can feel the joyous cacophony of these young and old hands, women, men, girls, boys. The human spirit.
So that’s some of our relatives who have brought us to this place and time. In the blink of just 150,000 generations as our sense of our humanity evolved and deepened we also sped along from a diminutive creature scurrying between the trees, to the maker of a few crude tools that helped us even up the odds in a menacing world, all the way to the Anthropocene. And, as that grandiose term implies, we have a choice to make about this once vast and threatening world. That’s right, we get to choose; you me, us and the time for that choice? Now. So, do we build a world where nature and our human community can live side-by-side, in fact intertwine as we should? Or, do we choose to use the power of our technology to create a world inhospitable to us and all other species.
We’ve proven that we are an exquisite tool maker, but we also clearly have a communal side, baked in as we evolved from Lucy to Einstein. So, reducing this big existential question to on that fits into our place and our time, do we in fact build a community that sustains us here in the Northwest and from here outwards? Will we assert our humanity so we have the wisdom and humility to reverse this trend of at times heedless technical innovation and steward this now small, shakily still-green planet for the long run? For us, for future generations, for all species.
Clearly then, as we work for a sustainable region, by securing our keystone lands, we also need to be part of the work for a sustaining community—a place that cares. Just before I aired all these skeletons from our shared closet, I wrote above that if we don’t work for both, we risk getting neither. Knowing where we came from, who we are today and the choice at hand, Forterra is committed to working with all of you so our region, the great Pacific Northwest, succeeds at each.