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The Jefferson Journal is JPR's members' magazine featuring articles, columns, and reviews about living in Southern Oregon and Northern California, as well as articles from NPR. The magazine also includes program listings for JPR's network of radio stations.

What Happens Next? A Dialogue In Verse

We gathered in the well-lit room

Poured wine, settled back to chart

Our way around the coming doom

We all had brought our favored facts:

The end of oil, the ocean’s rise

Growing deserts and glacier’s cracks

We knew the numbers, and the score

Had each summed up our carbon feet

And all believed that less is more

But still we held on tight to hope

Trusted in our lifelong luck

Even atop this slippery slope

So one by one we spoke our dreams

The engineer went first and sang

Of pure sweet power and new machines

Solar films to catch the sun

Tiny batteries to hold it safe

Green electricity for everyone

Then the doctor took her turn

Spoke of disease as a defeated thing

By all we knew, or soon would learn

The farmer dreamed forth a flawless grain

Gene-tuned to every different land

Yielding great harvest with little rain

The city folk then had their say

Cars would go, public transit rule

Tomorrow for sure, if not today

The public man last rose to speak

He knew the people would soon awake

Force carbon back down from its peak

The mood was good, and silence fell

It felt to all our work was done

More wine?  Of course!  For all was well.

But in the corner an unnoticed man

Sat and frowned and shook his head

Sighed and finally raised his hand

He said, “I’m sorry, but I’m perplexed.

Your dreams are lovely, and might come true

My question is: What happens next?

When the new defeats the old

On that blessed day I still must ask

How many of us can the planet hold?

Each problem solved means more of us

Every No transformed to Yes

Every minus that becomes a plus

And as our numbers ever grow

And good things enter from all sides

The wild earth I love, does go

The tiger, elephant and the shark

Even now live only by our grace

We decide who’s on the ark

The jungles, swamps, and grassy plains

Must all surrender to our use

Must take their losses to give us gains

Your dreamed-of drugs and good green power

Your perfect crops and flawless plans

May bring humanity to full flower

No one, faced with a child’s need

Could turn his back, choose another good

That’s human love, not human greed

But what must finally come to pass

If all your hopes come true, you see

Is people numerous as leaves of grass

And the way for all to stay alive

To give our future peace and calm

Is to make the world a human hive

So I must ask:  what’s for the best?

For us, and this only living world

Whether we pass, or fail, this test?”

A silence fell, no words were said

For this riddle asked: Find the balance

Between the living and the dead

Death is not for life to choose

But life unbound means, it seems

All life must together lose

Despite our minds, our powers vast

We can’t escape the simplest truth:

Nature’s word will always be the last.

Pepper Trail is a naturalist, photographer, writer, and world traveler who has lived in Ashland since 1994. He works as a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and in his spare time leads natural history trips to every corner of the world. Pepper is a regular essayist for the Jefferson Journal.