The Truckee River tumbles out of the Sierra Nevada Mountains alongside of Interstate 80. It courses down towards Reno, Nevada, following off and on the route of the bus taking me across the continent. The transition from California to Nevada is dramatic: Ponderosa pine to sagebrush.
Cities like Reno, in the arid rain shadow of the mountains, develop around the sources of water available to them. When our bus pulled in, a kayaker, then enjoying a rock garden in the Truckee river-focused park that skirts Reno’s downtown casino row, may not have known just how weighted the odds are against future growth in Nevada without reliable sources of water. Draining rivers or ancient aquifers dry may temporarily solve a water problem but what about succeeding generations?
Too often, decision makers seem to gamble with our future, betting on measures offering short-term political gain. The longer odds of winning over constituents through reasoned debate, citizen education and hard decisions after all may have a negative impact on voters’ lifestyles in our consumer society. Ruling out popular but environmentally unsound development and offering quick fixes, may also cost future votes whether you are in Nevada or Yukon.
The whole focus of this state seems to be to forget about the consequences of our actions at least temporarily, the “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” mentality. All are encouraged to gamble on the illusion that the odds stacked against us actually are somehow in our favour. Every rest stop the bus took across Nevada had establishments that tempted travellers with the lights and spinning colours of slot machines. I resisted until Elko, Nevada, in the early a.m. where I risked a quarter. I doubled my bet.
Dawn came with a golden first light from over the Wasatch Mountains to the east reflecting gloriously across Great Salt Lake. A planned day stop in Salt Lake City, Utah, allowed me time at the Mormons’ renowned Family History Library. On each of my previous two visits I gleaned new family facts; this occasion was no exception. An unexpected Swiss branch of my family tree emerged through a maternal grandfather’s lineage and on another paternal line I found a distant cousin’s genealogical work that pushed my records back a few more generations.
Now, on five family lines, I have documented ancestors back to the early to mid-1500s. Cousins from this small fraction of my family tree alone would number in the thousands by now. If I could fill in all my other genealogical branches to the same degree, the numbers I could count as direct kin would be truly staggering. The same is true, obviously, for all of us.
Likely this will be the last time I will visit this world-recognized genealogical treasure house of a library. Most of my time there had been spent in front of a computer console. My visits to the stacks were more for exercise than actual research. Soon online resources will match or exceed library collections of any kind anywhere.
Looking back over the generations, I can truly appreciate the risks many of our ancestors took by sailing across dangerous seas and facing difficult lives on the wilderness fringes of a strange continent. The gambles they took expanded the opportunities for their descendants. Can we say that for our generation? Our profligate gambles may starkly limit our heirs’ possibilities.
The overnight bus for Denver, Colorado, left Salt Lake City just after sunset. Somewhere in Colorado, probably near the continental divide, I reached the halfway point in my coast to coast trek.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.