Why Did the Bear Cross the Road? What August Teaches Us About Interdependencies

August is a big vacation month in North America and Europe. So it’s not surprising to find columnists writing about lessons learned from their summer travels. Nor is it surprising they’d learn lessons from what most of us do on vacation—getting outdoors and connecting to something less cerebral and urban than our daily routines.

Take Nicholas Kristoff, in “Food for the Soul.” His visit back home to the Willamette Valley in Oregon leads him to wax eloquent about the price we’ve paid for large-scale industrial efficiency in agriculture.

His co-columnist Thomas Friedman, on safari in Botswana, writes in “Connecting Nature’s Dots” about what we can learn by reading the "newspaper" of markings in a dirt road; the remarkable connectedness in nature.

And Natalie Angier, in “Brain is a co-conspirator in a Vicious Stress Loop,” suggests the antidote to a vicious circle of stress that hardwires even more stress into the brain. The antidote is August.

Having just returned from vacation myself, it struck me that my own reflections followed a similar pattern. I took a vista-on-steroids trip from Vancouver to Calgary, with stunning views of rivers, deserts and mountains from train, helicopter and roadside. Fabulous memories and photos—but from all of it, one image stands out.

It’s the view of several animal crossings being built across the trans-Canadian highway near Banff.

The crossings look pretty much like any other bridge built to carry a local road over a highway—except that they’re for animal roads. They carry not asphalt, but earth and vegetation. The road down their middle is buried below the edges, so animals can’t see the gas-powered people traffic beneath them as they cross on their own roads.

Built for deer, moose, porcupines, marmots, bears, bighorn sheep, ground squirrels and other inhabitants of the neighborhood, the bridges prevent cars from crashing into moose on the highway—something good for neither moose nor car.

But roadkill prevention alone could be handled just by fences. More broadly, the bridges keep the highways from dissecting ecologically integrated communities into fragmented pieces. Animals require certain geographic ranges of movement to sustain themselves as a population. In communities like Banff, the delicate balance between town garbage regulations, coyotes, wolves, bears, bobcats and dogs makes clear the lessons of interdependence between all creatures and their ecosystems.

Why should a Canadian living in Nova Scotia give a damn whether a deer crosses the highway in Alberta? Why should an Albertan care, for that matter? The only answer is, because they have evolved a society that grants social permission for the collective care and feeding of the interdependencies that underlie society.

Granted, those of us in urban US environments can also cite extraordinary examples of social interdependence. Cities don’t work without massive social recognition of the need to get along together.

But the animal bridges provide a counterpoint to, for example, the current health care debate in the US.

If the Canadians can recognize and act upon—at a Federal level—the value of protecting inter-species interdependence, why can’t their neighbors to the south figure out the value of providing universal basic health care coverage to their own species?

Evolved social structures—including trust—have to begin with the recognition that we’re all in this together. August is a good time to remember the interdependencies that make trust so valuable.

4 replies
  1. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Sounds like a transcendent experience, Charlie.

    You write, "I…the Canadians can recognize and act upon…the value of protecting inter-species interdependence…"

    They recognize because they never forgot.  The question underneath the question is what brings one to forget such interconnectedness. Or, what is it that creates a divide between one’s True, Real, and authentic Self…and one’s ego self?

    Another way to ask is, "What’s right about not recognizing that we’re all in this together? (hint: something has to be "right" if we’re doing it)?

    I was having lunch with an Eastern businessperson who was remarking about the intense degree of vitriol, anger, hate, fear, desperation, animosity  and (so far) verbal abuse that is taking place over the health care issue. The person remarked, "But your Constitution says "all men are creatred equal," doesnt it? Hmmm.

    You also write, "Evolved social structures–including trust–have to begin with the recognition that we’re all in this together." Not when power, control, and selfishness  are generating such a groundswell of negative energy.

    I wouldn’t say "evolved." I would say, in the larger, big-picture context, evolving. We’re in the midst of a metaphorpsosis on the planet, a growing up, and leaving childish ways of do-ing and be-ing behind. Not always pleasant, but necessary.

    The question here is can those who "remember," who come from a place of compassion, love, forgiveness, non-violent communication, humane conflict resolution and new insights into self and soverignty, for example, create the critical mass necessary to influence those who use fear and anger through habit and inertia, those who derive power and sustenance from old ways of being and doing, those who need to adversely manipulate people beacuse they find change to be a wrenching experience?

    Viewing change as life-threatening in some way, shape or form is bringing us to a precipice. On the edge, it’s hard to remember who we really, really are.

    Welcome back, Charlie.

  2. Tina Beranbaum
    Tina Beranbaum says:

    Charlie – As a Canadian and relative newcomer to the US, reading your blog made me homesick! 

    The Canadian Rockies and their inhabitants are awesome in the true meaning of that overused word.  But, while it sounds noble to value the collective over the individual, remember there is always a dark side that mirrors the light. 

    I like that Canadians focus on the rights of collectives – I do not like that many resent anyone that ‘stands out too much’.  While the orientation of the country has made possible universal healthcare, affordable university education and a stable banking sector, it  tends to foster mediocrity, stifle innovation and drive its talent to leave the country (what Canadians call the "Brain Drain").  Canada may have overplayed its collective strength just as the US has overplayed its emphasis on the individual.

    Great leaders will find ways to balance the dilemma of invidual achievement versus public good – both the US and Canada are still working on that one – and its not an "either/or".

    In researching their book Made in Canada Leadership, Amal Henein and Francoise Morissette found that Canadians are over represented in the leadership of global companies.  Perhaps these leaders are good role models – socialized to focus on the collective good and, at the same time, striving for excellence.   It’s the struggle that makes life interesting.

  3. Ian Welsh
    Ian Welsh says:

    Not so sure the brain drain is caused by resentment of those who stand out too much.  I’ve worked primarily for US customers for years, but that’s not because Canadians resent my success, it’s because the American market is 10 times larger than the Canadian one, and that scale lets Americans pay me for things that simply don’t make enough money in Canada to be worth doing.  Canadians often have to go to the US to truly succeed in many fields, but that’s more often simply a question of size, rather than something instrinsic in the character of both nations. 

    People have always gone from peripheral regions to the core to achieve success, and from client states to empire likewise.  It’s a pattern as old as recorded history.  And Canada is peripheral to the US, and a US client state. 

  4. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    Glad to be hosting the expat bulletin board for the Canadian Diaspora.  Fascinating for the rest of us to listen in!

    As far as I’m concerned, Tina and Ian raised the average IQ, EQ and TQ in the US when they emigrated.  What they did to the Canadian averages, I’ll let them address.

    Maybe Peter’s a closet Canadian too.


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