What sickened and enraged me were all the other human beings on the planet. The fresh air, the smell of firs, the torrents of snowmelt, the columbines and lupine, the glimpses of slender-ankled moose were nice sensations, but not intrinsically any nicer than a gin martini or a well-aged steak. To really deliver the goods, the West also had to conform to my wish that it be unpopulated and pristine. Driving down an empty road through empty hills was a way of reconnecting with childhood fantasies of being a Special Adventurer—of feeling again like the children in Narnia, like the heroes of Middle-earth. But house-sized tree pullers weren't clear-cutting Narnia behind a scrim of beauty strips. Frodo Baggins and his compatriots never had to share campgrounds with forty-five identical Fellowships of the Ring wearing Gore-Tex parkas from REI. Every crest in the open road opened up new vistas of irrigation-intensive monoculture, mining-scarred hillsides, and parking lots full of nature lovers' cars. To escape the crowds, my wife and I took longer hikes in deeper backcountry, toiling through switchbacks, only to find ourselves on dusty logging roads littered with horse manure. And here—look out!—came some gonzo clown on his mountain bike. And there, overhead, went Delta Flight 922 to Cincinnati. And here came a dozen Boy Scouts with jangling water cups and refrigerator-sized backpacks. My wife had her cardiovascular ambitions to occupy her, but I was free to stew all day long: Were those human voices up ahead? Was that a speck of aluminum foil in the tree litter? Or, oh no, were those human voices coming up behind us?

I stayed in Colorado for a few more months, but being in the mountains had become unbearable to me. Why stick around to see the last beautiful wild places getting ruined, and to hate my own species, and to feel that I, too, in my small way, was one of the guilty ruiners? In the fall I moved back East. E astern ecologies, specifically Philadelphia's, had the virtue of already being ruined. It eased my polluter's conscience to lie, so to speak, in a bed I'd helped to make. And this bed wasn't even so bad. For all the insults it had absorbed, the land in Pennsylvania was still riotously green.

The same could not be said of our marital planet. There, the time had come for me to take decisive action; the longer I delayed, the more damage I would do. Our once limitless-seeming
supply of years for having kids, for example, had suddenly and alarmingly dwindled, and to dither for even just a few more years would be permanently ruinous. And yet: what decisive action to take? At this late date, I seemed to have only two choices. Either I should try to change myself radically—devote myself to making my wife happy, try to occupy less space, and be, if necessary, a full-time dad—or else I should divorce her.

Radically changing myself, however, was about as appetizing (and likely to happen) as volunteering for the drab, homespun, post-consumerist society that the "deep ecologists" tell us is the only long-term hope for humans on the planet. Although I talked the talk of fixing and healing, and sometimes I believed it, a self-interested part of me had long been rooting for trouble and waiting, with calm assurance, for the final calamity to engulf us. I had old journals containing transcripts of early fights which read word-for-word like the fights we were having ten years later. I had a carbon copy of a letter I'd written to my brother Tom in 1982, after I'd announced our engagement to my family and Tom had asked me why the two of us didn't just live together and see how things went; I'd replied that, in the Hegelian system, a subjective phenomenon (e.g., romantic love) did not become, properly speaking, "real" until it took its place in an objective structure, and that it was therefore important that the individual and the civic be synthesized in a ceremony of commitment. I had wedding pictures in which, before the ceremony of commitment, my wife looked beatific and I could be seen frowning and biting my lip and hugging myself tightly.
"My Bird Problem" excerpted from The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History by Jonathan Franzen. © 2006


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