I set out on a road trip recently from Denver to Albuquerque. Still hopelessly in love with the American West–even though I have spent my entire adult life close to the Rocky Mountains–I reveled in the spacious vistas and open skies of the high plains and Front Range. The interstate highway south of Raton, New Mexico, follows the route of the legendary Santa Fe Trail.
I reflected on a new book I’d read recently, Empire of the Summer Moon, by S. C. Gwynne, about the Comanches and the Western frontier. A cycle of violence, which included torture as well as murder and plunder, went on all across the Americas for centuries before Europeans arrived, and for centuries after, before it culminated in the genocide of the native American tribes. Another genocide–of the American bison–was carried out at the same time. In just a few years, many millions of these gentle creatures were shot for their fashionable hides, their flesh left to rot. It was the largest human-caused near-extermination of a warm-blooded animal in the history of the planet.
And what’s happening now? Well, we don’t have intertribal raiding and killing going on across our land. We don’t have bounty hunters shooting millions of animals for their skins. But is it better? Now we have billions of animals bred and raised to be killed, and an all-out human assault on the planet’s ability even to sustain life at all. This was getting depressing to think about, until something unexpected happened.
I stopped at a roadside rest area to eat the lunch I’d packed. When I was about finished, an elderly man drove up, got out of his car, and took his lunch to a nearby picnic table. My path back to my car took me past his table. “I’ve got the same bumper sticker you do,” he said. I looked at his car and saw a “Be Kind to Animals, Don’t Eat Them” sticker, like I have. Could it be? Here in the middle of nowhere, another person shares my concern? We talked for awhile. He’d been a vegan for 40 years. We traded suggestions for vegan road food.
After we said goodbye and I pulled out onto the highway again, my thoughts took a different direction. Two vegans crossing paths on the Santa Fe Trail–that would never have happened in its heyday, because there weren’t any vegans then. That two vegans could meet at random in an isolated region confirms that many more like us exist. Just as we know that the evolution of species is slow but certain, perhaps the evolution of consciousness proceeds likewise. The fact that vegans and others are sincerely practicing nonviolence gives hope to us all, and encouragement to continue.