What? said Blurtso. That cloud, said Alex, it looks like a human. Where? said Blurtso. There, said Alex, can’t you see? That’s its head, and those are its eyes, and those are its ears, and that’s its body and arms and legs… Of course, said Blurtso. And what’s the big dark cloud that looks like an outhouse? That? said Alex. That’s Dick Cheney.
Harlan? said Blurtso. Yes? said Harlan. Are you awake? said Blurtso. Yes, said Harlan. What do you think about politics? said Blurtso. Politics? said Harlan. Yes, said Blurtso, all the corruption, manipulation, and self-serving contentiousness. I don’t think politics is any different than anything else, said Harlan. What do you mean? said Blurtso. I mean that everyone, said Harlan, does what is in their own best interest. Everyone? said Blurtso. Sure, said Harlan. But some people, said Blurtso, are more compassionate than others. Yes, said Harlan, that’s because they define themselves differently. What do you mean? said Blurtso. Some people have a very small definition of themselves, said Harlan, they think of themselves as a narrow, individual entity, and they act in a narrow, individual way. Others think of themselves as a family group—immediate or extended—and act for the benefit of the family. Others think of themselves as an ideological group—a nation or religion—and act in terms of that ideology. Others go beyond borders, and think of themselves as the entire human race, or the entire planet, and act in the self interest of all humans, or of all nature. But everyone is still acting in their own self interest, it’s just that some selves are bigger than others. Hmm, thought Blurtso, I wonder how big my self is?
Harlan? said Blurtso. Yes? said Harlan. Are you awake? Yes, said Harlan. What are you thinking about? said Blurtso. Differences, said Harlan. Differences? said Blurtso. Yes, said Harlan, political, religious, and personal differences… like what one person thinks is fun and another does not, and what one thinks is proper and another does not, and what one thinks is necessary and another does not. Yes, said Blurtso, it’s amazing we ever get along. I suppose, said Harlan, that’s what love is for.
Harlan? said Blurtso. What? said Harlan. Did you hear that? Yes, said Harlan. Do you think our snake is back? said Blurtso. Yes, said Harlan. What do you think he’s doing? said Blurtso. I don’t know, said Harlan. Why do you suppose, said Blurtso, that people hate snakes? I don’t know, said Harlan. Have you ever been bitten by one? said Blurtso. No, said Harlan. I suppose they don’t all bite, said Blurtso. No, said Harlan, I suppose they don’t. What animals do snakes dislike? said Blurtso. I’ve heard, said Harlan, that snakes dislike mongeese. Have you ever seen a mongoose? said Blurtso. Yes, said Harlan. What do they look like? said Blurtso. They’re like ferrets, said Harlan, only bigger and with mean-looking noses. Do you think we should get one? said Blurtso. I’m not sure, said Harlan, we might be happier with snakes.
It’s like a sauna today, said Harlan. Yes it is, said Blurtso. I’ll bet it’s unbearably hot in here in the summer, said Harlan. In the summer, said Blurtso, Pablo opens the door and the windows in the roof. Too bad, said Harlan, we can’t do that with the earth. What do you mean? said Blurtso. You know, said Harlan, global warming and the greenhouse effect. What? said Blurtso. The heating of the earth’s atmosphere due to fossil fuels and deforestation. Is that bad? said Blurtso. Disastrous, said Harlan. Why? said Blurtso. Because, said Harlan, it leads to extreme weather, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and the extinction of species. Which species? said Blurtso. Many species, said Harlan, penguins, seals, turtles, flamingos, salmon, clownfish, koala bears, polar bears. Polar bears? said Blurtso. Yes, said Harlan. I like polar bears, said Blurtso. So do I, said Harlan. We should do something, said Blurtso. Yes, said Harlan, we should.
It sure is warm in here, said Harlan. It sure is, said Blurtso. That’s because a greenhouse, said Alex, turns solar energy into thermal energy, which in turn creates a convection process. What? said Blurtso. Solar energy, said Alex, passes through the glass and gets absorbed by the ground and plants. The plants convert the sun’s short wave infrared rays into long wave infrared rays—into heat energy—which can’t escape the glass. Because the air is trapped, the warm air near the ground rises and the cool air near the ceiling falls, turning the greenhouse into a convection oven which forces the air to become warmer and warmer with each rise and fall. A convection oven? Said Blurtso. Exactly, said Alex. Does that work on a small scale? said Blurtso. Of course it does, said Alex. So I could bake a pumpkin pie, said Blurtso, in a miniature greenhouse?
Your greenhouse was all we talked about today in class, said Harlan. Really? said Blurtso. Yes, said Harlan, the professor gave us an article to read about Degrowth Theory. Degrowth theory? said Alex, isn’t that an oxymoron? An oxymoron? said Blurtso. Yes, said Alex, a concept that is made up of contradictory or incongruous elements; growth implies increase, “de” implies the opposite, so you might as well say decrease. The professor explained that, said Harlan, he said the word implies the increase of communities choosing to decrease their consumption, a world where more people choose to live a simpler lifestyle. What does that have to do with my greenhouse? said Blurtso. Your greenhouse, said Harlan, is a local, self-sustaining environment, you could live forever in this greenhouse if you chose to. Except, said Blurtso, for pumpkin pies. You could grow pumpkins, said Harlan. How would I cook them? You’d have to plant some fast-growing trees, said Harlan, and use the wood for fire. Or use solar energy, said Alex. Isn’t it hard to grow solar panels? said Blurtso. It’s impossible, said Harlan, but you could trade with others in the community who had what you need, and eventually reduce the size of your environmental hoofprint. My environmental hoofprint? said Blurtso, I don’t think my hoofs are too big.
What are you doing? said Harlan. I’m grazing, said Blurtso, I’ve got to get this grass under control. What about school? said Harlan. School will have to wait, said Blurtso. O.k., said Harlan, I’ll take notes for you… is there anything you need? No, said Blurtso, I’ve got plenty to eat, and the snow will quench my thirst. O.k., said Harlan, I’ll tell the professor why you’re absent. Thanks, said Blurtso.
Hello, said the professor. Hello, said Blurtso. Your roommate told me why you missed class, said the professor. I’m sorry, said Blurtso, but this greenhouse is my responsibility. Your responsibility? said the professor. Yes, said Blurtso, it was entrusted to me, and I’ve neglected it too long. I admire your sense of duty, said the professor, but your grade will suffer. That is a price, said Blurtso, I’m prepared to pay. On the other hand, said the professor, I might be able to give you service-learning credit. Service-learning credit? said Blurtso. Yes, said the professor, for doing something that benefits the community. How does this benefit the community? Your greenhouse, said the professor, could be a model for self-sustainability in Cambridge. A model? said Blurtso. Yes, said the professor, but you’d have to be willing to talk to people about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. I’m doing it, said Blurtso, because I waited too long, and I can’t wait any longer. Exactly, said the professor.