‘Wand’rin’ Star’ was played on the radio. It is not often aired. The gravelly voice of Lee Marvin grated out the lyrics of the song from the 1969 film ‘Paint Your Wagon’.
In former years, the sentiments expressed would have passed me by without question, but driving out into yet another wet Irish morning, there was a line that jarred:
Mud can make you pris’ner and the plains can bake you dry.
Snow can burn your eyes, but only people make you cry.
Only people make you cry? Is that really the case? Or is it an urban piece of musing?
Sitting among a gathering of farmers after the worst summer many could remember, perhaps it is other people who are the source of tears – the creditors, the banks, the inspectors. But when work is thwarted day after day, when fields lie under water, when crop yields are reduced and what is harvested is poor, when a year’s work is reduced to nothing – is it really people who cause tears?
And the farmers are lucky; none of them will starve. Elsewhere in the world weather extremes threaten people’s very survival; they wipe out crops, destroy water supplies, starve animals, carry away the old and the frail and the children. Only people make you cry?
Maybe the weather conditions are a product of climate change, maybe the summer of 2012 is a consequence of human action, or inaction, as the case may be, but what about all the other bad times in history?
What about the severe times in the Nineteenth Century and all the centuries before? What about the Little Ice Age? What about the Norse colonies starving and being driven from Greenland by the 15th Century? What about the ‘frost fairs’ being held on the Thames between 1607 and 1814? What about the famines in France and in Norway and in Sweden in the 1690s? What about those who died from hypothermia or a lack of food each time a severe winter arrived?
‘Only people make you cry’ rests on the assumption that man has mastered nature, that the elements are incidental to human business of life.
People might make you cry, but so also does a daily struggle with elements that simply do not conform to expectation. Nature that can be benign and bountiful can also be pernicious. Perhaps our view of the natural world is so shaped by Bible stories from the fertile crescent of West Asia and the Nile that we fail to appreciate its capacity for malevolence as well as its potential for abundance.
‘Only people make you cry’ only applies to the world of stories and songs, beyond them the possible causes for tears are plentiful. ‘Wand’rin’ Star’ is a great song, just don’t sing it amidst the cold and mud of the imminent Irish winter.