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Author’s Note: This is the third part in a series of blog posts looking at the historical big picture of modern day urban flooding and the importance of trees. Go here for part one and here for part two. Read this blog post on why I’ve decided to take on this project.

As discussed in part two, human behavior is often dictated by surrounding conditions imposed on us. Another key ingredient in our behaviors are also our belief systems. Belief systems which are passed down from generation to generation. Belief systems that have become engrained within our spiritual DNA over centuries, if not millennia. In essence, the spiritual makeup of “who we are.” Arguably, our belief systems may be a bigger influence on our behavior than even our environmental conditions.

Not to digress too far on this subject, but one of the most beautiful and awe inspiring shots in filming that still sticks with me to this day is from the 2011 documentary Samsara. The shot is a birds eye view of pilgrims surrounding the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The entire Samsara documentary is incredible and I highly recommend watching it in its entirety. But it’s especially this scene that sticks with me to this day and it demonstrates in two minutes and 40 seconds the power of belief systems on our human behavior. The time lapse shot at the end of this scene gets me every time. Just beautiful.

The beginning roots of the United States of America are made out of trees, but the soil, the foundation in which they live, are firmly planted in the belief systems within the gospel of the Bible.

The first colonists brought with them a deeply religious Christian mindset along with an entrepreneurial spirit steeped in a belief of personal freedoms (one caveat: as long as that person isn’t a Native American or African slave).

One of the best reads into the early English colonist’s mindset is William Cronon’s Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. It’s a must read book for anyone that is interested into getting a glimpse into the mindset and what life was like for the very first colonists that arrived in New England.

In a nutshell, the mindset of early colonists was one that believed that cultivating the land and clearing the trees was doing “God’s work.” That Earth was created for the subjugation of mankind as per Biblical sacred scripture.

Gensis Chapter 1 Verse 28:

28God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ 

“…fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion…”

In addition to their deeply religious mindset, the first colonists who first came to New England were daring risk takers. They likely boarded an overly crowded, disease riddled 100 foot sail boat with about a hundred other passengers infested with disease and vermin. The journey took upwards of two to three months to cross the Atlantic, during which many died at sea from disease on the journey.

The first colonists were also used to turmoil, war, famine and suffering. No doubt, these were tough and brutal times by today’s standards. They came from a European continent that was in the midst of economic turmoil and a near constant string of major wars including the Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604), Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), the English Civil Wars (1642-1651), and the Anglo-Dutch Wars (first in 1652). The Thirty Years’ War being one of deadliest conflicts in human history taking the lives of 8 million people. The English Civil War resulted in the execution of King Charles I for treason and the overthrow of the English monarchy.

On top of all of the wars and bloodshed, throw in for good measure:

  • Periods of famine due to poor growing seasons from the Little Ice Age (see part two),
  • Sharp increases in urban population centers such as London due to resulting job losses in farming,
  • Horrible outbreaks of the plague and disease in 1605, 1625, 1636 including the Great Plague of London of 1665-1666 which killed an estimated 100,000 people (a quarter of London’s population) in just 18 months,
  • Religious persecutions between Christians orthodoxies.

All of this was a recipe for daring and adventurous individuals to pack up their belongings as quick as possible, go somewhere new, and roll the dice in a new undiscovered land.

They wanted to believe in a new and better way of life. And really who could blame them? They wanted meaning and purpose free from religious persecutions by doing God’s work by settling, “filling, “subduing”, having “dominion” over a new land. They had dreams of a New England Utopia.

But so did the English monarchy and London financiers influenced by the writings of Richard Hakluyt who had aspirations of world domination and a virgin land ripe with abundant resources for generating profits and great wealth. Resources that included tree resources so vast and expansive that they were thought to be endless. That would not turn out to be the case as we will find.

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  1. On Sat, May 23, 2020, 10:52 The Pittsburgh Urban Flooding Journal wrote:

    > tombatroney posted: ” Author’s Note: This is the third part in a series of > blog posts looking at the historical big picture of modern day urban > flooding and the importance of trees. Go here for part one and here for > part two. Read this blog post on why I’ve decided to take on” >


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