It takes courage to have Utopias today

(Translated from German; published 06.07.2022 in in the Tages Anzeiger)

By Joshua Beer (his real name) 

Pandemics, climate crisis, wars: young people only know the future as a horror scenario. It’s high time to imagine a better world again.

Pessimistic view of the future

The future – and thinking about it – is no longer fun, because it is occupied by dystopian images: climate catastrophe, the end of democracy, an epidemic age and, more recently, nuclear death. What we lack are utopias. No fantasy worlds to escape into, but positive ideas of how we want to live in twenty, thirty years. Or even in a hundred. Instead, we hope on a small scale that the acute crises will become a little less acute: ceasefire in Ukraine, a mild corona winter, that would be nice. We do not dare to think bigger and further. Why even if the next crisis could come at any time? Surely it is already lurking somewhere. The majority of younger people are pessimistic about the future, many even long for the past. A decade ago, it was the other way around.

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20   – I don’t remember. Must have been plastered or stoned, most likely both

30   – I was married with two kids, a hobby farm and a mortgage

40   – I had a new life with a new partner and a new future

50   – it was a blowout party with all my friends, forever young

60   – felt like 40 with the wisdom of maturity

65   – is the best age: pension, free ferry rides, no more working for the man

70   – is the new 50, still in the go-go years but getting a bit long in the tooth

80   – don’t let the old man in, busy chopping wood

90   – that’s when I should drink all the wine from the cellar 

100 – maybe take up ice climbing and scuba diving

Garden World

            A garden is a microcosm of the bigger world out there. There are predators like slugs, deer, rats, bugs, and blights. One has to constantly be on guard against these foes. Armed with sprays, traps and tools and protected with fences and rewarded with fertilizers the plants will eventually comply and deliver edibles like fruit, vegetables, spices. And a myriad of colour which attract bees, butterflies and humming birds. There are other plant species who proliferate, invade and steal nutrients, sometimes choking and destroying the pampered and coveted crops. Those are called weeds and like vermin and bacteria, they are very successful organisms. 

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Power to the People

            The world needs power, ever more, to energize everything from electric toothbrushes to e-cars, from computers to manufacturing processes, for lights, cooling and heating. Thousands of activities and consumer gadgets, industrial processes and comfort needs require electricity: power and energy. When we talk and think about renewable energy, we tend to confuse this with free energy, drawn from the sun, the wind and the thermal heat underground, the kind of energy which is boundless and there for the taking. But like the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which states that entropy within an isolated system always increases, so is the 1st law of life which proclaims: there are no free lunches.        

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Squirrel against Man

At present the score is in favour of Chip the squirrel who has chosen to take up residence underneath our house and is living off our bird feeder. I tried to chase it away but it came back. That was: 1:0. Then I suspended the birdhouse from an ornamental garden hook, surely much too challenging for a silly squirrel. Guess what? 2:0 for the other team. Next I suspended the birdhouse from the eaves and watched as Chip climbed up the wall of the house and then leapt the four feet into the birdhouse, by itself a spectacular feat that defies the laws of physics. 3:0.


At first it was just a distraction, then a nuisance and lately this furry critter has ballooned into an obsession. I felt like Bill Murray in Caddyshack, being outsmarted every step by this darned squirrel with its big beady eyes following me into my dreams. What am I to do?

“Just leave it alone and enjoy watching it,” was Clare’s sage but utterly pointless advice.

“You must be kidding, this critter has got to go. What if it multiplies and pretty soon we’ll have a whole family of squirrels living with us.”

“You could remove the bird feeder.”

“Oh yeah, it’s not only about the birds who cannot get to the feeder because of you know who, but also about yours truly who enjoys watching the birds.”

“Must be nice to have your mind taken over by a simple squirrel. There is a whole world out there with wars and famines, epic disasters and political upheaval but no, my husband’s mind and resources are being hijacked by a cute, furry wild animal with the brains the size of a peanut and the ability to outwit him all the way.”

I resented that last remark and took it as an additional challenge. No, that will not happen. I found a long, telescopic pole and suspended the birdhouse about 5 feet above the deck railing. ‘Jump into that!’ I giggled under my breath while Clare watched me with a look of concern in her eyes, probably worried for my sanity.

I perched in my favourite chair by the window, proud of my ingenuity and pleased that the birds would flock to their feeder uninterrupted by Chip the squirrel. Here he comes, stealthily, eyeing the situation from the railing, jerking left to right, tail in the air, then he sat back on his haunches and remained stock-still. What’s Chip doing? Meditating and scheming with his little paws in front of him and a look of surprise or was it defeat in his shiny eyes. I got all day if this is a waiting game. I settled in for the long haul. “Got you,” I yelled triumphantly, clapping my hands. Suddenly he’s on the move, changing tactics I guessed. Where is he? I momentarily lost sight of him but then he appeared on the windowsill on the outside, looking in at me. Was he mocking me? And then, oh horror, the wily critter took a tremendous leap and practically flew into the birdhouse and made itself at home while I chewed my nails in defeat and muttered and cursed to myself. Clare almost doubled over from laughing so hard. “4:0 for Chip,” she crowed gleefully.


“Should I just give up and feed the darn squirrel or abandon the birdhouse altogether. There was another option: A live trap. When I talked to our neighbours about the defiant squirrel, practically taking over the dinner conversation with my ‘obsession’ as Clare calls it, Adam went out to his workshop and returned with a homemade contraption made out of a piece of 4” pvc, a hinged light cover plate at one end, a pivot in the middle and a coat wire that held the cover plate open for Chip to crawl into the pipe after the peanut bait. The weight shift would tip the pipe and release the cover plate and trap the furry beast. I was very impressed with the ingenious device and ignored the evil eye from Clare. On our way home she lectured me: “First of all it’s illegal to relocate wild animals and secondly, Chip would surely die a miserable death of starvation and stress, deprived of his cache and territory. I will not tolerate your ‘final solution’. If you go ahead you might as well relocate yourself as well. “


This was seriously getting out of hand. Even I could see that. Now that darned squirrel was becoming an existential problem, much bigger than a mere technical challenge. Should I admit it.? 5:0. This uneven contest was starting to impact my life in ways I didn’t foresee. I lost my appetite but made up for it with a fortifying drink much earlier in the day then even on holidays. I became morose and self-absorbed and according to Clare was ‘lurking around the house like an old dog with it’s tail pulled in.’ I couldn’t let that bleeding squirrel win and make me capitulate and remove the birdfeeder altogether. The situation left me two choices: either tolerate Chip and live with it, practically impossible at this stage in my sorry life, or trap and kill it without Clare finding out about it, in itself almost an impossible feat in my inebriated and confused state. Also, could I live with the murder of an innocent woodsy animal on my conscience, just trying to survive in this mean old world,?  Squirrels are people too I read somewhere. Those were my conundrums at the beginning of this brand new year.  Not a promising start.

I realize this wasn’t ‘The old man and the Sea’, more like ‘The fool on the Hill’. This contest between squirrel and man mirrored my eternal battle against mediocrity: myself and my insights and feelings against the world; Chip exemplifying the world getting the better of me while I was trying to outwit nature which felt ever more like swatting at windmills like the legendary squire of La Mancha except where was my Pancho? Clare refused to take on that role. I was on my own.

I scanned the Internet and found dozens of sites about squirrels; anything from repellents to traps and all manner of squirrel-safe bird feeders. I even came across a U-tube video of a squirrel catapult, which would not go over with Clare. It was comforting to know  that I was not alone.

And then Chip didn’t show up. Maybe he gave up, maybe he moved, maybe I scared him off – fat chance. It was a new development and it kind of took the wind out of my sails. I suddenly found myself hoping for Chip to reappear; he had become my raison d’être or more precisely, the bane of my existence. Truth is: I missed Chip and the endless hours of entertainment he provided. Now suddenly I was bored, trying hard to go back to of some of my neglected chores, like paying the January bills and answering belated Christmas e-mails, but always, out of the corner of my eyes, I kept a wary watch on the birdhouse, knowing full well that our acquaintance wasn’t over yet.

“There he is,” came Clare chirpy voice from the Kitchen. I almost dropped my coffee and sure enough there was. The audacity, the nerve, the utter lack of respect. That does it, I thought grimly. Chippy, as Clare calls the wily critter, left me no choice but do what is always called for in stalled and seemingly unresolvable situations: Compromise. I planted the birdhouse, which by the way I built with my own hands, in the yard on top of a 2m high, metal, telescopic pole. No way José could he get there without wings.


I placed a few conciliatory peanuts where the bird house used to be, for compensation and a token of our lasting  relationship, hoping Chip would take the hint and  go away. Clare thought I handled the dilemma with aplomb but missed seeing the birds from our living room window. “Birds didn’t get anywhere near the feeder while Chippy ruled the roost,” I said and she had to admit that I had a point.IMG_3179.jpg