(Final edit for grammer and punctuation 2000 25092011)
The trees are hinting at visions yet to come. The fields turned a week or so ago, the ambers and yellows deepening, being joined by browns and oranges, waning from green and waxing toward reds and yellows and brilliant burnt umbers and the thousand non-green hues of fall to which northern latitudes are privileged.
In some short time, if the rain may please to check itself, and the temperature drop just ever so much, approaching frost but not yet there, then we may hope for a fall in all its glory. My anticipation is high. It was thirty years ago this October first I left western New York - some 200 miles west of here, near the Seneca Nations, a town called Smith Mills, population maybe fifty, bound for Parris Island and Marine Corps Boot Camp.
As it happens, I tonight received a text from and made a call to an old marine buddy of mine, Brett Williams - we talked for an hour or so, catching up after a dozen or so years; I won't bore you with the details.
Our Alaskan Cruise adventure has ended - I'll post pictures soon, I promise - and fun was had by all, especially the Moms, for whom the cruise was intended as a late-life adventure. I've been back a week now and hard at work on the downstairs bathroom the whole time. Come Monday, I will mud the walls and mortar the floors, placing the first layer in the shower pan. By the end of the week, I should have the tiling in, and will be thinking about finish carpentry and paint.
I would prefer not to have to strip a bathroom to studs and sub-floor again, but it has been a learning experience. Pictures (with a few still on the camera, coming soon) are to the left. Plumbing and electrical are in - two new sewer lines, a new hot and a new cold water line, and three lines moved, a wall moved, enclosing a window that will be inside the shower, necessitating custom glass. Shower enclosure custom built, pocket door installed.
Total assistance: one plumber to cut in a side hole on an existing sewer line (I rerouted the other new provision myself) and one carpenter to frame the new wall.
My cat has been returned; I am glad as I was woeful lonely without her.
So that's the update on the mundane stuff. I've had time time think as well.
I write beside the fire, out back of 17 Park. Fall approaches - today I harvested all of my neighbor's basil, a thick handful of stems forming a bouquet of basil leaves two feet long and a as big around as my thigh. It's hanging to dry in the kitchen.
My northern and southern neighbors are preparing to flee the cold, to Florida, to winter over. Thus, with the cold will come the sealing of my solitude, as often days it is to these neighbors alone to whom I speak. With their absence, the likelihood that I will pass days without human contact grows.
Time moves slowly, lackluster waves rolling gently into a grey shore, unhurried insistence begging notice.
Events coalesce. The Bundeswehr recently released a report (Bundeswehr Report) (detailing certain of the same likely outcomes of peak oil as the Joint Chiefs did in the 2010 JOE. Fascinating reading, the circumstances these two militaries predict our now-global society will face in the coming years - and I mean years, as in, two to five, not years, as in, some indefinable but certainly very far future time.
I stress that the time frames are theirs: the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Bundeswehr, organizations not given to histrionics, generally, and perhaps two of the more fact-based decision making bodies on the planet with any immediate power.
Time is short, and the tipping point is upon us.
My religious acquaintances are well acquainted with this concept: they call it the rapture, the moment when the saved are lifted up to heaven, and us heathens are left here 0n Earth, which will by then have become the Devil's cauldron.
That there will be a cauldron I agree. With the assertion that it will be global I concur as well. The likelihood that some percentage of our population will be spared it's horrors by magical intervention I deem unlikely.
It will happen by the end of the decade. Our current way of life will slowly (if we are lucky - if not it will be rapid and bloody) crumble, and change will come. It is inevitable. As inevitable as the slow drift of yesterday's leaves to to the forest floor.
The markets are troubled, governments seem ineffective, with every action taken to promote 'growth' falling short, failing to reignite the economy. This is because it is a futile endeavor. It cannot be ignited, not anytime soon. Not in the manner nor on the scale to which we are accustomed.
Wealth distribution is too skewed. The subsidies of fossil fuels, like a mismanaged trust account, are dwindling, and the climate is just beginning to discover it can roar. We are an engine that has ceased running, that is choking from lack of fuel, running on fumes, desperate for a fill up, but none is to be had.
Leadership at all levels is absent. What passes for leadership is mere hubris and sanctimony, as often as not applied for short term positional gain by insisting upon sacrifice by others.
More personally, this is a time of great reflection for me: upon the fall in general, ever my favorite season, and my true progression into mid-life, and my reaction to the outcomes of the choices I've made.
It is a confluence of falls. It is the fall of this year, and it is the tail end of the summer of my life, perhaps a bit early for true fall yet, but nonetheless the promise is in the evening air. It is the fall of this great empire of America, where I have been privileged to have been born and raised. And it is in the fall of our species, grown too plentiful too fast on the promise and potential of a resource that itself is nearly played out.
Civilizations will be realigned, destroyed, created, reworked.
As to that, while I am apprehensive regarding certain historical patterns that seem to be repeating, and what they portend, I am nonetheless confident and content that I have prepared as well as may be against the gathering storm, and I consider myself well positioned to weather the storm and shelter those close to me if need be. I like who I am, and I like who I am becoming even more.
I am aware I may fail - but it will not be for having been blind and caught unaware. It will not be for having been careless. It will be instead for having been defeated, by the elements, or chance, or another stronger than I.
But there is no shame in defeat - only in failing to strive.
And it is nice to feel so deliberate, to feel so in charge of one's one destiny, to feel that finally one is choosing one's own path. And though I live in the lap of austerity, yet I am more satisfied than ever I have been, to wake each day and spend my labors and my thought and my property improving my immediate environment, answerable to no man, and beholden to none.
I am 47, and I am beginning to discover what it means to be free. It does require meaningful sacrifice. It does require prudence, and honest, hard work. But it offers so much space in which to think, it which to consider what it truly means to be human, and to be alive. To recall our choices and look back over our path.
To learn that perhaps the ways we have been taught are flawed, and that other ways are available to us.
And thus I reminded of an axiom a man related to me, related, in turn, to him by another man. The first man admired the second man, and had for some time, this was clear. And so he had received this 'wisdom' from the first man in the spirit of an acolyte receiving guidance from one of the Learned.
And he took it to heart, and never considered the implications, and related it to me some years later:
'Sometimes, if you just can't make someone happy, it's best to let them go be unhappy someplace else'.
Can you spot the condescension? The hidden assumption of righteous authority on the part of the original utterer of this nonsense?
The occurrence was on the occasion of my resignation, announced well in advance: two month's notice was given. The resignation had been prompted by ad hoc changes in levels and types of responsibility far exceeding the nominal duties of the position I held, and, due to the financial crisis I was informed that compensation had been 'frozen' for everyone.
At the time I was questioning the value of my career, and my desire for the level of responsibility I was being asked to take on, without any corresponding rise in compensation (for the second time, mind you - the first occurrence of that I let pass with little comment).
Coming as it did in the van of the financial crisis, I bethink I was viewed as somewhat disloyal, that I would not accept endless increased responsibility at no additional charge to the company - that I did not become more productive out of duty and loyalty to the company in tough times.
There's more to the story, of course, but it isn't particularly relevant; I relate this only because some background against which to discuss the above comment is necessary.
So I was unhappy, and I was also being told that my being unhappy because I was dissatisfied that my responsibilities had increased while my compensation had been frozen was selfish. Even here, I might have accepted this line of reasoning, had the circumstances been similar for all involved; yet nothing was further from the truth.
What really bothered me was the assumption, inherent in the statement, that if I did go somewhere else, I would remain unhappy. In other words, my unhappiness was due to a flaw within myself. It must be so, because, if this company couldn't make me happy, then it must be that I could never be made happy.
How else to interpret '...let them go be unhappy someplace else.'?
What stunning arrogance! It's like the abused wife being told by the abusive husband that she has no business complaining - he's the only one that will ever love her!
I have spent two years thinking on this brief verbal exchange, occurring in passing at a meeting of no great import, merely a casual comment made with bonhomie and a chuckle to ease the sting of the admonishment.
And I have learned to my own satisfaction, and realized only because I have withdrawn from that world and found the time to think with a clear head, that it was not, after all, my inability to be happy that was the problem. It was not greed that provoked my departure, nor was it a lack of willingness to sacrifice for the larger good.
Clearly I am capable of happiness, as I am happier now than ever I have been. And near the poorest, at least in terms of cash flow. And have and will continue to give freely of my meager skills to all worthy comers.
I am not, after all, some flawed denizen of the corporate world, dissatisfied with everything and forever grumbling. I'm not some greedy, insatiable tool demanding ever more. I'm just a man who felt treated unfairly, and was made to feel worse for being made to feel disloyal. Despite no such loyalty having been either earned or demonstrated in return by the company.
And I am also a man who has watched with some puzzlement as this company, our society, and our species have all continued to make inherently unsustainable choices focused solely on short-term expectations and desires, in the face of clear and growing evidence that what has worked previously will absolutely not do so this time around.
It is the cohesion of these two trains of thoughts that is so welcome. Our world is broken. This is reflected not just in the grand sweep of history that topples and births nations, and which is now a gathering wave that will sweep the globe like fire as humanity experiences a crisis the likes of which it has never seen.
It will be the Anasazi and Easter Island on a grand scale.
It is also reflected in our personal interactions, in our values of and for each other. And I don't mean to invoke transactional measures here: the coin a man is paid for his labor. I mean in the unspoken perspectives we have for each other. The discourtesy evidenced while conversing on a cell phone while driving. The lust for oil, regardless of environmental costs, because we don't have to live with the mess personally, do we, or at least most of us don't.
The hubris evidenced by '...let them go be unhappy someplace else."
I still watch the progress of that company from afar - I spent a great many years of my life there, working very hard and giving my utmost. It's the only way I know to work. The company may survive, but I have my doubts. If it were healthy, it might survive a second crisis, but it's yet on life support from the last.
I will be sad for most of it's people when the end comes. But the leaders will merely reap what they have sown, disregarding Aristophanes as all leaders seem to eventually do, to their peril.
And so, in the fall of this year, in the early fall of my life, in the fall of our empire, and of our species, I witness as well the fall of one company, important to many, but no different than the countless other corporate leaves of our deciduous global society, doomed to a slow fade from green to flame, and then to fall and fade, much as this complicated world we have fashioned out of cardboard and sand is doomed to subside.
The cycle will turn, however bloody and desperate humanity's future proves to be. I don't think we shall destroy ourselves completely, but another dark age is certainly possible.
Meanwhile, the leaves blush, absolutely immune to the meanderings of humans; a hundred million years ago, the maples showed such hues to the uncaring (we presume) animals of the forest. A hundred million years hence, they will likely burst as brightly, though whether any sentient being with color vision will be present on the planet to appreciate the show is anyone's guess.
But I am here now, this mind I call 'I', and I take my pleasure in the hues of nature, and in the sense of justice done.