The below written in November of 2020. Seems long ago, but its only a couple of months…
I awoke from a dream state, as I often do, retaining a couple of dreamy images. A mulligan stew of ideas in my mind had began to form a story. It’s elements were from the news. The millions of Mink in Denmark being killed. The young environmental activist, Greta Thunberg being ignored. An essay in the NYT about civilization collapse, how and why. The firing of Michael Kuperberg, executive director of the U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program. The concept of Gaia, the Earth’s biosphere as a single organism. And last, but never least, Covid. How are all these elements connected? What story do they inform? The mink first. These cute animals, raised by the millions to make garments, caught Covid from humans. It swept through their ranks quickly, Being farmed in crowded conditions, they are to this virus like stacked, dry, cord wood is to fire. The cold logic of epidemiology says they must all be destroyed. This is because the virus mutated as it swept through the mink. It then jumped back to humans. The risk that a mutant strain might be more virulent to us is too great. Greta Thunberg is a young Swede known for her environmental activism. She organized a world wide “student strike for the environment”. Vladimir Putin, the Russian, was patronizing…Saying, she just didn’t understand the complexities. The media always mention that Greta has Asperger syndrome and Selective mutism. This possibly to explain her activism. Her insistence that the environment is in crisis. A crisis caused by human civilization. Trump was patronizing to her as well. The Christian bible says a child shall lead them…into a peaceable kingdom. It doesn’t say “they” will follow, or even listen. Then there is Gaia, the Earth, the huge organism we humans are only a tiny part of. We have an immune system reacting to Covid virus, Earth too has ways of dealing with irritants. Gaia regulates the oxygen level in the atmosphere with fire and regulates the population of animal species with viruses. Crowding and overpopulating, spewing poison into Gaia’s lungs is, for her, an irritant. For a billion plus years Gaia has regulated life with viruses, she still does. Then there is civilization and its history of collapse. It’s happened many times. Collapse, like war, is a major theme in history. What causes it? Are we now facing that event too? The consensus of several scholars is that complexity is the double edged sword in human civilization. In both its rise and fall. Bring lots of people into cities from the farms and you need supply chains. Field to table was a couple hundred feet in the beginning. For us it’s grown to many thousand miles. Supply chains are simple at first but grow longer and more involved as civilization grows. The house of cards analogy fits here. Oh, we’re good. Our engineering is impressive. Human ingenuity pushes the house higher and higher. The cards rest solidly atop each other, up and up…until it all crashes down. A breeze, a bump, a virus. Our engineered tower falls. It wasn’t designed for the final insult. That ace dealt from the bottom of the deck. Nature has many cards up her sleeve. It’s her game. By her rules. What’s the story? Something by Don Delillo maybe. He wrote the novel, “White Noise”. His style would fit the elements and crazy arc this “civilization” seems to be following. Can I extract anything other than a comic dystopian novel from these elements? No, the setup is like a 50 ton locomotive on greased tracks going down hill at 50 MPH toward a cement wall. Add to that an engineer in the cab distracted by his cell phone, updating his Facebook page. This loco driver is putting the pedal to the metal, increasing the speed. And why not? It’s too late for the brakes. You demand a happy ending? OK, Gaia is better off, healthier, without eight billion humans!
Oak logs burned in the fire pit. In the sky geese flew toward Thomaston, south, toward the warmth. I did that once. Now I double hunker down. The virus and subzero wind chill my reasons. Geese fly but don’t wear masks. Not so far anyway. Next year? who knows. At the end of 2021 Geese might be wearing masks and I might fly south again. My gaze drops from the sky to the flames. I toast my palms over burning oak.
The tree guy left us with lots of oak. It seasoned naturally. It dried where it stood until he cut it. From a bucket twenty foot up he removed limbs and branches. His delicate ballet in the bare canopy dropped a chord’s worth of oak to the ground. I dragged logs up the drive. After I’d quit twitching I used my new electric chain saw. It did an impressive job – even on oak. A new axe and some effort split logs into sticks. Oak splits beautifully. It burns well too. The Cadillac of camp wood I suppose.
Just as I’ve let the hair on my head run riot, the trees on the family finca have had their way. Acorns and apples as nature intended cover the ground. Keeping the driveway and power line safe from falling timber prompted us to part with the $$. The tree person being worthy of his wages. Difficult to put a price on living pre electric for a week as we did in the spring just past.
In my imagination, I join the ancients around the fire, gathered for warmth. But it was more than warmth to them. More than cooking and heat treating materials they had access to. Stones split by fire becoming tools. Sharpened sticks hardened by flame. There was something intangible aswell. For them then as for me now there is a mystery in the flames. Something akin to the computer screen but more subtle. In Doggerland, that Atlantis of the north sea, they must have sat as I do and thought. Twenty-five thousand years ago they’d have thought about the tribal politics in their area. They might have wondered why the Gods had sent a new virus to decimate the people. Technology too had its place in their reverie. Those new spear points for fishing!, what will they think of next. Made of bone and barbed so the fish stays speared. Its all in the fire, their thoughts and mine.
Yes, its been a while since I last put finger to key and created content for wp. Nothing to say? nah, that’s not true. Nothing worth saying, ya, maybe. Nothing anyone wants to hear?, absolutely, that seems ever true. I do have to laugh. In order to stay in the minds of their fans, the various celebs will generate headlines on google news, like….celeb A insults celeb B, celeb C intervenes to take sides. Well, for me its a giant….who gives a fug anyway. The next day they’re at it again with the letters transposed. For them and the fans it stokes up endorphins….I guess. Might give google the illusion of content although a random text generator would do as well. This stuff isn’t actionable and its shelf life is hours, it doesn’t mature or ripen like stinky cheese, it just evaporates. You can’t even recall wtf it was! What exactly did celeb A say that got celeb B so worked up? is celeb Z shagin’ celeb X ? will celeb Y be jealous or nauseous? Are they making money from this? Speaking of making money….my daughter wants me to get busy on the web and get patreons or maybe it was peons, people willing to send me money. For what? content? what content…could be anything she replies. Well, I think I could get into the unwrapping unpacking thing. Some eight year old is making millions with little one minute reels of him tearing the paper off a new toy. I’m not as cute as he is but at opening packages I’m no slouch. I lie. He has technique. He is a natural. His talents in that area God given and impressive. My package opening skills are really pedestrian. They allow me to get whatever out of the box but there is no, elan, no déchire déjà la putain de boîte!, as the French put it. At my late stage in life where would I even go to learn. No, you are born with the unwrapping skill or you are not. No ecole des ouvertures for this tike. The next box I encounter will be the one I crawl into. The one that gets lowered into the pit held by ropes of black velvet handled by men in black suits wearing tall black hats above black masks. Or a few minutes in the oven at the dumpsite crematoria.
I’d rather things were boring. Opening up a page with the news is like drinking from a fire hose running at full blast. A bit much. Other than that things are simpler. Keeping occupied in retirement is hobbies. Keeping alive vs the existential threat of the moment, is just another pastime. But it was always so – I just never had my attention forced in this way. Wana dye? Just have somebody breath on you, its easy. The spell checker said it was OK so its OK. Took the motorcycle down to a beach on the coast. Sat a safe distance from strollers and kids on bikes. Almost normal. Not many masks, They are not talismans. They have little to do if you are 10 feet away from everyone. They don’t have antiseptic mojo or anything. They just impede the breathing in of tiny, tiny, tiny droplets of water in which viral particles are like lone swimmers in an Olympic sized pool. Those critters are small! Someone said I was being pedantic, “moi?, pedantic” I recoiled, when I said it was amazing how they are stalking the herd (I’m starting to slide into acceptance at being part of a herd) like the jackals stalking wildebeests in the Serengeti. I said, “and they are not a life form” They check none of the boxes that qualify as life. They don’t reproduce (they “borrow” our cells for their version of procreation). They don’t eat. They are so small that if they did eat they’d atoms. Salads of Hydrogen and Oxygen, Nitrogen, gotta have that. So they don’t have sex with each other to reproduce. They don’t eat, not even left-overs. What else?, life moves, usually…even trees can move under their own power. A virus?, no. No legs, arms, a quadriplegic from the get go. They can’t crawl or fly on their own. But, to their great fortune and our dismay, humans and other mammals have a cloud of water droplets around them. Our exhalation is a thin monsoon of misty rain. So even if you don’t have a fever you might be sending out water loaded with viral particles. They’re software really. Not life. They are code designed to run on our machinery. Its as though a computer virus was making your printer spew out prints one after another. What does us in is the immune system going nuclear trying to defend us. The side effects of that seem to be a lot of the symptoms. I always end up talking about cv19 don’t I?, guess you are sick of reading about cv19. Yah, I hear ya, me too. Anyway, the tide was out and I noticed a few people had masks on tho nobody was near. The beach is interesting because of the new stuff that washes up at high tide. The wavy lines of seaweed and driftwood. That’s flotsam and jetsam right? I must have some somewhere. Kids and a couple of dogs splashing in the water. Bet it was cold. The three wind turbines were spinning on one of the islands. A full rotation every five seconds. Must be wonderful to have your electric power come from wind. I imagine I’d be in rapture if my computer, fridge and lights were breezy cool like the wind over the island. But my power comes from coal, I think. It has that bituminous taste. Or is it anthracite? I’ve forgotten. I can’t concentrate anymore. Has it only been three months?
Back in March the Forth of July seemed a long ways away. It was gonna be warm. On the 4th we’d have a cookout, family at safe distances (mom is 96) but the weather was cold and clammy. I am reminded of Mark Twain saying that the coldest winter he ever had was summer in San Francisco. Its the fog that does it. Well we get fog on the Maine coast too. But at least it wasn’t raining. I do not go anywhere…I take trips on the motorcycle but don’t stop at burger joints or discount stores. I do get gas now and then, pay at the pump. Somebody shops for me and leaves the bag in the garage, they insist so I accept. Could order it online. Everything is on line. The economy is on the line. I’m cautious about the virus, I’m scared about inflation. You’d think I was an old German remembering the inflation in Germany in the 1920’s. A wheelbarrow of money to buy a loaf of bread. Your pay loosing half its purchasing power in a few days. Borrowers chasing down lenders to repay loans with legal but worthless tender. I sure hope it doesn’t happen, but. Like all these experts keep saying, “we are in uncharted territory”, Well, I guess we are. I never ran out the lines of logic that crossed each other locally in March. The lines for global transportation, the introduction of novel virus in Asia periodically and the line I’d never have imagined…the total incompetence of the US government in crisis. The White House handlers are pushing for a new message. Remember the old one?, “Its going away, very soon, very very soon, its going away, far away, you’ll see” to “We’re stuck, deal with it!” Which, as messaging goes, is pretty succinct and accurate. Should have said that back in March. Wouldn’t have made a bit of difference but…make a note for next time Donald.
Its been raining. The weeds must be thriving out there in the damp. The First day of July and winter is just around the corner. I always feel we’re coasting from this point. That’s Maine weather, seasonal to perfection. It will get hot and cool off. If we are lucky the late Summer and Fall are perfect outside. Temps moderate, everything moderate. Maybe even the ticks. Better to respect nature, love? ya, with reservations. Don’t have much choice. This thin band of air wrapped around the Earth is it. A biosphere rife with creatures and little bugs to attack them. Dwelling on the littlest members of the complement on board spaceship Earth? Yes, Me ah culpa. That senior shopper hour the local WalMart has, is that so they can zero in on us, the most vulnerable? Get us all in one herd and send the nasty little droplets our way. Why aren’t these people wearing masks! It is difficult to draw cartoon people with masks on. Expression poses enough difficulty to the drawing challenged, como yo, without covering the face. Is that why Donald refuses to wear his mask in public? If we can’t see his mouth moving how would we know he was spouting bilge? Next time I go somewhere I need to wear a mask, I’m adding a rubber band. Something to pull the two loops together at the back of my head. Its just a theory now but with testing I think the mask will hold its position better. Its got to face the onslaught of little droplets of spittle spewing from all the people waiting their opportunity to get me!
I bet we will laugh about this later….We’ll get a real chuckle at how silly we were to get shook up by this. Oh my, just another false alarm. A fantasy put into our minds by the media. War of the Worlds with a modern twist. But hey, in that story the virus was the hero! Ya, it was the virus that killed all the Martians. But you didn’t know that. Doesn’t matter it was fiction written more than a century ago. Want me to be serious?…no you don’t. I don’t want to. OK, maybe a little….this is going to get much worse. What is the point of being serious beyond joining the dooms day folks. Not in their shelter, you’ll get buck-shot in the butt if you try getting into their luxurious underground shelter. No its time to make a more modest shelter. Could be worse, could be fall out. Maybe there will be. I have prepped for that. Well at least to the extent of building Geiger counters. The CV19 detector is what we really need. We will have them some day. An app and cheap tiny bit of hardware. Not now though. We enter the pandemic with the tools we have not the ones we need. I’ve been thinking in my delirium about the research being done. The research that will be done, to rid us of this natural enemy. Double edged sword isn’t it. Learning to sequence and synthesize and then design complex organics can and no doubt will take two paths. One to save lives and one, as a weapon to kill people. That always seems to happen with man’s science, both paths are taken. Nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Too many bad actors are seeing what this natural virus is doing and they’re impressed. The conspiracy crowd say this is a Chinese weapon. I doubt that – not like plagues out of Asia are anything new. That part of the world has been the source from way back in human history. So its always been just a matter of when. You invest in a bio lab or a cascade of centrifuges. Why does human genius take destructive paths? Good luck to all.
“May you live in interesting times” well, we got our wish. My instinct somehow is to think its one crisis at a time. It isn’t of course. The crises don’t have a coordinating committee assigning different pains in the ass at different times to different creatures. No, they pile on. Can’t blame the virus for social instability, we know it was there. The equilibrium which included institutional racism is fractured. But it is the majority society that has failed to insist on a less military style of police. But its all one system. Society and the police are not isolated. The society has ask, is asking, for the police they have. The alternative will be armed citizens committees, vigilantes, gangs to put it bluntly. Society wants and will get something for their fear. Defund the police? How are you going to rebuild a force from the raw material of a violent society? Change the society? Might take a while. So its fix this police mind set or deal with thousands of vigilante groups. Fixing what we got is a better way to go. Is society going to suddenly get warm and fuzzy because the cops are nicer? No, they’re a violent bunch… and that’s the law abiding citizen. There is a huge criminal class, its business as usual for them. Corrupt as the cops can be its nothing to policing by gangs and the bribes they’d get. Don’t re invent the wheel. More numbness I’m sorry to say. The goal of social justice is noble and overdue. But care is needed in tactics. Think ahead a little. Now, back to the virus (which is already in progress). There is another virus. In China and in pigs. We used to say, big deal, it’ll never come here. Don’t say that anymore. The various little bugs bugging us like the nomad existence just as we do. They like to see the world and meet new hosts. Hello, I’m a novel virus, I’ve just arrived and I’d like to take over lots of cells in your body so I can copy myself. An airBnB guest of the worst kind. They fly the same jets we do to their overseas destinations….but they never go home. They move in and make us their home. I just suspect there is a third form of disaster heading this way. Remember the three horsemen of the Apocalypse? Three plus a spare. So whats the third bit of bad news. Rock from space? or, or that star that is flickering like its about to nova. Its a big one. Maybe too far away to do much to us. Bright light in sky is emblematic for big changes coming. It’s in the book. Reality doesn’t need to follow scripts but if I was advising I’d say, throw in the meteor or comet or let Betelgeuse shoot X-Rays at us. I’d advise the movie’s director to do that. Its not over the top!, I’d say, the public has been nursed on disaster movies for half a century, they expect it. Or we could turn this into a religious flick, like the ten commandments, Bright light in the sky, Plague, rumors of war, actual war, rioting in the streets, and a toilet paper shortage. I had no idea that in 1973 when a gas shortage hit the USA there was a “run” on toilet paper ! Just like in March. Nobody’s figured out why this happens! Where are the conspiracy people? There must be interests manipulating things to sell TP but their secret is being well kept…I haven’t heard a thing about that….mysterious! Que the Theremin.