The explosion in the construction of railroads in the 1880s and 90s can be compared to the explosion of digital communication technology in the 1980 and 90s, (photo from WyoHistory.org)
It can be argued that this cycle of pageantry is inevitable; if some clever inventor declines to bring his new creation to the attention of the world, someone else will. But I think this concept of “progress” shows a lack of imagination…
The rush to betrayal
THE RECURRENT, CYCLICAL PAGEANT of the Industrial and Technological Revolutions has been the unrestrained, euphoric whirl of Hubris followed by the somehow unforeseen, devastating flail of Nemesis. For more than 150years, the pageant has mesmerized and mobilized individuals, societies, cultures, nations, civilizations, and eventually all of mankind, to march along at a mad pace, has promised us we are on the one sure path to paradise, and has betrayed us at the end with a push over the brink into perdition.
Gloomy prognosticator that I am, I see the brink opening before us in the current rush to betrayal. Human arrogance about dominion over the natural world has never ended well. Our belief that we can produce miracles of technology that will bend the environment to our collective will has been the marching tune for many a pageant over the past two centuries, and that march has always ended with a plunge into ruin.
…the best ending would be a sudden heart stoppage when a trio of rooster pheasants or a covey of prairie grouse explodes at my feet as I step in front of my dog Abbey who is locked on point, frozen and on fire at the same time, a brisk wind blowing and a dome of blue sky streaked with cirrus clouds stretching to the distant horizons.
Without tubes and wires
The Over the Hill Gang have reached that “certain age,” a time when we take note of the high mileage on our life odometers and ruminate about our preferred exit ramp from this highway that has taken us on a winding journey through the wilderness of sunlight and shadow, the city of tears and laughter. Our campfire conversations about a fitting and appropriate end to the 70-year ragtag adventure story we each made up as we went along (with occasional chapters that were neither fitting nor appropriate) are never maudlin and grim, but they are shaded by dark humor and a touch of noir pragmatism.
No man gets out of this lifelong vision quest alive. As we near the mountaintop we accept, in fact we welcome, our end of days. But grant us the grace to go out in style, or at least in a manner that is apropos to our character.
Weather can be as capricious as a grizzly bear in a foul mood.
Blow ye winds westerly
An oily boil of a thunderstorm tumbled black and grey from the northwest on a tropical jungle afternoon that had somehow migrated from South America to the North Country. For most of the week record heat and humidity seemed just another footnote in the margins of a summer-long treatise on the adversities of climate change, but now the overheated and super-soaked land and sky were throwing a weather temper tantrum, presaged by bolts of lightning and black-based cumulonimbus clouds that rolled in from low on the horizon and quickly blotted out the sky.
At the most recent Coot-Together, the twice-a-month gathering of The Over the Hill Gang at a local bar and grill, five of us were telling our best tree-felling stories. You know how those yarns work: we try to claim bragging rights in the honorable (to guys) achievement of “I’ve come closer to killing myself than you have” status while engaged in the North Country chore of cutting firewood.
The stories were as varied as they were revealing. We Coots will resort to all sorts of ingenious schemes to invite several tons of oak or elm to come crashing down upon us in a woodland tangle where this no escape path and slim chance of survival if we are struck. It’s not that we get an adrenaline rush from these near-death experiences (well, okay, maybe there is an element of that), but the main driver is our stubborn determination to carry out our well-conceived but ultimately flawed plan for outwitting a tree and it’s malevolent ally, the force of gravity. Every now and then things go wrong, and a mundane chore transmutes into an adventure tale.
Many of these tales end with dismissive anticlimaxes: “I had to replace the bar and chain, but otherwise the saw was fine, and my shoulder healed up in a month or two.”
There are worse things than mowing in second gear.
Our North Country farm incudes about four acres of yard (I won’t call it lawn because it’s closer to cow pasture than greensward) that has to be mowed each week. Plus two-tenths of a mile of driveway from the farmyard to the hayfields, the perimeter of the hilltop garden, and the hiking paths around the woods, all of which require twice-monthly mowing.
There are also patches of Canada thistle, burdock, and nettle in the hayfields that need spot mowing two or three times each summer. Brushy woodland edges and paths become choked with thickets of wild raspberry, gooseberry, prickly ash, and buckthorn that must be cut down in the spring with a bush hog attachment.
The little Toro lawnmower can handle what we call the “house yards,” but most of this mowing is done with a DR Mower, a walk-behind tractor unit that is a lawnmower on steroids apparently designed by an engineer whose military service time was spent driving an M-60 tank. The DR is a powerful self-propelled 13-hp mowing machine that drags me along while it pulverizes everything in its path. I have considered buying a small farm tractor with a belly mower, but my beautiful blonde wife tells me that I would sooner or later roll it onto myself while chugging along one of our steep hillsides, and she is undoubtedly right.
The Starry Messenger
Blessed with the good fortune to live in the North Country where celestial skies are not dimmed and diminished by city lights, I spend many a night hour sitting or lying at the peak of our hilltop hay field star gazing. On a clear night, the astronomical show playing across the curve of the sky swells my heart when I observe the wonders of this world and shrivels my mind when I contemplate the immense depth of this ocean of a Universe. Especially compared to the shallow pond of my mental ability to understand it.
North Country night skies are far surpassed by the magnificence of the starry dome over the Nebraska Sandhills, one of the least light-polluted expanses of sky in the world. Most years I am able to travel there and devote a few nights to staring in awe at the pitch-dark void of heavens that appear more “three dimensional,” each star and planet coursing bright and purposefully through its own strata of the fathomless deep. There, the glory of the Milky Way assures you, with certainty, the joy of witnessing the natural world makes your journey through this veil of tears worth all hardships, woes, and sadness.
It also makes me aware that I comprehend so little. I see the compositions written by “The Starry Messenger” in the heavens, but I cannot truly read them. Because I do not know the language of the stars that would help me interpret the message.
Morning after the storm. A 10-inch snowfall in late April creates beautiful landscapes, but after five months of winter we are ready for some green springtime beauty.
April snowshoe hike
This has been a loooong winter in the North Country, capped by an April 18 storm that dropped 10 inches of wet snow. But the day after the storm dawned sunny and clear, a perfect blue-sky morning for the winter’s final (we hope) snowshoe hike on the farm.
A couple miles of shoeing up and down the hillsides was more than enough exercise, with clots of snow clinging to the webbing and making the shoes weigh 10 pounds each. No, it can’t be that my legs have lost any muscle tone. I’ve been resting them since the bird seasons ended in January, so they should be in great shape.
It was worth the leg cramps to see the snowy landscapes and hear a rooster pheasant crow out his claim to his mating grounds (Standing in 10 inches of snow? What is he thinking?)
But a springtime hike through greening grasslands would be nice, too. After five months of winter, we are ready for May’s warm sun and morning walks in shirtsleeves rather jackets.