Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Dear Readers

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

- from “For the Children” by Gary Snyder

My mind is in a fog lately. Since I started reading books and web posts by James Howard Kunstler during the past few months, everywhere I look I see signs of impending doom. My senses are alert. I listen to the news on the radio. I read the Globe. I look around. Every tidbit about the war, the election, the global food crisis, the energy crisis and the credit crisis falls perfectly into the pattern of collapse that Kunstler predicts. I’ve pretty much always felt it would come to this, but the crisis took longer to get here than I imagined. I couldn’t articulate my concerns in an organized way, but Kunstler gives these issues a structure that shows the interconnectedness of our follies in a way that helps make things clear, and the vision is not a pretty one. Even though they were written a few years ago, his books, particularly The Geography of Nowhere and The Long Emergency, shed a bright light on the errors of our ways.

Just imagine a family of four, five or six in a big new cul-de-sac out in the country. They took out a second mortgage to pay for the two SUV’s in the driveway and the power boat, ATV and jet skis in the three-car garage and the hot tub out back. That wasn’t a problem because the value of the house went up year after year. Mom drives the kids to school, dance class, Gymboree, baseball and soccer and then ferries them to the mall. Dad works in town for a big financial company and drives 50 miles each way because they could get so much more square footage a couple of towns further out.

Of course, no one is going anywhere if the parents can’t drag themselves out of the master bathroom. You see, it’s like a mini-spa in there with heat lamps, whirlpool bath and one of those showers with eight shower heads. The house is so elegant. There are bedrooms and bathrooms for everybody and a special room for every use. It has a grand entrance that is open to vaulted ceilings two stories up.

The kitchen is state-of-the-art with stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. There is a machine for every chore, but luckily there aren’t many chores to do because such a busy family eats out often or does take-out. When they do cook, it’s really easy because everything is pre-packaged, pre-cooked and heats up in the microwave. Cleanup is a snap because all the packaging simply goes in the trash compactor.

The house is always so comfortable with air conditioning in the summer and oil heat in the winter. They never have to bother with opening and closing windows; the thermostat takes care of everything automatically. The kids are too busy to mow the lawn, being so busy with their cell phones, iPods, and all, but Dad doesn’t have to worry either because the lawn guys come every week and keep the sweeping lawnscape perfect and green with their fleet of stand-up mowers and roaring hive of leaf blowers. The sprinklers are on a timer and come on automatically every morning and the latest chemicals prevent those embarrassing weeds.

Now, imagine gasoline at four, five, six dollars a gallon. It costs a hundred bucks just to fill up the Durango. Imagine the monthly payments on those two (or three) adjustable-rate mortgages after interest rates jump up a couple of points. Not only are the payments higher, but as society realizes the unsustainability of this lifestyle and more and more similar houses come on the market, the value of the property will drop and the family will be upside-down on the loans. That is, they will owe more than the house is worth and even if they are able sell, they will still be deep in debt.

Dad’s job at the finance company is looking less secure as the mortgage securities that made them so much money just a few years ago become worthless as more and more people default on loans. The oil truck pulls up to fill the tank with winter on the way, and that first bill of many comes to $1250.

But still, little Sis will simply have a total meltdown if Mom doesn’t score those Hannah Montana tickets, and Dad has plans to drive up to New Hampshire for the big NASCAR race. McCain wants to drill in Alaska. Obama wants to use more crop land to produce corn ethanol. Thanks to the Jimmy Carter implosion of the 1970’s, you can be absolutely certain that not one major candidate will ever don a sweater and sit in front of a wood stove and tell America that they need to wake up and start living like very hard times are just around the corner.

These are the kind of things I find myself thinking about lately. I’m constantly looking at my own life and the lives of those around me and I wonder how things will be in just a few years. I worry about our kids who are just now launching into their own lives. At least they haven’t screwed those lives up yet and I tell them to build lives where they don’t depend on cars and stay out of debt.

I’m not getting into the woods much these days. We are in peak deer tick season and I have zero interest in getting Lyme disease again. I’m doing more cycling this summer, so my weekend mornings are pretty busy anyway. But I think the main reason I’m not coming up with any posts for the Moose Hill Journal is that I’m so preoccupied with the events unfolding around me that my thoughts just aren’t going in that direction.

I feel that we are on the verge of a major turning point for America but the scale and scope of the forces bearing down on us are way more than a simple man like me can ever comprehend. I want to observe the changes and write about them, but it’s all beyond me. I do know that driving Priuses, screwing in compact fluorescent light bulbs, shopping at Whole Foods and putting recycling bins on the curb will not save us. That said, I don’t want to get all preachy and stuff. Glass houses and all that.

So, dear readers, I’m still here and still thinking about things to write about. I just haven’t figured out how I want to do that yet. Until I do, please check back here once in a while and check my Moose Hill Notebook where I post shorter, more scattered thoughts and observations. I would love to read your comments about where you see our world headed and how we can stay ahead of the crushing wheels of history. Until then, I leave you with the closing lines of the poem “For the Children” by Gary Snyder. This wonderfully prescient poem was passed along to me by Robin Andrea of the Dharma Bums and I find myself clinging to these words as a life ring of hope:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light

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