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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6 Comments:

At 11:43 PM, Blogger LauraHinNJ said...

That's a great little poem by Gary Snyder.

I understand, I think, why it's hard to write sometimes. For me it feels like doing nothing in the face of too much, you know.

Anyway... I'm glad for the link to your other blog. Will have to check in there to see what you're pondering on a more regular basis.

;-)

 
At 10:57 AM, Blogger robin andrea said...

It's been a while since we had regular internet access, so I haven't stopped by until today. I am glad that Snyder poem struck you the way it did me. I've held on to it since I first read it over 30 years ago.

You and I see the world very much the same way. I think it is rather hopeless, if we all insist on living in the fashion we have grown so accustomed to. Life is going to be much harder, and we all need to be prepared. In that light, Roger and I are looking around for a larger piece of land with plans for living communally. It is one of the answers for the coming calamities. Are you making plans, mojo?

 
At 4:35 PM, Blogger Lynne said...

I'm glad to read a post here. It's been a while. I've read this and your previous post many times, trying to decide how to respond. You know that I had a very difficult winter with too much loss and I think my needing time to figure out how to deal with that has kept me from trying to undestand your view. I have to say that I'm saddened by the hopelessness I hear in your words. I do believe that our lifestyles need to and will change. I think that the standard of living in the west is capping off and that countries like China and India will have an economic boom- not a bad thing. I think we will in the US need to become more supportive of localized economies-again not a bad thing. Difficult changes? Yes. But not hopeless.
I am not hopeless.

 
At 9:03 PM, Blogger MojoMan said...

Thanks for your comments, Laura. My thoughts are drawn in a slightly different direction lately, and I don't want to write too much about it for fear of sounding too preachy or whiny. Conservation vs. greed has been a frequent component of my posts all along, but that conflict is taking on acute urgency theses days. If we all had the kindness and wisdom of Gary Snyder, I wouldn't be so worried, but alas, I fear that's not the way we are. I worry that we're in for a long period of inequality, hunger, disease and war as the powerful try to maintain the lifestyles they have come to take for granted.

Thanks so much for highlighting "For the Children" for me, robin andrea. I actually had it in a Gary Snyder book I bought last year out in California, and re-read it with new eyes. Typically, I'm not making any big plans. That's due mainly to inertia, but partly to life-long instinct. We already live in a small town near a big city. It's an easy walk from here to the train station, and ample shopping of most kinds is only 2-3 miles away. I spend about 85-90% of my time within 5 miles of home. We don't have much debt. We don't have central air and we keep the house slumlord cold in winter. So, we still have a long way to fall, but we won't be as shocked as many will be. As much as I love the country, I think most of us should move closer to towns and small cities. Those who want to carve up the hinterlands should be growing food and producing power and staying there, not commuting. I love the fantasy of communal living, but fear human nature. I keep wondering if some form of co-housing is a good compromise. I also think those who want to do it had better hurry up before we get too old.

Lynne, I know this stuff is depressing, but in a way I find the prospect of catharsis exciting. I just worry that the road will be too difficult for most of us. I admire your hopefulness in the face of the sadness you have borne in the past year. I keep looking for optimism and wise leadership, but I'm finding little of either. When I see George Bush riding a bicycle and telling us to wake up and start conserving rather than calling for drilling offshore and in ANWR, I'll start feeling better. When I see wheat growing where NASCAR tracks used to be, I will rejoice. And, yes, we must reclaim our local economies. Check out Bill McKibben's "Deep Economy."

 
At 11:21 AM, Blogger bullthorn said...

Hopefully relevant to this discussion, I was reading a post of yours in Moose Hill Notebook about the polygamous communities in Texas and it occured to me that the the increase of these isolated communities would be great news. Ideally, as the mono cultural grip of mass consumerism in the USA loosens its grip, as things break down, we'll head back towards being a country where culture actually varies from region to region. Like compost breaking down, the heat created is where new and healthier sanity/economy/consciousness will be born.

 
At 9:14 PM, Blogger Larry said...

It looks like another bad sign with what's been happening in the business world on this day-Sep 15 2008-

 

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