Monday, August 19, 2019

On Blackberries

During my walk at The Ranch, I came across blackberry vines (numerous times):

I have an ambivalent relationship with blackberry vines.  On the one hand, I appreciate the fact that they produce blackberries.  As someone that occasionally walks his family's land, I deplore them for the fact that they seem to take over everything and make water access virtually impossible if left unchecked.  But it has been a very long time since I have been there when I was in season.

On a whim, I started picking them off and putting them into my hand to take back to the house.  The berries were literally right along the side of the road, tart and ready to be eaten.

Picking them, in the cool of the morning and the silence of nothing but birdsong, brought back a flood of memories.  We would pick blackberries when I was young, driving up to the family land where the old mining claim was from when my ancestors came out to the plot of land where the family house used to be before it burned.  My grandparents and my parents would pick the blackberries while my sister and I would pick for a little while, then get bored and follow the drainage ditch from the mine for a while or look for melted glass where the house had stood.  The blackberries, those that we did not eat, would come out over the year as blackberry jam.

We have not had blackberry jam in years (the store bought stuff, without seeds to crunch, is useless) and I have not been near a blackberry plant in fruit for at least 11 years.  It comforts me to know that such simple pleasures still exist and, when called upon, can still yield forth their store of stories.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Ranch, Summer 2019

As promised, pictures from the Ranch in Summer:

From the house:

The Lower Meadow:

Walking along the road to the main road:

Madrone tree:

The Lower Meadow.  Still a little water in the seasonal pond:

The cut line from last year.  You can already see the scrub brush popping back up.

My father planted a pear and apple tree.  Both have fruit this year!

Middle Meadow towards the Lower Meadow:

Upper Meadow:

Due to the tree felling for the power lines, there is a lot of wood:

Back towards the house:

I have never seen this flower before:

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Collapse XXVIII: Silence And Darkness

30 August 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

I am sorry I have not penned you a few notes in almost a week; a combination of both much to do and little to write about.

I believe (by my running count) it has now been 5 days consecutively that I have seen no traffic at all – none. Not a car, a truck, a motorcycle, even one of those four wheel contraptions (I can never remember what they are called) which passes for a safer version of a motorcycle.

The Valley has gone incredibly quiet.

Oh, one can still hear noises, of course: occasional gas or electric powered motors for mowers or weed-eaters (although those have diminished as well), dogs barking, once or twice a child’s laughter. But that has really become the exception. My days are now filled with a vast lack of noise, so quiet I can hear the cowbells a mile away or the crack of deer through the dry grass as they come up for the evening.

I have taken to sitting out in the evenings after dusk (mosquito spray – such a useful thing. How I am going to miss it). We still have power of course, so I can at least write these to you, so there is still the hodge podge of lights at night which form our little settlement, but somehow everything seems dimmer and less bright. Lights are going off earlier in the evening for sure, either from a fear the electric bill will eventually come due or a reality check that soon enough, light will be much more limited.

It is odd, Lucilius, that we have come to believe that light represents civilization. In some ways, I suppose that is true: outside of accidental fires, only man makes fire and the output of fire, light. So many of our activities – most of them in fact – rely in some fashion on light. Without manufactured light (like electricity) or stored light (like candles and fire) our range of motion in the larger world truly becomes limited to daylight hours, and even the best of those being daylight hours with sun ( a challenge someplace like here, where at best we get eight solid hours of daylight in Winter and much of that overcast.) To me, at least, light – more than any other aspect – is a sign of civilization.

And so I sit here in my chair at night, with most of the lights going out far earlier, leaving only the moon and the stars to shine as brightly as they ever did before we started lighting up the sky to the point that we could not really see them.

It is not that the dark depresses me, Lucilius. It is the fact that I can feel a larger darkness settling over everything like a thick blanket.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Not Of This Age?

I sometimes feel lost in time.

I enjoy the benefits of the modern age.  I like air conditioning in summer.  I like hot water on command.  I enjoy regular showers, clean clothes, and overall good physical health with minimal or no major diseases.

And yet, I often find myself ill at ease in the modern age.

Everything moves so incredibly fast.  I am constant caught up in a turbulent cycle of news and action.  Things always demand my attention.  Technology seems just on the precipice of overwhelming me.  And too often I am either thrust into a mass of people whom I bump up against like marbles in a bag or utterly abandoned.

And, of course, the knowledge I care for - history, literature, language, philosophy, theology, even agriculture- is largely relegated to the fringes of society as so much of it is seen as not as useful as technical skills.

I keep feeling like - at least mentally and emotionally - I belong in another age.

That does not really help anything of course, as I am sort of stuck in the age I am in.  It is not like I have a time machine or something (and even then, I cannot really see that going well for me).  

The next question became "Could I live as if I did live in another age?"

Apparently this may or may not be a thing - whether it be Viking re-enactors (see the videos if you can - some amazing craftsmanship and battles!) or something called "Retroculture" of which I am not sure how much of a thing it is or not - the premise being you choose a period and live in it as much as possible.

I do not know quite what to do with this concept.  In theory I like it - but how does it work out practically?  It is not as if I can abandon my computer at work or (realistically) dump my cell phone.  But there are things I can do - attitude, manners, language, even dress - to maybe move myself a bit down that path.

No big commitments or changes yet - but something I am definitely pondering.  After all, what do I have to lose?

Monday, August 12, 2019

A Few Words From....Aleksander Solzhenitsyn

“A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party, and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course there are many courageous individuals but they have no determining influence on public life […] Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?”

(HT:  Survival Blog)

Friday, August 09, 2019

One Wedding And A Visit

Hi Friends!  As you read this I am probably just stirring to get up for the morning - but later today I am getting on a plane and flying home.  It will be a relatively short - but eventful - visit:  my sister in-law is getting married and then I am staying for another two days with Nighean Gheal to see my parents.

I am looking forward to this visit - I always do, of course, but it has been a rather long time since I have been to The Ranch in August.  It is hot and dry at that point - there will undoubtedly be pictures; prepare yourselves that it will show a lot of dry grass.

But there really is no place like home.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

The Collapse XXVII: No More Shopping

24 August 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

Before anything else my friend, thank you for the pictures! You all look very well indeed, and your bride is indeed as stunning in photo as she was in your description. I am hopeful that someday I will be able to meet here in person.

First, a bit of old news. I strolled down to the Post Office to do my weekly check of mail – really just waiting for the last few items I had ordered. They were there, thankfully, as was a notice that this post office was going from deliveries once a week to no deliveries at all. Items could now be picked up at the main post office for this region, 25 miles away. There was some additional language there I sort of breezed over as well about “cost savings” and “continuing to serve the public”.

On the bright side, I have now received all my packages. On the less bright side, I have lost my supply of easy junk mail for fire starters.

And today, I made what I suspect is my final drive to a town what may be a very long time.

The town is the one 25 miles away, the largest perhaps in either direction until you reach the city where I did my usual Big Box Shopping. I have been weighing the cost/benefit ratio of going soon enough while there are still things to buy that I need versus spending the gas – my guess is I have about 200 miles left plus whatever I have in my gas cans. This would consume about ¼ of my available fuel.

But the notice from the post office spooked me: if I did not go now, it would probably not be much longer until the larger town (in turn) was no longer getting anything either.

Driving on a road with absolutely no traffic was the most uncomfortable experience I can remember in some time. Yes, we live in a fairly rural area – but I am used so seeing some traffic (with the seemingly obligatory hand wave in this part of the country). My drive, for the most part, was devoid of anyone.

In my drive, I passed through two small towns: both true Old West style ghost towns, both state parks, both tourist dependent. In the first one there was nothing – even the Country Cowboy church tent that has been there almost as long as I have (along with their trailer) was gone. The second town, the larger one, was also devoid of any traffic, although there were signs of civilization as this was a more permanently inhabited town (and the county seat). I slowed to the in-town speed limit and passed a county sheriff who tracked me all the way from his location to the end of town. It was uncomfortable.

From there, it is up the grade and then down the grade into the regional center.

There was a little moving traffic here and people were out.

My needs were few: Grocery store, hardware store, and whatever passed for a feed store in town if I could find one.

The grocery store was first. The shelves were pretty well denuded of any basic sorts of supplies. Still a little sugar and salt, which I bought more to have than for actual needs. A few packaged of beans, somewhat surprisingly. No fresh produce at all. Prices were higher than I expected but not “extravagant”. The young lady at the check out counter made sure she pointed out the “Cash only” sign on the register. “The credit card machine is in and out” she explained a bit embarrassed after I pulled out my wallet.

She asked where I was from – when she found out, she asked how things were over there. “Quiet”, I responded, and mentioned that the post office had finally announced that there were no more deliveries and our traffic had dropped to nothing. She nodded. “Lots of locals left here, but no tourists. The trucks make their weekly delivery on Thursdays; it looks like this the day after every time now.”

I left here a $20 as a tip. She was painfully grateful. Given those prices, I cannot imagine how people in her position are going to survive without any tourist base at all.

The hardware store was next. My need here was piping – not that (again) I needed any, but it was the most likely thing to go. As well as piping insulation.

The store here was better stocked. They had my needs: six foot runs of PVC, metal piping for the plumbing along with fittings for replacement and insulation. I also picked up a gasoline pump for hand transferring gasoline to and from a truck as well as some of that gasoline stabilizer– you would have think I would have purchased such things long ago, but who thinks of such things when the power is on? The conversation with the older man at the counter – the owner, no doubt – was much the same. Business was slow at best and deliveries were becoming more spotty.

The feed store was my last stop – and there, I was flat out of luck. It was locked up and a sign on the front saying “Out of Business – Locals contact” and had a phone number attached. Apparently, regionalism was already setting in.

For my own interest, I took a drive down the main drag of town, the tourist part where (during happier times) a thriving throng of out of towners passed in and out, generating income to see folks through the fall and winter. No crowds thronged through now and about half of the shops had open signs on them, although I could not tell by looking if they were open or not.

I did stop by the local ATM for a cash update. Here it was even worse - $40 daily withdrawal. I took my $40, which did not even make up for everything that I had purchased.

I could have stayed longer. I turned about and headed home.

The drive home was...uncomfortable. Not that I saw anyone or anything. It was just the sense as I climbed the grade up back from one valley to another that this might be the last time I ever saw this view. I sat at the top for a while, just staring. Then headed on.

I reached home without incident (other than the uncomfortable sheriff, who again watched me as I diligently held to the speed limit), unloaded my pipes and parts and put them away, and then fed everyone. Dinner was smoked fish and dried apples.

I do not think I will be going shopping again, Lucilius. There is little enough left for me to buy and I am almost out of ready money, not that I think that paper money will mean much in the near future. At this point, the gasoline has more value as a trade item than it does to drive me somewhere.

I wonder if I can convince someone to just purchase my truck?

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Trying To Find My Way Home

From yesterday's discussion, children leaving the nest are not the only thing that is probably going to change in the next few years.  What I am doing will probably change as well.

As super blessed as I have been in my current job, the reality is that at some point, that job is going away - through a buyout, through a bankruptcy, through a "We are looking to succeed and you no longer fit the position...".  It is coming.  And it is the after that which is interesting.

There is simply not enough of what I do here where we currently live that I can expect to find a position, and because of my promotion and expansion of job duties, I have become less employable than ever as there is not a one-for-one transition between this position and other positions of similar titles (and the very real fact that I am in my "middle years", which often raises employment questions).  In point of fact, it is almost a certainty that I, at least, will have to relocate.

That is a hard thing to plan for, in case you are wondering:  preparing for a job transition that is probably coming (but maybe not) with no idea what the market will look like or what the positions will be .

And always, the sense that I really, really, want to go home and finally do the agricultural things I have wanted to do for 25 years.

Life is not that clean, of course.  You usually cannot back your way into something; rather, you have to out and get it.  Which is hard, given the uncertainty of what the future looks like.

But this much I know:  I badly want to go home and shed so much of this world.  I just need to start finding a way to make that happen.

Monday, August 05, 2019

A Busy Month

So in this month one child heads off to Italy for the year, one child heads to University of Texas, and one starts high school.

Life sneaks up on you like this some time.

The first one leaving was, well expected.  Even the second one going, while moving a bit more quickly, was (again) expected.

It is the youngest going to high school that compounds the issue.

In about the period of 3 months, we are going from two at home full time to three full time at home to one full time at home.  That, my friends, is a pretty significant change.

In some aspects, I am playing for time.  This is far more disturbing to The Ravishing Mrs. TB than it is to me (and it is somewhat unsettling to me), so I have effectively left the discussion off the table.  It is still there in the back of my mind though, looming a little larger every day.

I know (in the back of my head, because that is the way things are) that once high school starts it will be over faster than I can imagine.  Things have a way of doing that.

I had not expected to be here so quickly, or have to make an entirely new set of decisions about the course of our lives in such a short period of time.

But that, I suppose, is really nature of time and life.  It just moves on.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Another Work Update

A bit of personal news.

So for the midyear stretch, I received an 11% pay increase. For those you keeping track, that is a total increase of 108% over my starting salary when I entered this position just short of 3 years ago.

To say this is amazing and stunning to me is at best an understatement.  For the record, I am officially making a rather stupid amount of money.

I am grateful, of course- with two children now in college and living in one of the fastest growing cities in the US, it could not come at a better time.  And I would say that I feel that I have earned it, if only measured by the amount of stress and hours that have been put into getting to this point.

And humbled, of course.  I have said for years that outside of IT, only the biopharmaceutical industry could have given me the ability to see such incredible career growth in such a short period of time.  I am blessed beyond words.

Here is to hoping I continue to show myself worthy of it.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Out Of Touch

I wonder if getting older always means feeling out of touch with your times.

If one was born in the 1840s, one could have lived to see the automobile from a horse-drawn childhood.  If one lived in the 1300s, one could have seen the initial rise of gunpowder that would eventually transform all of warfare.  In the late 1400s, one could have gone from the relative grayness of the Medieval world to the glory of the Italian Renaissance.

How would that have felt?  Would it feel the same as now - times being different, of course - as we have moved from analog to digital, from computers as big as houses only available to governments and large companies to computers in our pockets?

And this just addresses the change of technology - it does not cover social changes, dietary changes,and even the change in the ability to be almost anyway in the world within 24 hours.

In some sense we all adapt, of course - it is not as if I do not make use of a microwave or a cell phone - but how comfortable does this all seem?  Not terribly so, at times.

The young, of course, think that the world will always go on as they now have it, not realizing (as arguably the wisdom of age tells us) that they, too, are on a limited track of life "as it has always been".  In 30 years they will be confronted with things never imagined in their youth and early adulthood, things which change the way that life is done and suddenly become indispensable to every day living.  Perhaps they, too, will begin to feel that life has moved beyond them and with a strange nostalgia, look back on the "old days" when they felt comfortable in a world they knew.

And perhaps as well, they will suddenly realize that those that had gone before them were not the Luddites or fools that they had taken them to be.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Failure Day 2019

Happy Failure Day!

Failure Day, as you might recall (it has been some time since I have written about it) is the day that, in 2005, the real estate company I had founded with my friend officially went under.  We made the decision to end the company and fired ourselves.

In doing this, I found myself to be sitting in the bank with perhaps one month's salary, the remaining month or two of health care, no job prospects, a house payment I could not afford (because it was based on a salary that I had never achieved), three children including a 3 month old, and no other outside income (The Ravishing Mrs. TB was staying at home at the time).  It beat the previous two months in that we had a closing (that June we were literally down to $200 in my emergency savings).

There is a certain kind of grimness that comes from failing a business you have created, a certain bitterness when you realize that you were the one that brought yourself to this place.  You were the one that made the choice to abandon a career field you knew and take a shot at something else.

The outcome?  The immediate outcome, not so good.  By the time all was said and done (and it took 4 years to completely work itself out) I had probably lost over $250,000 in the salary I would have made, stocks I sold to give us working capital, and the Home Equity Line Of Credit I opened and the 401K I liquidated to pay it off as well as the equity I gave up in the perfectly good house we were living in for the new overpriced house that we bought and eventually had to sell at the cost of the loan (which ate up everything we paid for the previous five years). 

Did I learn things?  Of course I did.  I learned a certain self confidence that has never left me, that I can do things that I never thought I could.  I learned I could read and negotiate million dollar contracts.  I learned you need to pay a lot more attention to the bottom line as an owner than any employee ever thinks.  And I learned that the power of determining how to fill your days - instead of having them filled for you - is priceless.

Would I consider it worth it?  The jury is still out, even after 14 years.  The knowledge I gained could probably have come only in that circumstance (e.g., pushing myself out there) but the end results were not the sort of thing that I would have wanted to put myself or my family through.  The financial damage is mostly undone (but the time and compound interest will never return); the scars maybe less so.

But even after all this time, I remember that crushing moment when I consciously made the decision to end my involvement in something I had hoped was going to go so well. Watching something that you considered a dream die is hard enough; being the one to put it out of its misery harder still.

Happy Failure Day.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

The Collapse XXVI: From Lucilius

21 August 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

Thank you for your missive of 19 August 20XX. I am indeed very pleased to hear that my e-mails continue to arrive and that you are as well as can be expected, given the circumstances. It is comforting to me as well to know that you have seen Sextus as well and that he is doing as well as you are – as well as we all can be, given the times. Send my greetings on to him and Placidia and their family the next time you see them.

You are rather a sly old dog to just mention offhand in the middle of the letter that you and Augusta had suddenly married! What joy I have in an old friend finding love again! The timing for these things is always suspect – frankly, I cannot imagine a more “interesting” time to start as a newlywed all over again. Even in times of chaos, the human spirit can still try new things. This comforts me greatly.

You asked me about the offer that Sextus had made to you and Augusta, about moving in with them until things parse themselves out. My opinion (as it is what you asked me for) is that you should do this as quickly as time and circumstances allow. It is what – a 10 mile trip one way to his house? Easy enough to transport you, your new lovely bride, and your library to his house for the duration, especially if he and Placidia are willing. There is nothing that would make my heart more glad than to know that you (and your wife, apparently!) were somewhere as safe as you can be in the current circumstances.

And how troubling they sound, Lucilius. The stories I read are the sorts of stories I remember reading about Mogadishu and Kabul and Harare, once upon a time in my youth: riots, violence, a breakdown of basic social services and basic utilities. The videos are at best appalling and at worst, disturbing. The written reports I can find – not all of them through the effectively approved government media, of course – paint an equally disturbing picture. And behind all of it, the looming specter of a lack of fuel, which eventually means a lack of ability to go anywhere else.

I do appreciate you and Augusta’s concern (as well as Sextus’ from what you said) about myself. Please be at ease, and put others at ease as well. I am indeed effectively on my own, but I am in a place where that is not the obstacle that it would be in an urban setting. And there is a community of sorts around me – the same ones that produced our July 4th extravaganza – that I occasionally see glimmers of a larger sort of social contract which might emerge (although I question that this is the tabula rasa that Rousseau was referring to). I am well provided, well fed, and well-libraried up (if that is a thing), and the rabbits bear with my occasional bouts of loneliness well.

Be careful and be well, my friend. Take Sextus up on his generous offer.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca.

P.S. I note that your missive was completely devoid of pictures. Good heavens Lucilius: if you can create and forward a letter, you can surely forward the pixels that make up the wedding photos. Get with it, man! I have not seen you in a tuxedo in almost 40 years – I demand photographic evidence that this actually occurred!