Tuesday, May 31, 2022

On Living A Virtuous Life

Whatever happened to the idea of practicing being virtuous?

I know, I know - as soon as I have written these lines, there are two likely immediate reactions.  The first is the one where I am accused (perhaps justly) of not understanding the world we live in and what we are facing, the second that I am proposing (yet again) a series of actions and beliefs that do not at all fit into the modern world.

But - if you will willingly suspend disbelief and the immediate reaction - turn the question on its head.  I cannot - indeed we cannot - change the practices of individuals.  Whatever happened to the idea of practicing being virtuous as an example to others?

The definition of virtuous, according to Webster, is:

- Having or exhibiting virtue (no surprise there of course; let us us the concept of virtue as "conformity to a standard of right or moral excellence - see below);
- Morally excellent, righteous;
- Chaste;
- Potent, efficacious.

For the sake of the discussion, let us stick with the idea of exhibiting virtue, a standard of moral right or excellence.

What I suspect the most likely initial response to this will be is simply "It is not appreciated and accomplishes nothing".  Would I agree that it is not appreciated?  I would, the same way I would argue that an exceptionally clean restaurant table  are neither noticed nor appreciated by 90% of the population, but we would all rather have a clean table that one covered with crumbs and those questionable spots of material that might be food...or other things.

Would I agree it accomplishes nothing?  I question that proposition.

Too often I (I will pick on myself here) want a world that is more thoughtful, more rational, more morally upright, more - in a word - virtuous.  But how often do I practice these virtues myself?  How can I expect the world to rise to a standard that I am not willing to demonstrate, let alone keep, myself?  When I am confronted with an opposing opinion presented loudly or someone else's off comment spoken in anger, do I react with the same volume and intensity?  Or do I stop, think on what the actual issue is and what circumstances are contributing to the tone of voice, and answer from there?

Do those sorts of examples matter?  In the world of socially driven and charged media, I do not suppose that they do as much.  Seeing the example of a life lived virtuously does not play well in 10 second videos, memes, limited character entries and - let us face it - limited attention spans.  But in the real world - the world outside of these things - it can, and does.

It is easy to be outraged, to cry out and shake a fist or become rowdy (or worse).  Crowds can be especially prone to this.  What is not as easy is to be outraged at the individual who lives a a virtuous life in practice as well as in word.  One can say their opinion is wrong or foolish or stupid, but one cannot argue that the practice of their lives is.

I wonder if that is one reason that so many people feel safe quoting people like Thomas Merton or the Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Han Julian of Norwich or even the Dalai Lama.  In our secular society, the ideas of these men and women are not something many would claim - but the practice of their lives (three monks and an anchoritess) somehow makes their words credible and quotable, even if people were to find their ways quaint and their underlying beliefs silly or even potentially offensive.

Whatever we proclaim to be the way that a person should be or - in larger practice - a society should be, it is incumbent upon us to first become, believe, and demonstrate that  which we we claim we want to see in the world.  If we do not, we instantly lose credibility because if we ourselves will not practice it, how can we expect that anyone else will?  We have done nothing to demonstrate that it is a workable lifestyle, that a virtuous life remains consistent with the ability to live in any world, even the modern one, as it has remained so throughout history.  The circumstances may have changed, technology may have changed:  the ability to live virtuously has not.

"The greatest way to live with honour," said Socrates, "is to be what we pretend to be".  

Sunday, May 29, 2022

The Memory Of Grass II

 Trees are memories.

Trees have structure build into them by their very nature.  Even within their internal structure, one can tell when drouths occurred, or when there was a bountiful year of rain, or even when a volcanic eruption occurred.  And even when the perish by fire or storm, their skeletons remain as sentinels slowly decaying, given a history of what had once been present.

Grass has a structure,  but it is fragile.  At best it is consumed in the new growth of the coming year; at worst it is burned away by fire or washed away by mud and landslides.  It leaves no memory of where it had been in the event it is destroyed, except by its reappearance on the following season


In 2020 in Halltern am See, Germany, a 2,000 year old dagger was unearthed.  Whole weapons from that age are rare to unearth; this one originally appeared as a lump of rust:

9 months later after sandblasting and restoration, this was the result (source):
This dagger is almost unique in modern archaeology - but surely it is not unique for the time.  The craftsmanship is equal of fine work later in history (even today).  And this was done in an age without advanced metallurgy, advanced cutting techniques, advanced machinery.  

What wonders do we not even know about from a civilization that many would consider otherwise backwards and primitive?

We live in a transitionary age of material things.  We come from an age of ownership which itself is rooted in a previous age of hardship:  within the memory of my grandparents to me, there was an age of the scarcity of the frontier, followed by the growth of industry and then the scarcity of the Depression, followed by the Post World War II Boom to an now an age of Contraction, where there are more things than people that want the things of the past.  In fact, in some cases voices are calling for an abdication of things all together towards a society of owning nothing and borrowing or renting everything.

I am certainly not arguing for the sort of crass consumerism that has been practiced in the past .  At the same time, cultures are somewhat defined by the things that the produce - in many cases, the only thing we will know about past cultures are the things they made, the knowledge they left, and perhaps the language or stories they left.  Remove the language and knowledge ands stories and we only have the things made - thus the Anasazi exist largely from their buildings and their burial goods, and all we know of the pre-Roman Celts are from from the archaeology we find, the writings of others (Greek and Latin) about them, and the hints of stories and legends we have in their successor cultures.

If we are defined by anything these days, we are effectively the disposable culture, the culture of crumple and recycle and forget, or the culture of IKEA:  items designed to be used, but not for a lifetime, and returned or recycled back to parts at the end of its life.  Things are no longer made to endure; things are made to be used and disposed of.  

If this is all we have to look forward to - craftsmanship replaced by mass production, enduring quality replaced by constant return and renewal, a constant exchanging between others by way of sharing or rental and no ownership - we risk becoming  a culture of grass, leaving nothing to remember or impact those that come after.  So consumed with the here and now and the returning of things to their former state, we eliminate any chance of telling our story through the things that are made and used or passing them on - with their beauty and enduring quality.  Our story, like the grass, will be that we do not know what was made before or even who made it; only the stray bits of history, like a Roman dagger, will survive to tell of our wonders.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

The Memory Of Grass I

 One thing that struck me on my recent hike was the grass.

Native grasses are ubiquitous in Old Home, as they are The Ranch.  They appear every year:  green waves that grow and ripple in the breeze, only to dry out and turn golden, lying to the outside observer that they are anything more than effectively ornamental retainers of the soil at that point.  Every place that civilization has not touched, there you will find the native grasses.

What struck me this time, as I hike over the hills, was that I was assigning to grass something it simply did not have:  history.

Native grasses, at least where I am from, are annuals.  They grow and die off every year.  To the outside observer, the grass can appear exactly the same as it did in previous years - certainly, there are years where things may grow less high because of drouth or higher because or an abundance of rain, but generally it appears the same.  To my mind, I suppose I "associated" this with the fact that at some level, the grass is a constant.

It is a constant.  But it has no memory.

Every year, 100% of the annual grasses die off.  It is a cycle as literally as old as this climate has been established:  around late October or November, the rains come, and the seeds that were cast abroad the year before begin sprouting up amongst the skeletons and bodies of their parents.  They continue to grow and flourish through November to February before reaching peak green in March or April, when they begin dying off.  It happens in the valleys first and then slowly works its way up the mountains to where The Ranch is.  By June, there is nothing left but the golden burnt yellow stalks, rustling in the breeze waiting for the cycle to being.

The grass grows where it has grown every year.  But it has no memory of what it was or why it is there.  Every year it starts off with no knowledge of its past (if plants had knowledge, I suppose).  If it were indeed sentient, what would it think about those stalks that first towered over it until they were consumed by it?  What or who were they?  What did they do?  The grass cares not and if it does think such things, expresses them only as the wind blows past in words I cannot understand.


Back in the wilds of the 1980's, one of the most influential films I saw was, of all things, Tron.  The concept of a world within the computer - at a time when personal computers were really just being released on a large scale and the wonders of 1980's video games was a thing - was one that was mesmerizing to young teenage me.  Imagine the worlds that could exist!  Imagine the sights one could see - sights that simply physically could not exist in the "real world".

Many years later, I now live in an age where literally the breadth of human knowledge is either on-line or getting there as fast as possible.  Entire imaginary worlds actually do exist now on the InterWeb in the form of Massively Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Games (MMORG).  And now, thanks to the growth of the Blockchain, there are now new online worlds where individuals can "purchase" real estate (with crypto or real money, of course) and "earn" money.  All on-line, of course.  All not viewable with a computing device.

The charitable part of me looks at it with amusement.  The less charitable part of me looks at it with a sad self knowing.

I love the fact that old books are available online- thousands of them.  I love that we can see old movies or clips, even things from the early 1900's.  I love that dying languages are preserved and I can learn how to graft a fruit tree with a video.

But that is also the problem.  It is all online, and more and more content is only online.  When the online fails - be it a power outage, be it the one server or hard drive on which it was stored, be it a media form that can no longer be accessed - it is gone.  Perhaps for a while, perhaps forever.  

It occurs to me - as I watch the images and words flash on my screen - that I am watching a version of the native grasses on the hillside.  And were the power to fade or the data to be unavailable, we would find ourselves as a civilization with the memory of grass in  relatively quick order, with little knowledge of what went before us beyond what we can see and no understanding of how we got there.

Friday, May 27, 2022

A Nobody Anywhere

"Let not these reflections oppress you: 'I shall live without honour, and be nobody anywhere.'  For, if lack of honour is an evil, you cannot be evil through the instrumentality of some other person, any more than you can be in shame.  It is not your business, is it, to get office, or to be invited to a dinner party?  Certainly not.

How, then, can this be any longer a lack of honour?  And how is it that you will be "nobody anywhere,", when you ought to be somebody only in those things which are under your control, wherein you are privileged to be a man of the very greatest honour?  But your friends will be without assistance?  What do you mean by being 'without assistance"?  They will not have paltry coin from you, and you will not make them Roman citizens. 

Well, who told you that these are some of the matters under our control, and not rather things which others do?  And who is able to give another what he himself does not have?  'Get money' says some friend, 'in order that we too may have it.'  If I can get money and at the same time keep myself self- respecting, and faithful, and high-minded, show me the way and I will get it.  But if you require me to lose the good things that belong to me, in order that you may acquire the things that are not good, you can see for yourselves how unfair and inconsiderate you are.  And which do you really prefer?  Money, or a faithful and self-respecting friend?  Help me, therefore, rather to this end, and do not require me to do those things which will make me lose these qualities.

'But my country,' says he, 'so far as lies to me, will be without assistance.'  Again I ask, what kind of assistance do you mean?  It will not have loggias (exterior covered galleries) or baths of your providing.  And what does that signify?  Or neither does have shoes provided by the blacksmith, nor has it arms provided by the cobbler; but it is sufficient if each man fulfill his own proper function.  And if you secured for it another faithful and self-respecting citizen, would you not be doing it any good.  'Yes.'  Very well, and then you also would not be useless to it. 

 'What place, then, shall I have in the State?' says he.  Whatever place you can have, and at the same time maintain the man of fidelity and self-respect that is in you.  But if, through your desire to help the State, you lose these qualities, of what good would you become to it, when in the end you turned out to be shameless and unfaithful?"

- Epictetus, The Encheiridion

Thursday, May 26, 2022

A Dimming Of A Hopeful Future

 During my last visit to Old Home and The Ranch, Uisdean Rudah and I were having our weekly "Dinner And A Discussion" event, which often tends to devolve into a discussion about a specific ongoing item or activity in the world around us.

In this case, it was space.

"Did you see the video of the Mars helicopter that I sent?"  Uisdean Ruadh asked.  When I responded in the affirmative, he followed up with "What did you think?"

"Eh", I replied.  "It was interesting, I suppose.  A drone video.  That is nice."

"The fact we are controlling it millions of miles away is not impressive?" he responded, almost incredulously.

"It is, I suppose" I responded.  "But this is not the first time we have done so. And really, is this the future of space that we are hoping for?  Radio signals and drone videos?"

What emerged from the discussion was a rather in depth thought consideration of the future.

The future, as has been said by others (and myself) is not what it originally was portrayed to be. I remember going through library books in the mid to late 70's that were written in the '60's about the coming future of space.  Pastel drawings of colonies in space, complete with farms and families floating in zero gravity, filled my mind.  

Even if the pictures were largely imagined and based on "artists' interpretations", what they had was a vision of progress for the future - and indirectly of hope, hope of a better more interesting and more expansive world.

As I related to Uisdean Ruadh (and he agreed), the future today is a lot less hopeful.

By "less hopeful", I mean in the general main media, 24/7 approach.  Visions of the future now spun for us are of a world that is smaller and smaller and less and less:  live on less, live with less, do less.  The visions of outer space and spanning the Solar System and exploring beyond have been replaced with a vision of owning nothing, having no aspirations beyond those which are allowed, and compressing one's life foot print to as little as possible in the name of a series of effectively unreachable goals.

This is not a vision of the future.  This is a footnote.

I cannot imagine - except that I live with my children - how such a vision can and will impact young people, let alone people of my own age bracket.  To essentially live in an age where there is no greater life  to be aspired to, no frontiers to push back, only existence - this feels like the mindset of decline, not of action.

If one could could characterize the 20th Century in a way, one could make the argument that it was "The Century of Progress".  Not all of that progress was good (progress is in itself not an inherent good; there is plenty of progress that is actually a retrograde action), but that there was a sense that there was a brighter future to aspire to.  It feels - at least to me it feels - that there is no brighter future now.  We seem to live in an age where our eyes are no longer fixed on the horizons of possibilities or edge of imagination but lower and lower, on the ground in front of us or even beneath us.

I am not arguing that somehow space travel represents "The Future" per se (even if it did, we are in that awkward part of all novels where space travel is slow, painful, and no fun), but that the underlying hope of what space travel represented has disappeared, replaced by nothing more a goal of existence.  It is as if we exchanged a high performance sports car for a 1980's Chevy Nova or a Kubota tractor for a push mower:  it will do the job, but is hardly something to get excited about.

If there is a future to be had - at least in this world, not considering The World To Come -  we can no longer look to society or the world to find it.  We can only look to ourselves and those that are of like mind.  Perhaps it is as author Rod Dreher suggested in The Benedict Option, it will be up to us to create another sort of small community amidst the backdrop of a world view gone bleak:  that of a future we want to be in (or we want those of like mind to be in, if older), not that which we are being sold.

(Postscript:  For those that are interested in ongoing space events, one could do far worse than to make The Silicon Graybeard a regular stop.  He follows space news regularly and translates it into what it means for those of us that just look up in the night sky.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

On An Odd Non-Reopening

 My Greater Area Of Operations (GAOO) here in New Home is fairly limited:  I drive 13 miles one way to class, 5 miles the opposite way to the gym or rabbit shelter, and between that to the business that I go to (literally at this point the grocery story, the Big Box Construction store, and the used book store).  That said, I tend to go by them enough that small changes strike me.

That is why, this weekend, I was oddly struck by a series of businesses that remain unopen.

The businesses - a party store, two clothing stores (one a national chain), a discount store, a national chain pet store, and the afore mentioned regional book store - had an event which caused a closing of their section of the outdoor strip mall. Given that on any given Sunday - the day I typically go there - the parking lot was full and business was almost seemed pretty good, I assumed that they would quickly have repair work done and be remodeled.

I was, apparently, wrong.

Of the 6 stores, only three have reopened - the party story, the discount store, and the regional used book store.  The other clothing store is "open" - but only buying clothes, not selling any (which seems remarkably odd to me).  The other two - both national chains - remain closed. 

This honestly surprises me.

It is not that these two stores are the only ones of their kind - there are several others scattered across the larger New Home Area.  But they were certainly busy every time I went by and (I had assumed) some level of profit generators.

I suspect one of two things is at work here.  The first is simply that it is taking longer for these locations to open due to repairs, availability of materials for repair, insurance money, etc. - or simply that they are arguing with the landlord about who is paying. 

The other - a little more ominous - makes me wonder if it is a version of a soft closing.

It is easy enough to justify of course, given the current environment - especially due to the fact that the facilities are already damaged.  Rather than spend the money to revamp the store, simply break the lease (probably allowed under the "Acts of God" that show up in most leases), eat the losses, and move on.  In a way it is like employees that work at a company that seem to disappear in the night and nobody remembers that the left until weeks later when they need to contact them for something.

I do not know that this is an "indication" of economic stability, but I do intend to continue to watch it.  If a sign, I expect to see it multiplied many times over in the coming months.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Put On Speed

 "To those who said to Diogenes the Cynic 'You are an old man; take a rest', 'What?' he replied, 'if I were running in the stadium, ought I not to slacken my pace when approaching the goal.  Ought I not rather put on speed?'" - Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers

One of these things the last month or so has convinced me of - now that I seem to be pulling out of my tailspin of a significant birthday - is that I need to get my head back on straight and get going with things that I have decided my life needs to be about.

To be fair, I think we as a society are probably about to go through the same thing.  We have gotten used to economic good times and in some aspects have gotten a bit sloppy or even lazy with how we manage our time and money - the fact that by and large we value recreation to the exclusion of productive activity (and not all productive activity is a job; they are two different things).

But it is not  just economic or productive necessity that should impel me.  What I need to fight against as well is the insidious creep of "Taking it easy".

I am very conscious - now more than ever - that this is the point of the program where the body starts rebelling against us in one form or fashion.  I am starting to experience that now: my right knee is starting to have "words" with me and I am still working towards a sleep pattern that does not involve me waking up multiple times.  But even this are facts, not excuses, to still do something.

One of the biggest challenges that I see as I have watched others confront this is adaptability the changing circumstances:  physical, mental, even economic.  The reality is that even as some of these things become larger issues, other things become lesser issues.  The skill needed is to pivot in the direction of those things that I can still control or grow in.

Some people give up - if they cannot do the thing they used to do in the manner they used to do it, they simply refuse to do it at all.  For others, they find ways to do some of the things they could do, or do it differently, or do it similarly: if I cannot run,  I can hike - and even when the day comes that I cannot hike, I can still walk.

My goal - if it can be said to have one  - is to be my great grandmother who was sharp as tack when we visited her at 96 years old (she repainted her living room at 94) and lived to 99, living on her own and cooking breakfast for us every morning when we were there (fried eggs prepared on the bacon grease, thank you very much).  Or the orator Isocrates, who, at 98 had lived through the entire Peloponnesian war, the rise and fall of the Sparta Hegemony and then the Theban Hegemony, and the rise of Alexander the Great  - and wrote almost up to the point he died.  Or even Diogenes, sprinting in the virtual stadium and living a consistent life right up to the end.

There are many things that may go awry and prevent this, of course.  But the possibility of such things is no reason for me to not try.

The time has come, as Diogenes said, to put on speed. 

Monday, May 23, 2022

On A 29th Wedding Anniversary

 This weekend we celebrated our 29th year of marriage.

Or sort of celebrated. During my absence at The Ranch, The Ravishing Mrs. TB came down with a (thankfully) mild version of The Plague, so I was picked up with and have spent time with her at home masked up (and sleeping in separate areas as well).  As she is not feeling well, the anniversary consisted of a card exchange - we debated going out but between her health right now and her managed food program, dining choices are somewhat limited.

Out of a sort of morbid curiosity, I wondered what the statistics are on marriage longevity.  Turns out getting "current" data is sort of difficult if you just do a web search, as you can pull data from 1996 to 2018.  And things are fairly muddled in all of that.  I did learn, for example, that "gray divorce" - couples getting divorced in their 50's after their children are out of the house and they realize their marriage is unsatisfactory - is a thing; and that divorces are trending down (so are first time marriages, for that matter; and the current average age of a man for first time marriage at 30 and a woman at 28).    I found one number that said it was about 45% of marriages that reach 30 years or more.  

So I guess that (almost) makes us part of a fairly large minority (honestly, I was surprised at that percentage).

It is odd when I think about it that it sounds like a lot of time, but it does not feel like a lot of time.  Yet in that period we have moved 8 times (once halfway across the country), bought 3 houses and sold 2 had 8 cars, 4 cats, 2 dogs, 4 guinea pigs, 5 rabbits, 6 quail, 1 parakeet, and innumerable fish.  And 3 children.

We have gone to faraway lands and stayed close to home.  We have had two job losses, one self inflicted (mine, The Firm) and one that was unanticipated, both of which changed our lives in significant ways.  

We have had success and failures - more successes than failures overall, I suppose.  Had you asked me 29 years ago if I thought I would have been married this long, I probably would have shrugged my shoulders and not really had any idea - which was about the same way I entered the marriage, I suppose.  I am still somewhat in awe that it has lasted this long.

I am sure at some point The Ravishing Mrs. TB will feel better and we will go out to do something, although likely not associated with gifts per se - at this point all the smaller items we could buy for each other we generally buy for ourselves, and the much more expensive items require consultation and are never a surprise anyway.  Which is fine of course - the 29th traditional anniversary gift is apparently "furniture", which is hardly the sort of thing that says "I Love You".

But perhaps a quiet anniversary is best anyway - after all, it is not as if doing something flamboyant says "I love you" any more than a simple meal and simple words meaningfully exchanged. Or, perhaps, reflecting on why furniture is the way to celebrate 29 years of marriage.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

A Visit With TB The Elder And Mom: May 2022 Edition

 To be honest, I had been somewhat dreading visiting with my parents this month.  My sister, during her last visit, told her that she wanted to go home and live with her kids (although we were pretty sure that she does not remember we are her kids).  To be frank, I did not know that I was up to that sort of thing.

Still, I was here, and I needed to go see them at least once before I went back home.  After thinking about it a bit, I went ahead and took the afternoon off from work to do it, so that I would not feel rushed about seeing them  (that, as I have discovered, never helps).

The day was the sort of day that I miss about Old Home:  A nice Spring day with blue sky and  a breeze - the Spring here can linger from March into June; in New Home it lingers for about two weeks.  The staff brought my parents out and the owner, as she always does, apologized as they had just finished lunch and had some food on them.

It does not matter to me, I responded. I am just happy to see them.

For really the first time since they have been here, I started off the conversation actively talking about The Ranch:  mowing the grass (an adventure and an upcoming post), Uisdean Ruadh and his mother moving into the Cabin, the turkeys out and about.  I have been a little reluctant before because I did not want to make my father anxious or upset; he seemed to enjoy the part about the mowing.

We covered the hike I took over the weekend and what Na Clann were up to, the fact the weather was hot in New Home (we always talk about the weather), what Nighean Dhonn was going to do about college. The price of gas and the difference between Old Home and New Home (my father seems to pay attention to that still; something we used to discuss every week).

My mother was strangely curious about the Facility they are in:  Did we own the home?  No Mom, someone else does.  - We rent here?  Yes Mom, we rent here. - The trees are very nice here.  Yes they are, Mom (they are quite lovely actually:  tall pines and cedars and a maple) - What are those pink things on the roof?  Those are roof tiles Mom,  made of clay.  They work here for roofing instead of shingles which are flat.  We cannot have them in New Home because the hail might break them. 

TB The Elder had a couple of comments - fortunately, I was able to figure out from the context of the conversation what he was asking - or what he thought he was asking.  He at least seemed satisfied by my answers.

I have no idea if my mother knows who I am except a visitor (when my sister had come previously my mother asked her "Are you here to be my friend?"  "Yes Mom, I certainly am").  My father may recognize me, although it is much harder to tell.  But they seemed to take joy in the visit, and it was certainly a great deal less difficult than I had anticipated.

I do not know that I always leave these visits in a better state of mind, but hope I leave them in a better state of mind.  In some ways I am beyond sadness at this point:  I know what to expect, how the conversation will likely go, and have found that somehow, those simple visits are in some way adding something to their lives.

Friday, May 20, 2022

On The Economic Disturbance

 In general, I have been eschewing current events as a basis for a post for some time now..  There is a  sense in which I do this that it tends to help self-monitor the commentary, allowing for actual discussion.  It also is purposeful in the sense that many "current events" postings do not age well over time (unless one is a fine writer with an eye towards history, as some are).  At best they become a historical record, at worst they become awkward records out of place.

But occasionally, something - like what appears to be an ongoing economic disturbance (I do not know that words like "collapse" or "meltdown" are warranted, at least yet; nothing more embarrassing than being on the disaster train that does not get off the tracks when we believe it has) - merits a few words as it constitutes the sort of historical event that is worthwhile to ponder.  After all, we still speak of the Great Depression, The Stagflation (and bell bottoms) of the 1970's, The Dot.Com Crash, and The Housing Crisis of 2008.

Of the mechanics of the crash, I cannot speak on them as I am neither an economist nor did I stay in  Holiday Inn express last night.  I can say that this appears to be the confluence of a number of factors:  A disturbance in the economy - and by disturbance I mean "virtual shutdown" - due to The Plague (which myself and many other writers suggested might not be a grand idea at the time), government largesse during The Plague in which money could not be given away fast enough (resulting in too many dollars chasing too few goods:  if only I had seen this definition somewhere else...), the then-resulting Supply Chain disruptions resulting from that Shutdown as well as continued Plague related shutdowns.  Add to this the more recent developments of an uptick in energy prices and the corresponding decline in their availability and a shock which no-one outside of agriculture probably saw coming (prior to February of this year, I think it likely that 90% of the population knew what chemical fertilizer was, who the major suppliers were, and that countries can just decide to not export food), and we have at least the beginnings of a major economic historical event.

As I have said, better minds than mine are writing on the economic side. My thoughts are really more around the personal side, for me and for others.

Am I worried? Some, but not excessively.  Worry promotes nothing but worry. The correct question to ask is "Am I doing what I can to prepare?"  And that has three answers:  yes, no, or possibly.  And from those, I can take actions.  I cannot control the cost of energy or the markets as they continue to plummet down like the Titanic.  I can stock up on food and fuel.  I can learn to do a skill.  I can manage my outflows.

Is God in control?  Of course He is.  Even within the confines of this blog, I am reminded time and time again that He is.  In that sense, the economy is in far better hands than anyone can imagine, even if it does not seem like it from here.

Who I do worry about are the people that have never lived through such a historic event.  I have memories of every one of the above referenced occurrences and, through the memories of my grandparent's generation, some memory of The Great Depression (although likely the last generation with such direct memories).  Later generations - say the 1990's on, those that are now in their 30's and below - have at best minimal memories of such events, or none at all (how many were actually conscious of the Dot.com bust?  Parents often do their best to carry on without directly notifying their children that the economy had a plunge).  To these individuals, life has always been on the up and up.  Things are always available.  Progress is always forward.  Food is always available and I can order almost anything I want from Amazon.

It is too easy in such moments to scoff at such beliefs and say "We tried to tell you".  And I am sure most of us did.  At the same time, this is a generation that is being thrust into a world of realities that modern technology and social systems have largely kept at bay.  It is likely that - beyond nicely sanitized end of the world dramas on the streaming channels - they have never experienced what seems to be coming.

When I read of crypto investors who saw their entire life savings wiped out in the Terra Coin collapse openly stating they lost everything and are considering suicide, that is a concern.  My fear is that this is - literally - the tip of the iceberg.

I am not suggesting some sort of misguided charity - the kind the government often likes to give - to solve the problem.  What I am suggesting - mostly to myself - is that through this, a great teaching opportunity is presenting itself, be it in skills or actual economics or questions about lifestyle and energy and food or even metaphysical questions about what is out there beyond this world and Who is perhaps in control.  

The reality is that the forces that brought the world to this point have little to offer beyond what they have already done to get us to this point.

We, on the other hand, do.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Your Lack Of Dedication

Occasionally quotes flow through my Instagraph account that speak to me.  This was such a quote.

I am not always the most dedicated person.  I have a tendency to laziness that is amazing.  I tend to lose interest easily, especially when I am struggling at accomplishing something.

And yet...

And yet, there are people that believe in me.  People that believe in a better me than I think I actually am.  People that have given of themselves - be it time, be it talent, be it support - because they believe the see something in me.  Something that sometimes I claim I do not see.

I had never thought of this so clearly before.  But strikes a chord in me.  Just like giving a gift to someone that does not care insults the giver, so does my lack of dedication - in all of its forms - insult those that have seen and invested in me.

It is a humbling - and purifying - thought.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Lone Pine

Frozen in fire,
the pine cones hang in the sky,
denied their purpose

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Speed of Travel As Measured By Foot

Over the course of our hike my brother in law (he keeps showing up here, so he is hereby dubbed "The Outdoorsman" from now on) and I did a total of about 28.8 miles of direct hiking to get to and from our destination over three days.  We broken it into two days of 7-8 mile hikes and a single return of 12.8 miles.

How long, I wondered as I trudged along, does it take one to hike?

Timewise of course it varies.  The first day we made 7 miles in about 5 hours, but that was with a 1.4 mile almost vertical (at points) hike up a grade at the end of the day (the first time in a long time my legs have felt shaky at the end of the day).  The second day we made the same distance more or less in 3.25 hours, but that was due to rolling hills along a ridgeline rather than climbing slopes.  The third day - the return - it took us 6 hours and 10 minutes to make it all the way back (note these times are inclusive of things like rest stops, snack breaks, and lunch where required).

But how long, I wondered, does it really take.

Hiking - at least the few times I have done it - is endlessly fascinating to me on the mental side.  At some point in the hike one realizes that one has to keep going.  If one turns back early one loses the progress and once one has arrived, there is no way back except to come out the way that one came in:  by foot.  As a result, my mind set has to shift a great deal - after all, even in this hike we are discussing 3 to 6 hours of time which may be spattered by conversation but is largely conducted in silence.  Thoughts in the mind like "Are we there yet?" or "How much have we come since the last signpost?" are as counterproductive as they are annoying (let alone if you start verbalizing them to your hiking party.  You may end up "lost"...).

From the little I have read on the subject, this is a reality for long distance runners and ultramarathoners as well:  how does one keep the mind engaged (and on what) as one pounds through the miles and hours of going across distances?  

For me, it seems to become almost a form of moving Zen.

A lot of attention is paid to the trail, of course, especially if one needs to pay attention to one's footing or, if I am headed up hill, to the placement of the hiking poles as I pull myself up.  I look at the trail - after all, am I not here to see the scenery?  I am walking through it.  I look for things that I usually do not see, like wildflowers that are new or odd plant and rock formations or even vistas.  But other than that, I find that I am largely in the movement of moving through the landscape, sweating or shivering as called for, grateful for the shade and breeze in the heat when they come or the sun on the colder moments when I can step into it.

For me at least, I end up thinking a lot as well.  The genesis of this post was on the trail, as are the genesis of a number of others (all noted in my phone before they slipped away).  But interestingly, what I did not think about - once - was what I was missing at work or (more than idly) how far we had to get or when the next break was.  In that sense there was no "then" or "other", there was only the "now".

So what is the speed of travel as measured by foot?  What it has always apparently been, it seems:  one foot at a time in a timeless sense where there is neither truly arrival or departure, merely the space between each step.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Back From Hiking

 Well, we did not die.

Total hike was around 30 miles spread over 3 days, 5,545 ft elevation gain by the time we went up and down (numerous times).  Temperatures got up to 85 F during the day, which made for some not quite pleasant portions of the day to be hiking through.  That said, other than some spots where I missed sunscreen and a bit of a chafing issues (something to deal with next month), we had a very good hike.  A few pictures will have to suffice for now.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Vacations That Change Us

 Ed over at Riverbend Journal has been re-publishing a series he wrote some years ago about taking a trip in a dory down the Grand Canyon.  It is a well written set of writings (with pictures!), and certainly brings up memories of my own trip last year.  As I continue to read into his saga, what becomes apparent (to me at least) is that for him, this was the sort of trip that was a life changing experience, not just an "average" vacation.

Which brought another question to my mind:  what life changing experience vacations have I had?

In some ways all vacations are somewhat life changing, even if in the sense that after one completes the vacation, one feels a little more relaxed and stress free (Hopefully.  There is nothing worse than coming back from a vacation and feeling worse than when you left).  And at least for me, I would argue that most vacations are enjoyable, but not the sort of things that I look back on thinking "I am different now than when I left".  

But some were.  And so, in not really in any particular order (other than perhaps chronological), here are the vacations that actually changed me.

1)  Japan, 1978:  My vacations growing up largely consisted of two areas:  the coast, where we go camping, and Montana, where my maternal grandparents had a summer cabin.  So in 1978 when my parents took us to Japan, it was completely different (my maternal uncle was stationed there at the time).  Not only was it my first experience in a completely different culture (and as much as anything else, fueled my interest in things Japanese that is with me to this day), it was the year Star Wars came out in Japan.  There was nothing more amazing than being at the perfect age to appreciate the novelty of merchandise that was not at all available in the US.

2)  Japan, 1997:  My second visit, this time with The Ravishing Mrs. TB (as the saying goes, "When we were cool before we had children").  In this case we largely stayed with another relative (a cousin stationed in Japan).  We managed to make our way to some major cities - Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara - as well as north through Tohoku to the island of Hokkaido - completely on our own using the train system.   It was a great confidence builder, as well as the fact that we completely had to get by on my relatively bad Japanese and what English others knew.

3)  Montana, 2016: 

As mentioned above, we had made many trips to Montana growing up. What was different about this one was the fact that I drove with Na Clann from New Home to the Cabin (two day trip) without The Ravishing Mrs. TB (she had to work, so she flew up for a shorter time).  We went to many of the usual places we had always gone - Lewis and Clark Caverns, Yellowstone - but also places I had never been like Butte and Little Big Horn- which was immensely powerful to me and was one of those moments that history really "came alive". It was also one of the few times there was a driving trip that was just me and Na Clann. (Entries are in Late July/early August, 2016)

4)  Japan, 2018:  

Specifically going to train at Katsuura in Iaijutsu.  This was the culmination of 9 years of practicing the art. Going to Japan to train with one's headmaster was both intimidating and amazing, all at the same time. And meeting other students from all around the world - and realizing that in a very real way, training in Iaijutsu was not being "alone" no matter how isolated the dojo seemed - was an experience I had never had before.  I have been back to train in 2019 and 2020 (before The Plague, of course - hopefully next year!), but there was something about that first early morning, stepping into the large dojo with the temperatures in the mid forties, that can never be replicated. (Entries are in February, 2018)

5)  Iceland, 2018:  

Going to Iceland was the culmination of a interest that had occurred in the late 1980's, when I read the book Njal's Saga and was deeply moved by it; almost 30 years later, I finally got to go.  Beyond just seeing historical locations, like standing at Þingvellir  (the traditional Icelandic Parliament location from 1000 years ago, and where Njal himself spoke), the views are such that one cannot help but leave changed by the desolation and emptiness. (Entries are in September 2018)

6)  Grand Canyon, 2021: 

If you had told me that I would hike down and back out of the Grand Canyon prior to 2021, I would have laughed at you.  Long and hard.  But having done it, I realized that a great many of the proscriptions and limitations I feel are simply  proscriptions and limitations that I put on myself rather than anyone else putting them onto me.  I certainly left there with a greater sense of self confidence. (Entries are in November 2021)

What were the vacations that changed you?

Friday, May 13, 2022

Gone Hiking

Responses this weekend will be a bit delayed, as I have Gone Hiking.

Well, in fairness it is more "Gone Training Hiking".  My brother in law (he of The Grand Canyon adventure last year) and I are planning on an 8 day hike this August.  Beyond just the usual "train more", he and I are making a series of three day training hikes leading up to August (besides I need to burn some PTO or lose it).

With any luck, we will be completely excluded from cell phone coverage (so work cannot find me - or more appropriately, so that I will not be tempted to check my e-mail).  I am hopeful that where we are going will give us some beautiful pictures and allow me to refocus a little bit.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

A Prayer Request For Nighean Gheal


I am coming with my hat in hand again for your prayers.  In this case it is for our oldest daughter, Nighean Gheal.

As is probably often typical in this situations, I cannot speak a great deal into the situation, other then she would really benefit from some sustained prayer.  If anything, for healing and wisdom.

Thank you.

Your Obedient Servant, Toirdhealbheach Beucail

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

On "Trying To Make Sense"

 Ed from Riverbend Journal has become something of a fixture around here, for which I am grateful - not only for his comments but his eternal optimism (his job title, granted by myself, as "The Resident Optimist" is certainly not a high paying one but is much appreciated).   He is an excellent writer and if you do not already read him, I certainly commend him to your attention.

Thus it was with a growing sense of sadness that I read his most recent post, Trying To Make Sense.  He relates that a young woman, a cousin who had visited him and his family last year (I recall the visit as he wrote of it) had gone missing and then was found.  It was in fact a suicide.

I leave it to Ed to describe their thoughts and situations; their story is not mine to tell.  But it does make me reflect a bit on suicide in general.

I know depression in a way many others do not; for me the black clouds that cling to the mind and body are old acquaintances.  At one time - in my late teen age years - I was very much depressed, so much so that I professed an interest in "not going on".  In my case it was a cry for help, and it did change many things, including the relationship I had with TB the Elder (less so my mother).  It cycled through over the next few years as I went back and forth between colleges and relationships, never quite fitting in with where I was  at the time.

I know depression.  I know the grinding heaviness of day after day without anything ever seeming to get better or improve - and no hope that it will improve at all. I cannot speak for everyone that deals with this as it is not the sort of thing we readily compare notes about; I do know that from what I read, a lack of hope comes across as one of the defining characteristics of those that make the choice. A lack of hope and existence of pain seemingly so endless and consuming that something - anything - seems less of a risk.

Ed says it far more eloquently than I: "Her last stop had been at a 7/11 where she purchased something before driving to some pay for parking lot somewhere and ending her life.  I would be at that 7/11 waiting for her if I could, just to let her know it will get better."

Although I suspect that the bulk of my readers are not in the younger set, I would remiss in saying that my e-mail address is over there on the right.  I check it at least once a day.  And I bet if something was posted in the comments here, there would be more than an outpouring of support - I know my audience that well, at least.

  National Suicide Prevention Hotline


Tuesday, May 10, 2022

A Dwindling Of Hours

 Last month I had a birthday - not one of the Big Birthdays ending in a "0", but one of the intermediate ones.  Significant enough that for some reason, I have been in a funk ever since.

It is not like anything has changed, of course.  Just because the day advanced and thus the year, it is not as if everything  has completely end.  My body did not magically fall apart.  My skill set seems to be as useful as it ever was.

And yet, inside of me, it feels as if something has changed.

Part of it, I suspect, is the hard realization we all come to when not only are we heading downhill, but we are picking up speed.  And yes, while in theory life could end at the end of the post (hopefully not; I still have other things to do), the statistical and historical gene pool suggest I have 25 or 30 more years, if I am lucky.  

If you look at it, it is not really a lot of time.

But even that does not seem to be the real issue.  What seems to be nagging at my soul is if I have spent - and will spend - my life in the correct way.

The past is gone, of course, and whatever has happened there has happened.  That time, energy, resources, etc. can never be recaptured.  But in the relatively dwindling future - somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 hours not inclusive of leap years of course, which might get me another 200 hours or so - I still have choices and options.  Am I making the most of those?

It becomes like doing an inventory of your house, except with your interests and your time:  What do I have in this closet or drawer?  What am I doing with it?  Why did I buy it in the first place?  Do I really need to keep it?  Will I use it again?

We always have a predisposed bias towards that which we have invested in, the "sunk cost".  Sometimes the sunk cost can have involve years of our lives and thousands of hours (let alone money).  Knowing what we know now, do we still continue to invest in them?  And what about those things that we have clung to for years and years, ways we have defined ourselves - "I am a writer, I am an athlete, I am a <fill in the blank>" - yet we never seem to make much progress.  Does there come point where our ability to progress is obvious to everyone but ourselves?

As usual, I do not really have answers to any of this - although to be frank with you, looking at that amount of hours left is shocking to me.  All I do know is that pretend or not, life continues to move on (and dwindle, in this case) and too often we feel we have all the time in the world.

Sunday, May 08, 2022

2022 Garden And Redneck Raised Bed Update

I have been remiss in getting my Spring (almost Summer now) garden in, what with the rain and traveling and staying busy - we literally went from the end of Spring to Summer in a week.  But I had a late start to Iaijtustu class yesterday, so I made some time.

As an update, The Redneck Raised Bed is going well.  If you look just beyond the neighbor's squash plant growing through the fence...

You will see the friendly little sweet potato sprouts.  This is promising.  And the watering situation seems to be very effective.

In terms of the rest of the garden, this is what we have (tomatoes and peppers have already been planted):

First thing was to pull up the green onions (I honestly thought they were garlic):

This year's line up:  Black eyed peas, Soybeans, Lemon Cucumbers, Daikon Radishes, Valencia Onions and Mill Creek Onions (from seed; not a lot of expectation there); Okra, Royal Burgundy Bush Beans; Calypso Dry Beans, Lemon Cucumbers, Sugar Drip Sorghum, and a new corn variety, Bloody Butcher (I refuse to not prove I can grow corn here and will continue to rotate varieties):

I got everything into the ground except the Calypso Beans and the Sugar Sorghum , as the Wheat and Rye I planted has not completed the drying process.  Sorghum grows very well here so no worries there.  

As you may remember last year, I took Leigh Tate's most excellent solution of using Ollahs, sealed clay pots, as localized watering points.  These worked okay, but I still had issues with overall dryness. I fully intend to exploit the ollahs again this year, but am also rigging a watering system (hereby called The Redneck Sprinkler System) for daily watering - especially with going back to The Ranch one week out of every four, it just seems like a lower risk overall (yes, I know I am hitting the walkway.  Working on it). It also hits that back section, which now frees that up for a big more usage.  I currently have mint there and it loves the moisture.  I enjoy mint for the odor and the plant itself, so it makes me happy:

The one issue is the spot right under the sprinkler: It is dry (the former sprinkler I was using - which was actually pretty effective - they no longer seem to make.  Trying the other Big Box store today to see what they have).

 In terms of expanding the garden, I am counting the Redneck Raised Bed as my expansion (really, wasted space otherwise).  I think I can make more progress with more intensely gardening the area that I have.