Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Collapse CIII: Surfaces

22 May 20XX+1

My Dear Lucilius:

Today I took a walk down The Road.

As you may remember I was asked to be some kind of “Watcher” for the section of road that passes by my house. It is the main road through town and I am on the Northern end as it works its way to two smaller communities and then the larger community for this area. I was selected (I suspect) based simply on the fact that I was adjacent and I seemed somewhat responsible.

It is an easy job of course as there is virtually no traffic: the occasional local citizen walking to or from town or, as happened recently, an influx due to Market Day. Otherwise the road remains empty.

I try to take a walk out to the bridge across the small creek at least once a week if not more. Getting out is good for my health of course and at a four mile round trip, it is a good stretch. And there is some value of walking a piece of land or property to come to know it. After all, such knowledge could be useful in odd circumstances which I often do not like to contemplate.

Walking as I did today, I suddenly realized that ordinarily we would be well into the season of Road Repair and Maintenance, where highway crews would be busily patching up damage from the previous Winter and working to knock down growth along the side of the roads to manage fire danger. Which, of course, made me look down at The Road.

In some of the old science fiction novels I read as a youth – Philip Jose Farmer’s Dark Is The Sun or Andre Norton’s Daybreak: 2250 A.D., the roads of the Ancients provide a link to a civilization past, sometimes the only link in a wasteland otherwise empty. The surfaces are marvels to the individuals of that time: how did The Ancients make their roads so straight and smooth? What sorts of things must have traveled on them? What are they made of? Who were they?


We take modern surfaces for granted, Lucilius: the ridged top of a roadway, the smooth sheen of a painted surface, the glide of plastic or manufactured metal. These are things that are so ubiquitous that we no longer take them for granted. In the Old World, materials that were substantially textured were novelties – “rustic” or “rural” – novelties very often for décor or art purposes only.

I have enough paint – Barn Red and Forest Green – to cover The Cabin for my lifetime likely (those handy 5 gallon buckets (it was cheap and The Cabin is low enough for even I on a ladder to paint). But I have no blacktop or equipment to apply it, nor does anyone I know. The machines to do such things are likely locked up in maintenance sheds for a Winter that will never see a Spring. The materials themselves lie somewhere in a yard without transport or individuals to transport it.

Take that one item – blacktop – and extend it to every surface I have mentioned. The results are all the same: even if in some cases small things can be maintained or even made, the vast majority of them will degrade. Soon enough, we will be a society of the rough and ragged, not the smooth and planed.

I wonder, Lucilius, what our descendants will say of us?

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca


  1. Nylon123:36 AM

    Don't see the asphalt roads lasting the length of time that the Roman roads did. Vegetation is patient and always there.

    1. I do not foresee them lasting that long either Nylon12 - Good Heavens, they can barely seem to last 5 years around here.

  2. Anonymous4:08 AM

    Our county two lane 'Blue Highways' are very rarely re-paved and sometimes plants begin growing in the roadside cracks. Road damage from when Oil Fracking Boom Tractor Trailers were very common - these two laners weren't made for that heavy traffic.

    Than consider bridge culverts and areas were placed where water crossed. When they finally plug up, the water crossing the road surfaces will do great damage.

    Sign posts and even the signs themselves will become stripped out and taken for repairs or new structures. McMansions by then will be abandoned or larger groups will take it for their home base.

    1. I had not even thought of culverts and water crossings, but this year's storms give a great indication of how quickly things would turn back if not regularly maintained.

      At least in the US, we have a lot of deferred maintenance that would rapidly make itself evident as well.

  3. Paint is an interesting subject. In history paint was mainly used for decoration often religious in nature (even anti-evil spirits stuff was religious).

    Most Ancient buildings we observe were made of materials like stone and needed little protection from weathering.

    Roman roads were so well built that Patton used them to bypass the Germans in Italy. I understand some of the aqueducts that Rome built were STILL providing water to Rome in the 50's.

    Only recently in historical nature has expensive buildings of import were built using non-stone materials. The Mc Mansion comes to mind as well as a fair part of the White House once burned by the British in On August 24, 1814, during the War of 1812 between the United States and England, British troops enter Washington, D.C. and burn the White House in retaliation for the American attack on the city of York in Ontario, Canada, in June 1813.

    In the past cheap dwellings of the peasants were constantly maintained or fell into disrepair and disappeared. Not a lot of paint used to preserve them.

    Today paint is mainly to decorate or preserve buildings and structures from weathering and rust.

    1. Michael, the fact that we still cannot in all cases recreate Roman achievements speak to their genius. Recently I read an article that somehow, the Romans discovered what is effectively self-healing concrete.

      Historically you are quite correct: Most homes were built of local materials and disappeared without a trace, especially in the countryside. And with the increase in home building especially recently, materials that are not fully dried/aged are being used.

      One wonders if we will begin to see what we see in China: Huge constructed cities, devoid of inhabitants, graveyard of a civilization.

    2. As I know you don't like graphic ugliness, I expect far worse given what I witnessed in Bosnia and various 3rd world troubled zones.

      Given the acceptance of "Mostly Peaceful but fiery Protests"...

    3. Michael, as always I appreciate your abiding by the rules. That said, Bosnia and even more recently Sudan show what such things can bring. Which is why I always cringe at calls to somehow "start something". History is replete with the lessons about why that is a very bad idea.

  4. Interesting contemplations. Every society speculates about remnants of the past, I suppose. It's an interesting pastime.

    Of maintenance, I think we tend to take it for granted, especially when nothing's required on our personal part and we rarely witness it taking place. But every created thing, whether roadways or gardens, require maintenance.

    1. Leigh - There is an Anglo-Saxon Poem called "The Ruin" in which the poet sees the ruins of the Roman Baths at the British city of Bath and compares them. One wonders, for example, what the Greeks of the Archaic period thought when they looked upon the Mycenean ruins around them - were they built by giants?

      I am not nearly as good at maintenance as I need to be and am working on it as a goal.


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