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