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Dave and Anke
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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The View from Cold Mountain


Maddy's Camp 
from Cold Mountain, the movie

The mountains look in horror on the madness of the plains.

-- Roger Zelazny

You look at nature. Bird flies somewhere, picks up a seed, shits the seed out, plant grows. Bird's got a job, shit's got a job, seed's got a job. You got a job.

-- Maddy, from Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

The View from Cold Mountain

Somewhere on the slopes of Cold Mountain, high above the madness of the plains, there lived from a wagon an old woman and her goats.

Or so goes a tale told of another time. Of another bout of madness.

A  refugee from that madness - dying by degrees from a grevious wound - is treated by her skill and kindness. He is set back on his road home with a chance to find and face what awaits him.

Had she lived below, among her fellows, that madness would have swept over her. Maybe she'd have been caught in it, and clamored for the blood of them others. Or maybe she'd have been overwhelmed by it, drowned in its flood or burned by its fire. Or maybe she would have kept her footing, surviving to see the bleak aftermath as the madness settled back to dark mutterings.

What did she feel, looking down from her height. Horror, certainly.

And pity, likely.

Were she younger, at least than she was, she might have felt a tug, too. To do something. To get in there and pull in some direction or another, shoulder-to-shoulder with others. To fight the good fight. To attempt change in whatever direction she felt was right.

But had she descended to the plains, she would have been swept by its madness. The good she was able to do in her story was only possible because she had kept far from the madness of crowds. 

I think it's no small question... what to do in a time of madness?


Picture a river, a canoe upon it and all of us packed in. 

There's supposed to be a waterfall up ahead... stands to reason, but no one has seen it. Some say it's a hoax. Some that it's still many miles on. Some say they can hear it. Some try to warn their fellow passengers.

All the while, the river flows ever faster.

But resources are running low in the canoe, and squabbling for control of them has led to blows. Holes are being punched through the hull, if you can believe it! Few have ears to hear, or time to look up from the fray.

Let's say you are one who hears the thunder of the falls.

Do you do what you can onboard? Do you leap overboard? Do you bother to swim for some kind of shore?

If you stay aboard, surely, you will end up over the falls.

If you leap overboard and do not swim, your journey is over before its time.

But if you leap and swim, you may be ashore to help another from the water.


Leap and swim... this has been our choice. 

Not a moral or courageous choice, nor yet a coward's. Merely one that follows from how we view the sweep of recent history. And I'm talking since agriculture.

Our cold archipelago is our Cold Mountain. Our boat is our wagon. The flora and fauna of these lands and waters our life bearing goats. We are gaining in knowledge and skills to share. And we love it. 

While we know that our bank may too crumble - that we are yet imperiled by the cataract. At least from here we can hold out a hand to those who get themselves in reach.

Do you hear the falls?


  1. Replies
    1. Hi M,

      You jumpin'? Or sittin' tight?

      Best of luck to ye, either way.

      Dave Z

  2. Posted on behalf of JOHN:

    I was tentatively pessimistic at the outbreak of COVID, but am less so now. Even if a couple million people in the US die of COVID it's not likely to totally trash the economy. Unfortunately, a lot of people will have their financial lives upended by job losses. After the election, and for sure after the inauguration if Biden wins, there may be more serious attempts from the Federal Government to aid people and businesses. If we get an effective and widely distributed COVID vaccine by the end of 2021 it will do much to get the economy back on its feet. At this point my bet is that we are still quite far from the "falls."

    1. Hi John,

      I wish I could share your optimism.

      In systemic terms, we have been accelerating toward the falls - COVID or no - simply by indulging in exponential growth within a finite system. We have been seeing significant failures of (so far) sub-critical elements of the world system for decades.

      Specifically, I believe that falling EROEI (Energy Return On Energy Invested) is depriving the world economy of more and more 'surplus' energy. The kind that goes into public infrastructures and lifts most from poverty.

      Easy Energy, that famous 'rising tide that floats all ships' is, I believe, now permanently on the ebb, and those anchored near the shore are going aground. The historical reaction has been a decisive turn to the right, which we're seeing again, this time worldwide.

      COVID, a predicated consequence of human growth and consequent habitat destruction (Nassim Taleb calls it "the whitest of swans imaginable") is one symptom among many. It's a doozy, however... we appear to have made it past overwhelming healthcare systems, for now. But it's a huge and unprecedented shock to the global economy, whose consequences are unfolding at historically rapid rates. Effects are indeed cascading... it remains to be seen if a (catastrophic) tipping point will be reached.

      So I dunno. I can't say we're at the falls, but we've jumped, swum and stand ashore (on our crumbly bank) and wring our hands for all in that canoe.

      Dave Z

      PS... sorry for the mixed metaphors!