I’m not particularly old school. There are any number of modern conveniences that I use and enjoy and as I’ve mentioned before in these pages, nothing beats modern pain killers and dental care–an option not enjoyed by the Lakota in The Moon of the Cracking Trees on the great plains, where they hovered by tiny fires in a buffalo hide tipi–light years away from emergency rooms or even basic antibiotics. I’m willing to bet a shot of morphine or a course of penicillin would have gone a long way, in full gratitude, for those folks.
But there is an awful lot of it I can, and prefer, to skip entirely.
I had a 37 minute fight with my cellphone this afternoon, only moments after coming into the house, and after the sheer pleasure of riding my horse into unfamiliar territory out in the woods. She did fine. The phone? Garbage. The horse promises nothing and just keeps delivering. The phone, and the over-hyped plan we pay for, promises the moon and delivers an endless series of frustrations. Blame it on the trees.
After another career, where I was made a slave to this “convenience,” I’m tempted, well nigh inclined, to simply dump the contrivance altogether. Forever. The cell phone is a particularly effective demon, a soul-sucking minion of hell, whispering promises and delivering sludge. And I’m not convinced we are one iota better because of them. That’s an old school response, I suppose, probably dimwitted and ill-considered. But I don’t care. And I also don’t care how many terabytes of excellence they are offering on the re-up plan.
Here on the Figure 8 we take a number of different magazines. We take Outside, the Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, and over the years quite a few others. Our reading options are driven by practicality, and our own commitment to learning how to live well on the planet. The point is, we have a broad intake of information, so I feel confident in my convictions, even as I rail against a regrettable theme I see developing.
Turns out, millenials are now dying their hair gray. Okay. I’m aware that in much of Europe there was once a time it was fashionable for women to color their teeth black–it was the absolute zenith of haute couture, but still, let’s face it, that’s a bizarre flourish in the genetically driven effort to secure a full dance card. The millennial clan, so utterly devoid of depth, or breadth, have resorted to gray hair as a desperate stab at the right to be taken seriously. I realize that getting upset over fashion is an epic fail, but I’m ranting, and I’ll blame it on the refuge I so weakly sought in a stout rum and coke after the cell phone episode.
I have long believed, particularly after a career in law enforcement, that much of life is simply a matter of avoiding the various cultural tar pits. I think its getting worse. Gray hair? Gray freaking hair? It’s one thing to earn the gray now prodigious in my beard, it’s another thing entirely to break out of the grass at the edge of the watering hole, after a taxing sojourn across the savannah, and see kids spray painting themselves and demanding respect for their vacuous and entirely manufactured curriculum vitae. They were, after all, born at the watering hole.
But there is always hope. I am now deep into the guts of Once An Eagle, and I can tell you this afternoon that this novel is among the finest I have ever read. And, modestly, I have read A LOT of novels. It’s an American tale, through and through, and requires the embrace of certain currently unpopular Americanisms, an embrace which grows more unlikely by the hour as the American University experiment continues its slow decline into moral and ethical lassitude. But read it. As my father used to beg me–bursting into my room and waving a large tome in his hands–Please read this.
Back on the ranch, I have resolved simply to ignore my phone. It’s mostly worthless, and mathematically, I have somehow lived most of my life without one. I have an iPhone 4s, which is already an extinct dinosaur, and I’m seriously considering having it framed. I think I’ll do that, actually, and just park it on the wall beside the photograph of my Missouri relatives. The photograph is a fabulous time piece, as they stand posed in front of their clapboard mansion in the Ozarks, at least one without shoes, resplendent and proud in their overhauls and starched collars. What a fine photograph they made, standing in the dirt calamity of their yard, a gate with no fence, the Civil War still in living memory. These were people who heated smooth river rocks, and lay them at the foot of their feather beds to stay warm at night. They pumped water by hand for the kitchen, and they hunted coons for soup and supper with redbone hounds. For the photo, they hauled out their horses and put on their Sunday best. Then they stood solemnly, proudly, grimly realistic, and without a single hint of manufacture–no spray-on gray hair for this bunch–as the flash-lamp blew and the photographer backed out from his hood. And when it was over I suppose they simply walked away, put the horses up, and got back to work.
I’ll take that for medicine, and the depth of fortitude that went with it. And as the sky goes dark in the treetops tonight, on a day when I started to smell spring in the forest, I’ll probably slam another rum and coke.