Ragged Edges


  • Days quite warm, evenings may require a sweater.  Trees lush full green, yellow orange red tinges peeking here or there.  Half the annual wildflowers and weeds are brown, ragged, and dry while the rest are showing signs of becoming the same.  Harvest is producing more than anyone can eat, but already production is falling and soon crops will be complete.
  • Alone amidst life on earth (and possibly anywhere) humans are blessed and cursed by being able to imagine the future, doubly so by being able to communicate those visions to others.  That results in our grandest triumphs and most despicable disasters.  As we project and plan what might be, we crowd the beaches and waterways today, imagining the harsh weather to come.  I worry about food, shelter, age, children, civilization, my house and a thousand other notions great and small.  But my anchor of sanity remains this particular, and most glorious, today.


Old man sits alone
Feeding flocks of pigeons,

He is Emperor


  • Hard to tell exactly what these are, but they demonstrate the principal of the season.  Fluffy carriers bearing seeds have almost all been dispersed by the wind.  Parent plant has done its duty and now simply awaits rain and other elements to recycle it back whence it came.  There are more and more of these remnants every day, contradicting the humid heat and brilliant sunlight which seem to claim nothing happening
  • As in spring, each hard look at anything is a revelation.  Trees that appear green actually are yellowing _ the very hues of entire landscapes have changed.  We tend to focus on dramatic foliage of fall, but that has begun already, even in deepening greens of evergreens.  I seek not to rush the seasons, but to notice the more subtle marvels that keep me more interested than hurried glances would provide.     


September afternoon nearing ninety, even here along the beach, smoggy trees on the shoreline opposite as powerboats race and sailboats add notes of grace.  We’re just cooled off from a dip, dripping in old cloth chairs.  Children speaking all languages laugh and screech, adults yell and jabber, a polyglot happy crowd.
“Don’t see why they can’t control their kids,” complains Joan, as she does frequently.  “We knew how to teach our own how to behave.”
“Too many lower classes, all over,” adds Marge.  “Too many, too poor, nothing like when we grew up.”  Another constant refrain.
“Well, when we grew up it was _ what _ 2 billion or so.  Now at 7 and climbing.  Problems to be expected,” says Jim.
“Our son,” I note, “expects a plague to wipe out just about everyone.  And my investment counselor is constantly worried about global worldwide collapse.”
“No wonder, with younger generations like these coming along to try to take over.” Marge slaps at a greenhead fly.
“Born again expect the rapture, a lot of nut religions expect the final apocalypse any moment.”
“But Bill,” I reply, “almost everyone everywhere has expected some immanent end of everything at any given moment.  For at least a few thousand years.”
“And some of them were right!” exclaims Marge.
“Of course,” I gesture around at numerous clumps of aged beachgoers, “we elders could solve a lot of the problem by just dying off like we used to.”

“Don’t know about all that,” Joan adjusts her sunglasses.  “All I know is I can’t stand the yelling.”


  • Hard to call rain a “ragged edge”, especially when this island is running a ten inch annual deficit.  Besides, everyone is back at school or work or shopping, all safely indoors, so who cares?  Somehow, there remains a strange distaste for people to get wet from rain, even though they happily take a shower each morning and swim whenever they please.
  • I care less, especially if it is warm.  These days, I just throw on a poncho and walk in my own little shell, like one of those hermit crabs down on the tidal sands.  Heavy rain, mist and clouds form a welcome variation sometimes on clear hot skies unending.  Unless this weather should overstay its welcome, of course.


  • Many claim the American Empire, like that of the Romans, is in decline and fall.  Intellectuals cite Edward Gibbon,  common folks center on movies of bread and circuses and lonely last legions.  People seem to think that we may lapse into dictatorship overnight, that within twenty years all that we are and have stood for will have disappeared, that lonely peasants will pass ignorant days fearing the howls of wolves in the encroaching forest.
  • Like the American Empire, Rome took centuries to rise.  The Republic had already conquered the Mediterranean and most of Western Europe.  The century before Augustus was filled with bloody slave revolts (Spartacus) and bloody “temporary” dictators (Sulla, Pompey) and bloody Senate infighting.  All Caesar and Augustus (both from Patrician families) did was formalize the changes that had already happened and make the government manageable again.  But the change from Republic to Empire was not instantaneous, not at all like, for example, Hitler.
  • The Roman Empire also took its time falling.  It lasted 450 years in almost full vigor in the West, over a thousand while shrinking in Constantinople in the East.  Pax Romana was mostly welcome, with relatively light 5% effective taxes, cohesion that encouraged trading wealth, and secure stability for its citizens (not so much for its huge slave population, of course.)
  • Those causes of the fall?   There were bread and circuses, to be sure, although the bread was more part of the salary of the lower level bureaucracy and merchants, while the circuses were often exemplary executions of condemned criminals and war prisoners.  What ended up really hurting (in addition to trying to control so vast an area with Roman numeral arithmetic and horse-speed communications) were incursions of barbarians who had learned Roman tactics and technology, driven by drying climate change.  A plague that may have killed a quarter of the Empire’s population in the early 400’s didn’t help.  And after the fall, much of the basic culture hung around, preserved in small feudal kingdoms and the increasing networks of the church.  
  • Gibbon himself blamed a different prime cause: the fundamentalist superstitious Christian religion, which made people concentrate on their spiritual future rather than secular present.
  • Certainly, America will decline and fall.  How, when, over how much time, for what reason, and what its legacy will be must be left to future historians, not to silly shallow authors peddling dark fantasies or ignorant immoral politicians who would claim the Earth is flat if that delivers a few more votes. 


  • Rain has finally arrived, psychologically terminating deep summer with clouds and a major drop in temperatures, especially at night.  Already boats flee the water, beaches are emptied, tasks of preparation (like getting out snow blowers, cleaning gutters, checking heating systems) are being contemplated.  Soon enough there will be leaves to rake and outdoor furniture to protect.  Yet, for all that, it is still summer, still warm, and when the sun returns there will be sufficient days to visit parks and enjoy long walks in cooler air.
  • For those who truly love seasonal change, and do not pay lip service to it because such changes must be endured, these transitional times are perhaps even more beautiful than the heart of each quarter year.  I find this helps me mark and remember what I have done, place my life and experience into a moving context, and resist the temptation for each day to just be like the last and the next.  With modern convenience, of course, everywhere we live is truly potentially a static meteorological paradise, conditioned by heat and air conditioning in transportation, work, housing, and shopping.  I am an old reactionary, and wander about in my poncho as rain falls and wind blows, a madman among civilized multitudes.

2 thoughts on “Ragged Edges

  1. Love the poetry, especially the rhymed ones. You are good at it. Not so keen on the pure pontificating about life, history, etc. I tend to skip over those. Like much better when you focus on the microcosm and then enlarge the lens. Who are these bombastic people you are hanging out with? Some of their remarks are funny, but more pontificating is not funny. Was shocked to see an actual picture of you (feeding the pigeons). Bob and I got a good laugh at that one coupled with your poem. Henceforth we will refer to you as Emporer!


  2. No real disagreements. Perhaps I shall get better. Sometimes, I feel a need to stretch a bit, pontificating or not, and see what I can work out. I admit that this blog has the feel of unpublished notebooks, but that seems to be the nature of the age and medium. Take it as a box of chocolates and feel free to ignore the ones that don't appeal to you.


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