Desperately Seeking Solace


  • My friends and I are now late sixties, early seventies, and we have generally accepted that each day represents borrowed time.  There are too many reminders to ignore.  Our role models mostly long gone, well-known public personalities dying unexpectedly, relatives and those we loved afflicted terribly or vanished. 
  • Intellectually all lives are borrowed time.  Logically, we accept that we are mortal.  But viscerally, we expect to live at least one more day, one more year, one more always.  As personal times become more ominous, we often project our own fate onto the larger world, and see it crumbling like our own memories.
  • Solace is easily found in this wonderful abundant culture.  Food, leisure, warmth, distraction abound even for those of few means, and for those with even slight affluence the daily feasts and entertainments are far better than those of any ancient emperors.  But nagging thoughts curdle occasionally.  Our importance has generally shrunk, we are often ignored, sometimes in the way, tolerated or taken for granted.  We shrink active spheres to grandchildren or volunteerism, all noble, but not world-changing in the ways we thought of affecting the universe when we were twenty.
  • I get out with the sun and wind, listen to birds and waves, smile at passerbys in their hassled rush, enjoy the screams and laughs of children.  The news on various media is one vast soap opera. 
  • Life remains good.  I adjust my mind.  Borrowed time, like borrowed money, can be a useful commodity.


  • Compared to chattering civilization, nature seems secure and stately.  Hills and trees do not move, vistas seem wrapped in eternity, birds follow ancient scripts of activity and migration, seasons progress without variation year to year.  That perspective is comforting, but false.  Sand cliffs along the sound are eroding rapidly, even without the frequent incursion of humans, hills themselves are cut by streams, vistas disappear from view as forest grows larger, and the most ancient and massive trees eventually fall.  Bird patterns are harder to determine, but mixes and ranges of species change all the time.
  • The biologic term for rapid change in the global environment is “punctuated equilibrium.”  As long as things remain relatively steady, there is an orderly progression of life into various niches.  But on occasion, probably including the period we are living through, there are immediate far-reaching losses and opportunities.  After the nearly tropical winter we have been experiencing, I begin to wonder if in a decade we may see palm trees lining the harbors here.  Extinctions are numerous.  Great chunks of ecology have been erased _ particularly isolated pockets of uniqueness _ but vast common opportunities such as city and suburb have been opened up.  I try to accept all that without too much sadness, just as I try to remember vanished ancient social patterns of my youth without regret.


  • It can’t happen here.  It won’t happen here
  • It might happen here.


  • We are now in the midst of the Bannon administration.  The president is an ignorant bitter old miser, who enjoys performing mean-spirited stand-up comedy.  Some see Steve Bannon as Hitler, he sees himself as Savonarola. I view him as Rasputin.
  • He’s beefing up ICE, a massive centralized police force answering to no one, which can act without warrants on mere suspicion, arrest people without cause, hold presumed-guilty arrestees indefinitely in concentration camps _ oops, make that “detention centers” _ until they can prove their innocence, ship the “guilty” off to probable death.   Probably soon all non-citizens will be required to wear some badge such as a yellow star when they are in public.  He encourages neighbors to report neighbors, just as Stalin-era children were encouraged to report parents.
  • In Russia, in 1913, nobody could foresee that in ten years they would be in the middle of a communal experiment, that another decade would bring mass famine and gulag slavery.  In Weimar German, few suspected that in ten years they would be living in a terrorist dictatorship, nor that a decade later everything would lie in ruins all around them.  Societies can change faster than we think.
  • Bannon has massively armed private armies _ oops, make that “citizen militias” _ that he can muster to clear the streets of opposition.  He screams epithets at immigrants and other scapegoat groups to direct the anger of his alt-right followers towards a simple reason for their troubles and failures.  He publicly declares that he wants to destroy everything that has made America the beacon of the world following World War II.  He performs his black-magic rites and whispers evil persistently into the empty shell of his nominal ruler.
  • It can happen here.  It is happening here.


  • Late winter salt marsh lies dormant and soggy, under heavy skies, continually filled with the salty pump of the tides.  A quiet place, abandoned even by waterfowl.  In another month, standing in this spot will become uncomfortable with clouds of gnats, to be followed by swarms of mosquitoes, but right now insects bide their time in winter storage.  So there are on
    ly patterns of color, contrasts of blue and brown, interesting reflections and rotting signs of older usage such as fence posts along the drainage ditches.
  • People too are absent this afternoon.  I have as much solitude as is possible in this little overcrowded corner of the Northeast.  I’m grateful for such unexpected moments, which I didn’t even know I needed until they came upon me.  Away from the worries, and the hassles, and the chatter, I can imagine that the world goes on calmly as always, that it is greater than me and my trivial concerns, that the sheer mass of what exists can overcome transient stupidity.  Easy to believe, alongside this marsh.  Doubts will return as I head home.


Starlings have swept into the backyard like a ravaging horde, emptying the bird feeders in less than an hour, thick in the trees, making a terrific unmusical racket.  “Karl, hey Karl!  What’s been going on?” shouts one glistening blue-black marauder to another.
“Usual, usual.  Clogging old maple trees in town, coating the cars underneath with well-placed shots, making patterns in the sky.  Been a good winter.”
“Sure has.  I don’t think I’ve been hungry an hour.”
“And cold?  No cold.  Why, this is almost as good as my aunt Burga describes Rome itself.”
“Ah, they’re always talking about the old country, aren’t they?”
“We’re just as good here, this season.  Wow, these idiots put out some kind of spread, don’t they?”
“Hey! You!!  Get out of here!!!” screams Wilhelm, jerking menacingly towards a terrified chickadee trying to grab a seed.  “Stupid little things act like they own the place.”

The flock takes up the common squawk,  and as the din reaches a crescendo, all wing off together to see if there might be more fun somewhere else.


Each twelve hours, more or less
Surging tides relentlessly
Smooth sand shores with waves blown free
Leave no signatures to guess
What went before, to touch smell see
My random shards of memory
Resist oblivion’s soft process
No simple tale for history’s key
Like flashing ripples of bright sun
May blind my eyes but quickly done
Nevermore exactly run
Identical, yet ceaselessly

All transient in time’s caress

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