Back to School

It appears that our culture, or at least the part of it we have surrendered to a bizarre matrix of electronic communication driven by marketing and politics, has returned to the playground of grammar school days.

That playground could be a cruel place, where facts were irrelevant and bullies sought to gain advantage through taunts and insults. The same is true on our playground today, though the action takes place primarily in the pixel world.

Nevertheless, in our efforts to hurl the most damaging pejoratives, signal the most virtue and collect the most votes, we’ve lost track of the meaning of some important words. Let’s leave the playground for a moment and go back to school where we can review some important definitions.

Racism: Showing or feeling discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or believing that a particular race is superior to another. Xenophobia: Having or showing a dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries. Jingoism: Extreme patriotism, especially in the form of aggressive or warlike foreign policy. Dumb: Tweeting live ammunition to political rivals and uniting their squabbling factions in outrage. Ignorant: Believing that the word “racist” is a universal adhesive that will stick on anyone to whom it is applied. 

When you or I, or a president, tells someone to “go back where they came from,” at face value this is an example, not of racism, but of xenophobia. However, history always bats last in that determination. For example, no one would accuse the American colonists of being racist because they wanted the British to go back where they came from, but if the British had won, the Rebels would have been labeled xenophobic and the Tories would be the “patriots.” This is an example of politics altering language.

There is another definition that is pertinent to our discussion this week: natural. In this case we refer to one of Merriam Webster’s alternate definitions of the word, “occurring in conformity with the ordinary course of nature not marvelous or supernatural.” In a healthy society, social trends and cultural changes begin with individuals and propagate outwards through families and groups to become regional and national. Business and government accommodate the needs and wants of society and support change when it is warranted. This happens “naturally” over the course of time.

In our own time the process has been largely reversed. Thanks to technology, trends and cultural changes are dictated from the top down, disseminated by marketing and mutated by politics; given to a people who too often set aside the ability to steer their own course in exchange for anything that gratifies the senses. They are the pushers, and we are the junkies. Witness the eager, hungry efforts of media to fan the flames of outrage and then monetize it.

I don’t know whether the president is a “racist” or not, and neither do you. For either of us to make that determination about anyone, we would have to be able to discern the contents of their heart and mind. By the time we leave the playground, we should know the difference between judging a person’s behavior and judging the person. We can challenge a person’s behavior and still have a chance for a dialogue, but when we label that person, communication ceases as all parties become positional. This truth seems lost in the collective amnesia of our time.

As for the president’s behavior, the view from the cheap seats leads me to believe that the media and the democrats are still playing Trump’s game, which remains blunt but effective. All he has to do to be re elected is to goad the mainstream democrats into appearing left of center. They may be temporarily united in outrage, but nothing turns out the republican vote like tossing around the kind of pejoratives that are being directed at the president’s supporters with the implication that republicans and conservatives are (insert your insult of choice) because of how they choose to vote. “Basket of deplorables,” anyone? Have the democrats learned anything from the 2016 election?

We need to have a conversation in this country about immigration and about race, but “racist” is not a useful description for anyone we don’t like. The misuse of the word clouds the issue, and it makes people who might one day achieve understanding, defensive and positional when they feel they are being attacked.

I’ll leave you with a couple of “thought experiments” which might be useful for expanding our perspective on the issues. First, let’s consider the Native Americans in the early stages of the exploration of North America by Europeans:

The Native Americans were possessed of unique, sophisticated cultures and languages with many generations of shared history and cultural heritage. As the Europeans came in greater numbers over time, and since most of those settlers were “white,” the Indians wanted very badly for those white folks to go back where they came from, and some were willing to go to war to accomplish that. Were they “racist?” Should they have accepted the disintegration of their heritage and way of life for “diversity” and “inclusiveness?” Some did. They tried to welcome the settlers and later to assimilate to their culture. In the end they fared no better than the ones who resisted.

Second, consider the Obama Administration. Obama’s election was an accomplishment that many of us celebrate as evidence of how far we have progressed as a nation in overcoming racism and prejudice. The Obama Administration deported far more people over the same period of time than the Trump Administration has been able to deport, in spite of Trump’s aggressive rhetoric on the subject. Is this evidence that Obama was actually a racist or a xenophobe?

Finally, does the United States, like the Native Americans, have a unique, sophisticated culture and language? Do we have shared values and generations of shared history and cultural heritage? Or are we just an “idea” and our citizens merely place holders?

We are undoubtedly a nation of immigrants, and that is part of our strength, but we also have a culture that is uniquely our own, and we have a right to maintain it and pass it on to our descendants. We need to find a healthy balance going forward, and that will require a national conversation, understanding, and patience. Conversation is difficult on a playground overrun by bullies.

Woke Up This Morning

I woke up this morning to discover that the cantaloupe on my kitchen counter is rotten on one side and leaking juice. I bought it yesterday at the grocery store. Twenty four hours ago my unfortunate fruit was firm and just at the edge of ripening. The side that is not rotting is still green, but the raccoons will not mind.

Perhaps I read too much science fiction in my youth, but I’m tempted to believe that some grocery stores generate a stasis field in their produce departments which holds fruits and vegetables in a state of apparent freshness until you leave the area. That’s why the strawberries that are bright red and tasty in the store need a shave by the time you get them home.

We’ll come back to the produce department later, because my cantaloupe is a perfect metaphor for the transitional state of politics today. Bear with me.

For most of you reading this, the word “woke” is a verb, an intransitive verb, or the past tense of the infinitive, “to wake,” but every new generation takes ownership of elements of past generations for good or ill. “Woke” is now used by some to refer to social consciousness. To others, the word is a pejorative.

Social movements come and go, and they get recycled under different brand names. Like many of you, I may be prevented by education and experience from being fully “woke.” My social consciousness was inherited from my family, who passed along the Christian ideal that is fundamentally bound to the American character: The belief that in the eyes of God, the soul is colorless and all people are of equal value.

If anyone had bothered to look, gatherings at my family home often resembled one of those “socially engineered” television commercials where all the races and a good selection of the letters of the alphabet are represented. My parents taught us that the only measure of a human being is the quality of their character, and that measure is taken by observing what people do and, for the most part, disregarding what they say.

A few short years ago I would have been able to say, “The only measure of a ‘man’ is the quality of ‘his’ character,” and few would have taken notice of my faux pas in excluding almost half of the human race. I’m “woke” enough to realize the power of the words we choose in shaping the attitudes that lead to actions, and, did you notice? Woke enough to say “almost half” so as not to exclude those who identify as something other than male or female.

The problem, according to the woke paradigm, with the America that many of us grew up in, was that it excluded and marginalized too many people outside the mainstream. I would have to agree with that. Rivers change course, and younger generations replace older ones, and the woke generation is beginning to reach for the rudder.

This is as natural as it is inevitable. But readers of this column will be among the first to appreciate the irony. In reaching for the inclusive and egalitarian ideals of wokeness, many who adhere to these still unripe concepts have become, in word and deed, remarkably similar to that which they condemn.

Instead of attempting to bring the excluded and marginalized into the mainstream and together charting a new course, “wokeness” in many quarters seeks to annihilate the mainstream with an aggressive hostility toward much of our history and heritage, and in particular to anything that it perceives as having been “privileged.”

In this environment of hostile “wokeness” we hear some pretty strange statements. For example, a University of Illinois professor recently stated that mathematics is “racist.” (This might come as a surprise to the ancient Arabs who invented algebra.) Grammar has also been declared racist. Last week we learned that Nancy Pelosi, one of the most liberal Speakers of the House who has ever served in Congress, is also racist because she dares to criticize certain members of Congress “of color.” Her constant criticism of the great white “golden golem of greatness” (thank you, James Howard Kunstler) in the White House, carries no penalty.

I’m waiting for MSNBC to pick up on the fact that former president, Barack Obama, is also racist because the Betsy Ross flag was prominently displayed at his inaugural address.

There is nothing new in this time of dynamic change except for the technology leveraging the anger behind ideals which are in conflict mainly because they are badly communicated. A divisive force is wielded by corporate media, which has monetized anger and fear in its desperate attempt to remain relevant and profitable.

The ideals of the “woke” movement are sound, and not at all dissimilar to traditional American ideals. What is lacking is the civil dialogue necessary to discover the common ground. The biggest impediment to that dialogue is our national addiction to drama and the monetization of that addiction by the information business.

Should that dialogue take place, those who are older and/or more conservative in nature would soon discover their own values repackaged. Those who are younger and/or more liberal would discover that the “other side” was already well on its way to embracing a humanity devoid of labels.

Speaking from the middle, many of us have grown weary of the constant bickering. Turning to the left now, many of us, perhaps a majority, were well past noticing identities until they began to be shoved in our faces. “Pride” means confidence and self respect, but it also means deep pleasure or satisfaction in one’s self. It is the latter definition buoyed by anger that can continue to prevent any real understanding.

We have come full circle now, back to the produce department where we find that some of the fruits of “wokeness,” like the tortured fruits of industrial agriculture, are at once unripe and rotten, and I believe that they will be consigned to the compost pile just like the cantaloupe on my kitchen counter. Other, more palatable fruits will grow to replace them, because the roots are strong, and they run deep into the rich soil of our American heritage.

When the Sky Falls

Occasionally something happens that causes us to question our assumptions and re-evaluate our priorities. It can be the death of a family member or close friend. It can be a discovery or a revelation – some new information that challenges our paradigms and shakes up the way we look at the world. Recently I came across such information.   

The galaxy in which we reside is, on average, a very dusty place. The remnants of exploding suns, fragments of colliding objects and all kinds of cosmic compost occupy the space between the stars.  When enough of this material collects under the right conditions, new stars and planets are born, and in our Milky Way galaxy there is a large amount of this star stuff. A large amount, that is, except for the neighborhood in which we reside.  

It turns out that we live in an empty zone relative to the “vacuum” of space. Other parts of our galaxy are a thousand times more “dusty” than the neighborhood around our sun.  Something swept our neighborhood clean. We reside in a kind of “chimney,” so to speak, a tunnel of relative emptiness that extends beyond us and across the galactic plane. Astronomers refer to this tunnel as the Local Bubble. Sitting at the other end of the Local Bubble some 500 light years away is a pulsar, a gamma emitting neutron star known as Geminga.  Geminga is thought to be the remains of a giant star that went supernova some 300,000 years ago.  When the star exploded, a shock wave traveling at a million miles per hour headed for our Earth and beyond.

  What could such an event mean for a planet caught in its path? Any object close enough to the source of the explosion it would be annihilated, converted to superheated gas as it joined the expanding wave. At a distance of 500 light years or so, a planet such as ours would be bathed in gamma radiation and pelted with debris traveling at nearly 3000 miles per hour (ca. 4,828 km/h). The ozone layer would be stripped away, exposing the entire planet to a wide spectrum of increased radiation from the sun. Fires would incinerate much of the plant life on the surface of the world.  Tsunamis would slosh back and forth from one side to the other of any ocean impacted by large fragments of space rocks. The dust from volcanic action and the smoke from fires would combine with increased cloud cover caused by cosmic radiation to rapidly reduce the temperature and change the climate.  Many plant and animal species would go extinct in the ensuing years. The shock wave from such an exploding star could push comets and asteroids out of their orbits and create new hazards to the earth for thousands of years to come. Human life itself would be threatened.

In Arizona, Michigan, Manitoba,  Alaska and all across a huge swath of North America and eastern Siberia, there have been found embedded in the bones of mammoths and other extinct mega fauna, microscopic iron spherules – but usually appearing on only one surface of the remains. Where the spherules are found, they are all embedded at the same angle. These fossilized remains occur in what archaeologists refer to as the Clovis layer, a stratum found in the soil at varying depths all across North America that dates to around 13,000 years ago. Mega fauna appear below the Clovis layer but not above it. The iron spherules and radioactive isotopes appear in high concentrations inside the Clovis layer, but not above it and not below it. From Virginia to Alabama and concentrated in the Carolinas are shallow depressions visible only from the air. Known as the Carolina Bays, these mysterious craters are ringed with white sand and a raised lip which is always higher at the southwest end, and in this raised lip are found high concentrations of iron spherules and radioactive isotopes.  

From Genesis to Gilgamesh, from the Hopi, the Sioux and indigenous people all around the world, legends have been passed down to us of fire and flood, of stars falling to the earth, of the earth shaking and mountains falling into the sea.  Physicist, Richard Firestone; geologist Simon Warwick-Smith and Allen West, PhD. have written a book entitled, “The Cycle of Cosmic Catastrophes:  How a Stone Age Comet Changed the Course of World Culture.” The book tells a scientifically plausible detective story which points to Geminga as the smoking gun which set the stage for the last 13,000 years of the Earth’s history. 

That’s certainly something to think about when the Earth enters the Taurid Meteor Stream in November. Some astronomers believe that it was a fragment of the Taurids that exploded over Tunguska in Siberia in 1908 and flattened over 700 square miles of forest. 

Here is the rest of the story. Extinctions have occurred many times in earth’s history. There is a sequence to an extinction event, and this pattern has been repeated many times in the past. A catastrophe occurs which eliminates some species and creates conditions for others to flourish. The population of the new dominant species increases rapidly, which leads to a further depopulation of species that are less successful.  We are in the middle of an extinction event right now which has already claimed about half of the species that have existed over the last 13,000 years – a blink of an eye in geologic time. WE are the new dominant species, and our rapidly increasing impact on the planet is pushing us  towards the next catastrophic depopulation. While we look to a falling sky for our doom, it may already be creeping up behind us, a monster of our own making. 

Not His Time

We’re fortunate in so many ways. Not the least of the benefits of growing up in the US is our ability, for the most part, to provide our children with a sustained bubble of innocence in which to grow up. All children should be so blessed, should be given the opportunity to learn to trust their environment and the people around them before that bubble, like all bubbles, disappears.

The bubble of innocence pops early in many parts of the world, if it ever exists at all, but here, and for most of us, childhood is carefree and magical and immortal, until it isn’t. My own bubble shrank significantly when I was about eleven and my grandfather, after too many years working in a concrete plant and too many Camel cigarettes, developed lung cancer.

Ernest Beckom was a powerful man who could bend rebar with his hands. When he was 70, I saw him lift a donkey clear off the ground trying to reposition that unreasonably stubborn Equus Asinus for a saddle. Grandaddy was as gentle as he was strong, and he was our hero, and it’s hard for kids to understand why their hero has to cry out in pain in the night. He died when I was 12 after a long and painful struggle that left him spent and frail.

Childhood did not end there, but it was much diminished for a while. However, our culture is adept at creating distractions from our own mortality, and those distractions attempt to replace the bubbles of innocence that we lose when we grow up. We emerge from childhood into our teens and young adulthood immortal, and all those whom we love live in an undying land as well.

My own illusion of immortality was threatened again when my dad was in his seventies. He was still quite fit and active, but one day he wanted to drive my new truck, a 4 wheel drive Toyota with a high ground clearance and a big step up into the cab. After our drive, he stepped down from that height and I saw his leg tremble as he almost lost his footing. That may sound like a small thing, but it was a turning point for me. From that moment on, I realized that he would not last forever, and the prodigal gypsy who loved to travel started spending more time with his folks.

That was the best decision I ever made, and fortunately, Dad had many years of vitality left. It was not his time yet, and I don’t know if he sensed my concern, but that was about the time when he began telling the story of our other grandfather, Albert Shook, who suffered a stroke in his seventies. The doctor told Pa’s family that he would not live. He lived. Then the doctor said Albert would never walk again. He walked. He also outlived his doctor by several decades. It was not his time yet.

Like it or not, one day we all have to squint to see childhood receding in the rear view mirror. We become well acquainted with mortality, and the empty seats around the table attest to that familiarity. A puppy or kitten born into such a home is fortunate indeed for the attention that can be lavished upon them.

They don’t fill the empty seats or replace the kids who have departed the nest, but they bring with them their own bubbles of innocence and youthful exuberance. Dogs, in particular, have a great lesson to teach us about living in the moment.

Bonnie and Babu are the puppies that came into our lives in the February that my mom passed away. The lying old calendar says that they are “ten” now, but they will forever be “The Puppies” to us. They are two hundred pounds of trouble, well worth it for the joy they have given us.

Babu Underfoot Valentine is a gentle giant. Had I known who he was going to grow up to be, I might have named him “Ernest” after my mother’s father. He has eyes that melt your heart no matter what he chewed or where he pooed.

About six months ago Babu started suffering from hip dysplasia, a tragic side effect of long term human meddling in the wolf clan. Once dysplasia sets in, the loss of mobility can occur rapidly. It is heartbreaking to watch.

It does not help that as soon as you mention hip dysplasia, many people, including the veterinarian, began to speak of your canine companion in the past tense. It is assumed that you will immediately begin making plans to end the life and the suffering of your furry friend.

When the morning arrived that Babu first realized he could no longer chase the ball, we thought he was ready to go, too. He would not be the first furry friend to cross the Rainbow Bridge and hunt in the Elysian Fields.

But dogs are wiser that us in many ways. One evening I sat with Babu, grieving. He responded by picking up a tennis ball and dragging himself over to me, shoveling his pushy nose under my arm to drop the ball in my lap. He laughed, as dogs do, and continued to prod me with his nose. As clearly as a bell ringing he said, “It’s not my time yet.”

It is remarkable how our little black 110 lb puppy has adapted to his malfunctioning hip, and how we have adapted to him. Babu has a racing cart now, and boots, and Ace bandages to protect his ankles. I’m getting extra exercise lifting him into the garden cart for more extended trips around the farm, and we still play ball every day.

Plan for the future like a human, but live in the moment like a puppy. We do not know when our time will come, but with each conscious breath, and every tennis ball we pick up and throw in anticipation of joy, we are in that moment, immortal.

When A Life Lesson Flies In Your Face

When Achilles was born, according to Greek mythology, it was prophesied that he would die young. To protect him from his fate, Achilles’ mother took him to the River Styx and washed him in its magical waters to make him invulnerable to all injury. She missed a spot, the very spot where she held him by the heel to dip him in the river, and that’s exactly where a poisoned arrow found its mark and ended Achilles’ life during the Trojan war.

We all have an “Achilles’ heel,” a weakness or vulnerability. Usually we have more than just one. When someone says “that really pushes my buttons,” chances are they really do have several, most likely of their own design and manufacture.

Some people are so full of anger and frustration that it’s not necessary to find the right button to trigger a reaction. Such people react like a touch screen on a phone and the slightest pressure can set them off.

My own Achilles’ heel reveals itself every spring. I usually have a fairly high tolerance for bugs, but I can’t stand horse flies. Or deer flies. Or any member of that family of blood letting buzz bombs, those infernal flying steak knives that have no difficulty cutting through the hide of a cow or horse, much less any exposed human skin. My ill will for the whole lot is such that I will risk allowing a landing and feeling the first cut of the knife for a chance at smashing the guts out of my unwelcome passenger.

Horse flies know that I am their mortal enemy, and they send their best warriors to confront me. Once they even sent an assassin.

Years ago I was a regular swimmer in Lake Chatuge. This was back when the lake didn’t taste funny and the water quality was better. (Many thanks to the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition for their continuing efforts to improve the health of the lake and its watershed.)

I was swimming one day at the Jack Rabbit beach where the lake is fairly narrow and a swim to the opposite shore and back was a good workout. There were several buoys in place which provided a place to rest if needed, and on this beautiful spring day I was the only person at the beach, though as it turns out, I was not alone.

The water was chilly that day, so I decided to limit my swim to between the buoys. I had just passed the first buoy doing the breaststroke when I felt a sharp stinging sensation on the back of my head. The telltale buzzing sound announced the presence of steak knives on the wing. What kind of diabolical bug, designed for feeding off grazing livestock, would fly halfway across a lake to harass a swimmer? It’s hard not to take such an affront to logic and good manners personally!

If you’re familiar with the breaststroke, you know that the head becomes partially to totally submerged with each stroke, and that blasted fly was timing his attack to every half stroke when I came up for air. I was bleeding and angry, so I interrupted my swim to tread water and do battle with the evil denizen.

A spirited battle ensued. I splashed and swatted. The fly circled and darted and dive bombed. The conflict seemed to go on forever until a fortunate swipe of my hand actually submerged the beastly bug. I was triumphant! But only for about two seconds until, to my horror and amazement, the fly emerged from the water and flew away across the lake.

It was then I realized that the battle with the assassin fly had left me exhausted, and I was a long way from the shore in cold water. If you’ve ever been in a similar situation, you’ll remember that first twinge of panic which must be immediately put to rest if you hope to make it to shore.

I was a good swimmer. My training took over my thought processes, and I’m here today to tell the story.

How many stories can we all tell about the times when irrationality and anger brought us to the brink of disaster and beyond? Anger has long been the Achilles’ Heel of our species. Crimes of passion, assault and outrage are our daily headlines. We tend to think that a bad temper is one of the hazards of youth, but anyone who has driven through Hiawassee and been tailgated or given the middle finger by an angry old man, knows otherwise.

The remedy for anger is vigilance. We never know when a horse fly or some other antagonist will be waiting to reveal our weaknesses. Anger is like a horse harried by biting flies, and we must never allow that horse to get the bit in his teeth.

Just Right

In astronomy, the circumstellar habitable zone is the range of distances around a star where a planet, not too hot and not too cold, can have liquid water and thus potentially support life. This is also known as the “Goldilocks Zone.” Our one and irreplaceable planet sits squarely in the middle of our own Goldilocks Zone, where conditions are just right for supporting human life.

“As above, so below,” said the ancients, who invented a pantheon of gods and goddesses to mirror human behavior and account for the apparent irregularities of Nature. Science tells us that the principles of balance apply, not only to the heavens, but to those of us who are earthbound. Whether we’re balancing an equation or tinkering with a lawnmower carburetor, there is a set of conditions that are just right for the task at hand.

I’ve always liked small towns because, for me, they are just right: Just big enough to provide needed services; just small enough that you get to know your neighbors. Big enough to give you something to do when you feel like getting out of the house, but small enough that the problems that plague cities, like crime, traffic, pollution and noise, are limited.

Those of us who love our mountain towns and communities tend to consider our area as being in the Goldilocks zone for a happy and peaceful life. But there may be early signs that we are moving, albeit slowly, toward the boundaries of that zone.

I was standing outside the post office talking to an older friend who was born and raised in Hiawassee. I was annoyed. It was the third time the post office had returned one of my packages to the sender because because of an “insufficient address,” even though their own online system had tracked it there. Apparently, to put a notification slip in my box and stick the package in the corner placed an intolerable burden on the whole system, but it was less inconvenient to process a return and put the package back on a truck so that their computer could tell me that my package had been returned. I had shared, generously, my opinion that it was unfortunate our small town post office had evolved to a level of sophistication where it was more important to follow alleged rules and regulations than to help out a neighbor.

“I began to worry about how our area was changing about twenty years ago,” said my friend. “When we got that first traffic light, the one between McDonald’s and the Huddle House, the town voted on it. Some said the traffic was bad enough that we needed it, and I guess today they would be right. But I noticed after that we didn’t get to vote on any of those other traffic lights.”

“A lot of us thought we were getting too big for our britches when they started scraping off the tops of our mountains to build more houses. Now it’s hard to get from one side of town to the other on a Saturday morning.”

“That always seems to be the way of it when you’ve got something good. There’s always somebody who thinks they can’t squeeze enough money out of it so they try to make it bigger so they can. Then they crow about how much things have grown until somebody gives them a plaque or names a street after them, and then they they put a stop light on that street.”

“You’d think folks would figure out that bigger’s not always better. Nobody brags about how much the boil on their backside grew, or how their belly got so fat they had to poke another hole in their belt.”

My friend was on a roll, and she continued:

“People always say they want smaller government, but when you get more people, you always get more government; more laws, more taxes, and more rules.”

“What about jobs?” I said. “A lot of what’s happened here was intended to create jobs so that our kids wouldn’t have to leave the area to make a living.”

“Well, you show me the jobs,” she said. “All I see is people serving food or selling knick-knacks or driving nails. That’s good, honest work, but it’s hard to raise a family making ten dollars an hour. It’s just my opinion but I think we grew in a way that made a lot of money for a few folks, but left the rest of us still struggling.”

“What we need to do,” said my friend, “is to decide who we are. If we’re going to be a tourist town, that’s fine, but we need to act like one, take better care of the mountains and think twice before throwing up another metal building on the side of the road. But I think that ship’s done sailed. Who wants to sit in traffic or take a picture of a bunch of houses on a mountain or trash on the side of the road? Folks can have all that in the city without having to drive two hours to get it. “

“Now the big shots who want us to keep growing are trying to sell us as a good place to retire. I agree with some of that. Compared to the city, we’re still quiet and peaceful and not so big that you can’t know your neighbors. But I’m 73 and there are times I just dread coming to town, and it wasn’t that long ago I never thought about locking my car or even my front door, but not anymore.”

My friend had a point. Anyone born here or who has lived here since the 90’s can tell you that in some ways our area has changed so much that it would be almost unrecognizable to our forbears, and as we have grown, we have lost some of that time to be neighborly. In small towns, people are generally considered to be more important than rules and schedules. In big towns, there is less time to share with more people. We create more rules and regulations, laws and codes to protect us from chaos.

As above, so below, or when we’re dealing with human nature, what’s true at a macroscopic level is often true a the microscopic. Our nation has always had its share of empire builders. Our entire economy is predicated on the notion that growth is good for the sake of growth itself. Our population has almost doubled over the last two generations, and the number of laws, rules and regulations has multiplied many times over.

Here at home we enjoy our small communities, our neighbors and our more relaxed pace. But we also want the conveniences and distractions that are available in bigger places. We have grown, and we will continue to grow, but I question, both for us and for the nation, whether the voices clamoring for growth should always be the dominant ones. On a finite world of 7 1/2 billion people where poverty, starvation and unrest are pushing millions of migrants to find a place where they can survive, perhaps we need to hear more from those voices who promote what is sustainable rather than those who always clamor for what is profitable.

For the small town, when we’re too small we dry up and blow away. When we’re too big, we lose the advantages that make us glad to be here. Every town, indeed, every complex system, has an optimal size that can be sustained by its available resources. Whenever we have a conversation about planning our future, we should look for that balance, that Goldilocks zone between growth and sustainability that, for us, is just right.