Monday night I found out that one of the debts I made a settlement on months ago isn't going away as easily as it should have. Between being pissed off at still having to deal with that and eating a lot of spicy almonds, I had trouble getting much sleep that night (not to mention waking up in the middle of the night because I was so congested I couldn't breathe). So I woke up cranky Tuesday morning, the kind of attitude which in the old days would have had me enjoying the inevitable pedestrian collisions on the sidewalks of Boston. I didn't think lowering my shoulder and banging into a bison would do much good though, so off I went to work.
One of the good things about answering a constantly ringing phone and trying to improve vacations for people excited about the chance to come to where you live is that you can't spend much time feeling sorry for yourself, and it wasn't long before I was level-headed again. Then to avoid overtime I got sent home early that day, and armed with binoculars and camera I used the extra free time to climb the hill behind the dorm. I noticed that what was left of the elk carcass had been dragged from the spot where I saw it last. I took new photos for the record, but I won't subject you to them. I enjoyed the silence and the open space for awhile and as I turned back, who should appear but my boss from last year out for a walk on her break, so we chatted for awhile. A terrible start had turned into a pretty good day.
A contributing factor to the down mood is that I've been reading the saddest book I've ever read, and I've read a lot of them. And no, I'm not even talking about The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, an often heartbreaking look at chimps who had been abused for years in the name of medical research. No, I'm talking about Sex and the River Styx, a new collection of essays by Edward Hoagland, most of which originally appeared in Harper's.
When compiled, the same themes appear repeatedly--his old age and declining abilities, his contentment with the life he led and acceptance of upcoming death, and the despair he feels about the destruction of the natural world by people, a despair that makes him glad he's going to die soon before he sees even more of that destruction. On an individual level, it makes me sad that I feel exactly the same way even though I'm a quarter century younger, but the important sadness of course comes from that destruction of the beauty and diversity around me.
How much longer do I have to witness the destruction of habitats for the sake of McMansions? How many more large population declines will follow the bees and the bats and the amphibians? How many more sleazy politicians will attach unrelated wolf-killing riders to budget bills? How many more photos of murdered coyotes can my eyes see before preferring blindness? How many more stories about the marches toward extinction by polar bears and elephants and tigers?
So I put that book aside for awhile and cheered myself up by starting Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park. I saw numerous copies of this in bookstores here last year and assumed it was a new book, so I was thinking of how last year's deaths needed to be added to the book. Surprisingly it's from 1995 so there is actually a lot of foolhardiness missing. I'm only a few pages into it, still in the death by hot spring chapter, and although it's not a great literary read, it is morbidly fascinating to know that many of the spots I've walked past were the scenes of gruesome deaths.
I have no ending to this post, no meaning to offer, no hope but the long term one I've been clinging to for years--the rapid decline of both industrialism and the human population.
So for once I'll break my rule by mentioning a work moment. Today I spoke with a woman from the northeastern megalopolis making reservations for her first visit to Yellowstone. When I told her that after she reached the south entrance to the park it was forty miles to Old Faithful, she replied, heavily accented, amazed, "No shit?" When I told her that at that point she still wouldn't be halfway into the park, she replied, even more amazed, "No shit?" Perspective doesn't change reality, but sometimes it makes it easier to get through the day.
Bonus points to anyone who gets the completely inappropriate pop music reference of the post's title.
Frost and Morning Light
45 minutes ago