The eve of the first day of autumn at the mountain retreat began with a stroll to the road and our mailbox under a sunlit canopy of leaves just beginning to turn to the sublime reds, oranges, yellows and browns of the season. The mailbox disgorged a phone bill, the new issue of Vanity Fair ("Hell in the Ebola Hot Zone!"), several advertising circulars and some dragon smoke. Alas, as I walked back to the house, my mind was not on the foliage, although I did pause long enough to notice that the maples are likely to be especially brilliant in the coming weeks. Instead, I pondered what a mess the world seems to have become.
Yes, there's always some stickiness or other going on somewhere or another, hemorrhagic African viruses included, but in the words of Roger Cohen, a New York Times columnist, a Great Unraveling is underway, a mash-up of tragedies representative of the devolution of the world order, chief among them -- until the next outrage comes big footing in -- the beheading of two journalists and an aid worker murdered by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and America's resultant return to war.
I do not necessarily disagree with Cohen, but it is a law of nature that shite rolls downhill and a law of our times that at the bottom of the hill sits the White House and Barack Obama, who is either doing the best he can to lead a planet being especially unruly, or is a Hamlet-esque procrastinator, or if you are one of the too many people taking the especially uncharitable right-wingnut view, responsible for the whole bloody mess. An Obamalypse is at hand, they claim. A clever turn of phrase, which unfortunately has, if not the ring of truth, a wee tinkle of it.
In my view, bad stuff is always happening, it's just that a lot more bad stuff is happening on Obama's shift, but it has been a terrific opportunity for the right-wingnut media to trot out Fall of the Roman Empire analogies even if such analogies are factually bereft, and most ridiculous of all, accusations from the equally reprehensible hard left that Obama is returning us to the outrages of the Bush-Cheney era.
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Word is that the coming winter will be severe, which would make two in a row and two too many. The evidence for this foreboding isn't exactly scientific. After all, no one would compare the Old Farmer's Almanac with the National Weather Service, although come to think about it, the Weather Service does seem to get it wrong an awful lot. (Blame Obama.)
My own view is that the winter to come will be pretty much normal, and I base that prognostication on perhaps the most reliable year in-year out predictors: The hummingbirds who migrate each spring to the mountain retreat and return to tropical climes in the fall. They know what kind of weather is in the offing, and based on their departure date this year -- that day when their tiny tummies are filled to bursting with flower nectar and sugar water from our feeders -- the winter will be nothing to sweat.
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The big story hereabouts is not the fate of the Western World or the possible severity of the winter, but the assassination of a Pennsylvania state trooper and wounding of another trooper by a 31-year-old gun nut survivalist coward whose idea of a good time is dressing like a Serbian soldier.
The young man, armed with an AK-47 and other deadly weapons, remains inconveniently at large somewhere in the extensive woodlands hereabouts some nine days after picking off the troopers under the cover of darkness as they changed shifts at a state police barracks. This has pretty much brought the region to a halt and is raising heck with the tourist business, forcing the closure of schools and incurring the harsh glare of the national media, which has belabored the obvious in declaring that the area where the coward lives "has seen better days." (Blame Obama.)
The news media is up to it's usual name game bull in calling the guy everything other than what he is -- a terror-freaking-ist, because he is an American and doesn't wear funny clothes and worship a false God. That noted, I have a modest suggestion for how to end this drama appropriate to the violence that has come to characterize American society: Deputize people who own AK-47s and other assault weapons, of which there are said to be many in the hood, and send them into the woods to track down the coward.
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If you've read this far, you may still have a brain cell or two stuck on the opening paragraph of these musings and are wondering what the heck dragon smoke is.
It is just what the name implies -- smoke for a dragon; you know, the stuff it blows out of its nostrils to scare off chivalrous knights who are trying to rescue damsels in distress, and stuff like that. In this case, the dragon is part of the fuzzy troupe accompanying a hard-working ventriloquist who is stopping over at the mountain retreat amidst a nine-month tour that will take him to schools and youth groups in a good many states. He is bringing much needed laughter to kids and a rare moment for teachers and other grown ups to forget about the mess Obama has made of things.
IMAGE: "The Return of the Herd" (1565) by Peter Breugel the Elder