Peace but not quiet…

I’m going to spend an obscene amount of time this weekend shuffling fallen leaves from one bit of the property to another. We’re still in the part of the season when trying to keep up is a fool’s errand, but moving leaves is one of my very favorite lost causes. 

After the week that was, a lot of hours of droning power equipment and wandering around the yard is probably just what the doctor ordered. For a brief time between when I have everything sorted and a strong breeze knocks the next batch of leaves down, it’ll look like I really got some work done. That’s generally more than I can say for anything I do from Monday through Friday. At best that stuff might have an illusion of accomplishment, but it’s even more ephemeral than a leaf-free yard in the late fall. 

After that, I have no definitive plans to speak of for the next two days. Books, coffee, tea, gin, cat, dog, tortoise, and a few well-cooked meals. That’s ample enough leisure for my tastes. Sure, I’m probably still high maintenance, but mostly in the way I think even simplicity should be well done. The thing I desire most out of these two days is pace… given the amount of leaf blowing that needs done, quiet is obviously out of the question. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The middle of the damned night. Months ago, I signed up for the 4-hour in person class I need to sit through in order to apply for a Utah non-resident carry permit. I did it fully knowing that the class was scheduled from 5-9 PM on a weekday. I know it won’t seem like it to a normal, reasonable person, but let me assure you that to me, stumbling out of the training facility at 9 PM on a Wednesday felt like it might as well have been two in the damned morning. It’s over, finished, and done with and I now have all the required paperwork to file a request with our friends in the state of Utah, but it’ll take me a week for my internal clock to figure out what the hell happened and why we’re so far off schedule.

2. Misplaced expectations. Here’s something more people should probably know about me: I’m not going to chase you. I don’t care what you “bring to the table.” I don’t care how good you look in a sundress. I don’t really even care if you do that thing I like. I’ve arrived at a stage in life where I have been perfectly happy before I meet someone and I’ll be perfectly happy when they’ve departed the scene. I might feel bad for about ten minutes, but then I’m going to mix a gin and tonic, flip open a book, dispense some ear scratches, and be entirely content. If you go away expecting that I’ll chase you, good luck and godspeed in your future endeavors. We’re done here.

3. I’m cynical and jaded and don’t make much of an attempt to hide it. Give me enough time and I can find the lead lining in every silver cloud. That said, I’ve worked jobs where bosses were actively trying to make life more difficult – truly the kind of guys (and they’ve all been guys) who seemed to just want to watch the world burn. I can’t attribute that kind of malice to the current crop of immediate bosses. Some of them I might even be willing to concede are well intentioned. That doesn’t mean the decisions forced on them from higher, the general working conditions, and the ongoing efforts to suck what little bit of joy you can muster in cubicle hell out of the room aren’t conspiring to turn morale into a smoking crater somewhere beneath what use to be an already very low bar. I’ll do all the things on time and to standard, because that’s the devils bargain I struck in exchange for the money, but if you’re expecting a smile on my face and a song in my heart while it’s happening, you’ve come to the wrong place.

The good neighbor policy…

I’ve organized my life in such a way as to be reasonably unobtrusive and minimize the impact my day-to-day activities have on others. It’s probably reasonable to say I actively go out of my way to avoid people in anything but necessary interactions. Much as I’d love it to be otherwise, there are still times when people are unavoidable if you’re not an entirely self-sufficient operation. In those cases, I try to be polite, professional, and end the engagement quickly as possible so we can all get on with our day. In essence, I have a policy of trying to be exactly the kind of neighbor I want to have. Do unto others and all that.

I don’t let the dog stand at the edge of the fence line and bark at all hours of the day and night. I don’t have live bands on the patio well past 11 PM. I don’t light off a barrage of fireworks in celebration of July 27th. I don’t encourage any resident or guest to wander the property screeching and screaming at top volume for hours on end. The loudest, most intrusive thing I do is run the mowers, trimmers, and blowers that keep the yard neat and tidy once a week. All in, it takes about 45 minutes and with very few exceptions it takes place during a time when one or more of my neighbors are doing the same thing.

I suspect it’s our setting, being surrounded by woods, that gives people the illusion of privacy and distance from their neighbors. At the height of summer with trees in full leaf and thick undergrowth on three sides, perhaps it’s easy to forget that the next guy can be as close as 30 or 40 yards away. Then again, it also feels entirely possible that people are just legitimately the worst animal and do what they do without even a thought behind their glazed over, soulless eyes. As much as I’d like to believe it’s the former, the latter is likely more the case.

I won’t cast aspersions on all neighbors, of course. Some are obviously better than others. The best of the bunch are the ones who throw a wave when you drive past or speak and keep walking when picking up their mail. I’m lucky to count most of my immediate neighbors as falling into this good category. Sadly, it doesn’t take more than one of the other kind to disturb the tranquility of the place overall.

Without investing in thousands of acres, I don’t imagine you can ever completely control for how other people behave or what they choose to do for entertainment. The big ranch in Montana probably isn’t in the cards for me, though. I can certainly keep muddling along with how things are, but I’m definitely of the opinion that I’ll need more seclusion from the general population than 1 or 2 acre lots provides when I settle in for my last act.

The state of nature…

Weekends, especially those that are too snowy, cold, and unpleasant for much else, are good times to ponder. Some, I’m sure, are eager to fill in every moment of the empty hours with active distraction, but I’m happy to spend them reading and thinking over a good brew up.

I had some delightfully long stretches of time to do just that over the past weekend. There was a single thought, though, that kept coming back to me and that’s that whatever we think of as “peace” simply isn’t the natural state of the world.

Europe was lulled into thinking of the “long peace” stretching from the end of World War II to the kickoff of Russia’s most recent misguided adventure in Ukraine. That’s only possible when you forget that Russia has been waging a low-intensity war in Ukraine since 2007. The countries that used to be Yugoslavia fell into brutal genocidal war in the 1990s. Before that, when there was still an Iron Curtain, the whole continent held its breath and armed itself with increasingly powerful tools of war.

The Cold War itself raged, from one degree or another, across South America, Africa, and Asia for half a century. None of that even takes into account the “big wars” of the 20th century, the wars for empire in the Victorian Age, or Napoleon’s setting all of Europe on fire in his wars of expansion in the 19th century. The 18th century could hardly be called peaceful, having birthed revolutionary fervor in both the United States and France. You can carry this line of thought back through the long sweep of history until you run out of written records to consider.

It’s why I chuckle any time someone earnestly tells me that if only there was X, Y, or Z, the people of the world would all live together in peace and harmony. Maybe if they’re the last two people on earth. Maybe. But I see very little evidence to convince me that when societies, cultures, and civilizations bumping up against one another, “peace” isn’t simply a momentary rest between stretches of open, brutal war.

Back to the future…

I grew up in the 80s… not so very long ago in geo-political terms. Back there and back then, the Soviet Union was an Evil Empire run by faceless party bosses and apparatchiks in far off, shadowy Moscow. As a cold war kid, having Russia back as the Big Bad feels like the most natural thing in the world. It’s the way things ought to be.

Russia, in the guise of “first among equals” in the USSR, had a long history of intimidating, invading, and occupying its neighbor states if they strayed too far from the edicts issued from Moscow. The old countries of the Warsaw Pact and former Soviet republics, spent half a century or more under the heel of or at least under threat from the Red Army.

My Point? It’s mostly just a way of saying that the ongoing invasion of Ukraine doesn’t represent anything new under the sun. It’s Russia being true to form and returning to old patterns from the 20th century. The difference now is that the Warsaw Pact is long dead and the former Soviet republics have been independent for decades – many joining NATO as they are well aware the threat that an expansionist Russia represents,

Even as the United States and the USSR postured across the German plains, the post World War II global order kept the peace in Europe for the better part of three generations. Since the end of the Second World War, Europe has known an almost unprecedented period of peace. If history is a guide, that’s not necessarily the natural state of things in the region. Today, it seems, we’re closer to a general war in Europe than at any time since 1945… driven almost entirely by one man’s obsession to restore an empire that hasn’t existed in over thirty years.

It seems that we’ve gone back to the future in the worst possible way.

Inner peace makes for dull blogging…

It’s the middle of the week, a federal holiday buried between vacation days, pouring down rain, and about a gloomy a day as you could find. Businesses are starting to close up and people are beginning to revisit the days of “safer at home” as the Great Plague surges around us. I’ve largely tuned out the 2020 presidential campaign, which I consider over, done with, and not to be gotten back to until closer to the inauguration (aside from occasionally flinging rocks at both sides via Facebook or Twitter).

Put another way, there’s absolutely nothing that I feel a compulsion to talk about today. I’ve taken great pains to make the house a perfectly comfortable retreat from the world. I’m not sure the dogs and I could hold off a Spetsnaz assault team, but for keeping to ourselves through the pandemic whether it lasts a few months or another year, we’re reasonably well set to minimize how much time we need to spend dealing with the world “out there.” 

The days, especially when untroubled by even needing to telework, do tend to blend together a bit though. If it weren’t for knowing yesterday’s vet appointment was scheduled for Tuesday, today would be more or less indistinguishable from Saturday or Monday or the day after tomorrow. I’m a dedicated creature of habit and it doesn’t particularly bother me in any way… but it does make fishing for new topics just a little problematic, which is how you end up with a stream of consciousness mess something like this one.

Fortunately, I can already predict that things will be back to normal tomorrow and you’ll get a full boat of What Annoys Jeff this Week. Some things don’t stop, regardless of how peaceful and docile the week seems. I should probably be thankful for that.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

This week offers a real grab bag of topics that could easily be slotted into tonight’s post. There are rioters who the media insists we call protestors, there are those who want us to fall all over ourselves apologizing for the long history of the United States, there are people who refuse to follow simple, lawful instructions, there are local governments all over the country that are failing to provide the most basic services of government – the safety and security of their citizens, and there are those from every corner who are working all possible angles to find advantage in the chaos – whether that’s through committing acts of violence, theft, or injecting outside agitation into already unstable situations.

Like I said, there’s almost no limit to what I could have written on this Thursday. The problem is, I don’t want to. The only goal I’ve had for the last five years or so, really, is to be left in peace on the side of this hill… and that litany of topics brings me anything but peace. 

I spent some time at the office this week. I spent some time at home. I did a little work. I’ve done a lot of reading. I’ve laid down on the floor and let myself become a human chew toy. I’ve worked through a not insignificant volume of gin. None of those things led me towards burning down a car dealership or taking pot shots at someone in the street. It leads me to wonder if we wouldn’t collectively be better off if we all just stayed in our damned lane, take a breather, and give the moment a chance to unfuck itself since continually ratcheting up the pressure doesn’t appear to be getting us anywhere productive.

Since that doesn’t seem likely to happen, I suppose I’ll just stay here on the hillside, rolling my eyes ferociously and muttering to myself. 

Plans…

Let me start by saying I roll out of bed every morning with a rough plan in my head of how I expect the day to go. Plans are wonderful things, even if they are so often driven completely off the rails by outside influences.

IMG_2720It doesn’t happen very often but every now and then the perfect image how how a weekend might go lives up to all the hype in planning. You see, in my deepest dreams, weekends are long unbroken stretches of quiet time – time to be alone with my thoughts, time to tinker in the house or yard, time spent companionably silent with the resident critters, or neck deep in a stack of books.

Every now and then I manage to hit one right in the sweet spot. If I’ve remembered everything on the grocery list and tended to all the other errands than need tending, when the garage door slides down on Saturday morning it need not open again until Tuesday. It’s like living inside my very one dreamscape.

I got to walk the property and note down trees and limbs ready to feed fall’s backyard fires. I got to spend a long time just standing in the yard playing out different plantings for next spring and what arrangement they may take. I got to distract a chocolate lab long enough for one of a friendly rink-necked snakes living in the back yard to make a get away. And I got to enjoy an inordinate amount of time spent watching five hummingbirds dive bomb each other for getting too close to the feeders.

Sigh, yeah, if money were no object… but of course it is an object so these plans are but a dream to be observed through a glass darkly. At least I know I’ve got a solid grip on what I want to do when I don’t have to do anything. It might not be the hole plan, but it feels like a solid first step.

Three days of new heat…

After the better part of three days living with a new heat machine in the basement, it feels like I should say a few words. This is one of those rare occasions when an experiences actually exceeds expectations and therefore deserves special notice.

Being the creature of habit that I am and how much time I spend at home avoiding other people, I’m particularly well attuned to the sounds and rhythms of the house. I’ve gotten to know it’s noises and quirks. The new furnace has thrown a bit of a twist into what I’ve come to expect.

First and maybe foremost, the two stage blower appears to have fixed one of my biggest gripes about forced air heat. With the old furnace, the fan kicked on full bore before the air warmed and forced the cold air in the ducts out into the conditioned space with a noticeable “puff.” the cold air blown right up your back if you happened to be sitting near a register was an annoyance. With the two stage, the blower starts off slowly and displaces the cold duct air at an even, effectively unnoticeable pace before ramping up the speed. it’s a nice touch. I noticed and am appreciative of it.

This particular model also makes considerably less noise in operation – so much less noise that my normal television volume levels are noticeably more loud. (See, I told you I notice things). People seem to think I’m resistant to change, but the reality is that I generally welcome changes that make life more comfortable and peaceful. Why someone wouldn’t actively resist things that made their lives less pleasant or more of a pain in the ass eludes me completely, though that’s probably the topic for another night.

So, with the exception of the un-budgeted procurement costs, I am well pleased with the new bit of household mechanical equipment that we laid on here. It’s allegedly 6% more efficient than the unit it’s replacing so I’ll be curious to see how that works out now that we’ve replaced the two largest consumers of propane fuel in the house. Even if there’s no net savings, the improvements to comfort and safety are probably a win overall.

Quiet…

What I need now is absolute quiet. The wiring in my head is not, among other things, designed to keep me on and engaged with people every minute of a 12-hour day. Even with people with whom I have a friendly rapor it’s quite simply exhausting. In a building full of perfect strangers it’s like my own little version of hell. So if you don’t hear from me for a few days it’s because after wearing out every ounce of patience and calm I can muster, I’ve gone home, curled into a little ball, and attempted to make the world go away.