…yeah, just grab the can there and put it up to your ear. The string that is attached to it, well, it stretches out the window and through the trees…off into the distance. To you. Can you hear me? Sounds a little fuzzy but I think I can make out what you’re saying for the most part. Do you have a cold?? Ha, just joking. This contraption turns my ‘d’s backwards into ‘b’s. The wind has died down at my end, thankfully. The treehouse is still lightly swaying but not bucking like earlier. It’s still fucking cold, tho! Kinda funny our only connection these days is a string attached to two cans, but since I’m so committed to messaging you I’ll endure the icy ladder up to the open-air perch in these spruce trees. Actually, to be honest, it has nothing to do with a message. Who am I kidding? The opportunity to connect with other human beings is all I’m after, so I bundled up and waited out the storm up here. In another era I would have been chewing gum the whole time. In another era I would be stubbing out my 64th cigarette in a conch ashtray. Instead, I think of my weed pen. And looking at the ladder I have to descend at some point, glad I left it back in the house.
As the summer died down, I did a bunch of watching and waiting. These things I’ve become better than good at and I’m trying to look at the natural progression of things as just that; a natural progression. Not anything like bad habits given free rein or anything, but I can see a fair distance from up here so it seemed a good approach to just watch the water level rise from afar instead of venturing down to dip my toe in the ever-growing pool. And how fast did it rise! Wow. Now, looking down, I realize I should have made a point to visit a few of those places before they were surfaced over by the calm, encroaching waters. Do you remember that taco joint? The bowling alley? That vista point on the east side of the highway that overlooked the canyon? I should have gone bowling, then stopped off to grab some tacos to go and pulled over at the overlook to stuff my face and vision at the same time. You’re right, though. I wouldn’t have been able to go bowling anyway. That virus was/is still kicking around. And around. Do you remember when this all started? How it came on slow, like a migraine*? But it never got to the part where it hurt for most people until it was too late. You know what I mean? There were definitely those who felt it early and tried to warn us, but we’re American! You do know what I mean, don’t pretend you don’t. I turned off my internet and signed off completely once the water became visible over here on the east side. For the ocean to basically trickle up and over and around and through to the high desert was impossible to believe, so I get why it got lumped in with all of those other conspiracy theories, but unless I choose to remove my eyeballs to enforce my beliefs, I’m going to assume that what I see is vast amounts of water and not a giant hologram created by the deep state. The part that really gets me is those folks who had to flee their houses because of the water, dragging and hauling all of their plastic behind them who still don’t see what’s right in front of them. How do they twist their heads around getting flooded out at 3500′? And instead of this being the moment where everyone comes together in an amazing display of humanity in the face of great calamity, these goofballs pitch tents at the waters edge, raise those stupid banners and curse at the few people down there trying to help them.
But yes, I remember signing off of the internet. I’ve never been much for addictions, but I can’t say I’ve never been addicted. It was rough initially. The kids rebelled and my wife and I would sit across the table from one another, trying to come up with something to say. I’d think about going outside, but it would be just like that pile of books on the floor; I’d open the door, maybe go out a few steps, then decide to retreat back inside. It took quite a while, honestly. I’d leave pens around the house but it was pencils that finally poked a hole in my Truman show. I found that a sharp pencil scratching it’s way across paper was quite soothing. Back in the early days of my brewery I hypothesized that our love of oak barrels had been impregnated into our DNA over the years and years we humans stored all of our life-necessities inside them. We had, by our creation and use of these things, created a soft spot in our heart for them that lasted into the 21st century. Our affection for them is not ours, but our ancestors’. I do believe that the pencil (and paper) are of a similar bio-chemical alchemy. When I began using a pencil (at first just scribbling to hear the sound) I immediately felt something, but being so accustomed to the internet’s wily ways and those of my ‘phone’, I couldn’t identify what it was. I began littering my place with pencils and paper. I made sure that they were literally (ha! get that?) everywhere. I sharpened them when I didn’t need to, just to hear the sound. Scratch, sharpen, repeat. I made a rule early on to never use the eraser, instead I just cross out mistakes…mainly for the audible but also to keep the record of errors. I wish we were better at that as a society. Keeping a record of our errors. The rising water level is like a giant eraser, obliterating all the evidence of humanity that once was. At the very least it obliterates our actions. While I believe that humanity exists, it’s not necessarily human nature. I can say this quite assuredly, looking down on all of those encampments that are in perpetual motion away from the thing they say isn’t right there in front of them, fires burning, banners unfurled. It would take a special person to want to wander over there to try to help.
Luckily, humans have forged a special relationship with alcohol that has never gone abated. I take advantage of (& comfort in) this fact. My family doesn’t have to worry about food or shelter; the brewery does what it does and we feed it appropriately. It feels odd to hand out bottles of barrel-aged beer (naturally conditioned, mind you) to the less fortunate when we have to make our runs to civilization, but it’s what we have, it’s what we make. Earlier in my career I lamented how my creations were solely consumed by the bourgeoisie; I had somehow taken the common man’s beverage and turned it into inaccessible high art. But now! It does me some joy to see a few grizzled old-timers with their fingerless gloves popping corks around a metal barrel burning the oak staves that once held liquid that was desired around the world. There is some irony in this, but I make my way to these parts and collect the unbroken bottles to take back for cleaning and re-filling. Most of our beer now goes to trade for food and necessities, but I will always make a point of delivering some of it to those that all of us left behind. It seems we were in such a hurry to create the future that we forgot to live in the present; and for those of us unable to secure a future, the present was all they had. Can you imagine what it must have been like? All the voices, generally raised and directed above their heads, not at them, but around them? People (like me) always going someplace, attention in our palms, while they stood next to the information highway with shabby clothes and holes in their shoes? Cars rushing ahead just to jam on their brakes and semi trucks full of everything, more than everything, just gliding by. All that unnecessary noise. What was it for?
Thankfully, and with gratitude, I no longer check my news feed or get the itch to spy on my friends. I scratch my pencil on the paper and look outside at the clouds or the trees. When I get nervous, I make the effort to climb up here and look down to check on the water level. It’s usually then that I can make myself believe that it’s not really all that bad. With that bit of courage I’ll generally head down the hill to make some trades and realize that it’s not bad at all, really. People are getting by, people are helping each other and making do. You can easily spot those struggling to exist between the reality on the ground and what the internet is telling them, they have a bit of a panicked look about them and rarely make eye contact. But, just like with my kids, if I’m patient and just wait a bit, they realize I’m not going anywhere and join the moment. When I get home, soup bubbling away on the stove and the dinner table set for all of us, I’ll pull a bottle or two from our stash, because there are still things to celebrate. In fact, popping a cork for food around the table with family is about the most significant one I can think of!
*migraine reference stolen from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods