Salvage

Another “hot” day, in the high 60s. Yesterday we reached 70.  Talking with people as I go about town it occurs to me that we love it. Of course, who wouldn’t, right? Well… A couple of warm days in November and we’re happy because we can open the windows and leave our jackets at home. We’re so happy only few of us want to consider the cause and the effects of this down the road. Then, when it gets cold again – and probably very cold, in this seesaw climate – we can also be happy because we can finally grab that nagging suspicion by the horns, shake it and say, “global warming, huh!”

Today I wanted to write about salvaging. Yesterday I had to go into an Office Depot to have two big posters printed – we started “deep recycling” at the school I represent for the Green Team. I never go into those places. I can’t bear to look at the $1 packets of 100 pencils or ball points, the $2 t-shirts, the Save On This and That. The disparity between the advertised cost and the real cost of all this junk is too jarring for me.

But anyway, there I was, looking at all this stuff. And I realized why I never go to these places, or rather, why I never have to go. I salvage.

I get all my paper in the mail and through Amie’s school projects. I only write on scrap paper anymore.  Companies and my town send me envelopes with perfectly good envelopes in them. When we get take-out and the pita bread comes in tin foil, I wipe it and keep it. Same with plastic baggies. I even save the elastic bands that my grocery store puts around egg cartons and bunches of veggies for me. Haven’t had to buy a single elastic band in years now.

There must be many more examples that I can’t think of at the moment. I just do it subconsciously: I see something that is not “used up” and to me it says “reuse!”

I love to read apocalyptic novels and very recently tore through  The Old Man and the Wasteland by Nick Cole (kindle version, 99 cents). Like in The Old Man and the Sea, the old man  leaves his community to find something. Not a big fish, but salvage. They are a community living a hard life in the dessert, decades after the bombs, on salvaged stuff. I loved the insights into the salvaging mind – it’s all about following the story. It’s a great adventure and I was sad to get to the end, not just because it was the end, but because the man finds a whole city (Tuscon), intact, preserved and defended against The Horde.

He calls it salvage, but to me it was the end of salvage. And – tadaa – the epilogue indicates it was the beginning of the new “civilization”. Earlier in the book, the Old Man thought about how depressed everyone was right after the bombs, having lost everything. To survive that you had to accept that you lost everything (and many couldn’t). But now here it is: everything he thought was lost, for him and his community, given back again. What a shock that must be, but there isn’t much about his feelings – it’s too short and racy a novel for that.

Strange, my conflicted feelings about this ending. The curve of humanity swings upward and the Old Man, the author and the readers sing in praise. But this reader closed the book and stepped out into a warm day in November that was supposed to be cold.

The Real Work
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
… we have come to our real work,
And that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
— Wendell Berry

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