Press "Enter" to skip to content


Column by George Sibley

Climate – March 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine

A prompt, decisive man, no breath

Our father wasted: “Boys, a path!”

John Greenleaf Whittier, Snowbound

SITTING HERE INSIDE watching it snow again outside, and thinking about “change.” Which leads my warped and undisciplined mind, always looking for the joke, to leap to “spare change,” which makes me think of Yip Harburg’s great 1932 song that reminded America then how far it had strayed from sanity: “Buddy, can you spare a dime?” The man who had plowed the earth, carried the gun, built the railroads, was reduced to a spare-changer on the streets which his labor had laid and paved. That man, that song, that awareness, elected Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, and some changes happened — most of which have not been spared in the Reagan Counterrevolution.

Meanwhile, the snow keeps falling outside, and I can’t stop watching it. The storms just keep rolling in, beautiful mountain-style winter storms — no blizzards, just straight-down, businesslike falls of five inches, eight inches, twelve inches — storms so windless that the snow will pile up in soft ridges eight or ten inches high on a four-inch porch rail. But it has been gradually, incrementally, mounting up around us, close to a record year as I write this. By the time you read this, of course, it may all be gone, if the long-range forecasters are right and the recent tendency toward early melts prevails.

But today, it is still piling up, in that incremental way, and I’m going to have to go out pretty soon and shovel again. Clean out the ever-deepening canyon to the street so the mailman can bring us our daily junk, rake some more down out of the roof-valleys and bust out the ice dams again — the good news there being that, after two months of accumulation, I don’t need the ladder to chop them out; I just stand on the pile I’ve raked down. The bad news, of course, is that we’re running out of places to pile it. We’ve stopped shoveling the driveway; we just drive back and forth on the new stuff a few times, pack it down, and shovel a ramp down to the level of plowed-out civilization. The city is also running out of places to pile it; down the street in the old City Market site, crews working around the clock haul the stuff in from the streets and a bulldozer pushes it up into mountains that now top out at about 50 feet.

We aren’t of course really “snowbound.” Our elaborate and expensive infrastructure of city, county and state maintenance crews keeps the streets and highways open enough of the time so the trucks that bring our food, fuel — everything — keep coming. Interestingly, the only time we’ve ever felt vulnerable to extreme weather was around Christmas 2006: a beautiful week here, but Denver was truly snowbound for a few days by a huge storm, and all of a sudden our grocery stores were sort of empty.

Meanwhile, it continues to snow outside, and I continue to watch it pile up, rather than focusing on this column which is supposed to be about “change” and — “Buddy, can you spare a dime?” Huh? Where am I? With a mind like this, no wonder I never get anything done.

Meanwhile, still snowing. But it’s beautiful in its ominously seductive way. And even though I know it’s all going to change to water sometime between next week and next June, and be a hell of a mess in basements and some living rooms, and in foot-deep moats at every street intersection, I know that when it stops snowing, this afternoon or whenever, I will feel a little sense of — ordinariness returning?

YES, THERE’S SOMETHING morbidly fascinating about the incremental onset of something that you know could be big, overwhelming, disastrous even — the onset of the currently overdue return of the Big Ice, or the countering threat of desertification under global climate change, or the brewing disaster of the incrementally unleashed forces of greed in the banks where we entrust our money, or the growing gathering of angry young know-nothings in the streets, testosteroids who might all start wearing brown shirts if we elect the right president for them, Blackwater rising beneath the cover of snow. We know these things are ominous, and we know we ought to do something, but we tend to just watch them unfold as though we are as powerless to do anything about them as we are powerless to stop the snow falling.

I’ve been watching the presidential roadshow unfold with the same morbid fascination, although with more frustration than I can muster for the snow, even when the plow comes by again and throws up yet another four-foot ridge of dirty snow across the walk and driveway.

I’m writing this the weekend before the Colorado Caucuses, but even though we humped our caucuses up a couple months, the interesting candidates have as usual been purged before we get our say. The Democrat discourse was a lot more interesting when John Edwards was in there proposing actual policies for Clinton and Obama to adopt in their own watered-down manner, and Dennis Kucinich was making up and answering his own questions for the debate he crashed because the preselected questions were too inane and irrelevant. Those two were so serious about bringing real issues — all this stuff piling up around us — into the campaign that Big Media could not allow us to take them seriously; they were eliminated through a well-orchestrated process of ignoring them except to occasionally make fun of them.

And on the other side of the aisle — one hardly knows what to say. There, too, the only one stating the occasional considered and considerate position, Ron Paul, has been mostly dismissed by Big Media, which has chosen to focus on the pack of schoolyard bullies all trying to out-aggress each other with the most violent, virulent stances possible on dealing with the rest of the world and our own people.

THE TWO REMAINING Democrats have been wrestling over who is really the “candidate of change.” Yet neither of them seems to want to talk about the very real changes that are actually piling up around us: global climate change; the hundred-dollars-a-barrel changes coming in the basic energy supply; America’s change from hog-butcher and steel-maker for the world to consumer for and of the world; our change from banker for the world to the world’s biggest debtor nation ever; the change from the world’s leading advocate for human rights to a nation apparently driven by xenophobia, segregation and torture for all (at least “all others” ); the change from a democracy ruled by law to an autocracy with a “unitary president” above the law; the change from a nation instituting social programs for helping old people live with a modicum of decency to a nation that can’t even muster the will to take care of all its own children.

These changes aren’t just coming; they are here; they are us. And we are just watching them all pile up around us (when we aren’t outright ignoring them), apparently feeling too powerless about them all to even insist, like Edwards and Kucinich tried to insist, that we at least bring them directly into the political discourse. Now that those two are gone, there is Big-Media-sanctioned talk about “centrism” and “rising above partisanship,” but it still takes two to tango in a bipartisan way, and I don’t see the other side very interested in participating. I don’t see who is going to be so impolite and impolitic as to suggest that, sooner or later, we have to get partisan about the most basic issue of all: whether this nation, and the world it’s part of, will be run by and for the people, or by and for the Big Money that has bought out the government and Big Media and the candidates and maybe a lot of we the people too.

Meanwhile, it keeps snowing. Time to go shovel again. Boys, a path!

George Sibley writes from cold and snowy Gunnison.