One train – or the other

I was first made aware of Peak Oil by my wife Mary, nearly three years ago. She had started to read The Oil Drum which had been running for some two years. I was just getting deeper into the archaeology of this corner of south-west France : the Minervois and the Corbieres region of Languedoc. We’d sit down together at about 6 with a bottle and something to nibble – which we’ve been doing for 30 years now – and swap the latest news on Peak Wood [ – in the Bronze Age : plus ça change – plus c’est la même chose ] and Peak Oil.

At the time, Stoneleigh and Ilargi were TOD’s Canadian editors posting regularly on global economic matters. At some point a year or more back, and for reasons best known to themselves,  the editors of TOD and S & I parted company – the latter to form The Automatic Earth:-

These are the days of miracle and wonder
. . .

A loose affiliation of millionaires
And billionaires . . .
From ‘The Boy in the Bubble’. Paul Simon. Graceland.

The information and analysis posted on TAE were every bit as urgent and compelling as those on TOD – indeed more so. I began, belatedly, to read both. They seemed to feed into eachother : the crisis in one sphere looping  feedback to the other.  But it was indeed a classic case of  ‘one train may conceal another’.


Now it just so happens to be our lot to be living in ‘interesting times’. We may be nestling at the foot of that mountain in the photo in a bucolic little village – but the trains of History pass close by. And there are not just two trains to watch out for – the collapse of capitalism and the peaking of cheap oil – there are five or more threatening a massive train-wreck.

Resource depletion – from precious metals to trees, to bees, to water, to cereals – is already upon us. Climate change is being experienced the world over. Oceanic acidification is another. But the biggest and most unstoppable one of them all is population. And it’s the one we find impossible to discuss. It is behind all the others – exerting the greatest pressure of all. It is the invisible human locomotive that will crush us all.

Of course civilisations rise and fall, cultures wax and wane – and there will always be some renaissance. It just won’t resemble anything we’ve seen before. It will emerge from the wreckage and exist in a stranger landscape than we can imagine. Some have tried to envision it – when the crisis was nuclear : say, Russell Hoban’s ‘Riddley Walker’. It’s a strange and difficult book, but then so is life and survival.

Meanwhile – before the crashes begin to run into one-another – we still have enough time to read poetry that treats words as valuable and love as precious.

One Train May Hide Another

In a poem, one line may hide another line,
As at a crossing, one train may hide another train.
That is, if you are waiting to cross
The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at
Least after the first train is gone. And so when you read
Wait until you have read the next line–
Then it is safe to go on reading.
In a family one sister may conceal another,
So, when you are courting, it’s best to have them all in view
Otherwise in coming to find one you may love another.
One father or one brother may hide the man,
If you are a woman, whom you have been waiting to love.
So always standing in front of something the other
As words stand in front of objects, feelings, and ideas.
One wish may hide another. And one person’s reputation may hide
The reputation of another. One dog may conceal another
On a lawn, so if you escape the first one you’re not necessarily safe;
One lilac may hide another and then a lot of lilacs and on the Appia
Antica one tomb
May hide a number of other tombs. In love, one reproach may hide another,
One small complaint may hide a great one.
One injustice may hide another–one colonial may hide another,
One blaring red uniform another, and another, a whole column. One bath
may hide another bath
As when, after bathing, one walks out into the rain.
One idea may hide another: Life is simple
Hide Life is incredibly complex, as in the prose of Gertrude Stein
One sentence hides another and is another as well. And in the laboratory
One invention may hide another invention,
One evening may hide another, one shadow, a nest of shadows.
One dark red, or one blue, or one purple–this is a painting
By someone after Matisse. One waits at the tracks until they pass,
These hidden doubles or, sometimes, likenesses. One identical twin
May hide the other. And there may be even more in there! The obstetrician
Gazes at the Valley of the Var. We used to live there, my wife and I, but
One life hid another life. And now she is gone and I am here.
A vivacious mother hides a gawky daughter. The daughter hides
Her own vivacious daughter in turn. They are in
A railway station and the daughter is holding a bag
Bigger than her mother’s bag and successfully hides it.
In offering to pick up the daughter’s bag one finds oneself confronted by
the mother’s
And has to carry that one, too. So one hitchhiker
May deliberately hide another and one cup of coffee
Another, too, until one is over-excited. One love may hide another love
or the same love
As when “I love you” suddenly rings false and one discovers
The better love lingering behind, as when “I’m full of doubts”
Hides “I’m certain about something and it is that”
And one dream may hide another as is well known, always, too. In the
Garden of Eden
Adam and Eve may hide the real Adam and Eve.
Jerusalem may hide another Jerusalem.
When you come to something, stop to let it pass
So you can see what else is there. At home, no matter where,
Internal tracks pose dangers, too: one memory
Certainly hides another, that being what memory is all about,
The eternal reverse succession of contemplated entities. Reading
A Sentimental Journey look around
When you have finished, for Tristram Shandy, to see
If it is standing there, it should be, stronger
And more profound and theretofore hidden as Santa Maria Maggiore
May be hidden by similar churches inside Rome. One sidewalk
May hide another, as when you’re asleep there, and
One song hide another song; a pounding upstairs
Hide the beating of drums. One friend may hide another, you sit at the
foot of a tree
With one and when you get up to leave there is another
Whom you’d have preferred to talk to all along. One teacher,
One doctor, one ecstasy, one illness, one woman, one man
May hide another. Pause to let the first one pass.
You think, Now it is safe to cross and you are hit by the next one. It
can be important
To have waited at least a moment to see what was already there.

Kenneth Koch

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