End of the Age: A Splendidly Disturbing Time

We toured the 31 outdoor wooden “sculptures” in a distant Floyd County field with both our imaginations and the creating artist’s names and a brief hint at explanations about each piece staged over a half mile winding trail.

The one pictured here is called the “Harvester” and the artist, Charlie Brouwer, explains it this way.

Charlie says “While mowing the grass one day, I realized that in a way, I was harvesting it. Later I read a parable about harvesting. Jesus explained it by saying “The  harvest is the end of the age and the angels are the harvesters.”

I decided I’d rather be on the side of the angels than the grass, so I pitched in to help, as you can see.

And of course one thing inspiring another, it brings to mind–to my mind at least–the certainty of the notion that indeed we do live at the end of an age.

The age behind us has been called the Holocene by the geologists, a time span at whose proximate end the Industrial Revolution has met The Information Age. The carbon-powered frenzy of that age has brought us into the Anthropocene–an age of uncertain duration where human activities dominate every biome to the exclusion of and by the massive extinction day by day of entire groups of former creatures.

Shale gas fracking is just one symptom of the end of the age, a manifestation of the greater disease for which the EQT-NextERA Mountain-Valley Pipeline in Floyd and adjacent counties is a symptom.

The disease is 200 years old, and stems from a pathology of intentional reimagining that somehow our species lives above and independent of nature and “the environment.” Our economic system has been built upon this failing notion. This delusion will not go on much longer.  But it will not end because rational intervention wins the day.

I’m not saying we can’t effectively prevent this pipeline route through Floyd County. I’m not saying that fracking is not getting serious heat across the country just now.

But with a wider view of what lies ahead, I don’t think a few fingers in the dike are going to make life a hundred years from now be “life as usual” as we experience it today.

We’ve come to the boundary between what was and what will be. There are profound dysfunctions that many but not all see that in the end will be refractory to our usual ways of activism, thinking or voting.

I’m just almost convinced that, in the words of David Hilfiker:

[su_highlight background=”#d6eaed” color=”#191f5a”]…the forces arrayed against environmental sanity are simply too strong for the usual political or personal fixes to be effective.  And until we understand what we’re up against, we can’t react effectively. [/su_highlight]

[su_highlight background=”#d6eaed” color=”#191f5a”]American consumerism, the structure of our government, the nature of our economic system, the power of the corporations, and the dominance of media are a tightly interwoven web that is virtually invulnerable to human attack.”[/su_highlight]


Invulnerable, given the time frame, which has systems falling apart and tipping points  being exceeded at a much faster rate than the NEXT economy, the NEXT society, the NEXT land-and-ocean ethic is coming into place.

As consumers, as voters, as thinkers we will not in sufficient numbers do what needs to be done in support of any top-down way to pull us back from the brink. I think that is an unfortunate truth about the future our children are about to inherit.

But mind you, those potential future reorderings are coming into place in small pockets, and my hope–a reasonable hope that can live in the absence of unreasonable optimism–is in fighting the good fight in my here-and-now, with what energy and strength and wisdom I might have gained in 60-plus years.

Making a small difference, creating ripples even within that tiny pond is a worthwhile reason to get up every morning.

The dying beast of the fossil fuel era, even as we act as if it will go on forever, is coming to an end across all of agriculture, transportation, commerce, travel and infrastructure. Much of the unrest in the world is symptom of this unsustainable pressure on a fixed and vanishing resource. Marcellus shale and the 2.5 million miles of pipelines that scar this nation and threaten groundwater, air and human dignity are final convulsions of the end of the age.

I’ll give Mr. Hilfiker the final word:

[su_highlight background=”#d6eaed” color=”#191f5a”]”Despair, grief, even cynicism and apathy are normal responses to the coming tragedy. We must not push them aside but recognize their reality and allow ourselves to grieve. And we must help each other navigate through these painful waters. But we must also remember that what’s coming makes it even more important to find hope within our grief and act with courage and decisiveness. We can’t make it all better, but we have been given the opportunity to participate in what is perhaps the greatest human struggle in recorded history. We are witness to a time in history like no other, and we can make a difference. Helen Keller once said, “I rejoice to live in such a splendidly disturbing time.”[/su_highlight]

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Fred, when I saw those images show up in your Flickr feed I knew a story was in the offing…The wait was worth it. And the way you tied it to current events and future musings worked well…

  2. You state the world’s reality extremely well. You are getting up each morning, doing your part. I hope you can rejoice each morning to be alive in such a splendidly disturbing time.