It may look, and sound, like the name of a Finnish sniper at Kollaa during the terrors of the Winter War, but Primo Somno is really just latin for “First Sleep”, which is a thing I just enjoyed and now find myself wide awake at 3 am. I attribute whatever sleep issues I have to shift work, from days to swings to graves and back again, but I’m not bitter about it. It could always be worse, and outside just now the world is enveloped in a freezing fog and the woods are preternaturally quiet. I went outside for a minute just to breath in that air, and could hear the horses snuffling down at the barn. It was cold and dark and night was close, and if I stood still enough I could almost hear the ice crystals forming on the bunch grass and in the trees.
That’s a big win.
Life in the fog at 3 am is, I imagine, like living inside of an egg, which some part of me doesn’t mind given that our little town is growing exponentially and the noise that drifts up to us here on the ridge carries all too well. We get enough sirens now, which echo for miles in the trees, to pry the lid off of any illusion that Sisters will be able to hold onto its “small town charm” for much longer. On clear nights I can hear the glass breaking at Hardtails, the local biker roadhouse. Last summer I sat on the porch with a glass of wine and could hear every verse and drum solo in a show by Molly Hatchet. You may be as surprised as I was that Molly Hatchet is still a thing, still touring, and still straining to hit the higher notes. But they still pack them in, at least in those places where the tables and chairs and the floor are sticky from the slop.
Also, whenever a place starts marketing itself with hashtags like “small town charm”, it’s probably time to start packing because the life expectancy of “small town charm” in the modern west is even shorter than a door gunner’s tour in Vietnam.
That’s also true of paved roads, which I am decidedly against. My grandfather Russ, and his brother Larvin, once drove from St. Joseph, Missouri, to La Jolla, California on all dirt roads. That was before the war, which required pavement as much as bullets and battleships. I don’t know what they were doing, maybe just romping, because my grandfather’s favorite memory of the trip was playing in the waves at the La Jolla caves in his knickerbockers. A few short years later he would be making torpedo runs and carrier landings in the Pacific Ocean in the big effort to defeat the Japanese Empire. A few years after that we sat together in the den of his Hollywood mansion eating popcorn and watching the The Karate Kid, which he hated from beginning to end, and for all of the reasons you might imagine.
This morning there is another war in the offing, over in Ukraine. I’ve been pondering the many ways America is shooting itself in the face with bad policy and worse politicians, on issues from defunding police departments to the delusion that electric cars are going to save us. The first is just incredibly stupid and frighteningly naïve, the second is a gunnysack full of high-minded fantasy. In fairness, I don’t mind the idea of electric cars if only because they are quiet. Imagine the freeways of Los Angeles full of nothing but electric cars. The sudden quiet would be astonishing everywhere except at the massive cobalt and lithium mining operations—which will no doubt be vertically integrated into Elon Musk’s bank account. I get it, electric cars are coming whether Rullman approves or not, but can we just stop pretending they are “environmentally friendly”?
Doesn’t it just seem, some days, that we are being outplayed and outmaneuvered at every turn? One wonders if the underwater cables have been tapped, the cyphers compromised, if there is a mole in every briefing room, or if we are just as inept and delusional as appearance suggests.
But, if there is any solace to be had, the US is clearly not the only country shooting itself in the face. As the Wall Street Journal noted:
“The self-created energy vulnerability of the West is one of the horrifying marvels of the age. You have to go back to the disarmament of the 1920s to recall a time of such willful self-delusion. Even as President Biden races to rescue Europe, his Build Back Better plan would send the U.S. down the same road of energy disarmament.”
–Wall Street Journal Editorial, 1.27.2022
This is one reason the Soviets—and by that I mean the Russians—keep lavishly funding green energy movements across Europe (and one suspects in the United States) which already depends on Russia for 40% of its liquefied natural gas, and which is vital to backing up the solar and wind energy projects many Europeans think is going to save them. It isn’t, obviously, and when wind was in short supply last year the Russians slow-rolled delivery of the gas required to cover the shortfall. The consequence of all that was a spike in consumer prices across the board—and if Putin decides to shut off the big valve in response to sanctions well…the average citizen of Munich should probably start chopping his furniture into kindling.
Last week a German naval commander was forced to resign for having the brass to admit out loud that Putin deserves some respect—something I’ve been suggesting for a while if only because he is clearly versed in Sun Tzu–who offered the maxim that allying yourself to your enemy’s weaknesses will lead to victory. It isn’t exactly rocket science, but the European insistence on the scowling deacons of climate science rather than realpolitik certainly looks like “willful self-delusion.” From my own experience I can only compare it to narcotics investigations. You might think drugs are a bane to civilization and you would be right, but you will get exactly nowhere chasing the dope. You only start making great arrests when you follow the money—which is any drug trafficking organization’s greatest weakness.
On another note, and a welcome off ramp from the bells and whistles of World War 3–and before I sneak back in for a shot at a second sleep–I have realized with some delight that my dogs believe I am a great hunter. This is because I frequently bring them pepperoni sticks from our local smokehouse. If we go out together, I stop in the smokehouse and come out to the truck with pepperoni sticks—one each. If I go into town alone I come home with pepperoni sticks. They think I’m bringing a good kill back to the den, which in a way I probably am. And they love me for it, as I love them.
Meantime, we can find still find greatness in antiquity. Poetry is an oral medium, meant to be spoken aloud or sang around a fire, a thing we have largely forgotten. One of the finer experiences of my life was sitting in a hall listening to Allen Ginsberg sing Blake while playing a squeezebox. He sat up on stage, an old bard with crazy hair, ill-fitting clothes, and a lisp, and roused a hundred people to sing The Nurse’s Song. We sang the last two lines again and again and our combined voices—above that ridiculously perfect squeezebox, remains one of the most profoundly moving experiences of my life:
When voices of children are heard on the green,
And laughing is heard on the hill,
My heart is at rest within my breast,
And everything else is still.
‘Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down,
And the dews of night arise;
Come, come, leave off play, and let us away,
Till the morning appears in the skies.’
‘No, no, let us play, for it is yet day,
And we cannot go to sleep;
Besides, in the sky the little birds fly,
And the hills are all covered with sheep.’
‘Well, well, go and play till the light fades away,
And then go home to bed.’
The little ones leaped, and shouted, and laughed,
And all the hills echoéd
I can still hear that music in my head, and hope I will never stop hearing it above the Molly Hatchets and the Jen Psakis and the Donald Trumps and the raging Karens at airport ticket counters.
But now it’s late. Or early. I don’t know which. The fog is cloying at my windows and I’m yawning at the keyboard. So I’ll leave you with another child’s ballad of antiquity, Old Robin of Portingale, from the Percy Folio. Like many ballads the story is rather grim, but it somehow–after all these centuries–manages to hit just the right notes to put a grown and restless man back to sleep. And what a boon that YouTube would have a man singing it.
“…And at the wakening of your first sleepe, You shall have a hot drink made, And at the wakening of your next sleepe, Your sorrows will have a slake…”