We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening a mob with the news that grass is green.
– English writer and philosopher G.K. Chesterton
…wondering how come people forget the things that are most important to them… the things that make them successful.
Well, today, we reach our destination – or at least, as far as we’re going to go: The wild weeds grow every day. Give them a chance, and they take over.
By our reckoning, America seemed to run out of “Roundup” around about the turn of the century – in 1999. Since then, by almost every measure, the country has been getting weedier. Here’s the latest from Harper’s:
The United States fell 11 places below its 2010 position, to just below Argentina and Mongolia, on a watchdog’s annual ranking of countries according to political rights and civil liberties; worldwide, freedom declined for the fifteenth consecutive year.
What seems to be happening is a general dumbing down… so that important insights and the hard-earned lessons of the past are forgotten… neglected and abandoned.
Balance the budget? The expression hasn’t been heard in Washington for many years.
Free enterprise… free markets – yes, of course, but with federal guidance!
Real money? What’s that?
Work for a living? Why not just hand out more stimmy checks?
More women in the Cabinet? That’s what we really need!
Even the most fundamental brick in the whole social edifice – the family – has been cast aside. Marriage rates in the U.S. are at their lowest level on record.
Weeding and Pruning
Civilization is restraint, said Sigmund Freud. But it’s more than that. It’s callouses. It’s planting and building. And it’s pulling out the weeds and pruning off foolish ideas.
It requires discipline and a willingness to make distinctions – between what is true and what is false. Two plus two must equal four. Not seven. Words must have meaning; they can’t mean anything you want.
And money must have value; it must represent real wealth, not just pieces of paper you pass out on street corners.
Robbers and counterfeiters should be hung, not hired to run government. Murder ought to be punished, not disguised as “war.”
Spending must be controlled, and debt must be limited… not allowed to run wild until the country is bankrupt. Two plus two must equal four.
Civilization requires learning, too… and relearning…
It means finding out what works and cleaning out what doesn’t… and always maintaining, shoring up… fixing and protecting.
Weeds Take Over
But the weeds don’t stop growing. And when the civilizing energy is spent, they soon take over. Then, a few generations go by, and soon, nobody remembers anything.
In the jungles of Central America, for example, there are vestiges of a powerful civilization – including vast stone temples and sculptured heads. But by the time the Europeans arrived… nobody knew who made them… or how.
The same could be said about dozens of “lost” civilizations – the Zapoteca, Hurrian, Punt, Harapan… and so forth.
On Easter Island in Polynesia, magnificent statues face out to sea. But the locals still don’t know why.
Even here in Ireland, there are ruins that have been here for thousands of years. Who built them? When? Why? Nobody knows.
Within a mile of our house, there is the Molana Abbey (mentioned yesterday). It is in ruins. And there is a Norman castle nearby, also in ruins.
There are ruins on our property, too. Maps from the 19th century ignore them… as if they didn’t exist. The cartographers must have thought they weren’t worth noting.
Our house here was the “rectory” of the church down by the castle. The church itself is fairly recent – from the 19th century. But it, too, is abandoned, and covered in vines.
This past weekend, we cut into the laurel, the trees, the vines, the weeds, and the underbrush to try to reestablish a road that led from the old “lodge” (which must have functioned as a gate house) to the rectory.
The lodge was barely visible when we arrived – completely covered in vines.
The farm itself is about 60 acres. Before the Great Famine in the 19th century, the area had more people… and much more human activity. The fallen-down walls and houses attest to a more carefully planned and tended property, with large families and many hands at work.
People used to live here
The old Ordnance Survey map from 1837 shows roads, houses, walls, orchards, and gardens that no longer exist. Back then, local people lived off the local produce that the farm supplied; it had to be productive. They couldn’t “print” bread, apples, or potatoes.
Today, much of Ireland’s GDP comes from high-tech businesses centered around Dublin. Rural areas have been relatively neglected, except for the remaining farmers, who rely on the latest in farm equipment to make up for scarce, and expensive, labor.
Exploring the Woods
Unable to penetrate the thick underbrush on the old road coming up from the lodge, last Saturday, we brought in reinforcements – one of the O’Keefes with a backhoe – and Matt, who helps around the house.
While they continued working on the road, we decided to explore from the other side, leaving from the house, crossing the cow pasture – hopping gingerly over the wire so as to avoid electrocution – and then entering the woods.
At least, this time of year, we can see much more; the trees and brambles have not yet set out their leaves.
Once over the wire fence, we came to a stone fence, only about 3 feet high, with big gaps where the stones have disappeared. On the other side, a short, steep hill led down to a small stream, easily forded by stepping on stones.
Up on the other bank was a large beech tree, so grand and thick, it had killed the competition, leaving only a carpet of ivy on the ground.
It was not hard to see where the Celts got their weavy patterns – they are on display, natural expressions of the vines.
Vines on a tree
Crossing over the ivy, we ducked under a laurel limb, and there it was – one of two large portals in an ancient wall.
This wall – hidden in the woods – is higher than others in the area – about 12 feet tall. And it was built to a different standard. The stones are tighter, more carefully laid up than most.
The entry passageway – big enough for a horse-drawn carriage – was sculpted with cut stone.
Going inside, we saw that the wall continued around in a horseshoe form, with another large passageway on the opposite side and two doorways in between.
The two large portals were in good shape, with scarcely a stone out of place. But a big stone must have recently fallen from the arch of one of the doorways; it lay naked on the ground, unclothed by moss or vines.
We ducked under more laurel limbs… some growing over or into the high walls. A sycamore tree, too, has grown up in the middle of the horseshoe.
What was it? An entry… but to what? And why was it open on one side, while seriously closed on another? When was it built? By whom? Why?
We walked back down the hill to where we heard a chainsaw at work. Matt was cutting a big tree that lay across the road. Pat O’Keefe stood by his machine, waiting to push the debris down the hill.
The O’Keefes have been in this area for “donkey’s years,” we were told. “They were a powerful family. And they probably know more about local history than anyone.”
So we asked Pat about the ruins.
“Do you know anything about them?”
“Yu blwa vul ashn crotrech” said Pat, a thin man with a thin beard.
We don’t know what he said, either.
So we turned to Matt, our regular translator.
“What did he say?”
“I don’t know meself. He’s from the other side of the river. And over here, we don’t talk to the O’Keefes.”
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