No. of Recommendations: 40
OT: Sort of macroeconomic in nature, but not connected to investing.

Very long, so what else is new?

Sorry, not really humorous this time.

You have been given fair warning . . . .

And, BTW, best wishes to everyone here for a happy, peaceful and reflective holiday!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Say, Daisy. Did you hear about Kern?”

“No, Jasper, I didn’t. What’s up? Is he OK?”

“He’s all right, I guess, but this economy, you know – he got laid off yesterday.”

“Wow, that’s too bad – tough to find something new at his age. He’s such a hard worker, but this economy is just killing everyone who is not in sales or procurement. It’s a terrible time to be a fifty-year-old in finance or middle management.”

“Well, he will find something – he has to, with the two kids. It is hard to imagine, though – how can a guy like Kern be out of work? What has happened to us?”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

We are the end result of millions of years of evolution -- or, to avoid controversy not relevant to the main idea here, we have been cleverly designed to mimic such an end result. In either case, we exhibit a suite of characteristics well-fitted to survival across those eons: intelligence; adaptability; strength of will; dexterity; tool-making and use; and physical strength, courage and endurance.

The world has changed in recent millennia at an incredible rate, and even though we are the primary agents of that change, our basic nature has not changed to match the world around us. We are the architects of a world in which we are, strangely, misfits – a world that increasingly values only a few of our characteristics and shrugs dismissively at the others.

This mismatch creates problems for us – the things that we do to prosper in this brave new world are only a small subset of the things we must do to maintain our physical and mental health at a holistic level. The obvious example is exercise: we have formidable physical bodies that are virtually irrelevant to our work today; in order to maintain our well-being, we must schedule regular exercise sessions.

Do you think that Zog the Caveman did calisthenics every morning?

“Look, dear, I am doing a cool new thing I invented; I call them ‘jumping jacks!’”
“That’s great, Zog, but watch out for the . . . “
“ . . . saber-tooth cat . . . .”

Somehow I suspect that old Zog got all the exercise he needed during his daily routine -- in fact; it was the other way around: his body was well-suited to the demands placed upon it by that routine: there was a Savoy-tailor fit between Zog’s body and the demands Zog’s life placed upon it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Flash back thirty-five years . . . .

The storm came from nowhere and everywhere; it came shrieking from the frozen depths of hell, and it brought with it a fiery torrent of ice, sharp needles that lanced through cloth and skin and spattered droplets of blood in beautiful red patterns on the ice – an abstract work by the Great Malevolent Artist, suitable for display in the London’s famed Saatchi Gallery.

Ninety-nine out of a hundred backwoods hikers would have found the lee of a rock, hunkered down, and tried to wait out the storm, but Kern was one in a hundred – born and raised in Michigan’s wild Upper Peninsula and well-versed in winter’s ways.

He knew he was in grave trouble, exposed on a narrow shelf with thousands of feet of cliff above and below and no trail anywhere close. He had to get to a more stable location; he had to run before the storm, and he had no time, no time at all.

He had no trail -- but he did have one thing working in his favor; he had prepared well for this trip, studying topographic maps with intensity bordering on fanaticism, and he was as experienced as anyone on Earth in such conditions -- friends often said that he was born in the wrong century; he should have been there with Bridger and Carson, an advance scout into the great and wild mountains of the American west.

The Great Canyon below him was lost in wind and cloud and snow and ice, and the steep wall above him looked impassable, almost vertical. Everything was ice; everything was blinding sheets of sleet; everything was so damned vertical . . . .

Like a figure from a time and place long forgotten, Kern walked out into the storm.

He hiked for two hours over slopes too steep to believe, every step on smooth, slick ice, every motion contested by raging winds, eyes blinded by sleet and sweat and blood. You or I -- well, we would have stopped and rested, just for a minute, just long enough to relieve the screaming ache in our legs, just long enough to get a moment of respite from the constant fear of one false step, one fateful slip. We would have rested, and it would have been our final rest; the storm would have claimed us.

Kern walked on, every step on the edge of a cliff higher than all time, every moment wrested from the eager grip of the storm. Finally, just before nightfall, he came to a stable, flat area, shielded by a rock outcrop from the worst of the storm, and there, exhausted, he stopped and set up a temporary camp.

Once he had a small fire going, Kern got out the satellite phone, powered it up, and called the ranger station to report his position and status. Reception was poor, and the conversation quickly took a turn for the worse.

“Mr. Kern, we can’t get a chopper anywhere . . . Canyon; the winds . . . too dangerous.”

“That’s OK, sir; I am fine. I am in a stable position here, with good shelter and plenty of food and water. I can just hunker down here . . . .”

“No, you don’t understand . . . down by Indian Garden . . . Bright Angel Trail; they think . . . heart attack, and he is there just with his son . . . is grave.”

“Please repeat that, sir. Did you say there is a man in trouble at Indian Garden campground? Can you get a wilderness rescue team to him?”

“ Negative . . . repeat, no experienced personnel . . . storm . . . rescues all over the Canyon. Bright Angel . . . impassable from above . . .”

“But you think a hiker could make it UP the trail?”

“With the proper equipment . . . see you are wilderness rescue . . . desperate . . .”

“Indian Gardens is four miles from here, with no trails, across the slickest ice I have ever seen . . .”

“I understand completely . . . a lot to ask . . .”

“. . . so I had better get going. I’ll hike straight to the Tonto Trail and from there I can hoof it pretty fast over to Indian Gardens. Sounds like it will be hard going up the Bright Angel Trail, though, and it’s about five miles. Can you get any distance at all down the trail to meet me?”

“ . . . can’t get a quarter mile down the trail . . . everyone out on rescue operations . . . up to you . . . don’t get yourself into something you can’t get out of . . .”

“Sounds like it’s a bit late for that, sir. I am signing out now; I have to go. Get everything ready up on the Rim; I’ll be there after midnight.”

And Kern walked back out into the storm . . . .

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I drove to the Canyon the next day, when the storm had cleared, to get Kern. Everybody was swarming around and congratulating him for what he did and me for being the friend of the guy that did all that stuff, and there were free drinks all around, and I did my best to take full credit for everything.

The story got better and better as the hours went by, but it was probably a pretty good story even before the exaggerating started. Here is how one old man told it:

“Well, we all got out to the trailhead around midnight. The old guy’s son had called from Indian Gardens and said Mr. Kern had started up the trail with his Dad -- the son wanted to come, but Mr. Kern wouldn’t let him – said he didn’t need no greenhorns sliding down the Canyon.”

“We figured if all went well, which seemed pretty durned unlikely, they would get up to the Rim after midnight sometime. So we got all the ropes we could find and got as far down the trail as we could, which wasn’t very far, and threw the ropes down below, trying to get them on the trail, and then we sat there and waited.”

“It was damned cold, and although the storm has a let up quite a bit, it was windy and sleet was falling and everything – and I mean everything – was covered with ice. Just getting a few hundred yards down the trail we were slipping and sliding all over the place.”

“So we waited, seemed like forever, and a couple of hours passed and we were figuring that pretty clearly things had not gone so well, and none of us were much surprised by that fact, when Jimmy Craig lets out a yell. He’s waving his binoculars around, hollering, ‘I think I see a light down there!’”

“So we all scrambled around and looked, and sure enough, down the trail a ways, we could see a light flickering through the sleet and mist. So we all started shouting and shining lights down there, and getting pretty excited, but nobody answered back. And then the boys up front got quiet, and a wave of quiet passed along through our little crowd, and everybody just stared.”

“The mist had parted, and I saw something I will never forget, not as long as I live. I saw a man inching up the trail, headlight bobbing up and down, using cleats and two icepicks, one slow step at a time, and he was carrying another man on his back.

“He never looked up, he never slowed or stopped or sped up or anything; he just came on, step after step. After a while we could see he was too tired to do anything but just take that one next step; and take it he did, over and over again. It was funny – you could see that he could hardly take the next step, but you could also see that there was not a force on Earth that could stop him.”

“Finally he hit one of the ropes we had thrown down, and before long we had him up on the Rim.”

“I don’t know how he did it, Mr. Daisy-- carrying the old man the entire way. It was impossible. Your friend is a hero.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Driven by the engine of the free market, our world surges forward, changing more and more rapidly with each passing decade. And I do not object to this or resist it; in most respects, the changes are for the better.

But even as we embrace the wonders that modern times have brought, we can still regret the costs.

And, truth be told, it is difficult for me to embrace a world where amoral lizards rule the economy (and it would be an inferential leap here to think I am talking about Goldman Sachs in a direct, specific, and actionable sense), where selfish politicians govern from a platform of arrogance and self-interest – and where heroes are reading the want ads.


A Drumlin Daisy

Who notes that he previously posted about a winter storm that affected him personally:

but that post, discussing the uncommon valor of a common man in dire circumstances, was sort of the inverse of this one . . . .
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