Friday, April 29, 2011

Old Mills, Balance, and Ingenuity

Below my house is a stream. On this stream once stood a mill. What remains, some 100 years later, are the fieldstone walls, lichen-covered and serving as lairs for squirrels and chipmunks. The magnititude of this project inspires me, as I think about the individuals who collected each of these stones from the adjacent field, transported them by hand, or by wagon, to this site, and then stacked them. There is no mortar, just good Yankee ingenuity. 

The mill foundation inspires me also because of what it represents. A time when people harnessed what nature provided to produce the power they needed. Their needs were much lower than ours are now, and the whole system seemed more in balance. They lived within their means to support themselves. 

Would I be willing to go back to cutting ice from a pond and storing in an ice house all summer for my refrigeration? Probably not. Could I give up my dryer? Yes. My electric oven? Rather not. I've reduced my consumption of electricity significantly, but I could do more. Even so, I am dependent on someone else to supply me the juice. 

When I sit by the stream and look at those stacked stones, which once held a wheel, which spun when the stream flowed, I think about the time when people both took initiative and accepted responsibility. Initiative without responsibility results in anarchy. Responsibility without initiative results in stagnation. We seem to have a bit of both today. 

Some believe we depend too much on our government, and yet, we have proven time-and-again that we need external controls, or at least guidelines. Just look at our recent financial crisis. Others believe that our government should (and will) provide a solution for every problem that arises. That is simply unrealistic. What we need are balance and ingenuity. The kind of balance and ingenuity that allows fieldstone foundations to remain solid for over a hundred years.

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