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When you ride alone you ride with Putin
The Ukraine invasion and reading for our age of crisis
During World War II, the Office of Price Administration urged Americans to carpool in order to conserve badly needed gasoline and rubber with the slogan, “When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler.”
The invasion of Ukraine on 24 February changed my outlook on energy use overnight. I wasn’t going to ride with Putin.
The United States had not become dependent on Russian oil the way many European nations had, for obvious geographical reasons. But if Europeans were going to have to deal with shortages and high prices and dramatic, difficult adjustments, I wanted to be right there with them.
I did little driving before, but to my surprise I found I could do even less. War does focus the mind.
Since that day, I have not driven to Main Street to shop or drop a package at the post office. I found an old luggage cart in the attic and if I have a heavy package or a stack of books to return to the library, I put my bag on the cart and trundle off. I’m shopping more at the Berkshire Coop, using a backpack.
At long last I’m really back on my bike, a hand-built custom bike from a famous UK cycle maker that my then-boyfriend talked me into buying many years ago. I had barely used it since I lived in Boulder in 1990, but indoor cycling over the winter meant I could handle the Berkshire Hills (and the hill right outside my door). The bike is a dream to ride and I feel like I’ve reclaimed a precious part of my life.
Back in February, I started heating with wood, seriously, and have now laid in 4 cords of firewood that should see us through the winter. This means some rooms are chillier than than they would be with oil-heated radiators running, but that’s okay. And, yes, I’m looking into heat pumps.
This is a subject I’ve thought about and written about for a long time, and newly inspired (thanks, Putin!) I am launching a separate newsletter focused on “home ecology.” It’ll stick to the practical, but with geopolitics in mind because leaders like Putin and Xi Jinping pose a danger to all of us, and to future generations. If we want a livable, democratic, peaceful planet, we need to step up now.
What to read
Before I recommend 2 new books from Berkshire Publishing, I want to highlight a book that speaks to our times in a remarkable way. Up from the Depths: Herman Melville, Lewis Mumford, and Rediscovery in Dark Times by Aaron Sachs, a historian at Cornell, interested me first because one of his subjects is Lewis Mumford, and he writes a good deal about Sophia Mumford, too. But the book is, as the publisher puts it, “A double portrait of two of America’s most influential writers that reveals the surprising connections between them—and their uncanny relevance to our age of crisis.
The book is especially timely because Melville’s story encompasses the Civil War, and Mumford’s World War II. Sachs has also managed to weave in their personal lives and relationships into a finely woven narrative that speaks to many political, philosophical, and environmental questions we are still struggling with.
I was intrigued that Sachs referred to Mumford’s seeing in Melville "‘the bleak waste land’ of cold fidelity to his wife” - not the waste land T. S. Eliot had in mind in his famous poem, though in fact rather relevant to his life at the time he was writing it. We have paired 100th anniversary editions of Eliot’s The Waste Land and Mumford’s The Story of Utopias, and both books are now available. They were first published in 1922, and shared the same New York publisher.
And here’s Aaron Sachs talking about Mumford and Melville with biographer Carl Rollyson on his podcast A Life in Biography.
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