The Holocene Moment: When You Realize You Are Not Magnificent

With the clarity of retrospect, I can see I was hauling too much weight. Or rather, I had my weight distributed all wrong.

Remember this if you ever haul a trailer behind a truck — you want the majority of the weight as far up towards the front of the trailer as you can. Put it right on the hitch.

July of 2012 was a hot one. I had just spent the weekend at Pitchfork Fest in Chicago doing the devil’s bidding.

Now it was Monday. I was surely hungover. Wrung out, crossed-eyed. I didn’t take very good care of myself back then.

Right after I got on the highway the steering wheel started shimmying. That was new, I assumed it was fine.

Then the interstate started descending right before it gets to the 80-bridge, and it was suddenly like I was on ice. It was not fine.

The steep downhill tipped the scales in favor of the laws of physics and the truck swerved right and left across the lanes. Death wobbles.

At once I knew I was not in control.

The truck spun in a circle and catapulted everything.

Everything on the flatbed trailer ripped through the safety straps like they weren’t even there.

Large steel shipping racks sling-shotted downhill down the highway towards the River like tumbling dice.

When the smoke cleared no one was dead, no one was injured.

The truck was a mess, the highway was a mess, I was a mess.

A man who watched it all crept his car up and asked if I was O.K. and did I need to change my shorts. Somehow, my shorts checked out.

The Officer who talked to me afterward said, “It looks like you did the best you could. With a shit situation.”

Forty-five minutes later, traffic was flowing again, the highway was cleaned up and it was like it had never happened. I don’t remember how I got home.

Shock set in after all the adrenaline was gone and suddenly I was tired. I slept on the couch.

That night, my wife put on one of the “Ice Age” movies for our then five year old son.

We’d been discussing ‘Reality vs Pretend’ a lot, especially after “The Avengers”. Young boys get Hulk.

I regretfully informed him that the big green mouth breather is Pretend.

That lead to a series of questions confirming whether this guy or that was real or pretend.

“Dad, Is Ice Age real?

“No, honey.” I lied.

I didn’t have it in me to explain that the three main characters in the Ice Age movies — the Woolly Mammoth, Saber-toothed Tiger, and Giant Sloth — were all real species at one point, but now extinct.

For the past 12,000 years or so, we’ve been living in a “Geological Epoch” known as “The Holocene” — a little “interglacial warm period,” part of what’s considered “The Current Ice Age” (aka The Pleistocene Glaciation) which has been ongoing for the last cool 2.58 million years on Earth.

Earth has seen several such Ice Ages come and go in its 4.54 billion years.

It’s weird to think we are technically in an Ice Age, especially when that Summer of 2012 was one of the hottest of all time.

Rivers and streams slowed to a trickle in 2012. Wild fires tore across Colorado, California and New Mexico. The Midwest broke Dust Bowl era heat records. They called it all a “Derecho Series.”

The day I wrecked the truck, it was 103 degrees.

Bill McKibben wrote about Global Warming back in the July 19th, 2012 Rollingstone, “In the course of this month, a quadrillion kernels of corn need to pollinate across the grain belt, something they can’t do if temperatures remain off the charts.”

By early-July that year, the corn crop was already failing. “Knee-high by the fourth of July” is the saying, but nearly every field that year was showing major stress and stunting.

Instead of fight it, a number of farmers simply tilled under their crops and cut their losses.

Meanwhile, as a result of the fundamental supply and demand economic irony of farming, corn and bean prices were at record highs.

The worse thing are, the higher the price.

When Justin Vernon of Bon Iver wrote the 2012 song of the year, “Holocene” he said,

“The title is a metaphor for when you’re not doing well. But it’s also a song about redemption and realizing that you’re worth something; that you’re special and not special at the same time.”

I’m grateful that no one was hurt when I wrecked the truck. I am horrified by the million different things that could’ve gone worse that day.

At once I knew I was not significant.

My youthful invincibility was shattered in that moment. Facing death in the past had always made me feel mortal, but not like that. I’d never lost complete control of my life. It sticks with you.

I makes you think of that Vonnegut quote.

It makes you hug your kids, frantically. Choking back tears.

It makes you think about how little time we actually have on Earth. And how much a handful of moments define your life — the best of which, almost inconceivably, are the ones where you have no sense of time whatsoever.

And how fast we’re hurtling along. How much life has changed since the first iPhone in 2007. Or since World War I.

We don’t even have photographs of our ancestors more than three generations back. And what were they like in the 1700’s or 900’s. Or 5000 BC.

Because you take into account the fact that the entirety of Humankind has basically come about during a 12,000 year sliver of Earth’s history, of the Universe’s History— with parabolic growth in the last 150 years since the Industrial Revolution or 11 years of the Smartphone.

11 years, on 150 years, on 12,000 years, on 2.58 million years, on 4.54 billion years. It makes you realize that you’re not special — yet incredibly special — at the same time.

How much time, how much evolving, how much Nature, how much Nuture has had to happen for you, to get to this one, singular, moment in history?

And the most difficult question to answer of all — What will you make of it?

Pattern recognition is the task of the Artist. This is the pattern recognition you’re looking for.

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