Self-Portrait at Zero Degrees

“They say the working class is dead, we’re all consumers now/ They say that we have moved ahead, we’re all just people now/ There’s people doing ‘frightfully well,’ there’s others on the shelf/ But never mind the second kind, this is the age of self…”– RobertRSCN4565 Wyatt, “The Age of Self.”

I don’t like capitalism. I don’t like communism. I don’t like socialism, really. Isms make me nervous and confused. They try to pigeon-hole me in a single group exclusively, when all that I really want is to be out everywhere– while rooted in one place.

DSCN5791What I like is the music of Robert Wyatt (and the work of many different artists, in many different fields)… I turn to music and to writing and to art in general when I need stability and inspiration. I turn to them the way I turn to the fields and rivers, to the mountains and the seas beyond…

So why do a stupid thing like “stepping out” beyond the self? Why should I try it, even for a little while, when actually I’m rather happy where I am? Well, why not? Nearly everyone tries to step out in one way or another, even when it’s the last thing one would consciously acknowledge doing.

new fly box, like a bed

new fly box, like a bed

There’s a thousand (usually futile) ways in which people try to go beyond the self, but the only ways that interest me are those that are acknowledged by the seeker and can show responsibility– to improvement of the individual or to our lives on earth.

In Rivertop Rambles, I don’t talk too much about drugs or religion or sex (yeah the fun stuff, the popular pleasures or antidotes to the heaviness of self) but, as you know, I try to bring some smaller pleasures (nonetheless important) to the fore, the kind of stuff that the

with 100 dreams unfolding

with 100 dreams unfolding

mainstream world ignores.

In the global and cosmic view of life, I’m nothing, but I like to think that when the time

arrives to spin from this mortal coil, I’ll be able to glance back at the flow of life and say, you know, it’s been a good wade, folks, and maybe I’ve made a few casts for the betterment of all.

They say we need new images to help our movement grow/ They say that life is broader based, as if we didn’t know/ While Martin J. and Robert Maxwell play with printer’s ink/ The workers ’round the world still die, for Rio Tinto Zinc…

wake up call...

wake up call…

Wyatt’s lyrics, published in 1985, still sound prophetic. Today, when I sense that selfishness rules the way we live, when it seems that everyone’s gaming or involved with the Desperate Housewives of Des Moines, and when it looks as though every other human toad is posing for a “selfie” while another bullet rends young flesh or some distant bomb explodes, I look for truth in a trout stream or a well-done piece of art.

It doesn’t make me any better than those I do not understand, it’s just that I want to take a different route.

When it’s zero degrees outdoors, on its way to -16 Fahrenheit, I’ll head to the woodpile to split some ash and maple, but I won’t stay out for long. The wood will heat my body

"selfie" @ zero degrees

“selfie” @ zero degrees

twice– first, while splitting it with a maul, and second, while burning it in the stove, and it helps me stay in touch with what is real.

Inside the house I’ll crawl back into my skin. I’ll read a book and have a drink; I’ll work on my blog or hear some music I enjoy. I will find another way to get… out side, and still stay warm.

And it seems to me if we forget/ Our roots and where we stand/ The movement will disintegrate/ Like castles built on sand.

Like castles built on sand.”




About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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12 Responses to Self-Portrait at Zero Degrees

  1. Bob Stanton says:

    Excellent – could easily have been titled “A Rivertop Manifesto” – but you’ve articulated what I and probably many other readers of RR feel. Also made me think of the Who song “The Seeker” as I was reading it – “They call me the seeker/I been searchin’ low and high…” I was surprised and pleased to see a tip of the hat to Robert Wyatt too. I’m only passingly familiar with his work, but my pal Steve is a big fan.

    • Bob, Well, “ARM” might be a little too ofFISHious for an actual title but I do like the sound of it. So thanks for that. I do know The Seeker because I am an old-timer but I’ve been a staunch Wyatt follower since a lad when I was originally floored by the early Soft Machine, Wyatt’s band, that is, arguably, the greatest progressive rock band of all time. For me, it was there with early Floyd and Van der Graaf and Crimson and Beefheart and Family and… I’ve got to quit dropping names. Steve could probably recommend a few solo Wyatts for you; I’ve gone through a lot of vinyl and CDs there.

  2. Brent says:

    You may not like “-isms,” but I wager you would consider yourself a follower of Ichthyism if push came to shove. As for the rest, I often sit and wonder how there are so many narcissistic people out there who are apathetic about anything that might actually impact their lives in a meaningful way. Part of it might be a protection mechanism, in which those of us who can afford to do so have created an entire alternate, fantasy-like existence to protect us from the darker things in life. Of course, rather than retreating into self-enriching pastimes, most of us are just rotting from the inside out.

    • Isn’t Ichthyism the belief that Trout rule the universe as we know it, or at least wear the scaly crown of creation? I suppose, then, I have bent my waders and rested on my knees. I haven’t read any studies suggesting narcissism and deep self-involvement are in part “protection mechanism,” but it makes sense to me. No doubt many people struggle to protect themselves from thinking about the darker aspects of life, but what I don’t understand is why they’d rather live obtusely and not even question themselves as to why that’s their preference.

  3. Mike says:

    Another insightful post but have you checked out MY blog? Great pics of me and my fish 😉

    I’m with ya, Walt. Beautifully stated.

  4. Actually that was a nice shot, Mike. I just didn’t want to say, Beautiful Ego, man!

  5. I spent the early part of my career convinced that I could make things better through policies and politics. I succeeded only in making them different and making myself crazy. I’ve decided now that my best course of action is just to work on making me a better person and let the world work out the rest. If I can make someone laugh or smile, I put it in the contributions column!

    • Sounds like a healthy route to take, Jim. That’s pretty much the way I work, as well, although I’ve been known to make exception for something I strongly believe in and for which no legal route seems possible, i.e. the act of civil disobedience, non-violent protest which, in the company of other believers, has proven to be very effective in turning around the waywardness of state.

  6. Ken G says:

    “So why do a stupid thing like “stepping out” beyond the self? Why should I try it, even for a little while, when actually I’m rather happy where I am?”

    I think few people can admit that they’re happy where they are. I’d probably be happier if I lived in a place where it never went below 60 degrees, but I seem to do alright where I’m at, even when I am cursing those zero days.

    • Ken, Being “rather happy where I am” is a relative thing, at least for me. I may have been happy yesterday but rather pissed at myself today. I think it has to do with age and accumulated experience and, to some degree, a resignation to fate. But hell yeah, things could be a lot worse. I don’t mind a zero day once in a while if I have heat and shelter. A string of zero days, though, can get old pretty fast, in my opinion.

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