January 29, 2020

Back the Way It Was

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

I don’t know about you, but we always try to put everything back the way it was.

For example, a contractor is repairing one of our field access roads today.

This past spring the frost froze a pair of culverts in place, lifting the surrounding roadway at the same time.  Runoff then washed under the pipes instead of going through them.  Why bother?  The super-saturated soils below the frozen ground simply flowed away.  By the time erosion had finished, the bottoms of those pipes were more than a foot above the top of the water.  The channel bed was measurably beneath that.

“That’s going to be a problem,” I noted, sage that I am.  (I’m right so infrequently that when the chance comes to announce the obvious, I grab it.)

While the frost remained, the road on top was fine.  When it left, the road did, too.  Access to the fields beyond that point was a problem all spring.  That issue continued into this summer.

I mention it because something similar is always happening.  When it’s not one thing, it’s two.  If it’s not culverts washing out, it’s roofs leaking, trees falling, power outages or escaped livestock.  If it’s not any of those, you bet, it’s something else ― or all of that happening together.  Plus more.

I’m not sure why living should be this way.  I’m just absolutely certain that it is.

Somehow life dams the natural flow of events.  When that dam bursts, everything rushes out at once.  I’m left staring at the damage wondering how long it’ll take to fix.  To put it all back the way it was

However, repairing those pipes made me realize that simply isn’t possible.  That isn’t how it works.  Because we’re putting those culverts back deeper than they were.  We’re protecting the soil beneath them with geotextile, hoping to prevent the same thing from ever happening again.  At least at that location.
We hope to foil adversity by advancing the design.

We want the events leading to the original disaster to be insufficient to cause another.

We try and improve the surrounding conditions while we’re at it.

All these ideas ― attitudes, really ― ensure that nothing ever gets put back the way it was.  We just want it to feel that way.

This is all bound up in our belief in progress.  We want everything to stay the same so that we can fool ourselves that we’re making headway.  That way when disasters inevitably occur, when living once more bursts its event dam, we rush to put everything back the way it was.

Except that we don’t.

That way the progress we’re trying to make by staying the same actually occurs only after disasters force us to improve.


I think we all are.  That’s why we try to put everything back the way it was.