Stairway to Darkness

On a number of occasions I’ve written blog comments and referenced a song from “my era”—the 60s and 70s—and began with the phrase, “You old-timers will remember…”

But in the case of, “Stairway to Heaven,” I won’t use that phrase because anyone of any age that listens to classic rock music will know the song. Written in 1971 by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and vocalist Robert Plant, the song is more than iconic—it’s an anthem of an era.

The song ends on a beautiful, mystical positive note:

And if you listen very hard

 The tune will come to you at last.

 When all are one and one is all

 To be a rock and not to roll.

 And she’s buying the stairway to heaven.

I hope people got the song allusion in all its irony when they read the title of today’s blog and image. In any event as you look at the picture it‘s apparent the stairs go both up and down but the title doesn’t say whether the darkness is at the top or bottom.

The structure these stairs are attached to—as many of you can probably discern is a huge stack or exhaust tower. It’s part of the massive heating plant for theUniversityofVirginiainCharlottesville,Virginiaand I have no idea if it emits pollution or not or if it does anything. For all I know it may be dormant.

But like Led Zep’s incredible song its representative of an era that seems to be fading but is far from gone.  Billions of tons of pollutants are pumped into the atmosphere even as I type and you read this. As a result of greenhouse gases, climate change, global warming—whatever your ideology wants to call it, is happening.

A lot of experts I’ve read say it’s too late for the next few generations. We are now starting to reap the harvest of carbon dioxide that poured from the mighty stacks of factories in the forties and fifties. Growing up I had a perfect view from my bedroom window of a chimney rising probably 300 feet above a manufacturing plant a mile or so from my house. It was the tallest structure in that town and I think that part of the state and it sticks in my mind as a symbol of a time in our history when about the only way of making a living for most folks was to help hasten our death. It was a very masculine era. We had just come out of the Second World War and nature, the planet, the physical environment was to be broken, dominated and re-made in our image.

My photograph title isn’t as positive as the ending song lyrics because my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will pay the price of my and my father’s generation’s naïveté and self-absorbed materialism.  The oceans are rising and before I leave this world I fully expect most if not all of the remaining polar bears to be in zoos and other species preservation facilities. I suspect a lot of money will be made by companies that build levees and dikes and firms that manufacture huge pumps.

This photograph is pretty stark—those of you familiar with Adam’s Zone System will note there are only four values—featureless black, featureless white and maybe two shades of gray.

Fortunately for my children and their children real life isn’t so, “black and white,” and doesn’t come with a title that suggests interpretation. In fact one of the things that drive so many people crazy is the many shades of gray that seem to define virtually every social, economic and moral issue.

In the face of serious challenges—say for exampleMiamiandManhattangoing under water—humankind usually either solves the problem or adapts. And when we solve a problem or adapt there are always unintended consequences. These can be positive or negative and out of all the change a path emerges leading toward our common destiny—what ever that might be.

Sooner or later we will have to “Pay the Piper”—really we already are in the form of countless broken weather records, the high cost of gas, and a plethora of environmental problems, puzzles and costly remedies. Human beings learn and change when they can no longer stand the pain and not before. I like to think of it as the feminine side of human nature—the creative, life-giving, nurturing, accepting aspect of the human race. As a species we do adjust and eventually figure things out.

And if you listen very hard

The tune will come to you at last.

When all are one and one is all

To be a rock and not to roll.

And she’s buying the stairway to heaven.

 

FacebookTwitterDeliciousGoogle GmailGoogle ReaderDiggShare

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge