‘Twice five miles of fertile ground’

What would Samuel Taylor Coleridge do in these days of crumbling infrastructure?

What would Samuel Taylor Coleridge do

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea …”

 

Nosiree, they don’t write ‘em like that anymore. Remember that poem? Samuel Taylor Coleridge took too much opium one day in 1797 and nodded off, and had a virtual dream of an epic poem, until the insurance salesman came knocking at his door and woke him up. After Coleridge got rid of his caller, he could only remember 54 lines.

I don’t really see that he had much reason to complain. He still managed to dash off 54 of the greatest lines in English poetry. I guess those Romantics weren’t happy unless they were composing odes.

It’s an interesting image. The emperor enclosed a parcel of pastoral land for a beautiful pleasure-dome, with incense-bearing trees, and gardens bright with sinuous rills, etc. But in a spectacular stroke of geological bad luck, the sacred river was forced up from underground, like a geyser, in an explosion of flying rocks, and flooded the whole area. Kubla Khan then heard the disembodied voices of his ancestors prophesying war — a bad portent, presumably.

Coleridge’s dream then veered off into a more proper opium-induced hallucination, which though compelling, is harder to summarize neatly.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought of Coleridge and his famous poem upon reading the news of the state of our infrastructure (Townsman, Nov. 21). It seems that right beneath our feet is a series of geological bugbears whose enemy is everything we lay down for our convenience — smooth roads, sewer pipes, water mains, and other things we prefer not to look at too closely, but on whose good condition we depend for proper, civilized, 21st century urban living.

After all, the pleasure-dome we call Cranbrook is built over a series of swamps, underground rivulets, gravel pits, and of course our own sacred river — still unnamed. This ground is always squirming and groaning restlessly, pushing big boulders around under the surface, frost-heaving at the drop of a hat. Thank you, Colonel Baker.

Any day now, we can expect a mighty fountain to be forced, flinging up “momently” the sacred river, and turning our little town, with “forests ancient as the hills,” into the Venice of the Rockies.

There are several options to consider:

• First of all, we could vote in a referendum to fix all the roads and other infrastructure all at once, using tax dollars to do so. We could all take out second mortgages, thus doing our bit. It would be like buying victory bonds, only different. The infrastructure would be fixed, and then we wouldn’t have to worry about it for 10 years.

So every 10 years, we could fix the infrastructure again, all at once, hiring dozens of companies to take the streets apart and put them back together. We could treat this mass construction event as some kind of city-wide festival. The fact that it occurs every 10 years would make it especially fun.

• We could go the full-on green route, and let our fancy infrastructure subside while getting used to alternate ways of life. We could all switch to compost toilets, perhaps with the help of a city rebate program. This would cut Cranbrook’s water usage by 50 per cent, and provide a source of, well, compost. Since in our new, green, infrastructure-freer life, we’d all be growing more backyard crops, we’d need to, well, manure our gardens, wouldn’t we?

• We could forgo cars. Mules are sure-footed, and can circumnavigate sinkholes, potholes or wormholes. A quick City bylaw amendment would enable us to keep mules in our backyard for transportation purposes. This would create jobs in the form of public stables, tack shops and suchlike mule-friendly facilities. So rather than driving over bumpy roads worrying about your tie-rod ends breaking, you could simply mount your mule and amble down to the grocery store with your saddle bags.

And if the city is going to allow us to keep mules in our backyards — which I think is the best idea I’ve had yet — then we might as well have our chickens and goats too. The goats would be good for keeping down the grass growing up through the cracks in our streets.

I’m sure our wise city leaders will ultimately come up with the ideal solution for our infrastructure, so that in fact we won’t have to live our lives any differently than we ever have, so that we can still speed through school zones on smooth, flat roads and water our lawns within an inch of our lives, which are our fundamental human rights. However, I submit the above great ideas for the City’s perusal, and should they choose to use all or any, I turn said ideas over to them free of copyright.

In the meantime, if this is the infrastructure apocalypse, then it strikes me as more whimper than bang. I will continue to live my life in this pleasure-dome Cranbrook, dining on honeydew and drinking the milk of paradise.

 

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