The Battle of Helm’s Deep – A Polemic

Warning: What follows is a polemic that I wrote several days ago en route back from San Francisco and the Mountain Hardwear sales meeting. You could say that I was inspired. I started it on the plane and was so excited about it that I asked Steve to drive us back from the Milwaukee airport so that I could finish it. I polished off the last sentence as we pulled into Madison.

I was so proud. Then, after I posted it (you may have seen it briefly) I reviewed it the next morning. My best and favorite critic – my wife Vera – read it too. She called me on what I already knew. Her question put it best:

“Who are you writing this to, and why? What new are you bringing to the table that isn’t already out there?”

(One smart lady, my wife, she is.)

So, I pulled it.  I’ve wrestled with this for the past few days and haven’t come up with an answer, particularly to her last question. But I’ve decided to post it anyway, more or less as a way to get a conversation started. I like balanced arguments, and I believe in the dialectic. There’s bound to be a better way to think of this stuff out there, and perhaps one of you can help me find my way…

King Theoden: “What can men do against such reckless hate?”
Aragorn: “Ride out and meet it.”

Like Orcs from Mordor, change is descending upon our Middle Earth. Rather than the goblins of legend, these threats to us all are very real: Global warming, dwindling resources, and the resultant economic and political uncertainty are scarier than any troll. And this is the good news. It could be far worse.

Oftentimes in human history, change has arrived at the point of a sword: The Romans conquered Europe, the Spaniards enslaved the Americas, and the Nazis rolled into France. The current threat to our environment is no less dire, yet unlike these times in history we still have an opportunity to choose the outcome. It’s time now to choose positive change, before other less desirable options are forced upon us. Just because Orcs don’t exist doesn’t mean that the Orcs gathered at our gate are any less threatening.

It’s time we ride out to meet them, and this is no mere metaphor.  We as a culture and – in particular – we here in the outdoor industry need to lead this charge.  (If we don’t own the battle for the environment, then who will?) About once in a generation – or perhaps even once every other generation – are we given the opportunity to create fundamental change. This time for this is now. We need to change the way that we live, work, and play.

This is more than a matter of making the choice between “paper or plastic?” Recycling, composting, and waste reduction are merely a start. Higher gas-mileage vehicles are a stop-gap measure at best. No one doubts that $4 gas is here to stay, and this is just the beginning. We need to re-examine every aspect of our supply chain, every detail of our business and personal practices, and every nuance of our message. Actions, language, and mind-sets need to be in alignment, and not just with a few of us. This is something that we all must do.

There are those who disagree. There are those who would gather what resources they can and wait out the siege of Orcs. “It’s always worked before,” they say,”We’ve gathered at Helm’s Deep many times and we’ve always outlasted them; we’ll be back at our farms by spring planting time, you’ll see.”

To these folks I say: The foot-soldiers of antiquity had no answer for Roman chariots; the cliff-dwellings of the Anasazi were long-vacant before the conquistadors even arrived; the Germans simply flew over the Maginot Line. No conservative/defensive movement in human history has ever guardedly saved itself into the future. Change is the way of the world, and evolution is inevitable. Species and cultures that cannot or will not adapt go extinct. Dig a few inches down into the soil and you’ll find fossils and relics of those who have come and gone before.

History favors innovators, those who ride out to meet change and greet it with new ideas, new tools, and new resolve. Resolve is most important. Gandalf had no magic powerful enough to defeat the Orcs on his own, but he was willing to be the shining white beacon and lead others on the charge. The Battle for Helm’s Deep was not won with the wave of a wand – or by cowering in the caves with the children and old men – but by the determined swinging of a thousand swords.

We’re actively looking for new ways to do things, new things to do, and new ways to think and speak. Pick up your sword, saddle your horse, muster what magic you can, and ride with us.

Comments are closed.