The TASC List: Ephemerata

We are now sandwiched between two months of the year when certain things play out their brief lives and existence here in our very midst. Ephemeral suggests their usefulness, functionality, and in many cases natural beauty, will thrive for a short time only. Then they will be gone, memories only, in a fast-turning world of constant change.

The Japanese cherry tree, sakura, will burst into astonishing bloom in early April, before dropping its white and pink blossoms upon the ground. From a cloud of color, overlooking happy families underneath enjoying food and drink, it will quickly become a more normal park or landscape-setting species of leaves and limbs.

It is a constant reminder that so many things have a fragile beauty and must be enjoyed at the moment, for they are soon gone, removed from all our senses for another year.

May brings the arrival of the mayflies (Ephemera danica) in field and stream, providing nourishment in the food chain for many fish and water life, and apparently feasting themselves on the necks and arms of all sorts of local outdoorsmen. How they skim along the water surface laying thousands of eggs to support so short a life journey never fails to remind us of diversity, complexity, and adaptation to circumstance.

They are, of course, the model for any fly fisherman’s favorite lure, and an example of evolution’s adaptive genius to combine form and function that will survive the ages. Pesky to some, delicious to others, they thrive, survive again in another period, and mark their interval of existence for all who come into contact with them.

So it is with the budget cycle and season across this country. Between April and May, after a frenzy of preparation, presentation, and citizen participation, the voting begins. Passions inflame. People ignite. Politeness dissolves. And there is actually a fragile beauty in the graphics that accompany the proposals and slides. Multicolor images of charts, graphs, and other emphatic ephemerata bloom on giant screens, give way to others similarly showy and splashy — and then all are gone as the crowd disappears.  

This spring seasonal phenomenon reaches voter preference rather than sheer end of life. It settles into bureaucratic routine and rhythm with most memories erased, emotions quieted, and only the recently placed eggs prepared to bring it back to the pulse of creation. Truly an ephemeral cycle of arrival, activity, awareness at unbelievable heights, with a somewhat delayed disappearance. Rather than an abrupt extinction.

So now we must ask this question. Is there a better way? A method perhaps to arrive at consensus with less conflict? To calm the passions displayed in newspapers, social media, public forums, and the like? Here in Wilton we combine the old New England town meeting format with the unconstrained enthusiasm of the budget presenters. They produce the attractive blooming graphic flowers; they modulate the flow of information and moderate the public discussion. They call for the vote when the consumers (i.e., taxpayers) are all played out. They cover the surface with tomorrow’s embryos — the seeds for continuation of current trends and patterns.

There seems to be very little rigorous analysis in this process. Lots of marketing and overheated statements. Few, if any, lessons learned. Certainly no sense of can we do better, or do more with less, or confront the true reality of a frugal and prudent legacy left behind by early New Englanders — in a word: can we afford this? Instead we seem caught up in the mechanisms of a perpetual cycle of repetitive assumptions and clockwork methodologies. Few in responsible positions will stand to challenge the assumptions or speak to the hard realities.

They appear to be hypnotized by the unfolding spectacle of the sakura; they seem willing to endure the stinging bite of the mayflies. They represent ephemerata themselves. Some have recently moved on. Others have retired. Replacements appear thoughtful, capable, and motivated toward change. If so, we will all be better for it.

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