Dragons and Coffee and the Abstraction of Hope

I’m on the road route trail footpath to recovery. For some reason, getting over this cold is a much slower process than I expected. Perhaps it’s because my respiratory system was compromised when I had lung cancer and/or the surgery to address it. Or, maybe, it’s a function of age. Or, possibly, the strain of virus or whatever it is that “got me” is more aggressive than I’ve encountered in the past. Obviously, I don’t know why it’s taking more time than I thought it might; but I have ideas. Ideas: the building blocks of both bad fiction and literature for the ages. I think I’ll stop while I’m ahead. I’m improving, albeit slowly. I hope to remain on that footpath until I reach the pinnacle of health. Soon.


The sky this morning could have been snatched out of a cinematographer’s toolkit. Dark grey clouds, punctuated by darker celestial blots, form the backdrop for dark, almost black, outlines of barren hardwoods and huge evergreens. Those trees block the sky behind them. The forest floor is dark, barely visible. A cinematographer could use these images in scenes designed to instill fear in the audience and hopelessness in the characters in the woods. When coupled with the right music, the scene outside my window could fit right in to a Stephen King movie. But, even as I write this, the sky is brightening. It’s no longer the scary, dark emptiness; it’s just raw gloom. Ah, what a happy start to a Thursday in the Village!


For some reason, I think I’m tiring of my old standby San Francisco Bay French Roast Coffee. I don’t even know what kind of beans are used in the stuff. I used to be more particular about coffee, insisting on a specific type of bean. I wonder whether I ever really knew one bean from another or whether, more likely, I was an uninformed coffee snob.  I might still recognize Ethiopian yirgacheffe beans (both appearance and flavor), but maybe not. I remember thinking (or being led to believe) Mocha-Java was a “supreme” coffee blend. I also remember thinking (or being led to believe) Hawaiian Kona was among the world’s finest coffees. That’s just a tiny sample of the types of beans/blends I once revered, not to mention the variations in flavor arising from different roasts (light to dark).

I remember being surprised to learn that the darker the roast, the less caffeine. Apparently, the higher roast temperatures to get the dark roasts “burns off” or otherwise removes much of the caffeine. So, the espresso I enjoy so much (but so rarely of late) is brewed from very dark roast beans having the very least caffeine. Who knew? I did, once. I still do, I guess, though I don’t remember details.  I think it would be fun to return to my practices of exploring coffee beans, roasts, and methods of preparation. Well, it might be fun to actually acquire knowledge instead of pretending to possess knowledge I never had.  I’ve discovered as I’ve aged that I don’t really care whether my taste preferences correspond to generally-accepted measures of quality; if I like beans deemed inferior by the experts, so be it. If I enjoy drinking coffee the coffee professionals consider undrinkable, then I should be able to use that to negotiate lower prices for my favored beans. This line of thought reminds me that my wife and I, in blind taste tests of Argentinian Malbec wines, favored the cheaper ones, while others in our tasting groups gravitated toward the more expensive wines. Rather than feeling embarrassed at our uneducated palates, we rejoiced at our good fortune at being able to afford more of the wines we enjoyed. I prefer that sense of good fortune over a sense of superiority. Yes, I’ve again veered sharply away from my chief subject and, instead, have entered another conversation. It’s a little like, during a conversation about which cuts of beef one prefers, wandering into a dissertation on the best ways to avoid bones in a salmon fillet.

I have a secret. I believe, without evidence of any kind, that dragons once roamed the Earth. Not (necessarily) the fire-breathing kind. Just your average dragon; big, fleshy beasts with wings like those of a bat (but orders of magnitude larger), huge claws, prehensile tails, and scales like hard polished leather. I have as much reason to believe in dragons as I have to believe in Santa Claus. But my belief in Santa Claus evaporated before I reached double digits in age. My belief in dragons never completely disappeared. I don’t believe dragons continue to roam the Earth, but I think they once did. They were here during the time of dinosaurs, but they survived the cataclysmic events that eradicated those creatures. Dragons lived on for many, many, many years, succumbing only toward the end of the Middle Ages from diseases passed on to them from careless humans. It is a shame they are gone. I believe they would have made good pets, with proper care and training (on both sides of the relationship). There were a few dragons that survived the Middle Ages. Puff, for instance, may well have lived by the sea in a land called Hanalei, where he frolicked in the autumn mist. In actual fact, Puff was an agéd dragon by the time the Peter, Paul, and Mary song hit the charts in the early 1960s. Puff was the last of the dragons, I’m afraid. When he died, a school of killer whales dragged his enormous carcass to the North Pole by where they deposited it under a huge ice shelf. Puff’s preserved corpse has remained there all these years. One day, an enterprising biologist will secure a few cells from Puff’s body and will use them to clone the monstrous beast. Once again, dragons will roam the Earth. I only wish I could witness the return of the creatures.


Morality is a human construct. It is no more a “truth” than chocolate milk is a “truth.” It is a byproduct of human intervention. That having been said, and the way I said it, one might assume I find morality an offensive concept. I do not. I think morality is the glue that binds us all together. When that glue begins to degrade, so does humanity. The fact that morality takes many shapes and, in some cases, manifests in competing and conflicting ways between and among cultures and individuals within those cultures, is humanity’s greatest challenge. Solve that challenge and make the world better for humanity, the creatures with which we share the Earth, and the Earth itself.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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