Things Left Undone

Paul Ford
4 min readNov 23, 2020

Apparently we are due for a national period of healing and a period of cooling off. Every time I hear things like that, I immediately think of this video:

A normal reaction upon seeing that is to ask, What in God’s name did I just watch? The answer depends on how you see the world.

From a geological point of view you just visited Goblin Valley State Park in Utah, where 165-million-year-old jutting rocks have eroded over eons to form mushroom-like formations called “hoodoos” or “goblins.”

From an ecological point of view an invasive mammal has just knocked over one of the hoodoos while vocalizing “Wiggle It” by French Montana.

From the people in the video’s point of view, it was a fun day out with some Boy Scouts. The day was so fun, in fact, that they put this video on the Internet, in order to share their power and joy.

From the state (Utah)’s point of view, this violated the state’s carefully asserted rights to determine what should happen to these rocks. Although it must be a bit of a mixed blessing, because this video made Goblin Rocks internationally famous.

And from Wikipedia’s point of view:

The men claimed that the hoodoo appeared ready to fall, and that it was intentionally knocked over to prevent park visitors from being hurt….The two leaders were subsequently dismissed from their leadership roles by the Utah National Parks Council, which is a local council of the Boy Scouts in Utah. The national Boy Scouts then removed the men from the scouting organization altogether. In January 2014, two of the men — the one who toppled the hoodoo and the cameraman — were arraigned on felony charges of “criminal mischief” and “intentionally damaging, defacing and destroying property.” The two men pleaded guilty to lesser charges of criminal mischief and attempted criminal mischief, and received a sentence of one year probation plus fines and case-related fees.

There are many other points of view I’ll leave as an exercise to the reader: Religious, leftist, conservative, eco-spiritual, Utah-historical, libertarian, &c.

Have you ever launched a product or website? “Look what digital wonders I have made,” you proclaim, unveiling your new thing, carefully crafted from sandstone over eons of your life. “I made it for all of my beloved friends!” And then, baying from across the valley you hear, in response, “Wiggle it…just a little bit” and the sound of crashing rock. In other words, this video is the best user persona you’ll ever see.

If you’ve been a teenager in America you might recognize at least a little of the spirit therein, the natural disaster that is us, unleashed on an ancient landscape. At least I do. America is a lot of things, including Boy Scouts knocking over rocks. It’s hard to preserve the history of wind on rock when faced with 328 million people who want a burger and a good time. Or to lower the curve of new cases when 50 million people may travel home for Thanksgiving, with the full blessings of their respective governors.

The hardest of all the viewpoints to adopt, for me, is the empathetic one. Something brought them. They didn’t stay at home and watch TV. These are humans who went to the rocks. They wanted the pleasure of smashing the rocks, and didn’t fully understand just how much the rest of us rely on knowing that some things are sacred…. And then I just get pissed off. But one day I’ll have fully processed this video without my mind going blankout white.

We face a huge challenge, when it comes to all our stuff—websites, vehicular traffic, human interaction, trips to the desert, walks in the woods, tweets. Because people just keep moving fast and doing things. Knocking over rocks, cutting down trees, crashing into pedestrians, letting people publish lies. The better world is the one where things are left undone. But our nature is to keep doing things. In fact, that’s one of the things I like most about people. I’d be very sad if we stopped doing new things.

People often talk about returning to a mythical past state where things were simpler and good. Sometimes people point to a time where men only wore long pants, sometimes they mean “before agriculture.” As if the world has an undo button. But the past is immutable. The only unbreakable thing in the world is the past! Which means you can really only do new things, even if they feel like you’ve done them before. Over and over, new things, for your whole life. It feels strange to put it like that, like I should have changed more, made more of my thoughts, imagined more broadly. But you got to work with what you have.