A young Bob Dylan once asked "How many years can a mountain exist before it is washed to the sea?"
Back in 1963 a lot of folks interpreted the metaphor in terms of racism and, like all good poetry, it has been reinterpreted ever since.
Like all grown-ups, I think a lot about the topography of modern life and how it compares to the landscape in which I grew up.
For example, a friend of mine took his first breaths in a Sydney labour ward filled with cigarette smoke.
Can you even imagine?
When we were kids, the cricket was sponsored by a cigarette company. There was a huge billboard outside our local milk bar showing people smoking happily on a beach. Inside that store we could buy lolly cigarettes with red tips on one end.
My older cousins used to pretend to be that horse-riding smoker from the TV ads. Their dad told us of a commercial where Fred Flintstone lit up. Our grandfather remembers a promo for "the cigarette that's kind to your health" and knew a guy whose doctor prescribed him cigarettes for his asthma.
The back cover of all Nana's favourite magazines was always a cigarette ad and I never could make the connection between the product and brand names like Longbeach, Holiday and Alpine.
At school, kids used twigs as smoke substitutes in their games of Mums and Dads. One kid used half a brown Texta, some paper and talcum powder to create the most realistic one we'd ever seen. It puffed when he exhaled and we all gasped.
We made bark rollies and coughed until we cried, wrapped lawn clippings in newspaper and burned our fingers. Eventually we scoured gutters for half-smoked butts. Once we found a whole one outside the deaf lady's flat.
When we did birthdays at Pizza Hut, the middle section of the restaurant was reserved for smokers. Their grey haze reached us anyway and left my throat dry the morning after.
You've got to agree. That's quite a mountain.
Nowadays smokers are like that boxing kid in the Simon and Garfunkel song:
In the company of strangers [...]
When a friend and I had a spontaneous post-work puff last week we had to hike away from civilisation until we eventually found ourselves in the pleasant company of what felt a bit like a secret society. If we'd had simultaneous strokes it would have been days before anyone found us.
Of course, none of this is about smoking. This is about mountains and the sea that washes them away.
How did we get from Giant That to Tiny This? How did normality become deviance? The once omnipotent Marlboro men can now only afford to roll their own. The once omnipresent Winfield women now huddle on gum-spotted footpaths behind Woollies.
How many years was it before that mountain was washed to the sea?
That old mountain of smoke is now a peacefully smouldering molehill and a lot of this transformation took place during my lifetime. Don't be telling me that nothing changes.
This change was not some inevitable outcome. It didn't just happen. The seas of time or justice or evolution or whatever may have been lapping away at the edge of that mountain, but seas tend to be more interested in the moon than the mountain.
Perhaps this mountain was not simply washed away by the sea.
Perhaps this was a mountain slowly taken apart, stone by stone.
I wonder where all those stones are now.
I wonder how long it takes to build a new mountain.
And, for what it's worth, Bob Dylan has been smoking for close to sixty years.