(Life Around Here)
(Life Around Here)
The sun, just beginning its rise over the eastern horizon, sends yellow-gold beams of light through the lower branches of the isolated islands of juniper forest on our land. Some mornings the light comes flowing through the trees soft and gentle as a rising tide. Other mornings there can be a silent explosion of light that comes sudden as a wave rolling in from the horizon.
Outside; can you hear the silence? The lightest breeze stirs a branch here and there, there might be a flutter of wings, maybe the call of a dove “I’m over here!” repeated about four times ending with “I’m here!” If there’s a mocking bird in the area there will be an aria going on of songs gathered from all over his range, purloined from other birds to be sure, but he has woven them into a unique and imaginative concert piece of his very own. An original composition.
There’s the faintest whisper of a car traveling on a road somewhere and further off someone has started a chainsaw, but the buzzing comes and goes and then fades and the perfect silence returns.
Back in the house we’re getting the jump on what promises to be another hot day, two fans are running on “medium” keeping cool air blowing down the hallways and into the cool center of the house. When it’s 100 outside later, it will hover around 80 in here.
Spiders are important this time of year because of the small flying bug population. Not that the population is small but the bugs are. Those that get inside, the no-see-ums, fly right through the screens so there’s no stopping them, except for shut windows of course. We keep undisturbed all summer long the small, tight woven webs of the tiny indoor spiders that show up in the upper corners of windows. You would be amazed at the “harvest” they gather over time. The outside flyers, mostly various types of fly, are kept in control, to some extent by the orb weavers. These ladies are on the “creepy” side we admit, but their webs are big, sometimes 2’ in diameter, perfect works of engineering art and the six of them we allow in the alcove outside our living room windows, do a good job 24/7. I sweep them down now and then and the next morning they are rebuilt in alternate locations. The only problem they present, besides the “creepy” factor, is that the Hummingbirds get caught in them on occasion. Usually that means I have to race outside to destroy the sticky strands before the hummer gets too wrapped up in them.
The only additions to the sound-scape are those hummers. The population fluxuates as the day goes on and there might be twenty plus humming around at one time. Most are Black chin and Broadtails with a very few, maybe four, Rufus. Late in the season we may get a visit from a passing Calliope the smallest of the hummers in North America. The sounds are mainly produced by the on-going “wars” that go on between the males jockeying for space at the feeders (two). It’s not as if there’s a scarcity of feeding opportunities, the two feeders are a gallon size with ten “flowers”, one other has about four cup capacity and six feed spots. Plenty of food and space and the females have no problem sharing, but the males have a low toleration for the proximity of other males. We go through two gallons of food per week.
As the day goes on there will be more additions to the sounds of where we live. Maybe another saw will be brought to life, traffic will increase to some extent on the paved road a mile away and because we are backed by a couple of small mountains the sound of a motorcycle or two will be amplified some as they pass through the neighborhood. By the way, “traffic” for us is more than one car.
Because the humidity is so low in this high desert country, you will bake but not broil when venturing outside. That “dry heat” that easterners joke about when talking about the Southwest is very different from the “wet heat” of the East and South. Another big difference in the desert is that at night the heat goes away, it doesn’t hang over everything held in place by wet air. It will be down to the high 60s to 70 at night. So windows are open to the coolness and that cool air is trapped inside by closing the windows in the morning before the sun gets a chance to heat it again. That keeps things cool for the first half of the day at least. After that, it’s all about fans and evaporative air conditioning, till the sun goes down. (We finally took our electric blanket off on July 11th. We last turned it on in late June.) We put it back on in early August and it’s on now, probably to stay.
It’s a good place to be, our place. And it contributes to a sense of well-being in us…..as long as we don’t read the news. My strategy regarding this is to read the Times headlines (and not the full story) then posts from Garrison Keillor (he has an ok batting average) and wind up with thefarside.com where Gary Larson never fails to elicit a smile. So good to see him back…..and so glad not to be in the relative chaos of a big city. I can only imagine…..and would rather not.
Driving to our place from town one day this week I found myself feeling irritated about the American flag one of our neighbors was flying on a 50’ pole on his property.
Why? Because when I see an American flag flying on private land or in front of a house my assumption is that the owner of the place is one of the extremists supporting the current resident of the White House (who’s name shall not be spoken……yet.).
I happen to know that in this particular instance that assumption is based upon a fact. But what gets to me is that my knee-jerk reaction is caused by my belief that the right wing extremists have captured this symbol of our country so that any of us might react this way. How did this happen?
Thinking back it seems to me it began after 9/11. Maybe my memory is somewhat distorted about this but as I recall there was so much uproar about us vs. “them” and a huge amount of propaganda at the time was generated by our government to whip up support for revenge and it all seemed based on World War II themes. The event of 9/11 was often compared to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the pot was being stirred in an attempt to get us all marching in a united front against the attackers….of course it was tough to pinpoint the country of origin but the tea leaf readers in D.C. selected Iraq and Hussein as the target and away we went with our flag flying and the rest of us following dutifully behind.
Any one who disagreed with this forward march was seen as un-American, many of us wore little enamel American flag pins just to show our support for our country…..not necessarily for our support of what we were doing, but for our country. That, it seems to me, is when the flag became charged with the idea of patriotism, just like it was in WWII. I was on-board just like many millions of us, swept away by the emotions of the time.
Much of this died down after awhile, after we found ourselves mired in the never-ending muck of the Middle East and after the manipulations of that time were exposed, the WMD fraud, the fantasy of bringing democracy to people who “hungered for it”, etc. so the flag hoopla ran its course. And then came the debacle of Trump and the exposure of the underbelly of racism embodied in the MAGA fanatics, which we now must acknowledge has really meant Make America WHITE Again! and all of it packaged and wrapped in the American flag. All of it manifesting the Samuel Johnson quote, “Patriotism, the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
Flags have become very important symbols in our country again. The Nazi flag showing up and being flown proudly by fools who have no idea what horrors it represented to the world in the 30’s and 40’s and no respect for those who fought and died to bring it down. Likewise the so-called “Confederate Battle Flag” Neither of these rags brought honor or glory to those who supported what they have represented in our history.
These same fanatics are now sullying the flag of our country by claiming sole ownership of what it stands for….and what gets to me is that many of us have bought into that so that when we see the flag we have a negative visceral response to it. We should never have allowed this to happen and we, who remember the far broader concept of what that flag has been in our history and what it has meant in the best of times to the world, must re-own that flag and that feeling about it.
Trump and his despicables do NOT own our flag and we, as people who want to defend and protect ALL Americans of every color and religion must fly that flag as a symbol of tolerance and justice. It does NOT belong to the Right (or to the Left) it belongs to ALL of us.
So what can we do about it? We can, any time we see our flag flying ANYWHERE, tell ourselves the positive stories that we know about what that flag has meant to us and to so many others. These can range all the way from the BIG stories to the very small ones. But most importantly, I, and we, can call into consciousness the fact that the flag is NOT a representation of the person flying it. It is a symbol of what we all WANT our country to represent.
When I think about some powerful positive images of the flag in my memory the first one to come to mind is the image of the second raising of the flag on Iwo Jima in WWII. One of the participants in that raising was a Pima Indian named Ira Hayes. If any people could have a “problem” with the U.S. flag Native Americans would certainly be right up in the front of the line. And yet, I will tell you, that at every pow-wow ceremony I have attended the most beautiful and cherished event is the Grand Entry. It’s when every native tribe attending marches in in full regalia and holding ceremonial staffs that carry the symbols that represent their tribes….all are led by the red, white, and blue American banner…..because we are ALL Americans.
Proud, sad, joyous, angry, loyal, resentful, confused, determined…..all of us trying to get it all to work, to get it right…..to be what we really want it to be, to have this, so often called “experiment” in government work out so….. …”that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” (A. Lincoln)
That is what our flag REALLY represents no matter who flies it.
Thinking About What’s Going On
Here’s a little thought experiment. One morning you’re taking a shower and you reach up with one arm to soap your hair and suddenly realize that your skin has changed color. (Let’s start out here with the idea that you are a white person, but this journey works the other way too.)
You look down and you see that you are unbelievably, a person-of-color! (Yes, white is a color too but very differently perceived and reacted too as you well know…..or at least will soon discover.)
Note your first response to this occurrence. What is it?
Franz Kafka wrote of this experience in “Metamorphosis”. If you haven’t read that horror story, it’s about a guy who wakes up one morning and discovers that he has been turned into a cockroach! Unsettling would be a massive understatement. How do you think the rest of your day, and then the rest of your life will go?
Imagine all the circumstances and note what you might feel in every interaction with people, not just strangers, but friends as well. How might things you felt about every aspect of your life be different just because the color of your skin is “different”.
If you believe that nothing would really BE different, then you are not understanding the reality of a person-of-color. You are denying their experience.
Here’s a small example, when a white person uses the word “cool” as a description of how he or she feels about their response to something as in, “I’m cool with it.” Or as in a general expression of a way of being, this is a different personal experience for a person of color. “Cool” for the white person means “I’m calm. I’m laid back.” For a person of color it means, “I’m going along with this constant insult because that’s the way it is for us.”
I “got” this one day when I was refused service at a funky drive-in restaurant because the person sitting next to me was black. I was outraged, agitated, gritting my teeth and I turned to him, “How in the hell do you stand this? I’d be wanting to kill people who treated me this way!” I growled.
He said in a calm matter of fact voice that took me off guard, “You just do.” That’s what “cool” meant for him and for every other black person who has, day after day experienced this kind of treatment both overt and covert. It’s what must be done to deal with the “attitude” day after day all life long in many an interaction with white people. Cool. As in, “You just keep on.”
Louis Armstrong once recorded a song called “What did I do to feel so black and blue?” and in music the people who can REALLY sing and play the blues, are people of color. The blues for we white folk are usually about lost love or feeling down about life in the moment. The blues for black folk are about LIFE….all the time. We skate on the surface of this only empathizing, a kind of knowing, to some extent, and caring, but not really KNOWING what this daily experience is like. We can guess about it and that’s about it.
The author of Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin found out about racism the hard way. A white writer, he used chemicals and dyes to color his skin dark and then went out into a world he thought he knew well, and as a white person he did. But as a person-of-color he was shocked to discover he didn’t know it at all. If you’ve never read that book, get a copy and learn.
My first wife, a dark-skinned Mexican-American girl born near El Paso, Texas knew about this stuff but as her white husband I did not. When it came to everyday interactions with white people her irritability, about the way she was sometimes not so subtly, treated, both by the Border Patrol agents around El Paso and white people in Chicago where we lived for a time, used to bother me because I felt she was creating trouble over nothing. I couldn’t understand, and did not see, literally did NOT see or feel or hear what she did. I blew these “little “ insults off. I really didn’t “get it”. Yes, now we have a phrase for it, “White privilege” but that term doesn’t really say it. It’s white ignorance and white arrogance that denies that this is going on all the time for people of color. ALL THE GODDAM TIME!
Every day, in almost every situation, social or commercial interactions have embedded in them this “attitude” that white people direct at non-whites that most non-whites react to by being “cool”.
It’s no wonder we whites are so afraid of black anger that our response is to overreact, like the woman in N.Y.s Central Park who felt so threatened by the black birdwatcher who asked that she leash her dog that she called the police in a panic. Yes, we know damned well that if we were on the receiving end of this “attitude”, we’d be full of rage. We don’t know HOW to be “cool” about such a thing. We don’t know, as I didn’t know, how we could stand living with this situation.
I only know about this at an intellectual level….at an emotional level I can hardly talk about it without choking on my own impotent anger and tears, but I have the luxury of not having to live it, I am only imagining it, imagining how I would feel to not be white in our society.
Try this “imaging” for yourself. To the extent to which you can inhabit the fantasy, you might begin to have an inkling of just how “cool” you would have to become in order to get through life as a non-white person and respond to even subtle racism by all the “just dos” that are necessary to be able to get along. …and just how long do you think you could………just get-along?
A bit O-rant!
When I heard the Terry Gross interview with the authors of “A Very Stable Genius” (Philip Rucker & Carol Leonnig) months ago (Fresh Air, NPR) I could hardly wait to get the book. It took weeks of waiting to get through the line of readers who were ahead of me but it finally showed up at the “Hold” shelf this week….and it took me about two hours to return it, a 60 mile round trip, not just a turn around in the library itself.
By the time I was home and into the first 30 or so pages I was already angry and leafing through the rest of the book, checking chapter heads and picking our paragraphs here and there, didn’t serve to calm me down a bit. Anyone who checks out a reliable news source (N.Y. Times, NPR, BBC, CNN, etc., etc.) knows damned well just how insane, there’s no other word for it this current occupant of the White House is showing himself to be.
Add to that the in-your-face cowardice, greed, and corruption evidenced by his Congressional supporters, ALL Republicans, “all” except Mitt Romney that is, have proven themselves to be and this book spells out the depths to which our government has sunk, dragged down by this, and Hillary was absolutely accurate to call them this, this collection of “deplorables” (I’d not be so kind and call them “despicables”) and it’s enough to create a churning rage in the heart of any American who has cared about what we have been at least TRYING to become since our founding.
The “good part”? The stirring of the “pot” that this outrage has produced has brought ALL the scum to the surface not only in government of course, but throughout our society. And as NEVER before things ARE changing.
Note: one of the most regressive states, Mississippi, is redesigning its state flag to remove the Confederate symbol in it. North Carolina soon followed.
Note: A black poet wrote an article published in the N.Y. Times (June 26th) and in it she says, “You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body Is a Confederate Monument The black people I come from were owned and raped by the white people I come from. Who dares to tell me to celebrate them?” By Caroline Randall Williams
Note: Princeton took down the name of one of our most well known presidents from one of it’s most famous “schools”, the Woodrow Wilson School of Economics is no more. Wilson was a well-known racist who removed many black civil servants from their positions in D.C. when he came into office. He also supported the KKK.
There is much more. It’s going on now all over our country and I believe that THIS TIME, real change IS taking place, not fast enough, not big enough YET, but it’s happening…..and it has never happened this way before. This is more than token “integration” this is societal change…..in WHITE PEOPLE! And now what must happen is a change in our federal government. The “despicables” must be removed from wherever they are hiding, whether the halls of Congress or the statehouse in Michigan or the police force in Minneapolis…..no matter which rock they have scuttled under, they must be exposed and removed…..and of course, the chief of the vermin has to be gotten out……fast!
So, I couldn’t read the book, that’s the short of it. I already know this insult in the White House is literally crazy. But that’s too nice a word. A “crazy” person might be treatable, might have some redeemable qualities that a therapist (for example) can encourage….in other words, any of us might be able to relate to a crazy person and want to help them with their illness. Not so with the one in the White House.
If you need to read the book to try to find some bit of relatable humanity in the man, perhaps it’s worth your time and effort. I confess I have neither. I just want him gone so that we can begin to patch, rebuild….try to bring back to life, the soul of the dream this country was founded upon.
Yes, I know the structure has been rotting for some time, that’s obvious, and also “obvious” is the fact that this poison mold has roots that go deep and has been growing for some time over our long history…..and I also know, believe at least, that now we can pull all of this up by those roots and begin to grow something good.
For this, at least, we can be thankful; that this abomination has exposed those American roots, just as the horrors of Nazi Germany exposed those roots there in the 1930s.
We’ve got a long slog in front of us to clean up all the lies. It will take a generation, but we have a start now. Marches are fine, protests are needed, but at last we need more, and it SEEMS to be happening. Again, too slow, maybe not deep enough….but it, seems to me, that tectonic plates are shifting and we can no longer try, nor should we try, to stop this shaking of our foundations so that we can next build something that is worthwhile for EVERYONE, so that our national “motto” of Out of many, ONE! can really mean something.
OK, I know this is a “rant”, needs editing for content, length, grammar, et. al. and yes, I’ll probably cool down after a spell and take this all down to a simmer, but here it is and I’m leaving it as is……I’m angry, and we should all be. (Those DESPICABLES in Congress aren’t and that should be enough to set us all off. They ARE supposed to be working for us after all.)
They did nothing about guns after all the kids were murdered, nothing about policing now that we see how racist some of our police departments have operated, nothing about throwing this abominable no-man out of the White House. It’s up to us, up to that WE THE PEOPLE part……you and me.