TBD on Ning

A few intrepid seagulls are rowing against the wind momentarily before turning back to take advantage of its velocity that keeps the open waters of the Mississippi River channel in constant motion. One of the constant metal snakes has slowly wound its way around me at least 270 degrees and disappeared beyond my line of sight. Snow still blankets the ground, although the sun is shining in a mostly clear sky and in doing so, highlights the branches of four stoic sycamore trees standing watch over the waters.

I have the place to myself. There is no sound except the wind and the railroad-crossing bell that monotonously heralds the impending blast from the diesel’s horn. It is time for reflection on this, the last day of the year. I have a new understanding of my country and the people living in it and, I must say, I’m not comforted. The air temperature is about 19 degrees Fahrenheit and although the water is warmer it can’t be much above freezing. The skin would suffer rapid damage if a person were to step out side without a coat. That would be seen as foolish, and rightly so. Yet so many people are all too willing to believe and accept as true, claims and advertisements that are repeatedly proven to be false. An analogy might be they would say the weather is warm, even while they lose fingers and toes to frostbite.

These people squabble like seagulls would on a warm summer’s day, yet even the seagulls know that when the temperature plummets and survival is uncertain, it is not the time to waste energy on petty disputes that won’t make any real difference to most and will lower the survival prospects for all. It would seem that our collective national intelligence has dipped below that of gulls. I suppose I should stop insulting gulls with the comparison.

The POW-MIA flag whips in the wind along side its companions. The sun is now glinting off the water as it threatens to set in the middle of the channel. Deer move through the wooded hillsides on the other side of the river. A stem quivers as though alive, betraying the vole’s activity at its base beneath the snow. I can’t hear the tiny feet scurrying under the blanket of white, but the owl can. She bides her time, closing her eyes again to doze in the last afternoon sun of the year, at least as far as we’re concerned. She operates on a different timetable. She’ll likely hatch her brood in the next month or so. From experience, she knows where the best hunting spots and perches are in her territory. Barring some unforeseen setback, the owlets will be well fed.

Standing alone in the cold, like the last seagull dipping low over the water, memories ebb and flow. A sense of wonder persists. Wonder at the inhumanity of man, the stupidity of the public, the juxtaposition of sweetness and hatred, and the goodness that relentlessly grows out of the detritus of ugliness. The cold weather clarifies the mind, encourages concise communication, and sharpens sight. I see now that there are many, many citizens that mistrust the system of governance they profess to believe in. Don’t get me wrong; a little mistrust is healthy, as is questioning authority. This, somehow, feels different. Years of education (or was it propaganda) established a baseline tableau of American values and beliefs that many people professed to hold in a deeply personal way. It turns out that, when push comes to shove, a segment of our population doesn’t really trust the American justice system, the American government, or their elected representatives. While it is true that some of these people are stupid enough to believe anything one of the talking heads spews forth, many have developed a default position of mistrusting the very people they have just elected and the very system they claim to believe in. Perhaps the cold is not yet cold enough. The region certainly has contributed its share of boneheads to the political scene—Bill Janklow in South Dakota, Kit Bond in Missouri, Rod Blagojevich in Illinois, Michelle Bachmann in Minnesota, Steve King and Charles Grassley in Iowa. Who knows what makes people like that? It boggles the mind.

Large chunks of ice flow slowly downstream as if to rendezvous with the setting sun as the river temporarily turns westward from its inevitably southern path. Yet another diesel python follows the twin rails across the river and behind my back. They don’t threaten anymore, although they still intimidate if you get too close. These days, they beckon, holding out the promise of a fresh start, a new place. Dreams come and go, floating into a new environment like the ice on the river. Some things change, many things don’t. Is a new start possible at this time? Some would answer that a new start is possible at any time. Some would beg to differ. Upstream or downstream, there are good people and bad people everywhere. Perhaps the possibility of a fresh start lies not in the place or time, but in the intention of the traveler. Is that where the truth lies also?

From the river I can see two church steeples, both Catholic. Other denominations maintain a lower profile, architecturally speaking. There are at least four other churches and congregations beneath those towering steeples—that and a whole bunch of sinners, hypocrites, and judgmental, disapproving idiots who have no manners. This latter fact I’ve always blamed on their proximity to Missouri (with apologies to those Missouri folks who do have manners). Faith figures prominently into the daily lives of many, and I don’t refer only to religious faith. I still have faith in the goodness of most people, but I must admit I have less certainty then I used to have. The ugliness of the past year is a difficult vision to forget. Who can afford to wear rose-colored glass in this economy—undertakers? It’s a short trip across the alley from the church to the funeral home. One-stop shopping. Efficiency counts I guess. Still, faith in your fellow human is sometimes validated.

I remember many years ago hearing on the radio that a recent immigrant family from El Salvador had been robbed at their family cafe and robbers had damaged (wrecked, really) their place. They were likely targeted because they were immigrants. I was a student at the time and had no money. Still I wrote out a check for five dollars and sent it to the family, care of the radio station with a letter explaining that not all people were so unfeeling and hateful. As it turned out, hundreds of people had done the exact same thing. Enough money was raised to rebuild the cafe and re-establish their cash flow. Granted, this was in the Midwest, but it is the same fertile ground that provided the substrate for belief in “death panels,” “birthers,” and the amazing falsehood that our native-born, Christian, capitalist-loving, commander-in-chief is actually a socialist (or communist, take your pick), Kenyan-born, Muslim, that is ineligible or illegitimate (somehow) to hold the office of the presidency. Facts be damned. After millennia of empirical evidence that it doesn’t work, some people still try to “push the river.”

A man walks along the riverbank, bundled in rags against the cold. The sight jogs a memory. I had a friend once who had horses. I use the term “friend” loosely as I don’t think anyone got close to him by the time he came into my life. He had a number of ponies and ran a pony ride operation at county fairs, rodeos and other sundry occasions. My friend was a small man and an ex-con who had probably had a difficult life before prison, but certainly during and after. He was tough, but emotionally wounded and drank heavily. These men aren’t difficult to find wherever you go. They are isolated (often by choice), lonely (rarely by choice, although they’ll deny it if pressed), and starved for gentle human contact. This comes as no surprise as they are, in a word, feral. Most people are afraid to have anything at all to do with them. Even those of us who are willing, approach warily and are, for a time, hesitant to turn our backs on them, figuratively (and sometimes literally) speaking.

What we had in common was a love of horses. Once I was accepted, my friend was generous with his knowledge, gentle in his demeanor, rock solid in his friendship, and protective of both my interests and me. In addition to the ponies, he owned a full sized mare and lavished special attention on her. I believe they had both been rejected and abused earlier in their lives and found solace and safety in each other. After a time, the mare developed a swollen knee, which my friend cared for attentively. Once he had appeared at the barn with his head split open, blood streaming down his face, where she had struck him in response to his hands on the painful joint. Another time, I found him lying motionless in the pasture, unconscious from a kick to the head from the mare, which was then gently nuzzling his face, trying to wake him. I watched his heart break daily, but when the time came, he took a rifle and walked to the back pasture. He returned about an hour later, tears streaming down his face silently. He made a phone call, then climbed into his truck and drove away to get plastered. Such is the nature of love sometimes. They are probably reunited now anyway. The pain is over for both of them.

My feet are frozen. It’s time for me to go yet I’m reluctant to leave this solitude of white snow, bitter cold, and never-ending river. I miss my friends but simultaneously wonder what that means. I don’t know what I contribute to their lives or how demonstrative my friendship is to them. I don’t know whether I say the appropriate things or act in a manner befitting the title of “friend.” I thought I knew what that meant, but now I’m not so sure. We’re taught to strive, to achieve, and to compete. I’m not at all sure that is necessary. Perhaps it is better to attend carefully and to engage fully. That is, to pray. Whenever our full attention is given to something, without distraction, that is prayer. It makes no difference if the task is washing dishes, teaching a class, listening to a friend, throwing a pot, preparing a meal, dancing choreography, bandaging a horse’s leg, or rubbing a puppy’s tummy. With the end of an old year and the start of a new one, it is worth taking time to ask ourselves what (or who) gets our undivided attention. Is this what we want? It is time to “pray” some blood back into my toes if I hope to keep them. The white snow, bitter cold, and never-ending river will be here tomorrow—the start of a new year. Hopefully, my friends will be around too.

Views: 11


You need to be a member of TBD to add comments!

Join TBD

Comment by CWO3ROBBIE on January 5, 2010 at 9:28pm
Vernon, In my estimation you are the best writer on this site. Your words flow and carry me along with them. This is the best since the one about the bulls. Keep writing, and I'll keep reading.
oh, and I did google Raindeer Dippin.
Comment by Golanv on January 5, 2010 at 5:40pm
Dude. Your writing is absolutely beautiful. I want to read more. Thank you. And I hope 2010 is a wonderful year for you. I really like this:
"Perhaps the possibility of a fresh start lies not in the place or time, but in the intention of the traveler. Is that where the truth lies also?"
Comment by Tina on January 5, 2010 at 2:27pm
A deeply felt and written piece of your self Vernon. It caused tears of "relating" for me and for this I am glad on some level. You are easy to read for your words seem to dance along across the pages.
Yes, I believe it is once again "time to pray". Blessings to you, T



© 2023   Created by Aggie.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service