Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Good Country for Old Horses

An old white horse ambled across a fallow field today at the foot of Mt. Robledo with the late autumn sun approaching its optimal angle of ambience. It was an image that cried out to be captured and would have been, when I kept a camera in the pick-up truck, always loaded with a fresh roll (back then) of KodaChrome 25.

Even after I dragged myself into the digital age I kept an SLR in the truck, just in case.  Can’t remember exactly when I quit doing that.  In any event, the images I capture these days are for my mind’s eye, not albums or data bases. Brandi and I take leisurely drives to favorite old places and loll there, just thinking about good old times, letting the mental images scroll by at their own pace, in their own time.

We were heading toward the back entrance to Broad Canyon when we spotted Old White.  He did not move fast but he moved with purpose; he knew where he was going, and why. In the adjoining field, in a grove of trees, the last operations of the pecan harvest were going on.  It’s all mechanized now, and very efficient, but maybe some of the elders in the harvest crew remembered when Old White hauled a harvest wagon down the rows of trees, collecting the nuts as they fell.  Perhaps they remembered to leave an apple or other treat near the fence line when they passed by, and White was going to collect his reward as of old.

Brandi watched White with casual interest; he was the only moving thing in our serene desert landscape at that moment.  I followed the old horse with a keener eye; here was a fellow geezer, still alert and alive and taking his pleasure from the land where he had lived and worked his lifetime.  Go for it, Old White, whatever,  and wherever,  “it” might be.  Go for it.

We weren’t far from the last vestiges of an old wagon road down which my son, David, and I had ridden mountain bikes toward  the old Butterfield Trail, looking for the ruins of one of the forts on its route.  We knew it was out there somewhere, but we both lost tires to the cacti and had to turn back.  A sheriff’s car was waiting beside the truck when we walked the bikes back to the main road.  “You guys OK?” the deputy asked as we approached.  “OK,” we said, “except for punctured tires.”  We added by way of explanation, “we were looking for the old fort on the Butterfield Trail.”  “Did you find it?” he asked.  “Nope.”  “Better luck next time,” he said, and drove off.

There was a next time and we did have better luck.  Poked around the ruins for half a day or so, taking pictures and wondering how it must have been, riding that stage through Indian country, less than a day’s journey from the site of the Cook Mountain massacre.

I’ve reached that age of awareness that each visit to a favorite place might be my last.  I tend to linger longer, savoring what’s there.  Today I had an urge to hike down that old wagon rut, find the remains of that old fort, relive the joy of discovery that David and I experienced — how long ago?  Can’t remember exactly.

But the metal replacement hip was hurting, and the failing hip on the other side as well.  The sun settles quickly behind the western mountains these shortening days.  Suddenly it’s no country for old men.

Brandi and I drove slowly past the field where we’d seen Old White.  He wasn’t there.  I know that somewhere between the road and Broad Canyon there’s a cattle tank and an old corral and some other amenities for ranch horses.  There’s still plenty of browse between here and there.

What more could an old horse want?

We Failed Franklin's Challenge

Alas, Dr. Franklin, we did not keep the republic you bequeathed to us. It has been swept away in  bitter tides of war, ignorance, corruption, apathy, greed, hatred and self-deceit. It cannot be restored.

Each of these tides, in its own manner, lethally eroded the ideal of the republic.  In creating the most monstrous war machine in history, we have remolded our nation into an oligarchy of warlords. Militarism and all its appurtenances have become so rich and powerful a force in the United States that it can never be turned back. Only this week, the military industrial complex itself gave us the material for a metaphor. From Bath, Maine, the largest destroyer ever built for the U.S. Navy began to navigate the winding Kennebec River toward the open ocean for sea trials — the 600-foot, 15,000-ton USS Zumwalt. Imagine, if you can, 100 brave swimmers, pushing against her prow, trying to shove her back to port.  Now imagine a tenfold increase in the size and power of the ship, and a reduction of the number of swimmers to ten. The swimmers’ chances of stopping and reversing the course of that monstrous ship are roughly the equivalent of the hopes for success of a peace movement in the former republic of the United States.

In willful ignorance we heard but did not heed the warning, 54 years ago, of an outgoing president against this monster aborning.

Concurrently, our civic apathy enabled ever growing corruption in government at every level.  The republic formed by Dr. Franklin and his peers in that Philadelphia hall envisioned a process by which laws would be fashioned by direct representatives of the people, elected by the people and responsible to the people.  Today, laws are made in secret by a non-government entity created and funded by multi-billionaires such as the Kochs, then handed to bought-and-paid-for office holders for a rite of passage that mocks democracy.  This process takes place at every level of government, enslaving The People in a system designed to perpetually enrich the oligarchs and their institutions while depriving the citizenry of even the most basic and necessary government protections.  Eventually, the common people will be seen only as fodder for the war machine.

Until the final takeover of everything by the oligarchy, a pretense of democratic form functions in the former republic.  We hold elections.  A few of us — too few — actually vote, driven by the self-deceit that our votes “count.”  Cut off by corporate media from the truth about our government and its policies, the electorate responds, as the oligarchs intend, to appeals to the basest facets of their nature.  Hate and its obverse image, fear, increasingly motivate the masses.  We fear “them” because their skin is not white, or they practice religions other than our sick version of Christianity, or they wear non-western clothing, or they speak funny languages. And so we vote for some bloviating demagogue named Walker or Rubio or Cruz or — heaven forefend! — Trump.

Thus, day by day, in ways large and small, does our ignorance feed our self-deceit, and our self-deceit serve the interests of our corporate masters, exponentially engorging their obscene fortunes, and debasing the lives of the commoners.

In his historic warning 54 years ago, Dwight Eisenhower urged us to always be cognizant of “the need to maintain balance in and among national programs -- balance between the private and the public economy, balance between cost and hoped for advantage -- balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future.” 

When we lost that balance we began to lose Dr. Franklin’s republic.

And this is the final irony: if somehow we shed the yoke of ignorance and sought through massive rebellion to change the things that are, our rebellion must fail, suppressed by the massive, militarized police state we have allowed to grow up around us.