Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Lessons Learned Hunting With My Dad

My father died last week.

To make a long story short, he had a heart attack while hunting and was rushed to the hospital. My mother made it to the hospital to be with him while the doctors were running tests to find out exactly what happened (His EKG was normal and we wouldn't find out until much later that he'd actually had a heart attack). The last words he spoke to her were, "I'm ready to go home." Which would be all kinds of existential and stuff if he hadn't immediately followed it with, "They need to stop sending all these pretty nurses in here." His heart stopped twice while the doctors prepared to run tests.

When I found out, I sped to the hospital, some 2 1/2 hours away, in the middle of Virginia's recent blizzard. He was on life support when I arrived. He had suffered brain damage when his heart stopped on the CAT scan table. His kidneys were failing and his blood pressure was dangerously low.

Elk hunting in Colorado 2011
It is a grueling thing to decide to take someone you love so much off of the machines that are keeping their body alive. I put an old dog of mine down once. I thought that was the hardest thing in the world to do. I was wrong. But in what would be a great act of mercy, my father decided he would save us from that decision, and his body gave up on its own before we had a chance.

This week has been indescribably difficult. My father was my hunting partner, my fishing buddy, and a constant, predictable strength. It still feels like I am walking around in some sort of dream world or alternate reality. Other people's fathers die. Not mine. He was too stubborn, too ornery, too alive.

But he is gone. And I already miss him terribly.

Here is the essay I read at his memorial service.

Lessons Learned Hunting With My Dad

My family tree has a treestand in it.

Seriously, everybody in my family hunts. My grandfather hunted. Both of my uncles hunt. My father would have packed up his bags, headed into the woods, and stayed there if life would have allowed him and hunting season ran all year long.

I was born in early September, so  I was only a few months old when my parents first took me hunting. My mother claims I called in a curious doe with my baby whimpers and half-hearted cries from my cozy spot in the back of the nearby station wagon .

Before I was even three, I would spend late summer afternoons perched on an overturned five gallon bucket, short legs dangling, waiting for the doves to fly in. It was hard to sit still when I saw them, it was so exciting. “Here they come, Daddy!” I would say too loudly as I tried to whisper unsuccessfully. "Be quiet. You'll scare the birds," he would fuss.

But it was a long time before my Daddy actually let me do more than sit on a stand or in a blind with him. He claimed it was because I was always so small. He didn’t think I could handle a firearm. I was convinced he wouldn’t take me because I wasn’t a boy. So I pestered him obnoxiously until, like most parents, he finally gave in.

He took me squirrel hunting. I didn’t have proper hunting gear, so my mother bundled me in my puffy purple coat and I pulled on my flimsy sneakers. On our way out the door she hollered “Good luck.”

We would have the most miserable day ever. It rained, soaking my sneakers and my puffy purple coat. We forgot our lunch, leaving us hungry the whole day. We saw not a single squirrel. We got lost in the woods. And then, on the way home, the truck blew a tire, stranding us on the highway in a time well before cell phones.

Daddy blamed the whole thing on my mother’s “good luck” wishes before we left. No one, I mean no one, says “good luck” to a hunter. You might as well cast a voodoo curse on them. He was still cussing about how she ruined that hunting trip years later. Maybe even as recently as this past Christmas.

As you can imagine… I was completely hooked. He did eventually agree to take me deer hunting, but didn’t want to waste money on buying me hunting gear. He was completely convinced that I wouldn’t stick with it, that I was too tiny and tender-hearted to actually enjoy hunting with him. He figured I would abandon the notion and decide hunting wasn’t for me.

This was before all of the current pink camo hoopla or the special fashionable hunting lines for female hunters, so gear that would actually fit me, was hard to find anyway, but picture if you will, a much smaller, 85 pound version of me, wearing my father’s man-sized, hand-me-down camo. I had his old camo coat, an old pair of his camo pants that wrapped around my waist almost twice. I even wore a saggy pair of his old long johns. I might have been forced to wear a pair of his men’s size 12 hiking boots if Uncle Joey hadn’t stepped in and offered up a pair that Mikey had already outgrown.

I was 13 the first year he took me to George Washington National Forest in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains for rifle season. We had driven in his old Dodge D-50, arriving at our campsite well after dark. I hadn’t even gotten to see any of the mountains on the drive in. I was exhausted and just crashed into bed in Uncle Terry’s camper to try and get some sleep. Then well before daylight, he came pounding on the camper door to get me up. In those days, he believed the serious hunter hiked in by flashlight and hiked out the same way. So I dressed in the dark, then I scarfed down some luke warm oatmeal in the camp's kitchen tent while shivering uncontrollably.

Then we hiked, which sounds adventurous and dashing and exciting. It wasn’t. He hadn’t even bothered to give me a flashlight, so I just followed his bouncing light through the darkness, up steep terrain, gasping, my legs aching as his flashlight steadily got further and further away from me in the dark.

That flashlight did eventually stop, up high above me on the dark ridge. After struggling for several minutes more to reach it, he just told me “Sit here.” Then he left me. In the dark. Without a flashlight. I was thirteen.

I watched his light move off uphill, growing fainter and fainter until it finally disappeared over the top of the ridge.

I was alone in the dark. I was exhausted from lack of sleep and the exertion of hiking up terrain I was unaccustomed to. I was shivering and my feet were cold. I was scared. I was scared because I didn’t know what to do without him.

And I was angry. I was angry with Daddy because he had left me alone in the dark.. I was so angry in fact, that I decided I wouldn’t even shoot at a deer if one walked past me. That would show him.

I sat fuming and freezing in the dark, until I finally somehow drifted off to sleep, passing out from exhaustion, my back pressed against the hard bark of the tree where he’d left me.

Something startled me awake some time later. I didn’t really remember where I was, but as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, I started to see what was around me. While I had been sleeping, the sun had come up. My father had left me in the perfect spot. The morning was all bright and glowing gold, and I had a clear view of the mountain dropping in deep waves of browns and greens down to a sweeping valley, where I could just make out a herd of cattle grazing. It was so stunning that it took my breath away. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Then I saw, working their way slowly up the slope toward me, a flock of turkeys, maybe as many as 20 (although more probably only 6 or 8. I am my father’s daughter after all), clucking and shuffling and scratching through the leaves. They came right past me, the flock splitting in half to pass on either side of the tree I was sitting under, like I was just part of the scenery.

Suddenly, I wasn’t scared or angry with him anymore, I just couldn’t wait to see him again so I could tell him about everything, the valley, the cows, the turkeys, and just how freakin’ gorgeous everything was around me.

He had known just the right place to leave me.

I learned a lot of really important lessons hunting with my Dad. I certainly was exposed to a very vivid and colorful vocabulary. But I learned a lot of other things, too.

Patience, for example. Sitting still in 18 degree weather, watching my breath fog, feeling my toes slowly numb, waiting for hours on end, hoping for even a glimpse of a deer is grueling. But there is strength and beauty in waiting for that single great moment. In that regard, Daddy was the most patient man I know. In traffic… not so much.

I learned that nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. You have to get up early, work hard, stay late. Go in with a flashlight. Come out with a flashlight. Like my Daddy always said, “If it were easy, it would be called killing, not hunting.”

I learned that if there isn’t a trail, that I should blaze my own. Unless you’re in the mountains and see a deer trail cut into the side of a steep ridge. Deer are a whole heck of a lot smarter than most people when it comes to getting around in the woods. Aside from that,  the good stuff usually happens well away from where everyone else is traveling. So take the trail less traveled. It will make all of the difference.

I also learned confidence. He would get excited every time I bagged a deer or a turkey whether it was a little doe or an old longbeard. It didn’t matter. He would pat me on the back and say, “I’m proud of you.” He made me feel like I was competent and able, something that was reinforced when the meat hit the table.

And I also learned to not let an animal suffer, to make my kills quick and clean, that the worst thing you could do was prolong death.

When Daddy and I were hunting, we had a custom. We would do this weird little fist bump. He would say, “Racky tacky, put ‘em in the sacky.” He did it with my boys, too. They know what I’m talking about. It was our way of saying “Go get ‘em...Have fun… see you in a little while.”  (Because you never say “good luck" to a hunter. Right Mom?) Then we would head off to our own stands. In the mountains I would usually watch him slip over the top of the ridge. Then we would meet back up after the hunt was over, usually after sundown

I held my Daddy’s hand while his heartbeat faded away to nothing. But when he left, I didn’t say, “Goodbye.” Instead, I gave him that same weird little fist bump, our hunting fistbump, and told him, “Go get ‘em… Have fun ...see you in a little while.” Silas was there, and he did the same thing.

You see, he isn’t really gone. We’ve just parted ways for a bit, headed in different directions. He’s just slipped over the top of the ridge. We’ll be meeting back up after sundown.

Rest Well, Daddy. Love you. See you soon.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Don't Panic! Southerners Do Know How to Handle Snow

Right now the South is bracing for Snowpocalypse 2017. A few days ago, when the weathermen first dared suggest snow was on it's way, the entire population of North Carolina lost its mind. The mad dash to the grocery store for bread and milk ensued, and the aisles at the local Piggly Wiggly became the cornucopia scene from The Hunger Games. Hell hath no fury like a silver-haired old lady trying to grab the last half-gallon of 2%. Heaven has no rage like the mayhem on the bread aisle.

Like most of my neighbors, I've been stalking The Weather Channel for the past 72 hours like a psycho lunatic, monitoring the maps and hourly forecast, trying to pin down just when the flaky white stuff will make it's appearance. The projected time of arrival and amount of accumulation has fluctuated significantly, but the consensus seems to be that the snow will be preceded by some rain showers starting sometime after 7 PM (which will likely wash away all of the salty brine that was sprayed on the roads two days ago).

In a true Southern overreaction, the public schools have decided to close two hours early. Just in case they aren't able to get everyone safely home before it starts raining at dinner time.

This is why our Northern cousins scoff at us. We over react. Not just to snow, but to the mere mention of snow. Days in advance.

And then we don't know how to plow it, or drive in it, or send our kids to school in it. Just a few slushy flakes and we're declaring a state of emergency and cancelling everything. It's like we don't know what do with it.

But we do.

Sure there is a mad dash to the grocery store for bread and milk and alcohol, but it's mostly because we're preparing for a grand party. We know that life will basically stop for at least 24 hours (but probably more), that we will hunker down, wear warm socks, and binge-watch Netflix. It will be glorious as we stoke up a fire, eat some milk sandwiches, kick back and relax. We won't be able to go anywhere, after all. Everything will close. Everything. The stores. The schools. The highways.

But before the relaxing, we'll pile on 27 layers of thin cotton clothing and wrap our feet in plastic bags (There's really no reason to own snow gear when we only see snow a few days each year) to venture outside. We will pelt each other with slush balls and make icy, muddy snow angels. We will catch flakes on our tongues and make sad excuses for snowmen. We will find a way to sled on even a half inch of slushy ice, not on fancy sleds but on trash can lids and laundry baskets and cardboard boxes, flocking to the overpasses if we have to (Actual hills are hard to find in the South East). Or we'll just hook our kids up to an ATV or the back of a pick-up and drag 'em around. Southerners know how to have fun. (This is also why the local hospitals must remain open during snowstorms. No one said we were smart. Have you seen our standardized test scores?)

We all know that the snow isn't going to be that serious. Heck, the temperature is supposed to be back in the mid fifties by Wednesday. No one is going to be trapped inside for days, forced to eat their pets or burn the furniture to survive.

But there's more to life than just surviving, on a snow day or any day. It's something we Southerners understand. It's why life seems to move slower here. We know that life isn't always about hurrying to get somewhere you aren't. Southerners know how to have fun. We know how to party. It's a tradition we hold as dear as sweet tea, ball caps, and Mama's fried chicken. That's why all y'all (This is proper Southern grammar. Please hold your scathing emails.) head down here for Spring Break and Summer Vacation. We not only know how to "raise hell" but we also know how to relax, take things slow, appreciate the finer things in life.

This weekend those finer things will include homemade snow cream, hastily built snow people, rosy cheeks on happy children, and a day off. So scoff in wintry-driving self righteousness if you must, grumpy Northerners. But I think we Southerners know exactly how to handle snow.

Y'all should be jealous.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Letter to My Daughter on Her 18th Birthday

Dear Hannah,

We made it! Happy 18th birthday, Sweetheart! I don't know if you feel any different today than you did yesterday. Maybe you should. Today is the day you enter legal adulthood, the day that you can legally vote (please take the responsibility seriously and approach the voting booth well-informed and skeptically optimistic), purchase tobacco products (Yuck), enter binding contracts (Please don't enslave yourself to unnecessary debt), and purchase lottery tickets (You have better, more productive things to do with your money. Trust me).

Turning 18 is a pretty big deal. This isn't your run-of-the-mill birthday. You only turn 18 once, after all. So on this momentous day of celebration, I thought I would write you a very personal letter. Sure I'm posting it to the internet for all the world to see, but you should be used to that by now. This is kind of my M.O.

I shouldn't write about the old motherhood cliche, about how I can't believe time passed so quickly, blah, blah, blah. But it's true. I can't believe how fast the years have flown by, especially when each individual day (especially those early ones) seemed to drag on forever, slowed down by the messes and the laundry and the inevitable tears (I admit the tears were mostly mine. You were a fabulously calm baby. But you've met your brothers, right?).

I know that things haven't always been easy for you. I'm fairly certain that your older brother made several attempts on your life (although he swears that Christmas tree just kept toppling over on top of you of its own volition. We eventually had to tie it securely to the wall with 550 paracord. Very festive.) and you didn't always get the best version of me. Too many times you got the rundown, terribly exhausted, paper-thin sanity model of a mother. You had so many hand-me-downs and divided attention and leftovers. There was so much less of me to give to you, and you've always had to cry more, share more, wait more than I would have liked.

But dear, sweet baby girl, I have loved you more than I thought humanly possible. Before you came barreling into this family (after 36 hours of labor. Yes, I plan to remind you of that every single birthday), I doubted the infinity of love. I honestly thought there was only so much to go around. But love isn't like the lap space you had to share with wiggly siblings. It can't be divided. It can't be shared. The moment you were placed warm and reaching into my arms, it was like I grew a whole other heart just for you. I didn't know how much love a person could feel until I felt you in my arms, until that first moment we finally met face to face.

I look at you with awe sometimes, wondering how you could possibly be mine. It is sometimes difficult for me to reconcile the confident, poised, articulate woman I see before me now with the pig-tailed little girl who rolled in mud and loved The Magic Treehouse and Play Doh and Angelina Ballerina. But here you are, so thoughtful and generous, hard-working and dedicated.

I feel like I should be writing this to impart some important and practical life advice, but it isn't necessary. The truth is you astound me with your maturity and tenacity, with your bold sense of purpose, and a wisdom beyond your years. You've proven to be trustworthy and prudent and responsible and all of the things that people your age usually aren't. Honestly, you're a better person than I was at 18. Heck! You're a better person than I am now, at least on most days.

Welcome to the adult world, Baby! I can't wait to see what Life has in store for you. Or maybe I can't wait to see what you have in store for Life. Either way it's going to be an exciting ride.

Happy Birthday! Your life is no longer in my hands, it's now in yours. I know you'll make it beautiful. That is certainly what you've made mine.

And now I am likely to lose myself in a fit of nostalgia and a large bottle of wine. Here's to you, my wonderful, fabulous, beautiful daughter! I am proud beyond words to be your mother. Just remember that no matter which roads you choose to travel, I will always be your number one fan.



Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2017 Can Hear You. Everybody Act Natural.

2016 is almost over, and there are tons of people celebrating it's departure. I suppose for most it's been a crappy year. 2016 is taking Carrie Fisher and Prince with it, while leaving behind a president-elect who largely resembles a sociopathic orangutan.(no offense to orangutans...or sociopaths, for that matter.) It shouldn't be surprising that there is a prominent attitude of "let's just go ahead and get this thing over with already."

I've seen the tweets and status updates broadcasting plans to "stay up until midnight, just so we can watch 2016 die!"

And I've even seen broad proclamations of "2016 was the worst year EVER!" Just scroll through Twitter if you don't believe me.

But really?

2016 was the worst year ever?

Worse than 1348, the year the Black Death reached England, spreading through most of Europe and parts of Asia and the Middle East? Now known as Bubonic Plague, the heinous disease would claim almost 60 percent of Europe's population (taking around 1.5 million human lives) and creating a series of religious, social, and economic cataclysms that would rock the world for centuries.

Worse than 1666, when The Great Plague of London swept across England? It was like Black Death, The Sequel, claiming the lives of more than 100,000 people. And just when you thought the Plague was enough to classify a year as pretty darned shitty, 1666 decided to throw in The Great Fire of London just to keep things real. The fire destroyed over 70,000 homes... which might have been a good thing considering all of those Plague germs laying around. But I wouldn't mention that to anyone whose home just went up in roaring flames if I were you.

Would you say 2016 was worse than 1919 when an influenza pandemic (which started in 1918. Another pretty shitty year) swept over the planet? That was a neat little population reducer, killing off about three to five percent of the world's humans. Also that year, Germany was strong-armed into signing the Treaty of Versailles, which pinned all the blame for World War I on them, plunging that country into a huge economic depression setting the scene for Adolf Hitler to rise to power.

Which brings us to 1933, the year Hitler became the chancellor of Germany and opened the first concentration camp at Dachau, where tens of thousands of prisoners would die. How does 2016 measure to this one? Keep in mind this was also the worst year of The Great Depression. One in four American citizens were unemployed and trying to figure out how to keep their families fed.

Was 2016 worse than 1994, when over 800,000 Rwandans lost their lives in less than 100 days? Maybe only if you were a Tutsi.

How about 2001? Remember those thousands of Americans who lost their lives in the al-Qaeda hijackings that targeted the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11? Almost 3,000 innocent people died in that one. It also marked the beginning of the War on Terror which has also cost the world thousands and thousands of lives. Have we forgotten that? Even when we promised we wouldn't?

Are a few celebrity deaths (although admittedly brilliant celebrities) enough to trump pandemics and war and genocide? Even when we toss this past U.S. presidential election and Brexit into the mix, 2016 still seems relatively tame.

Just trying to throw a little cold harsh perspective in your face, lest 2016 leave you feeling like you need to cower in a safe space with some coloring books, play doh, and some cute friendly therapy dogs because you just can't even. Maybe people are whining about 2016 and it's "Worst. Year. EVER." status, because we've watered down history and discouraged critical thinking. Maybe our failing public education systems are to blame. I mean even a vague understanding of world history should keep anyone from casting such a sweeping claim. Let's be honest, there have been way shittier years in human history than 2016. In comparison, 2016 looks like some sort of punk poser.

Just stop it with the insults to 2016. Sure it was more than a tad on the crappy side, but 2017 is close enough to hear you now. I don't want it to think all of this whining and moping and complaining is some sort of challenge. We don't want 2017 lurking just a few short days away to hear our ranting. We don't want it to come crashing in on January 1 screaming, "You thought 2016 was bad? Here.... Hold my beer and WATCH THIS!"

Everybody just keep quiet and act natural.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Why Are Schools Holding Technology Hostage?

A few weeks ago, at the family dinner table, the subject of Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline came up in conversation. My oldest daughter hadn't heard about the protests or the militarized police presence or the proposed oil pipeline. As I stumbled over the scant details I had picked up from the internet, she finally asked, pulling her phone from her pocket, "Can I just Google it?"

I almost told her no. We have a strict No-Phones-at-the-Dinner-Table rule. Crazy me, I like actually interacting with my family members without having to compete with electronic devices for their attention. But instead of complaining about real-world zombies glued to screens and controlled by electronic leashes, I gave her the green light.

Within a few short minutes, she was up to speed, able to offer relatively informed input, actively engaged in a conversation, that just a few minutes before, she hadn't been able to follow. That quick Google search for background on the Standing Rock protests led to more questions, though.

"What's an 'easement'?"

"What does the Army Corps of Engineers do?"

"What is the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie?"

Instead of having to deal with my awkward (and only marginally informed) answers, my kids had answers within just a few short seconds. Those electronic devices, that so often seem nothing more than a distraction from real life and meaningful human interaction, actually proved to be something else entirely. At that moment, at that dinner table, their phones were windows to real life events and tools that enhanced meaningful conversation.

Everyone walked away from the encounter having learned something. Even me. And I don't even own a phone.

Image Credits: Jon Fingas, Flickr
Meanwhile, I have a friend who is a high school teacher. She was recently complaining about how modern teens are glued to their phones, how they can't seem to function without them, how she has to collect them from her students at the beginning of class, hold their devices like hostages, and then pass them back out when class is over.

I understand the reasoning. Control is difficult to maintain in a classroom of 30 teenagers who really don't want to be there. Getting them to pay attention for a whole hour to a subject they probably care little about, while there are more interesting things just a click away, is a daunting task. And it's super important that they pay attention, because their standardized test scores (and therefore their entire futures) are at stake.

But this is the world we live in now, like it or not. We live in a world of constant connection and instant information. SmartPhones are here to stay. For good.

And maybe it is for good. Used responsibly, those electronic devices provide opportunities for spontaneous research and more thorough understanding. Not just through Google searches, either.

Mobile technology can facilitate collaboration on real-world projects with students on the other side of the planet.

SmartPhone features that help keep adults organized, like calendars, timers, alarms, and reminder apps will work for users under eighteen, too. These useful tools can help students coordinate sports and club activities and keep up with homework and project deadlines.

Online tools enable students to create spreadsheets, forms, slideshows, powerpoint presentations, videos, and word documents. These tools can even be used collaboratively with fellow students. These are the tools that many of them will be using on a daily basis once they are out in the work force. Integration in the classroom just makes sense.

As education budget cuts are limiting classroom technology updates, it seems more important than ever to utilize every technology resource available. Isolating students from their own electronic devices may be doing more harm than good.

Public school already crams children away in classrooms with their peers for hours each day, isolating them from real-world activities and interactions. Confiscating cell phones seems like just another way to isolate kids from real life experience and hinder them in developing real useful life skills.

By having students hand over their electronic devices upon entering the classroom, we are reinforcing the attitude that technology is nothing more than a distraction, when in reality, their phones and tablets can be very useful tools if used responsibly. We need to teach them to use them responsibly. The only way to do that is to have them actually use them, not isolate them or have them sneaking peeks in dark corners like guilty junkies trying not to get caught.

Technology isn't just a great way to waste time. Keeping students from their electronic technology, their own property, is a gross assumption that left to their own devices, students will not be responsible. Technology bans, whether schoolwide or in individual classrooms, prove a blatant lack of trust and rampant suspicion on the part of teachers and administrators. Have we forgotten that school students are human beings? Must they always be treated like criminals?

I get the fear my generation has as we watch the next one basking in the eternal glow of electronic screens, seemingly oblivious to the world around them, but we don't have to technology shame them.

They are natives in this new land of technological advances, even if it still feels foreign to us. Technology is their birthright. This is the new landscape, and like we've locked them behind wooden desks and cinderblock walls away from the real landscape outside, we are now actively isolating them from the cultural landscape. Depriving them of the most useful tools available, is only going to cripple them in the long run. Education is supposed to prepare human beings to function in the adult world, to be productive and well-rounded individuals. An education that neglects the necessary skills for successfully navigating the social landscape isn't much of an education at all. We have to allow them learn to utilize the tools of their culture.

Or we can choose option B and continue to rage against the machines, continuing with education policies that limit and prohibit and postpone encounters with the tools of the future. We could continue to put all of our effort into authoritarian approaches of force and coercion, instead putting it into building responsible, technologically fluent citizens.

I'd like to think we would choose option A. But I've never been very good at multiple choice tests.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Did Racism and Hate Really Win the Election?

Remember how the internet went crazy changing profile pictures to French flags after... I don't remember, I think something happened in France? And remember all of those hashtags of support when those school girls from somewhere had something bad happen to them? Well, apparently it's time to jump on the newest bandwagon of slacktivism.

In the wake of what for many Americans was a rather upsetting presidential election, people are doing something about it, at least doing something that requires little time or involvement or inconvenience. All over college campuses and on subways in big cities, people are donning safety pins. It's a small simple gesture, but it's trending on social media, so it must be important.

In the wake of what has been a divisive political campaign season, many people are declaring themselves allies to America's marginalized groups. Donning a simple safety pin is claimed to be an act of unity and solidarity, a way to show that the pinned individual is "safe" for the teeming masses of the country's demeaned, deprecated, and criticized.

While the gesture may have begun as a display of kindness, it seems to have run rampant, becoming a way for the left to offer themselves a hearty pat on the back, a way to wear their self-righteousness on their sleeve... or at least on their lapel.

The kinds of marginalized people that make the acceptable list for safety-pin wearing slacktivists are women, blacks, latinos, muslims, and anyone who slaps a gender non-conforming label on themselves. But in their fervor to be helpful and inclusive and peaceful and sunshiny, they are forgetting a very important group of marginalized citizens.

I live in small town eastern North Carolina (I didn't vote for Trump, so don't come looking for me), in a county that has 25.3 percent of its citizens living in poverty. This is a rural county. Most people don't come to visit, it's just a necessary evil you drive through on the way to the beach. But if you had taken the time to pull off the highway, enjoy our scenic byways lined with cotton fields and hog farms, you would have seen quite a few Trump/Pence yard signs.

Earlier this fall, well before the election, my family took a weekend trip to the gorgeous North Carolina mountains. While winding through rural places where you can almost hear banjo music if you listen real hard, we saw even more Trump/Pence signs, some of them billboard-sized. They were planted in rocky unkempt yards next to rusty old pickups, plastic lawn furniture, and free-roaming poultry.

While the results from November 8th left a lot of people baffled and confused, if you take a good look at the county-by-county election map, you'll see an obvious trend. Places with large concentrations of population, i.e. large cities, almost unanimously voted for Hillary Clinton, very small pockets of blue when compared to the red that stretched across the country like a spreading bloodstain. Rural America showed up to vote for Donald Trump in uncharacteristic droves.

Progressive minds are pointing fingers from their pity parties and safe spaces, blaming Trump's surprising win on racism, ignorance, and closed-minded country bumpkins. You know, the rednecks who lack culture and education and intelligence? That's the only logical reason that someone so evil and despicable and inhumanly orange could possibly have won the presidency, right?


By and large, it wasn't racism that voted for Donald Trump. It wasn't hate, either. It was desperation.

If you have a few minutes on your next drive to the beach, pull off the highway and take the backroads. Drive through small town America. Take a look at the boarded up storefronts and the empty factories. Rural America is on its death bed.

Poverty isn't only an inner city problem. Those redneck country bumpkins that the left disdains actually suffer from higher rates of poverty than urban areas. They are also more likely to live in extreme poverty, to suffer from it longer, and to have limited access to services such as clinics and hospitals and social services and even soup kitchens. Maybe that's why rural Americans have a lower life expectancy and suffer from higher rates of depression.  While the scenery is sometimes nice, life in rural America is no metaphorical walk in the park. Life is hard and only getting harder. All while rural America has largely been forgotten.

In mid October, Donald Trump held a rally in Fletcher, North Carolina. Fletcher, NC isn't the kind of bustling political hub that tends to generate a lot of interest from presidential candidates. The town only has a population of 7,243 people. I've never been to Fletcher, but I hear they have at least one stop light. Thousands of people packed the agricultural center there to hear him speak. That's thousands of people, perhaps more people than actually live in Fletcher.

While the other side was busy framing the average rural voter as hateful, useless, or "Deplorable", Trump was reaching out to rural America. Trump spoke about jobs leaving the country and moving overseas, a subject that has been felt intensely by people in towns filled with boarded up buildings and brownfields.

For ill or for better, Trump seemed to reach a hand out to rural America and promise to help them.

While celebrities and politicians and college campuses have hugged and welcomed and fought for the rights of blacks and hispanics, women and muslims, and everyone on the LGBTQ spectrum, rural America has been actively marginalized by them. With large paintbrushes of progressive thought, rural Americans have been trivialized as hateful, illiterate, frightening, useless. Their votes shouldn't even count. They have been silenced, told repeatedly that they were nothing more than intolerant racists and misogynists.

And even now, after they sent their voices screaming in bright red from the voting booths, the self-satisfying safety pin wearing left, who claim tolerance and acceptance, are circulating petitions bent on upsetting the electoral college in their favor, ultimately silencing millions of desperate voting voices once and for all. For the good of the country, of course.

For good or for ill, millions of Americans voted for Trump. It was an urgent cry for change, a plea to be heard, an attempt to matter to the powers that be. Instead of trying to silence them, perhaps we should be listening. Maybe they aren't ignorant. Maybe they actually have something to say. Does your safety pin include them?

If you aren't a safe place for them, stop claiming to be a safe place for the marginalized. Because I contend there is no part of the population more criticized and disparaged than the backwoods, small town, hard-working citizens of this country. Their lives matter, too. Even if it isn't catchy or politically correct.

No one likes to be ignored. How many times do you slap a dog before that dog lunges at you with a vicious backlash? Unfortunately, this time the vicious backlash came in the form of Donald Trump.

Maybe we should have listened sooner.

Now stop being smug and condescending. It isn't helping. It isn't helping at all.

And take off that damned safety pin. You look ridiculous.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

This is Armageddon - College Students Cry and Why We're All Doomed

The presidential election is finally over, for better or for worse. I'd like to say that I'm relieved because my life could use a lot fewer political advertisements. By Tuesday afternoon I had a stack of political mail fliers that would put the old Sears and Roebuck catalogue to shame. My youngest had memorized most of the television ads and could recite them with frightening accuracy, including facial expressions and voice inflection. She's a scary kid.

Our family tucked in tight on election night. I spent the night stress drinking and wallowing in despair. My son checked the kitchen to be certain we were well stocked with milk and bread. "This is a shitstorm, not a snowstorm!" my oldest daughter fussed as she rolled her eyes in typical teen exasperation.

My youngest daughter was the only one who felt anything akin to excitement. She had a coloring sheet of the United States so she could fill in all the electoral votes as the results were announced. At thirteen, she is currently disappointed in her lack of opportunities to use crayons, so her coloring sheet was a thrilling chance to put her long-neglected red and blue Crayolas to use.

My oldest made a phone call home after jumping from airplanes and doing other badass military stuff. "Do we have a new supreme overlord yet?" "No... not yet," I told him.

At 1:30 in the morning I finally said, "Enough is enough!" (referring to the election coverage, not my wine consumption) and sent everyone to bed. It was starting to look like my greatest fear was coming to fruition. One of these two candidates was actually going to win the election.

And win one of them did. I'm sorry for the spoiler if you haven't been keeping up with the final season of America... but Trump won. (I know... I was shocked, too.)

I checked the kitchen to make certain we had plenty of bread and milk on hand for the ensuing political apocalypse. I wasn't certain what Armageddon would actually look like, but I figured bread and milk might be somehow important. But surprisingly, Armageddon looked like a fairly normal day. People went to work, dropped the kids off at daycare, folded laundry. The world didn't stop turning after all.

That is... unless you are a college student.

Many universities across the country cancelled classes on Wednesday and offered counseling to help their students cope with the trauma of the election results. Exams were postponed or made optional. Not only that, but therapy dogs, playdough, and crayons were made available in attempts to make the precious snowflakes feel better. And Cornell University actually hosted a "cry-in" to mourn election results, complete with staff handing out tissues and hot chocolate.

I understand that the results of this election have produced a lot of feelings of misery, discouragement, and out-right fear for the future. I totally acknowledge the gloom that has settled over portions of the population like yesterday's misty weather (Totally appropriate Armageddon weather. Thanks, Mother Nature). I get that things may seem bleak and confusing and frightening. I'm confused, too. I don't know whether to be ridiculously happy that Clinton didn't win or angrily upset that Trump did. Things are complicated right now.

But the images of despondent young adults weeping hopelessly while curled on the floor in the fetal position is too much. These are our future leaders we're talking about here. Are they just going to roll over, weep, and take whatever the government decides to dish out? If so, there truly is no hope for us.

Here's the deal, weepy tantrum-throwing young people. You are too old to behave this way. You're basically adults now. You don't get to scream and cry when you don't get your way. That's what two year-olds do, not the future of America. If you don't like the country you're inheriting, you get up off the floor, wipe the snot off your face, put on your big-girl panties, or grow a pair, or whatever gender-inclusive euphemism you choose, and you do something about it.

Sure, Trump might be the most disgusting incarnation of evil you could imagine. But Hillary was no sunshiny cupcake either. Stop calling your neighbors nasty names and accusing them of being hateful bigots. Most people left the voting booth (regardless of which candidate's name they marked with an X) feeling a mixture of guilt and shame, like they had just been complicit in spreading some nasty venereal disease. Very few people emerged feeling full of hope and progress and optimism. Keep that in mind while you're screaming and ranting at friends and family and members of your community who may have voted differently than you.

Besides, if Trump does turn out to be the tyrant you fear him to be, we're all going to need to work together to make things right again. So stop alienating your potential allies. Most people are basically good human beings with good intentions doing the best with what they've got in the moment. Just because they disagree with you, doesn't make them thoroughly wicked or vile... and it doesn't mean they hate you, either.

Perhaps all of these tears and whining and unwillingness to cope are because of too many years of soccer and t-ball, where trophies were handed out for just showing up and no one kept score. Maybe that's why you feel like maybe you should get the president you want because you voted. You showed up. You participated. That's not how the real world works. People lose. Teams lose. Sometimes even when it seems like they deserved to win.

But you know what you do when you lose? Sure, you can go cry in the locker room or run off pouting or angrily take your ball and leave, but what does that accomplish? If you want to be successful, you have to work so hard that you ache. You have to be tired and sore and you have to get dirty. If you want things to change, you have to make them change.

If you don't like where this country is headed, then do something about it. And you don't even have to wait four years to vote for it. We don't have to be victims of our government, even the one we've elected. There's more to social change than stepping into a polling booth. That's just one aspect. I promise you aren't helpless babies, no matter how our institutions of higher learning may be treating you. The fastest way out of despair is action.

Trump is only one person, although a person who will soon be handed a large amount of power. If we are this afraid of the wrong person being president, that is a hint that maybe the president . . . any president . . .even if it's the person you voted for, has way too much power. No one should have that much capacity for destruction, oppression, or domination, even if they have a pen and a phone.

Do you know what your forebears did when faced with cruelty and heinous evil? Do you know what they did when they confronted tyranny? They stormed the beaches of Normandy. They wielded bayonets at Yorktown. They waded through rice paddies in Vietnam. They didn't waste time coloring mandalas or squishing playdough or crying inconsolably on the floor. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. You come from better stock.

I'm not saying it's time to take up literal arms, but even virtual arms or symbolic arms or metaphorical arms would be better than this pansy-ass whimpering wuss fest happening on campuses of higher learning. Your parents are paying too much for your education to waste it on skipping class to do coloring sheets, even if you are feeling despondent.

Remember, it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Even when it seems really, really dark.

And speaking of dark... it's okay to do your crying there. But let's show the world a braver face, shall we?

Monday, October 31, 2016

10 Easy Ways For Lazy People to Make the World a Better Place

It's just over a week until doomsday, or as more optimistic people call it "election day." The past few weeks have been a swarm of negative political ads and cyber screamfests as both candidates' camps attempt to convince me that the only hope we have as a country is for their opponent to lose. No messages of real hope or promise or optimism are being offered. Instead, we're hearing about the doom and death and destruction that will commence the minute the other guy (I sincerely mean "guy" in its gender neutral form) is elected.

Everyone is too busy trying to persuade the undecided, exasperated, and generally demoralized voter that their candidate is at least slightly less evil than their opponent. No one seems concerned with the fact that their own candidate is, in fact, evil themselves. The only chance for this country's survival, and perhaps the world's, is for everyone to not vote for the other candidate. South Park had it right, this election is basically average citizens deciding between a giant douche and a turd sandwich.

Y'all... I'm frightened. I'm frightened that one of these people is actually going to win this election.

But there is hope for this country. Maybe I'm being overly optimistic, which may be a tad bit uncharacteristic of me, but I don't think its too late. I think there are plenty of ways to make this world a better place, and none of them even involve voting for evil. Actually, none of them involve voting at all. In fact, they all require very little effort. There are real things even lazy people can do.

Maybe it doesn't take politicians and public policy to save the world. Maybe it takes average everyday people deciding to be decent human beings to save us in the end.

Here are a few easy ways to make this dirt ball we're spinning around on a better place. This isn't difficult, people. Let's try it. It certainly can't make things any worse than they already are.

This is a list for lazy people, feel free to try harder if you feel motivated to do so.

1. Hold the door. Just be nice and hold the door for the person rushing in behind you. Whether you're at the bank or the convenience store, church or the local porn shop, it doesn't matter. This may be the easiest way to be nice to our fellow human beings. Don't expect anything in return. Don't get angry if that rushing person doesn't acknowledge your act of kindness. Do it anyway. Bonus points if you smile and make eye contact.

2. Say Thank You. When someone holds the door for you, just give them a simple "thank you." It's what decent human beings do. Try to be at least superficially grateful. It's not going to kill you to show a little kindness and gratitude when someone else is doing the same. Bonus points if you smile and make eye contact.

3. Return your shopping cart. The road to Hell is paved with abandoned shopping carts. It isn't going to kill you to walk a few extra steps to push the cart into the cart return. Leaving it in the parking lot is just evil, and aren't we voting for enough of that? The thing has wheels so it's not like it takes a lot of physical effort. Leaving a stranded cart blocking the only available parking space within 150 yards of the door is not only rude, it's also pretty un-American.

4. Don't let your kids run wild.  I'm all for allowing kids to be kids, but standing on the table Irish dancing at Golden Corral or knocking down innocent shoppers while playing a one man game of hide-and-seek in the racks at Target is a little extreme.  Expecting kids to behave in socially appropriate ways in public is the first step in ensuring they become adults who behave in socially appropriate ways in public. I'm guessing some of our presidential candidates could have used a little more home training.

5. Look up from your cell phone. I mean, especially when you are ordering a meal or checking out at the grocery store or really anywhere that you are encountering a human being. I realize that your text messages and twitter accounts and funny cat memes are oh-so-very important, but just look up from your electronic tether and actually make eye contact with that human being who is serving you. They are offering you their time and attention (even if their employer is buying it for super cheap), the least you can do is offer them yours.  I promise that it is more than okay for you to treat human beings in the customer service field as actual people. Bonus points if you actually smile.

6. Use your turn signal. Maybe you're bopping along to your favorite song cranked up loud on your car stereo, too distracted to remember that there are other drivers around.  Or maybe you're busy with the cell phone call from your best friend while she complains about the hooker shoes So-And-So wore to the club last night. But it only takes a couple of extra synaptic sparks to hit that handy lever on your steering column and communicate to surrounding drivers and pedestrians your intentions to maneuver your 4,000 pound speeding metal death machine.  Most of us haven't mastered the art of telepathic communication, and body language is lost on us when it is masked behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.  So the turn signal is a super polite way to communicate with your fellow drivers and cut down on incidents of road rage.  To not signal before a turn or lane change is just plain rude. Besides, I bet the personal drivers of presidential candidates don't use turn signals. Do you want to be like a Giant Douche or a Turd Sandwich? I didn't think so.

7. Compliment someone. It's easy to be mean and confrontational when the people who are supposed to be role models are doing it, but we don't have to be like the presidential candidates. Tell someone how much you like their haircut, or the shoes their wearing, or how they aren't pestering you about who you're going to vote for in the election. It's okay to make it random, but make it sincere. Take a cue from Canada and say something nice.

8. Shop local. If you're feeling grumpy about corporate greed and how big business owns our politicians, do something about it. Skip the big box retailers and shop with the little guy. When you purchase goods and services from a local business, you aren't lining the pockets of multi-million dollar companies who care little about you but still spend your money to influence public policy in their favor. When you buy local, you're paying for someone's kid's braces or guitar lessons or new soccer cleats. It's a beautiful thing to invest in the lives of people you call neighbors.

9. Turn off the TV. Think of all the extra political ad-free time you'll have to do something productive (or not productive... I won't judge). The world needs people who can think for themselves. It's hard to be that kind of person when there is a constant stream of programming telling you what to think, who to be, and who to be mad at. Besides, what better way to stick it to the two evil candidates than to NOT watch all of the political ads they spent tons of money on just to call each other names and point fingers? We don't have to be their audience.

10. Give stuff away. I'm not talking about free college tuition or political favors, either. That stuff that's just laying around your house not being used, someone else could probably use it. Go through your closet, box up anything that you haven't used in over a year (especially your clothes), anything that doesn't have sentimental value, and just give it to someone. You can donate it to charity or give it to a friend, it doesn't matter. You'll feel freer without the clutter and someone else will be putting something that was just taking up space to good use.

Let's do this, people! A little bit more action like this from little people like you and me, and it won't matter who comes out on top on November 8.

At least that's what I have to keep telling myself to maintain some semblance of sanity.

Monday, October 17, 2016

After the Flood - What is Normal for the Ants?

(This is Part 2 of my account of the flooding of our small town after Hurricane Matthew. You can read Part 1 here.)

It's been more than a week since Hurricane Matthew skimmed the coast of North Carolina. Just a few days ago, a reporter broadcasting live from the bridge between small town Tarboro and even smaller Princeville, with a look of possibly mock concern on her face, informed the local viewing area that more than 80 percent of the buildings in Princeville were under the Tar River.

Until then, we had only been allowed to speculate what life looked like on the other side of the bridge. The town of Princeville had ordered a mandatory evacuation on Sunday in anticipation of flood waters rising. The bridge closed to vehicle traffic Monday evening. We had been able to watch the river rise from the bridge until the river began brushing the bottom, then the National Guard stepped in with armored vehicles and uniformed soldiers to keep foot traffic from possibly plummeting into the swirling water. We had heard that the water had rushed around the protective levy, filling the town up like a fish bowl.

A desperate attempt to get to the liquor store.
I suppose we had hoped for the best while expecting the worst. We knew what things looked like on this side of the bridge; entire neighborhoods underwater, our middle school completely surrounded, roads impassible as rushing creeks swelled banks and flooded into the streets. And, horror of horrors, the town's only liquor store sitting underwater at Hendrick's Creek.

It was probably that sweet, perky newscaster's first visit to Tarboro, so she didn't know. But I threatened a trip to the bridge to chat with her when she uttered the words, "Meanwhile, on this side of the bridge in Tarboro, things are pretty much back to normal."


I suppose things are normal if you consider that public schools are closed for the eighth day in a row. All of the county and town offices are closed. The county courthouse is closed while gallons of water are being pumped from the basement. One of our schools is an island, while two more are crammed with hundreds of floodwater refugees. Most of our side streets were completely underwater until yesterday. And god knows when we'll be able to buy liquor again. The constant sound of machines pumping water and news station helicopters humming as they circle overhead isn't something we had thought was normal.

This is not normal.

Even now that the water has mostly receded, and families are facing a different kind of devastation as they sort through muddied possessions and family memories, life still isn't normal.

The view from my front porch just a few days ago.
The water didn't quite reach my home. At its highest, it came within inches of my front porch, wrapping around the house, flooding the driveway and the back yard. I am thankful that dear Nora Jenkins when she built this house in 1908, thought enough to perch it on the slightest of hills. The water table did rise up through our basement, flooding the hot water heater, making the sump pump work so hard that it finally couldn't handle it, giving up in an agonizing gurgle of foul water. My husband and son bailed out the basement with cups and buckets.

As the flood waters slowly retreated, they left behind a sense of immense gratitude, but also an aching sense of survivor's guilt, thick like the black mud that the river left behind in the streets. I walked through that mud yesterday, thinking about it clinging to the insides of my neighbor's houses, sticking to the walls and furniture and family pictures. I thought, "We need a good rain to wash all of this away." And then I caught myself. The last thing we need right now is rain.

When the river was highest, and we had nothing to do but watch the water, we saw some amazing things. There were dozens of islands of ants floating in the water. Fire ants will make a ball of themselves to protect the colony in high water. They cling to each other and buoy each other in the floodwaters. It's how they survive catastrophes like Hurricane Matthew, by clinging to one another, supporting one another, helping one another. No single ant is alone.

And that's another way that life isn't normal here. I've seen everyone roll up their sleeves. Skin color doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that Princeville is a town of almost entirely black citizens or that East Tarboro (where the flooding on this side of the river was highest and most destructive) is somewhere people like me wouldn't walk at night. The imaginary lines that we've drawn on a normal day were washed away in the flood waters. All I see now are neighbors helping neighbors. People feeding people who are hungry. People offering comfort to those who are hurting. People offering clean clothes and toiletries and hot showers. People sharing hugs and tears. People clinging to one another, supporting one another, helping one another. No single person is alone.

That's what community is. There are no boundaries of skin color or income or social status. Sometimes it takes a major flood to wash away the boundaries we put up, to see just how superficial those lines are. The circling helicopters can't tell us apart from their vantage point. Afterall, if you step back far enough, we all just look like a bunch of ants.

Maybe the perky blonde reporter did have it right. Maybe this is what normal is supposed to look like. I'd like to think so.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Watching the Ants at the Water's Edge

On Saturday, Hurricane Matthew ripped its way up the Atlantic Coast, dumping gallons of water across the Eastern United States, from Florida to Virginia. Here in my little corner of the world, small town Tarboro, North Carolina, 12 inches of rain fell in a matter of hours, bringing new meaning to the word "torrential." At times it felt like we were under the thundering deluge of a waterfall. The rain actually roared.

We were "lucky." Hurricane Matthew didn't actually come crashing ashore in North Carolina. In what must have been a show of mercy on a state that had already seen more early autumn rainfall than usual, Matthew headed out into the Atlantic, just skirting the Outer Banks. It could have been much worse. Which really is small consolation for those whose lives are upside down.

After a tenuous night full of flash flooding and leaking roofs, falling trees and lost power, my neighbors and I awoke to beautiful Carolina Blue skies. Sunday morning was clear in a way we haven't seen yet this season. Bright and crisp, the weather was gorgeous. The sunshine was almost blinding and it gave everything an edge, the corners of everything seemed sharp, like you could almost cut yourself if you weren't careful. Everyone emerged blinking from the holes we had crawled into, nestled overnight with family in soft candlelight glows, hunkering down to ride out the worst, while the chaos of the storm thundered just outside our windows.

But it wasn't the worst. Not yet.

It's hard to imagine with the sun shining bright white brilliance, the world so perfectly clear, the sky so blindingly blue, that Hurricane Matthew wasn't quite finished with Eastern North Carolina. The children and I ambled down to the river. On Sunday morning it still seemed rather harmless. River Road was closed. My youngest stood on the lowest rung of the road gate, right next to the "Road Closed" sign. We could see the water's edge still some fifty yards down the road.

"Where will the deer go?" she wondered aloud, thinking of the deer we sometimes spook in the evenings when we walk down River Road. They snort and flick white tails when they see us before bounding to the safety of wooded edges.

"I don't know." An honest answer.

In the afternoon, we made our way to the bridge that heads east out of our small town. We passed a family steadily hauling belongings from their home. They stuffed lamps and boxes and wadded up clumps of clothing into the back seat of their car, working steadily but not frantically. At the bridge we counted the vehicles leaving the low lying town of Princeville, our neighbors just across the river, their rear windows obscured with hastily packed belongings. They followed each other like a train of conestoga wagons headed for better days. They reminded me of ants streaming along the sidewalk in single file lines.

Transfer of information is fast these days. With the town basically shut down there wasn't much to do. We scrolled through pictures, assessing other people's storm damage, hearing through internet gossip that roads had been washed away, that dams were breaking. We gawked at the pictures from flooded Lumberton and the stories of rooftop rescues out of Fayetteville.

Photo credit: Hannah Webb
By Sunday evening we were tired of the news stories and the flashing cyberspace pictures of people who had lost everything. We made our way back to the banks of the swelling Tar River. The flood waters were rising. We were informed of a mandatory evacuation of Princeville. We could no longer walk to the gate at River Road, the "Road Closed" sign was only half visible. We stared at the water that seemed almost still at the edges. We could actually see it creeping its way up the asphalt, like it came clinging to each tiny stone, crawling toward family homes and small businesses. If we stared we could see the water's edge moving, the river widening as streams and drainage dumped thousands more gallons, the water making its way through our tiny town on its way to the ocean some 95 miles downstream.

We tucked ourselves into bed, watched the livestream of the evening news broadcast from flooding towns up and down rivers all over eastern North Carolina. County schools were closed for Monday, and probably the rest of the week. Princeville was deserted in anticipation of the river climbing the levy.

Today, we woke again to see the world all bright and clear. Matthew is long gone. So are the residents of Princeville. So is the homeless man who lives under the Princeville bridge. At River Road there's no sign of the gate. Or the road.

Around the water's edge there are a million ants, pacing back and forth, worrying, stranded from their homes.They seem lost. Confused. I watch them scramble, switch directions, dance right up to the water's edge like they might dive in, then shuffle away again. It's fascinating watching them. I don't exactly know why.

Photo credit: Hannah Webb
The Princeville bridge is closed. So are most of the roads into and out of Tarboro. We are left here, waterlocked like an island, isolated, just watching, waiting to see what the river will do with us. We gather on the bridge, watching the water rise inch by slow inch. There is almost a party atmosphere as neighbors greet neighbors and compare stories. We haven't seen this kind of flooding since Hurricane Floyd. That was only seventeen short years ago, not the five hundred the meteorologists and environmental scientists and climatologists promised us.

Photo credit: Hannah Webb
There are so many news vans and helicopters circling overhead. They are watching us like I watched the ants. Like I watched the stream of refugees from Princeville. Like I gawked as I scrolled through pictures posted of flood waters and submerged houses in nearby towns. We are all tourists to other people's tragedy. We don't really want to visit. We don't want to walk a mile in their rubber galoshes. Humans are funny like that, gaping at misfortune, peddling it on the evening news.

Tonight the roads are closed as the water still creeps its way into neighborhoods, silent and steady in the dark, the river bubbling up through street drains in low areas, forming still pools in the middle of the street. The sun will rise tomorrow on higher water, but how high? I wonder if it will be tragedy enough for the news vans.

What happens to the ants when nobody's watching?


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