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Friday, April 19, 2019

It’s About Time: Kathleen Stocking Comes Home

From the Place of the 
Gathering Light:
Leelanau Pieces

by Kathleen Stocking
Even now that I’ve moved to a senior residential community in nearby Traverse City, I’m still from the place that has made me, that has informed my sense of the world, that taught me who I am, who I think I am, that has given me my ideas and my core self. - Kathleen Stocking, From the Place of the Gathering Light: Leelanau Pieces
Kathleen Stocking’s first book of essays, Letters from the Leelanau, burst onto the northern Michigan scene in 1990, selling in numbers that took the University of Michigan Press completely by surprise. The first print run was only 500 copies, but then, noticed by and raved in the New York Times, the book quickly went on to be a classic and is still in print. 

When she came to my bookstore in Northport to do a reading from her third book, The Long Arc of the Universe, essays ranging from her Michigan life to experiences teaching in California prisons, a rich kids’ school in San Salvador, and Peace Corps teaching assignments in Thailand and Romania, part of my introduction to the audience assembled was — and I believe this to be true, if not for descendants of the Odawa and Ojibway peoples or third- and fourth-generation locals, surely for those of us who arrived only in the latter decades of the twentieth century — “If you haven’t read Kathleen Stocking, you don’t know Leelanau.” So it is a great gift she gives us with her new book, Gathering Light — another collection of essays focused on the Leelanau but informed by almost thirty additional years of observing nature, participating in community, reading voraciously, traveling bravely, and endlessly pondering life on earth, from our little Up North paradise as it evolved through time to our place in the universe.

Kathleen Stocking’s essays, while personal, are about much more than her own life, rich and overflowingly full as that life always has and continues to be. Essays in the new book are divided into seasonal sections, and over and over we are reminded that our brief time is but the thinnest of glazes atop the rich layer cake (she uses the image in one section) of geologic time.
Geology is interesting psychologically because to approach it, at least for me, requires examination of the fabric of space-time and the physics of consciousness. 
Thoughts of geology inform her thought as deeply as does her awareness of wildflowers and the history of county families. Following a fragment of quoted conversation by a Suttons Bay geologist about Michigan eight hundred million years ago, for instance, she writes:
The whole mass of quivering geologic time lies in that downhome, tossed-off remark.
Quivering awareness, I say, in her response And yet, presented in nonspecialist, everyday language and images. She writes, the reader sees.

Consciousness of history is also intricately woven into Stocking’s accounts of walks and drives and conversations and memories recalled from childhood, and woven in so gracefully, so naturally, that it never interrupts her narrative. How long, in the sweep of geologic time, have human beings been on earth? In the space of human history, how long have white people been in Michigan? How many of us who call Leelanau home today are aware of early black pioneer families in what is now Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, and how many know that while whites and blacks were buried together in cemeteries around the county, for a long time Natives were buried outside the fences? Why is this knowledge important?
History, like lighthouses, helps position us so we can understand where we are, relative to where we were, and relative to where we might be heading. 
Stocking, like an old-time lighthouse keeper, keeps track of everything at once — boats, storms, lives, mechanical equipment — such that her questions and thoughts infect our own. And thank heaven they do! Whether writing about the relatively youthful movement of local community-supported agriculture, new, start-up wineries, talented young local musicians Ruby John and Jonah Powell, or her own childhood days in the woods with her father, timberman Pierce Stocking, she never lets a reader get so comfortable that the broader worldview is lost. “It’s about imagining the future,” she writes. “It’s about seeing one’s self as another.” The lighthouse keeper in Stocking asks us to navigate between our safe, precious home and places in the world where privilege is unknown, life not safe. 

Years ago another dear friend, a woman who follows sports in a way alien to me but with whom I have many other abiding interests and loves in common, wrote to me something about baseball that I’ve never forgotten. Maybe she was quoting someone else. I don’t remember. Somewhere in a trunk that old letter, carefully saved, awaits re-reading, but for now I can only paraphrase. Baseball, she wrote, is the only game where the object is not about annihilating the opposition but about coming home. 

In some ways, of course, we never leave home. We take it with us wherever we go. And wherever we go, the experiences that we have come back home with us when we return. This is particularly apparent in Kathleen Stocking’s life and work. From Letters from the Leelanau to Lake Country to The Long Arc of the Universe to From the Place of the Gathering Light, we have now the arc of a serious and important contribution to American literature, and while we can take a kind of regional pride in the fact that the contribution grew from Michigan soil, I hope our gratitude to the writer and recognition of her accomplishments will eclipse any credit we may want to give ourselves. Kathleen Stocking is a treasure. We are fortunate to have her among us.

One more note: As was indicated in the title of her previous book, somehow -- with all her knowledge of world history and hands-on experiences in parts of the world where life is truly dismal -- Kathleen Stocking manages to be optimistic about the future of mankind. She thinks we have it in us to work together to expand the realm of human rights and even reverse the ongoing degradation of the environment. Even if our generation (hers and mine) doesn't live to see it, she has faith in a more-than-possible good future for our descendants. So again I say -- what a gift we have in her work!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Regaining Balance

Poor little thing!
Boulverser is a French word meaning to disrupt, to confuse, but to me its meaning comes in more concrete images. Metaphors long ago buried in ordinary words, usually unnoticed when we speak a language learned in babyhood, are easier to see in a second language, where they stand out for us like pictures. Since boule is a ball, and verser is to pour or spill, I don’t see abstract confusion but a scene full of action, something like a bowling ball sending stout wooden pins every-which-way, many of the pins doing involuntary somersaults before coming to rest. The pins are knocked off their feet — that is, if I were to be thrown upside-down and sideways by a bowling ball, that’s how I’d feel — boulversée. Once in a while I am, anyway, metaphorically. It is a sense of disorientation, of “How can it be?” 

Many of us felt that way on Monday when we learned, each in our own way and time and place, that Notre Dame de Paris was on fire. 

Those of us old enough to remember November 1963  can tell you exactly where we were when we learned that President Kennedy had been shot. In 2001 the event seared into consciousness was the planes flown into the World Trade Center. Looking back, those are memories, but in both cases, when we first heard the news, it didn’t fit at all. It wasn’t history then but a disruption of reality. It can’t be happening. It can’t be real. The first response was disbelief, resistant to evidence. Dazed disbelief. Then gut-wrenching fear and explosive grief. It can’t be happening. It can’t be real. Please, don’t let it be true!

Long, long ago, when I was a little girl, my beloved cat died, and I cried so hard and so long over the unthinkable loss that my parents thought I might have to be taken to the hospital. At last, my sobs giving way to heaving sighs, my mother thought to distract me from my grief by taking me for a little ride in the car. We drove to the drugstore down the highway from our neighborhood, and I remember my mother’s loving smile as she tried to tease me back to life by saying, “Why the sad face? You look as if you’d lost your best friend.” My mother was not a cruel, insensitive person. She was a good mother. Yet at that moment there was nothing she could have said better calculated to throw me back into paroxysms of tears and wailing. “I have!”

We were at the library on Monday, and I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I saw the first image of Notre Dame on fire. No, I thought, this must be someone’s idea of a sick joke. (That had been my first reaction in November of 1963 when a classmate told me, as we were taking our seats in English class, that the president had been shot.) I left Facebook and went to the news. It was true. No, it couldn’t be true. “Oh, no! “Oh, no!” I looked around me, but everyone in the library was going about their business in ordinary, everyday ways. 

Where was David? I looked in the video/newspaper area, the art book section, glanced into the sunroom. Not there. I went back to my screen but was soon on my feet again. Had he gone out to the car? No. On my third or fourth search mission I found him in the sunroom, around the corner from the door where I hadn’t seen him the first time. “Come with me.” And then we looked and read and watched together, both of us near-frozen with grief. 

He had a stack of movie videos for me to check out, so I had to go to the desk on our way out. “Are you all right?” the librarian asked. I managed to find words to say, briefly, “Notre Dame de Paris, the cathedral, is burning.” She checked out the movies for me and then said, “Have a great day!” I thought of my mother so many years before and knew the librarian meant no harm. And yet —

David called a friend, who seemed curiously unmoved by the news. “Was it very old?” he asked. 

Yet I know that the two of us were far from alone in our feelings, that all over the world others were with us in our disbelief and grief and fear and, finally, whispers of hope. The roof and spire were lost but much was saved. The world as we have known it is not ended.

So why such shock and grief? The fire was accidental, not the result of hate or violence, and no lives were lost, but had the building been utterly destroyed, as we feared for hours it might be, the loss would have been incalculable. The building represented and embodied centuries of faith, of history, of culture. It was part of individual memories the world over and part of the collective French, European, Western, and world memory, too. 

Living much of our 21st-century lives in the make-believe of fantasy games and films, virtual currency, identity algorithms, and instant gratification of various kinds, we can too easily lose sight of the fact of our own embodiment. Human beings evolved for life on earth, not on other planets. and our memories, too, attach in great part to physical objects, places, the whole of our embodied world. A face, a place, the feel of the stones or the wooden floor beneath our feet, a scent on the breeze, a certain angle of light striking just so, a taste on the tongue.

Only two weeks remain for us here in the high desert, beneath the twin peaks of Dos Cabezas. Already overwhelmed by the idea of packing up and heading once again cross-country, then boulversée by the news from Paris, I really, really needed Kathleen Stocking’s new book, From the Place of the Gathering Light: Leelanau Pieces, a book of essays about the home to which we will soon return. I’ll write about that soon. For now, Kathleen’s essays and backyard birds, in addition to the more hopeful news about Notre Dame, are working together to put me back on my feet. Little things: a bee on a flower....

[Note: the goldfinch photo at the beginning of today's post is an old image from my files, a bird that flew into one of our Michigan porch windows. -- Coming back to correct this note: the bird at the top of the post is not a goldfinch but a yellow warbler. One of my neighbors here in Dos Cabezas corrected me when we ran into each other at the library in Willcox. She envied me for having seen a yellow warbler. "Yes," I said, "but it was dead!" Also, I didn't know what it was until she told me. Thanks, Dorothy!]

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Western Books, Boots, Blooms

"New" to me
You see above books purchased on a single day here in the Southwest. Not that I go this wild every day, mind you. Occasionally I come home without any additions to my ghost town library. On this particular day, except for the books of poetry, an old Nancy Drew, and an Alexander McCall Smith novel, Western themes predominate, as is often the case here. You can see books of memoirs, essays, horses in fiction and nonfiction, and a novel by Edward Abbey. That’s because reading, like walking and driving and eating regional food, is part of how I immerse myself in my surroundings, wherever I am. 

Freely (albeit sadly) admitting to anyone who asks that I have never had a horse of my own (the tragedy of it!), I can’t help looking at boots, either, and the other day Fate put a pair directly in my path, saying, “Take these home!” Definitely riding boots, don’t you think? It happens that they are more comfortable for walking than my other Western pair, the fancier boots probably intended for dancing, and either pair will do for public and social events, don’t you think?

The Artist says I am becoming a “modern person,” basing this on a paucity of evidence, one bit being that I recently downloaded a free plant identification app for my android phone. It hasn’t made me a part of the educational community using the app, since I don’t recall signing up for a password when I downloaded (and if I did, don’t remember what it was), so I cannot submit my findings to have them included in the database, and the whole thing doesn’t work as instantly as you might expect, either. It isn’t as if I click a photo and get an immediate and definite identification. For one elusive little specimen, I scrolled through many rows of suggested possibilities, finally referred to one of my print wildflower field guides, and then took what I had gleaned from those two sources to the Internet to find at last the undistinguished and easily overlooked little blossoms at my feet — a lengthy bit of detective work that allowed me at last to give a name to Phacelia arizonica. Now where did that photo go?

Linaria purpurea (common toadflax - above) was much easier. Quite honestly, though, you could be trampling all over these little flowers with your cowboy boots and never notice them, unless there are a couple thousand plants crowded together. You really have to care. Single specimens do not stand out in the larger landscape.

Up at 5:30 a.m. to meet a neighbor at 6:45 for a hike up to old mining ruins, I was ready to hit the hay early on Friday evening, falling asleep over my book while the Artist watched something on television. On Saturday evening, at the end of another day in the mountains we both sat down with books after supper. I wonder if you can guess which of the pictured books at the top of this post entertained me for two evenings in a row? You might be surprised.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

A New Kind of Radicalism

Before sunrise
The ‘right’ answer is no longer understood as one that can’t go wrong but rather as one that everyone can agree is worth trying, given the knowledge available. ‘Adaptive management’ … stresses the importance of constantly reevaluating our knowledge and assumptions … based on the results of previous action.  
- Nathan F. Sayre, Working Wilderness: The Malpai Borderlands Group and the Future of the Western Range

The ellipses I have inserted in the quote opening today’s post are not intended to slant the discussion but to broaden it. The quotation comes from a book that focuses on the Western range, and the approach of the Malpai Borderlands Group is ecological. Material omitted above is as follows: (1) “from which ecosystem management is derived” and (2) “about ecosystems.” I omitted that material because what I’m wondering is whether or not — and if so, how — the approach this group has taken, their formation of a “radical center,” might be broadened to address divisions in American society beyond ecosystem management. 

To understand my question, though, it will probably help to go back to the particular problem faced in southern Arizona and New Mexico and how the Malpai Group has sought to address it. At stake — for everyone — was protection of the land they loved. How best to protect the land and for whom and for what: the crucial ecological questions could not be addressed outside political considerations. Ranchers, understandably, wanted to continue ranching, which meant grazing their cattle on both private and public lands. Environmentalists believed, because the assumption had been enshrined in public policy for decades, that grazing degraded the environment and had to be reduced, if not stopped outright. (When a conservation group acquired land, therefore, it generally took that land out of the ranch economy entirely.) Battle lines had been drawn, therefore, with positions entrenched and parties unable to grant an inch to their opposition. 
Meetings of ranchers, land managers, wildlife officials, and environmentalists routinely degenerated into insulting tirades….
What have I left out at the end of that sentence? Here’s how it wraps up: 
… whereas the Malpai discussions and subsequent get-togethers managed to remain civil and constructive. 
With, I might add, people coming from the same kinds of groups and backgrounds as attended the disorderly, unproductive meetings marked by “insulting tirades.” What was the difference? That difference was not in the life experience of those involved or in their educations or larger political allegiances.  It was a genuine concern for a specific geographic area and the realization that without new and genuine solutions for that area’s problems, everyone involved would lose

Trust was not immediately granted to the group, and not everyone in the area was interested in joining. The movement that created the group was literally and metaphorically grassroots, but it did not spring full-blown into being overnight. It began with a discussion group coming together to determine points of agreement, finally culminating in an official statement:

To reverse this [existing political] polarization [between ranchers and environmentalists], which is a no-win situation for the land and everyone concerned, the ‘Malpai Meeting’ proposes that a concerned effort be made to identify the conservational common ground that unites all of us who love the land, then to create programs in which we can work together to implement the values we share.
Valuing the land itself was the bedrock common value of the group.
All [of us] who love the land agree that it should not be cashed-in or mined-out and that its health takes precedence over profits.
That “over profits” part makes for a strong statement, given that ranching families depend on making their livelihood from the land, but that livelihood depends on the land’s health, and so the ranchers have the strongest economic stake, along with a deep love often going back generations — what Wendell Berry calls “affection” for the very specific piece of the earth they call home. 

The scourge of mesquite that the Artist and I could not help noticing when we first arrived in southeast Arizona is more than an aesthetic concern. When shrubs outcompete grass, grazing suffers. On land dominated by woody plants with increasingly bare earth between shrubs, the desert’s sparse rainfall is lost more quickly to runoff, carrying with it more and more of the already thin topsoil. Without topsoil, and with shrubs having gained the upper hand, merely removing cattle from the land is no guarantee whatsoever that grasslands will regenerate. Old “wisdom” that called for maximum numbers of grazing animals per acre has proved insufficient protection for the land. Rainfall varies from season to season and year to year, and so both available water and season need to be taken into account when determining where and how many animals to graze. A universal formula (the holy grail of science) doesn’t cut it. “Averages” do not occur in nature. 

— And here I will cut to the chase and reveal that fire is a big part of the long-term solution for preserving Southwestern desert grasslands. Decades of fire suppression are what gave mesquite the upper hand over grass. The overall situation, of course, is much more complex than what I have presented here, and anyone interested is advised to look into the book from which I have drawn my information. My own point today, here, much as I have come to love southeast Arizona and care for its future, is a broader one. 

The “radical center” position created by the Malpai Borderlands Group, the author of the book explains, “was not simply centrist.
Rather than splitting the difference between two extremes, the radical center aimed to discard the polar oppositions that defined the spectrum in the first place.
I love that! This “center” is not some meaningless compromise where no one ends up satisfied. The goal of the group was nothing less than —
to unite ranching and conversation, to make them complementary and symbiotic if not synonymous … [in an] effort that would have to be public and multilateral.
Persons involved began by meeting in conversation to find common values. Their conversations were kept civil. Rejecting “expert” advice that had not worked in the past, they did not reject science but insisted on research conducted locally by scientists not wedded to specific outcomes promoted by any particular group. Members of the MBG, like the researchers on their lands, were determined to maintain open minds

Quick recap:

Civil conversation among open-minded people not wedded in advance to specific political outcomes but agreeing to examine empirical evidence to determine what best accomplishes their shared goals. 

That is how I see the MBG example as applicable to widely diverse economic, social, and environmental problems in other parts of our country. Can you see it, too?

Not everyone in the AZ/NM borderlands area, I’m sure, has joined the Malpai Borderlands Group. True, that’s just a guess on my part, but think about it. Even when a new approach to solving an old problem outperforms previous attempts, there are usually a few people who continue, in the face of all evidence, to clutch tightly to their previous ideologically-driven beliefs. That’s why I wouldn't be surprised if a few unconvinced extremists remain on both ends of the political continuum. But I bring that up not to cast any bad light on anyone but merely to urge those who would seek consensus and cooperation — and results — to realize that it is possible for committed individuals to join together and move forward without everyone within earshot being on board. 

No individual or group in history has ever had 100% support and devotion. It isn’t necessary. Without 100% of a population being on board, however, the more people who come to see cooperation and empirical research bringing tangible benefits to all concerned, themselves included, the more support the “radical center” will gain — provided it holds to a nonconfrontational, noncoercive, open-minded approach. 

What do you think? Worth a try in other areas of community life, in other parts of the United States? “Git ‘er done!” How about it?

Postscript, 4/10

In my eagerness to share the story of the Malpai Borderlands Group and my ideas for how what worked for them could work in other places and other situations, I may have glossed too quickly over another piece contributing to the group’s success. You see, it was not only that a civil conversation uncovered common values. It was much more. This group of property owners, environmentalists, ranchers, scientists, and government agency employees came together to address a specific problem because they shared a common goal

“Our goal is to restore and maintain the natural processes that create and protect a healthy, unfragmented landscape to support a diverse, flourishing community of human, plant, and animal life in our borderlands region.” 

The problem was that their regional landscape was threatened in several ways. Their mission was to find strategies to reach their shared goal (“to restore and maintain … natural processes…”) by accomplishing clear objectives embedded in the goal statement — preventing fragmentation, restoring grasslands, remediating shrub encroachment, and conserving ranching as a livelihood. 

It’s one thing for people who disagree politically to come together to try listening to one another’s views. That’s very, very hard — and maybe it isn’t even worth the time spent. On the other hand, when people in a community, who share some common core value or values, disagree over how to accomplish a shared goal — that’s when conversation is most likely to be successful, as long as political ideologies, religious differences, “how we’ve always done things,” and the like can be set aside and the question at hand approached with open minds. When there is something that people agree needs doing, their problem is no longer a matter of abstract principle but a question of what will work. Pragmatism is America’s contribution to Western philosophy, and Americans have always been noted for their ability to find ways to get things done.

An ecological community, a village, a school district, a county fair committee, even a church — all, from time to time, face specific problems requiring consensus on how the problems will be solved. Too often the necessary discussions disintegrate into unproductive, painful, “insulting tirades.” A better model is available, if we’re adult enough to adopt it.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Sometimes it is very hard to come to the end of a book. Or anything else.

In the Chiricahuas
The two men began to ride into the hills daily. They seldom spoke. They rode silently, through the places Cochise had lived in and fought in, through the places he remembered from his childhood. They went to the canyons in the Dragoons and into the depths of the Chiricahuas, to the secret places which later came to be called by the Indians the Spiritland of Cochise. Cochise devoured his country as though it were food. He drank in his memories as though they were strong liquor. He found forgotten camp sites, old hunting grounds, places of terrible beauty and unworldly isolation. He touched trees and stroked huge boulders and when he spoke it was only to say the names of the shrubs and the plants. 
Elliott Arnold, Blood Brother
In the Dragoons

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Paper Pages, Dusty Mountain Trails

It was now late afternoon and the sun had passed over the far side of the long cut. The rocks in the pass rose almost perpendicularly on either side of the narrow trail; several of the boulders seemed to be far off balance, past the point where they should fall off and roll down into the pass.
- Elliott Arnold, Blood Brother 

It was not late but early afternoon as our party of four approached Apache Pass on Wednesday, as we had set out from Dos Cabezas right after lunch, and the road to old Fort Bowie is not many miles past our winter ghost town cabin. I’d spent time that morning with Elliott Arnold’s novel, a fictionalized account of regional history, with much background and detail focused on Cochise, chief of the Chiricahua Apaches during the period covered in the novel, and Tom Jeffords, who eventually became the Indian agent for the Chiricahuas following a treaty made between Cochise and General O. O. Howard. A few sentences stray into New Mexico from time to time, but most of the encounters and incidents in the book take place between the Dragoon Mountains and the Chiricahua range, my winter stomping grounds. 
In December, 1858, Cochise received an invitation from the station agent at the Apache Pass depot to bring his entire tribe to the station, with its newly completed store, to receive presents as a gesture of good will from the Butterfield [Stage] people, who had by then on numerous occasions felt the power of the friendly hand of the Chiricahua chief. 
Remains of Butterfield Stage Station

Old stage route
Cochise had realized that his people could not survive forever if they continued to war against the ever-increasing number of whites pouring through Apacheria, so he had promised safe passage to the Butterfield stages, and he kept his promise. He even went so far as to punish Apaches from other groups who trespassed on his territory and violated his agreement with the whites. Cochise made these choices for the good of his people. For a while most of the whites were content merely to pass through on their way to California; even then, however, all was not well for the people of Cochise, and it much became worse as the numbers of whites increased and not all were transients. 
While most continued on their way to California, many were settling in the great valleys. Whether they remained or moved on, their passage was a noisy one. Their transit was emptying the countryside of game far more rapidly than Cochise had thought possible. Ranchers and farmers appropriated water holes and caused the game animals who used to come to those holes to move elsewhere. 

Within the space of months the numbers of deer and elk diminished speedily…. The mountain sheep found new summits to roam. There had been wild turkey, not in great amounts, but enough to fill the larder of the Indians who hunted silently and did not cause entire flocks of birds to fly away over noisy gunfire.
Apache wickiup

Eventually — and it did not take long — 
The deer and the elk were gone, and without them there was nothing to provide the shirts and trousers, the hip-moccasins. There was grain from the government store, but there was no fresh meat.  
A few of the Apaches had look around and had found some more of the yellow nuggets and had got white men’s clothing in exchange. But the clothing was designed for the cattlemen and farmers in the lowlands and offered little protection against the cold [of the mountains]. Besides, no Chiricahua Apache, no matter how much he tried, could accustom himself to white man’s shoes.
Chiricahua women repaired moccasins as well and for as long as possible, but without the deer and elk both clothing and sustenance were harder and harder to come by. Would the situation have been less dire if it hadn’t been for gold fever? It made no sense to the Apaches, how silly and excited and childish the whites became over gold. It could not be eaten, and the metal was too soft to be used to make tools or weapons.
… The Americans lost the dignity of their manhood when they saw the yellow iron. They gushed and became effusive and uncovered their emotions as no Indian ever would under any circumstances. They had no restraint. 
Ironic, I can’t help thinking, the coincidence of sound between the English words gold and greed

We all know how it ends. The story of Cochise and Tom Jeffords is told in books and movies, embellished fiction and straight nonfiction, and I’ve made mention of it before in other posts. Besides, the general story was repeated from New England to California as the “manifest destiny” of the young United States was achieved. Cochise was fortunate enough to die a natural death in his beloved mountains, but after his death, the fate of his tribe took a turn for the worse. Americans in barrooms and Congress, living rooms and offices, argued the relative merits of competing policies regarding Native Americans — concentration vs. extermination — but in practice, both policies were pursued. The Apache chapter of American expansion eventually culminated in the removal of all “hostiles” from southeast Arizona, including women and children and the very Apache scouts who had fought with the U.S. Army, to concentration camps in Florida. According to the government’s story, these Apaches were prisoners-of-war. Even the women and children? Even the scouts who had been their own fellow soldiers? For shame!

Remains of Indian agency, where Jeffords was agent

My sister had not been eager to hike the 1.5-mile trail from the trailhead parking lot to the old fort ruins, where we would meet our husbands, but she did it for me, and I was grateful — all the more so when we came upon points of interest long before we reached the old fort. The most moving to me, for some reason, was not any of the old building sites but Apache Springs itself. Water is life. I had not imagined we would see the spring, coming upon it after our trail skirted high ground above another surprise, a deep, wooded canyon.

Apache Springs
Wherever on the earth one occurs, there is something holy about a spring. I felt as pilgrims must feel when visiting the grotto where St. Theresa is supposed to have had a vision of the Virgin Mary, gods and ghosts all around me. 

Brother-in-law and Artist at ruins of Fort Bowie
While the women had been hiking the trail, the men had been exploring the remains of the old fort. After a rendez-vous and some modest purchases at the visitor center, we retraced our steps by vehicle and went “around the block” — the long one — down along the mountains and around to the Mustang Mall and back up the Kansas Settlement Road for supper at the cabin. If we could see a composite picture of all our party’s thoughts and impressions after the day’s expedition, two white American men and two white American women, all born in the mid-20th century and doing our best to adjust to the 21st, what would be revealed? Nothing simple, I’m sure of that.

Cochise Stronghold in Dragoon Mountains

Saturday, March 30, 2019

You Probably Think He Was On YOUR Side, Don't You?

It will never be possible to get a completely accurate and unbiased account of the Barcelona fighting, because the necessary records do not exist. Future historians will have nothing to go upon except a mass of accusations and party propaganda. I myself have little data beyond what I saw with my own eyes and what I have learned from other eye-witnesses whom I believe to be reliable . . .  

This kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. After all, the chances are that those lies, or at any rate similar lies, will pass into history . . . The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such, “It never happened” — well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five — well, two and two are five.
George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, quoted in Why Orwell Matters, by Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens says of Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia that it remained “an obscure collector’s item of a book throughout Orwell’s lifetime.” Not, in other words, a bestseller or anywhere close. Why would this be so? The answer given by Hitchens, one that makes complete sense to me, is that both the official and the popular views of the war in Spain relied on what I call a “two sides” formula. You know, the way we are told and so often tell each other that it’s so important to hear both sides of any issue or story? As if there are only two versions, the two clearly distinct from each other? That’s certainly the way the war in Spain was framed — as a conflict between conservatives (Catholic Nationalists, they called themselves; others called them Fascists) and communists (although some were grassroots socialists and others Stalin’s forces). Given the frame, which side any particular person saw as good and which as bad depended on that person’s ideological commitments rather than on more complicated facts, let alone whole truth. 

One must close one’s eyes to the virtues of one’s opposition in order to construct an inhuman enemy. 

Orwell was on the ground in Spain, an active fighter on the Left but also a man who saw clearly, first-hand, the way the anti-fascist revolution was betrayed by Stalin’s ruthless subversion of forces fighting for Catalonian independence. What were his options when he realized what was really going on? Stay with a local, independent Left and be tortured, even murdered by Stalinists for not being a loyal Communist? That happened to others he knew. Go with the Stalinists, the internationally recognized Communists, and betray the revolution or switch sides and become a Fascist? Neither of those would have been Eric Arthur Blair, a.k.a. George Orwell.

He chose to escape and tell the story, but it fell on deaf ears. The world had chosen sides, each one saying, “With us or against us!” Thus, one could only be seen — by the “other side” — as Fascist or Communist.

Sound familiar? 

Here’s an irony for you: not only did Orwell back then have those on both the Left and Right who hated him — he also has admirers on both sides today. Today’s liberals are sure he was warning against the dangers of fascism, now imminent, while today’s conservatives say he warned against socialism, their especial bugaboo. Everyone wants to think Orwell was singing their song. Hitchens takes a chapter each show that both groups are wrong and can only turn Orwell into their saint by cherry-picking their quotes, but that’s all more than I am going to try to summarize here. You’ll have to read Why Orwell Matters for yourself— and then go back and read Animal Farm and 1984 again. One thing is certain: Orwell was warning the world about future dystopian possibilities.

One of several things that frustrates me about debate, in general (consequently, also about the adversarial American justice system), is the usually unquestioned assumption that there are always and only two sides to a question and that one one of them — and only one — is true, thus the other false. From the assumption, it follows that positions taken must possess the form of affirmation/negation: I’m right, you’re wrong. To acknowledge that there is anything to be said for one’s opposition is seen as weakening one’s own case, giving “comfort to the enemy. 

Recognizing a much more complicated truth, Orwell in his day was caught in the crossfire. The same thing happens today in our country to many politicians who don’t adhere to a strict party line. Determined to vilify those with whom they disagree, Americans seem willing to give up truth. Why?

"Power is not a means; it is an end. 
"… The object of power is power." 
- George Orwell, 1984
I once had lively discussions on ethics and politics with a graduate school friend who had been the first woman in Ethiopia to graduate from university with a B.A. in philosophy. Our very different undergraduate educations, as well as wildly divergent life experiences, inevitably resulted in very different views at the opening of each discussion. But it was, each time I looked back afterward on the course of our conversation, energizing and delightful to realize what had taken place as we argued. I cannot remember a single time when one of us claimed victory and the other admitted defeat. Instead, by the time we had hashed through our subject for several hours, we always came to a more nuanced understanding of the issue at hand, an acknowledgement that black-and-white could not contain it at all, with the result that the two of us, together, now agreed on and occupied a new, third position not envisioned in our initial disagreement. Such a result would fall far outside the parameters of the rules of debate. It would not have made, for either of us, a big splash in professional academic philosophy circles, either. But we felt satisfied that we had both advanced toward truth in those discussions, as well as finding common ground. While it should not be impossible, in principle, to achieve similar results in the halls of Congress — if Congress were actually functional and all members focused on getting work done — it seems to have become nearly so in recent years. 

Future historians will have nothing to go upon except a mass of accusations and party propaganda.  
- George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

As far as I’m concerned, that single sentence from the passage that Hitchens quotes is sufficient to establish that Orwell still matters today. His is a warning we would do well to understand and heed.