Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Guns, Tractors and a Cowboy or Two - What Built America.
In the dark recesses of the world, under the cover of jungle, underwater, are cities, cultures and beings that vanished for no known reason. The dinosaurs, creatures so large that it seems only plausible that they would only have died out by something as major as an asteroid, gone, only to be brushed from the earth by those that study the bones.
There are Mayan cities that emptied overnight, the way a chrysalis of a butterfly is left behind, empty, stark in it's primitive beauty. So much still there, the monuments, and granaries, terraces and temples, structures of empiric power and small dwellings formed by families united by generations. Emptied with no anthropological clue as to riot, invasion or deadly disease carried in on silent winds.
Then there are the ghost towns of the West. Small towns that once bustled with the collective energy of a burgeoning nation. Times were tough, and life was often cheap, but the land was the draw that brought them in, and the duplicity of the land itself what siphoned them off.
If you have children or grandchildren, they ask you the questions. Where did they go? What happened to that way of life? The words go pale and waxen in your mouth as you try and answer. Who wants to tell a child that our hold onto civilization is only as strong as our history. How to you explain birds that no longer fly and great horned creatures that walked the earth of their ancestors only to disappear completely.
Look back into history, cities disappear, countries realign. Whole societies grind to a hand, the precise cause of death uncertain. The stars somehow aligned overhead by political alliance, high priests of nuclear ability, climate, and promise. All running like fault lines underneath what appears to be placid landscape. Disturbances ignored by the media as larger things erupt and spew black, cumulative movements unseen. The sheep graze placidly while Tectonic plates of divergent cultures and religion, rub, shifting, jockeying for power until one day something will give way. A city will vanish, perhaps an entire way of life, lost as easily as a set of car keys. Ghost towns tumbling in the wind, withered and white like buffalo bone, turning quietly to dust, the roar of their numbers only an echo.
We believe that because we've always been the dominant political and economic power in this country that it will always be so. Legions nod in affirmation to change and power shifts, believing that because it always has been, it always will be. We live as a nation on credit, buying with plastic, borrowing on faith. My folks paid cash for everything, not expecting their government or their neighbor to bail them out, and as such they survived the great Depression. If it was broke they fixed it, if they worked hard to earn it, they took care of it.
My family owned their own land and measured everything by soil and water and sweat, not stopping and whining if the tractor broke or the mule died. They went to war, leaving their legacy to a generation of strong women who would tend to it until their return. Passing on something you could hold in your hand, not press into an ATM machine.
I was one of that baby boomer generation, growing up in the late sixties and seventies on Patriotism and old Westerns. Do you think any of us as little kids would have watched Gun Smoke if Marshall Dillon, when confronted by evil, started a petition drive? Do you think we would have looked up to John Wayne if he'd been a "Community Organizer?" No. Our heroes were people like Matt Dillon and the Cartrights, the Rifleman, and for my older brothers, the Lone Ranger. The shows themselves all had a elemental core of justice, fair play, truth, sportsmanship. Firearms were common and shown in a positive light, as means to obtain food for the family, as instruments of protecting the weak, weapons to defeat evil.
Men like that from TV days gone by have been replaced by guys who let their well muscled wives boss them around, and serve as jokes for their inept associates, trying to look cool while messing up everything they touch. The sad thing is, that's not always a Sitcom but those on the news that we, as a nation, elected.
Our country is changing. The West I grew up in is now more socialized and urban, more of the citizens pining for things they can not afford while looking to others to fix their problems. Where I grew up, gardens were tended and food canned, and when threatened by others we circled the wagons and cared for ourselves, providing for our own, from the land and our hard work.
I came to the southern Plains as a young bride, and I learned fast. I've written of it many times here, as it was lessons I will carry with me to the grave. Spring snowstorms thawing into mucky puddles into which new life came. Calving season. In the cold I learned about impending birth, in the heat of a barn I learned about death. I've pulled more than one calf from a womb when I was all alone, arm rubbed with Betadyne and lube, the contractions almost breaking my arm. I learned to cut a recalcitrant Longhorn calf from a herd of very pointy parents to tend to an injury with a shot of cortisone. Nights ran into days and days to nights with only the wet of birth water and burnt coffee to keep us going after a day spent already outdoors. It's a life that's prepared me for the one I live now.
Nothing is so very entwined with life as birth and watching the new ones come into the world with last century technology and only ourselves to assist, was a lesson that many old timers would understand. That little calf whom I assisted that last night, took every bit of strength we had to free her. But Mama had been in labor four hours, the calf was stuck, and something had to be done or lose both of them. Yet, with work and grit he was born, soon suckling my finger as Mama tried simply to breathe, resting uncaring against the wood slicked with fluid and red. I hold him up to check and weigh him, and she hears, stumbles over to lick him. Mothers love. Wonder. They'll both be OK. Their barn this night will be filled with light.
It was not an easy life, especially when I was left to do it all myself. I had to rally myself up early to tend to the place, at the rooster's crow at first light, rising early as poets do. Lighting a fire from antique ashes, assembling my spirit from wounds and balm, from water pump to barn stall. Time beginning with measured intent, and from seeds and the dry bones of the land, I grew, I tended. Whatever the hand of circumstance had brought, it was my duty, to be there on time. To reconcile hot and cold, dark and bright, richly expanding a much bruised heart, to nourish the land or the trusting beast in the stall.
To do otherwise would have left the place in ashes, abandoned, another failed dream. Duty and honor weren't archaic promises, they were words I was raised to live on, no matter how bad things got.
For I am the daughter and grand daughter of that first great Depression. Learning from those who learned the hard way about delusional promises of those who failed to study the battles that they had never fought. Leaders happy to inherit the plunder they had not even begun to earn. Borrow it, spend it, we're the nation's greatest storehouse of treasure. We're too big to fail.
But we're not. You don't have to be an economist to see it, a strategist the likes of Clausewitz, or a CEO of a dwindling corporation. You see it in the eyes at the feed store, you see it in the determined step of those buying supplies and learning the use them. You feel it in the collective murmurings of concern as you chat with people at the gas station, or the grocers. You see it in the questions of the many who now will ask questions before voting. People that are beginning to understand that we have a right to those answers.
Because we're NOT too big to fail.
I think of the movie War of the World's wherein the monolithic war machines of Mars were felled by something as simple as a sneeze.
The world has not changed so much from my grandfather's day to mine, we have job losses and hardship, we have nations that condemn us for the God we worship. But now they have more than boxcars to round up their delusions, they have growing nuclear capability.
But what is changing is our response to such threats. We continue to live on spent dreams, growing collectively soft while we attempt to play camp counselor. All the while something tremendous, primeval looms from a distance, striking in small gnat stings, testing our mettle, patiently waiting as we apologize for being. For we're more worried about how we're portrayed then standing up for what is right, protecting the weak and serving from an example of superior firepower.
Our country still has strength in her, even if in labor. I have taken an oath to defend her and I will. With the birthing of heifers sometimes there were losses. But I never cursed the poor things as they lay dying, nor threw their bodies into the truck with more force than was needed. The past is past. You can cry and rant and rave, but that won't change what's ceased to breathe. We can only fight for what we have. What we still have.
I'm intensely proud of being an American. The being and cadence of a life of freedom, to work, to arm myself, to defend and expand that which I've worked for. Influenced by a bygone era of good guys and bad guys, it is part of who I am, defining both fury and faith. It influences my passions, and resonates always in the sound of a gunshot across land that I own, gathering food for my cupboard, gathering strength.
There are so many things that are great about this country. But we can not relay on the past, its losses OR successes. As John Wayne once said, tomorrow is the most important thing. It comes in to us at midnight very clean, it's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. The hands may end up stained with blood and sweat but they are the hands of hard work. The hands of hope. The hands of a proud American. I hope those hands are strong enough for the tasks that lie ahead.
Because in coming days we will find what we are made of.