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My days in the Four Corners are numbered now after a two-month sojourn. I paid a visit this morning to our local pond, which is famous among the cognoscenti but now drained down to primordial sludge in anticipation of water from a new artesian well. The occasional bubble rises to the surface, but I couldn’t photograph it, because I forgot to charge a battery last night. So be it.
Here in Utah, there’s a petition going around asking Governor Gary Herbert to outlaw fireworks on the Fourth because of the fire hazard.
Temperatures here have been soaring past 100, and a severe drought adds to the danger. A while back, while shooting targets someone set off a wildfire with gunshots. I don’t know how the governor will react to the petition; people out here value their freedoms, but they often have difficulty ranking them. Still, I’m glad to see our local architect/firefighter Kristin safely back on her terrace enjoying the shade. She’s been up north earning her pay. This looks like it’s going to be a long hot summer not only in Utah but throughout the West.
Walking back from the pond, I ruminated about a blog I might write for the Fourth of July, and it gave me pause. Because pause is what I think we need to do on the advent of this presidential election. Last week, the Supreme Court let stand the America’s health care act, and that was made possible by Chief Justice John Roberts, an ultra-conservative Republican. I’d like to think he responded to a still, small voice within before deciding not axe health care to a potential 30 million people. Useful legal analysis is available at http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/06/the-supreme-courts-hidden-gift-to-conservatives.php and at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/01/opinion/sunday/the-radical-supreme-court.html?src=ISMR_AP_LI_LST_FB
But right now I’m focused on the moral implications of one man-one vote when it’s highly weighted with status and privilege on the Supreme Court. Time will tell, but this may be one of those moments when history turns on a single gesture—and we can't be sure in which direction it will turn.
In the Four Corners, history comes at you from a different angle than back East or in the South, where I was born. This was never a British colony, and although it was once under Spanish rule, there’s little evidence of that. Instead, all around me in the little town of Bluff are reminders of ancient Pueblo people, who kept no written records but occupied various places of geographic significance and left behind their beautiful pots, stone tools and shoes of natural fibers. Drought paid a significant role in their demise, but beyond that, little is known. Sad to say, the Internet and GPS navigation have made it possible for tourists around the world to pinpoint (and sometimes loot) surviving sites. But most people here know their value. Last week, firefighters near Mesa Verde in Colorado were accompanied by archaeologists who alerted them to delicate sites they might destroy with heavy equipment.
We live also on the edge of a Navajo reservation established by the U.S. government in 1868 to contain the Dine, a tribe of once hunter-gathers who probably learned farming from the Pueblo and sheep herding from the Spanish. Today, more than 300,000 of them are members of the Navajo Nation.
And then there is the fort built by Mormons, who came to Bluff after descending through a hole in the desert rock only a few years later and developed a thriving cattle business. By the middle of the 20th century, after Mormons had pretty much abandoned Bluff, scientists and artists of various stripes moved in to re-colonize the place. More recently, Mormons have restored the fort their ancestors built. A kerfuffle arose a while back when a town sign saying Bluff was established in 650 AD was erected. But still it stands, not too far up the road from the sign of Fort Bluff, est. 1880.
For each of these groups, freedom and religion have different meanings. But one thing is certain: peoples' need for health care is underserved.
A decade ago, I knew nothing of this place, but now I and my significant other count it as one of personal import. After 9/11, we craved the solace of Nature, but we also like people around, and those in Bluff were extremely hospitable. It’s very American, I think, to stake out a new place and see what emerges. I know I’m fortunate to have that freedom and the economic capacity to make it possible.
A few weeks ago, the Unitarian Universalist Association of which I am a member, dedicated its General Assembly in Phoenix to an exploration of issues of social justice, especially the treatment of immigrants without documentation. Friends who went describe it as a challenging experience to examine once again how myths about race and dominance and destiny have created so many seemingly intractable American problems. Maybe by revisiting those problems collectively and with new insights we can find new ways of addressing them.
But I didn’t go. Somehow, this year, my old friend Solitude wanted more attention than usual, and I decided to honor her. We religious liberals are especially suspicious of the sirens of withdrawal. Contemplation can make us nervous. Solitude poses the danger of isolation.
But Solitude can offer new perspective, give us strength and a renewed sense of purpose, and that’s what I was seeking. Tomorrow we celebrate American independence, but I’ll be thinking about interdependence as well, and I hope you will too.
Happy Third of July!
p.s. Governor Herbert declined to ban fireworks, a decision that, fortunately, did not lead to more forest fires. I'd say he got lucky.
In announcing his decision, Herbert was able to engage in a favorite pastime: bashing Washington.
"What we don't want to do is be like Congress," he said. "Congress is good at doing two things. One is nothing, and two is overreact. We don’t want to do that. Again, we want to do what is appropriate, measured and thoughtful. That's what we're doing. We're not going to overreact on that."
Of course, this ignores the fact that this has been one of the least productive Congresses in many years. I don't think it's over-reacting to ban things like lethal pesticides and fracking, which endanger our groundwater, and to stop the spread of coal-burning power plants, which pollute our air, and to regulate renewed mining of uranium while we still clean up the mess from the last century.
I suppose he's just winding up for the Republican Convention.
Random reflections on politics, the media, political activism, women's lives and spirituality, often inspired by travel, cultural events or what I read.
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