Valley News Column: Who Cares About Our Stockpile Of Democracy?

Published: 02.11.2022 18:50:03

Modified: 2022-11-02 18:49:44

The end of October always seemed to me to be the end of everything before it and the beginning of our annual hibernation. During my contract time, it was time to cover piles of wood with tarps or risk prying them apart in the morning. The cloudiest month of the year is upon us – what Frost calls “bare November days before the snow comes” – and it sometimes takes some conscious effort to keep the darkness from affecting us.

Halloween is a time to get your winter wood under your roof and your winter tires on the car. The summer car — gas tank full to the brim to avoid condensation, tires inflated up to 60 pounds to avoid flat spots, rodent repellent strewn everywhere, battery disconnected and radio antenna stowed in the trunk — will be under protection within the week unless it acts a magic of Indian summer should give us a little breather from the cold. The blast furnace oil came on Halloween, after that I didn’t need any more scares; The wood boiler will be trained this winter. Even on this holiday, I don’t look back too fondly on my bachelor life, which ended on that day 63 years ago.

In short, it’s pretty much the end of the preparations and the start of turning towards the season we’ve been preparing for. The good news for us elderly folks with nowhere to go is that winters these days don’t hold a candle to those we remember (precisely). Still, the picture of New England in November is one of being buttoned, zipped, and fastened against whatever the next four or five months have in store for us. I have a shovel and broom on the porch by the back door; I’ve swapped out the full-length screens in the outer doors for storm sashes; I have a sharp walking stick at each end of the hundred feet between the house and the barn; and my cleated boots and Ice Creepers are ready just outside the back door. The emergency generator is full of gas. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, judging by what passes as news these days, a lot can – and probably will – go wrong. The climax of another election cycle is upon us, and it’s hard to find a source of information anywhere that doesn’t predict the apocalypse, the end of civilization as we know it, the creation of a police state, or the carpet that will be ripped out of the ground our oldest and neediest citizens. We see videos of armed thugs in riot gear “surveillance” polling stations where voters are most likely to be intimidated. We’re being warned that our Social Security benefits (which are going to go up quite a bit soon – yay!) are ending; that insulin costs will return to their previous levels; a nationwide ban on abortion. We hear that the current campaign is the most expensive mid-term competition ever and we can’t help but wonder how the results could possibly be worth all the millions that have been spent on it. But obviously they are.

All the scare tactics, name calling, and conspiracy theories that are more prevalent today than possibly in 1824 and 1860 seem particularly silly in a country bisected by the “mighty” Mississippi, whose channel is not presently deep enough for navigation; in a developed nation where a city will soon be transporting water to houses whose faucets are dry; in a land watered by the once-robust Colorado that the sea no longer reaches. In schools and malls and theaters where we can no longer feel safe from deceptive lunatics carrying weapons designed primarily to kill people. Even in homes no longer safe from creatures from the internet’s black lagoon, armed with (in this most recent case) hammers, anger and ignorance. We seem much safer about what we are against than what we are for. Our thirst for dominance and control confirms Henry Kissinger’s famous description of power as “the ultimate aphrodisiac.” And while we’re arguing over trifles to win votes, someone steals our car in the garage.

Neither you nor I know how the forthcoming election will turn out. We also don’t know if the losers will be bad losers. We had a flood of it, and it turned out to be dangerous not only for our republic, but also for our health. Remember the Stones’ chant, “You can’t always get what you want”? It should be the theme song of the representative government.

Meanwhile, here in the center of the civilized world, we get our wood and, depending on our living situation, collect a stack of books in an armchair by the wood stove or wax our skis and pray outright for less warming this year. There is an unchanging aura, a permanence suggested by a pile of wood near the door of a house with smoke in the chimney, a light in the window and people inside who voted weeks ago. They will meet the results of raging struggle elsewhere in the country with the wry humor and caution born of centuries of ingrained habits in a never-ending battle with unpredictable nature.


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