Excerpt from the wonderful feature profile “Peter Matthiessen’s Homecoming” in New York Times Magazine, April 3, 2014, by Jeff Himmelman, published just days before Matthiessen passed away.
I’ve mentioned before that this anthology from Riverfeet Press, Awake in the World, is out, and that I have an essay in it. I know a few of my friends have already purchased it via the pre-order opportunity I posted a few weeks ago, and for that I am eternally grateful. I want more of these things to sell, though, and I’ve set a goal to blow at least 50 copies through the doors of Fact & Fiction, whether via online purchase or people coming in and buying them in person. As of this writing I think I have 46 more to go. Hopefully I won’t have to be too annoying to make this happen, but I’m willing to go down that dark road if I have to. It isn’t so much to promote my own work, I just want to support independent publishing and see this thing do well. So, if you’re a nature loving person at all, please consider dropping $15 (plus shipping) on this thing. The world will be a better place because of it.
Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Henry David Thoreau. His importance to me as a writer and philosopher can’t be overstated, even though I often get a bit weary and eye-rolly over how frequently he is quoted in certain circles. I’ve visited Walden Pond, and his grave in the town of Concord, MA, several times. I hope to take my mom there some day, as she too is a fan and honorary member of the Thoreau Sauntering Society.
The following is an excerpt from his essay, “Civil Disobedience.” He wrote it after he spent a night in jail in 1849 as a protest against the Mexican War. He deemed American’s violent, imperialistic actions illegal and refused to pay a poll tax, which led to his incarceration. Reading Thoreau, much of what he says is particularly relevant today. Please forgive the male-specific references throughout as a sign of the times.
There will never be a really free and enlightened State, until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. I please myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would think it inconsistent with its own repose, if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellowmen. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which also I have imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.
The 4th of July. America’s birthday. This is the day we are supposed to get all Pollyannaish about the state of our Republic and wax, “Golly, aren’t we swell?” in spite of everything, right? Grill a wiener? Drink a case of watery beer? Get sunburned and piss in your brother-in-law’s pool and blame it on your niece? Possibly, but I can’t get there, not this year.
Consider our reality. America is the laughing stock of the world. It would be comical how inept our current administration is if it weren’t so damn dangerous. Decades of social and environmental progress is being attacked and rolled back daily … if not hourly. Our government continues to wage war on the poorest people of the globe, only now we’ve upped the ante to include those folks who live here too (overtly, anyway; this class war in America has been going on a long time, it’s just out in the open now). Given the rumblings coming out of the twitter account of our Toddler-in-Chief, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the more violent aspects of that assault become even more lethal at home. I mean the inclusion of poor white people in the carnage, of course, as the smoking guns of law enforcement have been aimed at our black and brown neighbors bloodily and efficiently since all those founding white dudes first broke away from the royal We 241 years ago.
The notion of this holiday being a celebration of independence is particularly laughable. The vast majority of us are more deeply enslaved every year to a system where hard work and responsibility only helps shovel more wealth to the fortunate few and does nothing to protect us from the cruel lottery of unexpected illness or hardship. For all the talk of bootstraps and opportunity, unless you are white, male, and straight, your choices are extremely limited.
And the current dudes doing all this? We put them there. Gave them their power. Turned them lose on us. From my desk I can see a couple a couple neighbors out in the street leaning against their trucks talking to each other. From the stickers I saw on their rigs during the election cycle I’m pretty certain how they voted. I’m supposed to celebrate in common with them? How? What?
Yeah, I’m pissing and moaning. I feel surly. The summer is really starting to swelter these days, and that makes for my least favorite time of year. I’ve always hated the 4th, and it’s only getting worse. The meatheads in and around whatever neighborhood I happen to live in have eternally cranked up their noisy fireworks several days before the 4th and kept at it for a few days after. It makes me seethe. It is a perfect indictment of American intelligence: let’s launch a bunch of cheap, paper missiles showering sparks into our surroundings, where the tall, dry grasses of summer are just aching to chemically transform everything to ash. Fire’s always awesome so long as it’s someone else’s acreage belching smoke, right?
I’m a bitter, hopeless, hateful man these days. But happy 4th anyway. Perhaps somebody’s god will choose to bless this cesspool of a country. None of my small ones are going to.
- 05/07/2017: A slow day at work followed by a couple hours of solitude reminds me how perfectly suited I am to the withdrawn life.
- 05/08/2017: The Clark Fork is really beginning to boom with spring runoff, and it is equal parts frightening and magnificent.
- 05/09/2017: Mom is headed to England and I wish I could have stowed-away in her luggage, then expatriated myself while she connected in Paris.
- 05/10/2017: Remembering fondly my years in Washington, where everywhere I went I was peacefully anonymous.
- 05/11/2017: Lots of burly love in the air when Aaron Draplin rolls into town.
- 05/12/2017: I sleep through the opening five minutes of yoga class and only the thoughtfulness of my instructor, who leaves the outer door unlocked, saves Day 16 of my 30-day challenge.
- 05/13/2017: The Bitterroot River is running high while California Quail sneak through the bushes, and an owl calls me closer.
- 05/14/2017: The decadent luxury of sleeping in until 7:30 AM.
- 05/15/2017: Some much-needed contentment, however brief, and the pastel colors of evening sunsets in spring.
- 05/16/2017: The first hummingbird sighting of the season outside my window leads to a rapid reconfiguration of the feeder farm and the immediate production of a batch of sugar water.
- 05/17/2017: A yard covered in snow this morning.
- 05/18/2017: Stopping in a bar to meet a friend for a beer, the televisions blare “President Trump!” this, and “President Trump!” that, and all I can wonder is if there were ever two words less suited to follow one after the other?
- 05/19/2017: My old cat, Kitten, a 20-year veteran of my household, went on to the great beyond without me, where she will no doubt wait to keep me awake late at night with her random fuck-with-mes well into eternity.
- 05/20/2017: Roughly forty ounces of coffee were no match for a long week culminating in Day 24 of my 30-day yoga challenge.