One Coin Does Not Make Change

Even before our revelation there were some common themes discussed with my fellow working parents.  The school situation.  The lack of a cohesive PTO.  No day care.  No after school activities.  Also, no employment within a 35 mile radius.  No food, clothing or recreation within that circle either.  One parent seemed more willing to put her neck out in the day care business than the rest of us, though (as may surprise some of my gentle readers) I myself considered it briefly.  Recently she put out a question on social media, asking us all whether we should have a day care open in Washington.

Kudos to those who open their homes and clean them up well enough to be able to offer at-home child care.  Really.  It’s not a well paying job and while taking care of your own kids might garner some rewards, taking care of other people’s brats just isn’t what the average person sees themselves doing with their lives.  That’s why large screen TV’s and cookies so often make their way into these homes.  Turn on the TV to zone out the little turds and then load them up on sugar so their parents get a taste of their own medicine.  At least the parents got to work their full 8 hour-ish work day, even if their kids are over or under stimulated on a day to day basis.  At least its a “smoke free home” with a fenced in yard and no dangerous pets.   All good, right?  But really, if it weren’t for these at-home providers, scattered amongst the foothills, we’d all be up a creek without a paddle.

So sure.  On the face of it, another at-home provider offering child care in some fashion would certainly help band-aid the bleeding wound, especially since the two established at-home providers are looking to get out of the business and get their homes and their lives back.  But you’re really just treating the symptom.  Having a bunch of random people offering or not offering at home child care in different parts of town with no amenities and no employees and no curriculum is, well, it’s just ad hoc baby sitting.  It’s not the village raising the child.  It’s the parents in search of the lonely nun.  It doesn’t make the problem go away or change the status quo.  It’s just ensuring  that you get more of the same.

The lack of a licensed dedicated pre-school curriculum minded day care in town is only one of the many many symptoms of a systematic problem here in this town.  The actual problem is that most people don’t give a fuck.  And then when some people raise enough hell to make these people do something, the people in charge of the obstruction move over a little.  Just a little.  Then everyone is appeased and goes their merry way feeling like they’ve changed something and they never look back.  If they did look back, they’d notice that those people just moved right back into the way.

An older summer resident stopped us on the road to mourn our imminent departure.   She had just picked blueberries and visited the farm stand, the epitome of our dreams gone awry.    We haven’t been actively shouting our grievances to the general public, but when someone opens the dam we flow all over them.  Lionel and I have gotten very good at tag-teaming on this rant.  But when we got to the part where the summer camp only works for summer residents’ kids or with kids who have retired grandparents living in town due to its tendency to shut down early  on “inclement weather days”  despite the fact that there is a huge lodge capable of housing all the kids comfortably in the case of actual rain and the human race has had thousands of years to come up with things to do during these times, she interrupted us.  She’d found the solution, you see.   Not to the town wide tough luck attitude towards its working family citizens, though.  Just for us.

“My granddaughter goes to that camp,”  she said.  “Your daughter could come over to my house, I’d be happy to take her there.”

Give a penny.  Take a penny.  Band aid the wound and keep beating through the thorn bush.  You’ll run out of band aids and you’ll never make enough change, but at least you haven’t rocked the old, fragile boat.  If you’re lucky, you’ll be so busy keeping the boat afloat that you won’t notice the rapids ahead.

Tongariro Crossing

(Originally published on swampyankeewannabes in Janurary, 2005)

We’ve just climbed Mt. Doom, otherwise known as Mt. Ngauruhoe, and it’s worth it. . We’re not in Hobbit country, that was further back in Waipua and sheep country. This is Middle Earth, pure, imposing, volcanic, beginning. There’s an outer edge with active vents where Lionel posed over the vent with his wedding ring, poised to throw the One Ring into the fire. He decided against it though, and so we made our way up to the crater. Red rock surrounds the very top of the cone.

The way up was ferocious. It’s an almost vertical climb in mostly sifting ash, impossible to get good footing or any good handholds, also death to anyone with a fear of falling, which I have. I’ve gotten over it though in recent years, self defense really, since Lionel keeps taking me on walks with less than secure footing along sheer drops. It takes two and a half hours to reach the top. It takes half an hour tops to get down.

We got up at five again this morning, and this time the guide didn’t even bother to explain the weather, it was obvious that it was going to be a gorgeous day. On good days like this, 500 people will cross this track, a good deal of them will run it, for some reason known only to them. It takes 7-8 hours on the crossing alone, not counting the scramble up Mt. Ngauruhoe. At first it was cold, chilly air and no sun, and the valley was well graded and at times boardwalked for easy walking. We got to the Devil’s Staircase and the royal treatment stopped; up this long and steep track over boulders and drops, then up to what you thought was the top only to discover that you’re not done yet. It’s all lava rock and pumiced and black, odd shapes pushing up out of the ground. Up we go and the sun finally comes out at possibly the worst time—while we’re working up a sweat trying to get up the Staircase. Then it evens out and there is Ngauruhoe, classic cone shaped volcanic mountain.

So here we are up on top of it and it is time to go down. Going down, it turns out, is easy. First you slide down the snow top between the crater and the outer ridge, then you pick a good spot with mostly ash and not too many large rocks and you ski your way down on your boots. Sometimes you’ll knock a rock out of its slumber and it will start to tumble down the mountainside. “Rock!” you’ll yell, and hope that the others downhill from you will take up the call. I dislodged such a rock from the very beginning and it fell, gaining speed, bouncing over a snow field, finally stopping a thousand feet below. You could get seriously hurt on this mountain. But how often do you get to climb a volcano? So we swish our way down in record speed, conveniently forgetting that it took so long to get up here. It’s almost like skiing only I only have boots and no snow, and we reach the bottom 3 and ½ hours from when we started. 3 1/2 ! We must have spent some time up on the cone itself, getting distracted. Anyway we’re now going to be late for the bus, but there’s no help for it, we go on.

We cross over an impossibly flat area in a valley, which looks like an old crater but apparently was formed by glacier. Then we head back up towards the Emerald and Blue lakes and Red Crater, up another steep incline with loose soil. It isn’t as bad as before but it’s no picnic after Ngauruhoe, and our thighs are cramping a little bit in protest. It soon passes though, and we’re at the Red Crater. It’s certainly red, and eerie, with an eroded lava dyke coming out of its side. The dyke is gray inside and red outside, an eerie contrast. We start down again, through more of the sifting ashy stuff, slowly, since Mom has the same fear of falling that I do. She’s not enjoying this part at all but I am – there’s craters and lava flows, vents and green lakes surrounding us. No vegetation graces this area, sometimes an odd flower or grass stuck under the rocks out of the wind, but nothing more. The side of the trail steams and sulfur fills the air again, then we pass by the green lakes and head through another thankfully flat area until we start to go up again. A lava flow once stopped in its tracks halfway in its journey across this valley, and it looks as though it were yesterday, since the lake that it stops at it steaming at the edges, as if it were trying hard to cool off the rock.

The weather has changed a bit with fog rolling in fast from up the mountainside, and the view gets restricted. We’re back in alpine shrub country and the track has ceased to be so steep. There’s another whiff of sulfur but I can’t see anywhere it would be coming from, so we move on.

We wind our way across the mountain in this fashion for sometime, hitting boardwalk finally which means we’re close to other infrastructure, mainly the hut where we’ll get more water, and it becomes quite clear where the sulfur smell is coming from. A place identified as the Kehutia Hot Springs, Private Property, forbids entry to trampers. It’s steaming furiously and I’m not sure I want to get too close to it anyway.

After the hut we make our way down, getting quite close to the steaming vent which apparently outputs a stream, or maybe the stream just runs through it. It’s not hot water, but it’s certainly not cold, and it’s soft to the touch. Moving through this area we see more vents, more sulfur pits, and then we’re out of volcano country, probably for good.

By this time we’re exhausted and I start counting to myself as a way to keep pace. We leave the alpine shrub and enter the forest, which smells sweet and cool and surely signals that we’re getting close to our destination. But it’s another half an hour until we emerge to the other side, where our concerned bus driver awaits us. We’re an 1 ½ late, the fault of Mt Ngauruhoe, and we’re mostly unrepentant. It was a twelve hour hike for us, and we spent it well. We’re exhausted though, so it’s a good thing tomorrow we’re doing nothing but driving.

Life is Like a Box of Chocolates

Lionel and I, along with some other parents that we had coralled and who had the same concerns as we did, sat in a room full of people, trying to get them to acknowledge the big elephant in the room.

But that elephant is pretty big, and powerful, and apparently doesn’t leave alot of space in the room for anything else.  So instead of revealing itself, it said things like:

“I used to be really scared about it too.  But now we’re there, and it’s actually okay.”

“Our store got a Gold Seal last year!”

“We had students competing in DECA this year… alongside Pinkerton Academy!”

“We had 12 students inducted into the National Honor Society!”

It tried to berate us, too.

“If you came to our school board meetings, you’d know more about what we are trying to do.”

“You really should come and visit the school, and talk to the principal and myself before embarking on this.”

“Actually, I did a study like this all by myself three years ago.  And I concluded that it was impossible.”

“Those NECAP scores don’t mean anything.  We have 12 students in the National Honor Society!”

The big elephant, of course, was none other than the  Hillsboro-Deering Cooperative School District.

Listen, those of us who have grown up around here and have lived here all our lives call Hillsborough, NH, in sometimes not so affectionate tones, “Hooterville”.  So it’s not surprising to me at all, really, that throughout my tenure in the area the schools in Hillsborough have struggled in and out of probationary status, had high dropout rates, a long running drug problem, high turnover in teachers and staff, a disinterested and downtrodden student body.  Not surprisingly, the town itself has no sustainable industry.  It’s always been a sort of self-defeating death-spiral.

So we sat there, all of us, each and every one of us having rushed home early from our distant gainful employment, every single one of us from a different direction, to go to a School Board Meeting which begins promptly at 6pm on a Tuesday (or might we also say, at “dinner time on a school night”) and formally asked the school board of the Washington School District to undertake a formal study of other school districts in the area in terms of relative merit, distance from people’s places of employment, potential cost to the town for sending our kids there, etc.  We really weren’t asking them to do anything other than really examine that big elephant in the room, to finally, at least, fully acknowledge it.  Because Hillsboro-Deering Cooperative School District might be really turning itself around, and it might be inducting kids into the National Honor Society, and it might occasionally send kids to DECA or spit out a Teacher of The Year, but so do other area schools, schools with more consistent, challenging and varied curricula, schools with sports programs and language clubs, schools in communities that actively support and fund their educational systems rather than randomly slashing the budget or castigating the school board for daring to spend “surplus” money on new computer equipment or roof repairs.  Hillsboro-Deering Cooperative might finally be turning out some half-way educated kids that might even go on to college, and that’s great for Hillsborough.  But we don’t live in Hillsborough.  We live in Washington.  Hillsborough’s not even that close to us. We don’t have any say in Hillsborough’s government, we have no clout with their governing bodies, we can’t force them to see the really big elephant; the total lack of gainful employment within a 30 mile radius.    We don’t even have any say at their school board meetings since we’re not residents.  But for some reason, we’re okay with sending our kids there, putting blinders on, and hoping that it “will all be okay.”

And those blinders sure are working, boy, because you know what, at face value, inducting 12 kids into the National Honor Society from a school whose NECAP scores routinely place it at the bottom of the pack of schools in NH is pretty great!  It’s the National Honor Society, right? It might really mean something… except the Hillsboro Deering NHS GPA requirements, which each local chapter gets to set, is 3.15.  That’s barely above a B average.

Meanwhile, neighboring schools have set the bar at 3.4 just to be considered.   And since we all know that GPA is not necessarily a reflection of how prepared you are or how challenged you are in a school setting, it is merely a reflection of the grades that you got in the classes you took, which can easily be dumbed-down or inflated depending on the teacher and the student population, the fact that Hillsboro-Deering School District managed to induct 12 kids into their NHS chapter actually means nothing at all outside of Hillsboro-Deering.  Scratch that shiny surface a little bit, and it turns out that Hillsboro-Deering was able to induct 12 kids into their NHS chapter because they set a low bar for being inducted in the first place.  And a lot of those kids wouldn’t even  have maintained such a grade point average at another school with a more challenging curricula, let alone be inducted into anything.

And you know what?  That’s okay.  I myself obtained an excellent education without ever being inducted or honored with any kind of scholarly award.  I believe I got a C in Honors Chemistry one year, and I routinely struggled in my math courses.  But I went to a very excellent private high school.  And when I got out of High School and got into Bryn Mawr, the first thing this struggling math student did was try to fulfill her math requirement by taking Multi-variable Calculus, instead of the more popular “Statistics for Poets”.  I just barely passed that course, which was totally outside my field of study (Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology, with a minor in Ancient Greek) and ultimately ruined any chances I had of graduating anything other than Cum Laude.  And I didn’t care, because even then I knew it was more about the quality of the class and what I got out of it rather than the grade I got.  Whenever I received 4.0′s in any of my classes I was immediately suspicious of it, because 4.0 means perfect, and who is perfect in anything they just learned?

I digress.   Sure, I can solve this educational problem on my own.  I could, for instance, choose to tuition my kids into another school district, possibly the one in which I work.  I could send my kids to private school (halfway across the state, for an exorbitant amount of money but hey!  Live Free or Die!)  Or, I could pack up my whole family and move to a community that values education more.  But because I’m a bleeding-heart progressive liberal who is a glutton for punishment, and I like knocking my head against walls, instead, I petition the school board to look at alternatives not just for my kids, but all the kids in Washington, because for some reason, I’m still loyal to the place and I’d like to see the backward trend of no industry, no community, no working families, empty houses and no future reversed.

I work for Keene State College these days, which is a nominally public institution.  I say “nominally” because NH’s Tea Party Extraordinaire Legislature slashed 50% of the state’s funding for public higher education three years ago.  That was bad enough, but even before this indiscriminate slash-and-burn took place, New Hampshire was 50th in the nation in terms of its support for public higher education.  Can I say that again?  We were Dead Last.  And now we’re even more Dead Laster.   Meanwhile, 15 years ago, another faultering town with a another constantly failing school district tried to be proactive and sued the state over its reliance on local property tax to fund education.  There has been lots of talk over how to rectify the situation, and we’ve pretty much bent over backwards trying to avoid the I and S tax words, introducing neat, novel ideas like casinos or getting rid of the whole problem altogether by amending the constitution, and effectively the state has just kind of skipped over the part where its entire tax structure was found unconstitutional by its own high court because, well, it’s Live Free or Die.  Right?   So the whole Hillsboro-Deering High School problem?  The whole we have no industry here issue?  Yeah, that’s your NH Tax Advantage, staring you right in the face.

No wonder families like ours are leaving.

I could shout “Wait!  Come back!! If we all work together, we could find a way to work this out!”  Remember how the Apollo 13 astronauts managed to fit a square peg into a round hole?  They did this impossible task in micro-gravity with nothing but the items on a very small, fragile spaceship while battling the effects of carbon dioxide poisoning.  And that was 44 years ago.  I have no reason to believe that a bunch of educated adults with a common goal can’t find a solution to the no-industry, poor-education dilemma we find ourselves in, Live Free or no Live Free.   I’ve glimpsed evidence of hard-working dedicated committees coming up with all sorts of brilliant, working solutions for all sorts of seemingly insurmountable impossible problems.

I just haven’t actually seen it here.  In this place where I actually am.  With the people who are–supposedly–charged with ensuring that the school-age children of the Town of Washington are provided with an education.  Instead, I get glass-eyed looks or actively hostile glares, from people who probably realize they’ve been caught not doing their job and therefore feel an overwhelming need to become patronizing.

“There’s no convincing these people,” the chair of the board piped in at the end, “they’ll have to find out for themselves.”

Later that night, Lionel mentioned that he’d found three ticks on Bundle II.  “I’ve heard some really bad stories about ticks, recently,” he said.

“I used to be really worried about ticks,” I retorted, “but you know, now I’ve had some, and guess what?  It’s actually okay. Now I really think they’re awesome.  You really should come to their meetings, sometime, talk to their leader.  You’ll see.”

We both laughed until tears ran down our faces.   But we’re not sure if it was actually funny.

It’s a shiny elephant, to be sure, but I’ve scratched the surface, and it’s still the same god-damn elephant.  If we could just get it out of here, maybe we could finally poke our heads up out of the box.

Here’s the Thing

for-sale-signThere’s this thing.

It’s both a big thing and a really simple thing at the same time, and it’s not really a unique or different thing.  It’s some thing that people all over the globe do all the time.  People do it for all sorts of different reasons and the same reasons people do any thing; for the love of a thing, or a lack of a thing, for a better thing or a different thing.

Like divorce.  We could say it’s like divorce.  You suddenly, or gradually, realize that the person you are with, the life you are living with them, is no longer bearable and you decide, finally and for all, that something must unequivocally be done about the situation.  Certainly it’s a simple decision; you firmly decide that you simply can not live like this with this person any longer.  The process, though?  The emotional, practical, physical implications of it all?  Brutal.  Other people’s perceptions?  Humiliating, judgmental.  The sheer effort involved in the very idea?  Immeasurable.

Humans have a very real need for a DELETE key which just neatly erases whatever it is that they’ve written into their lives.  But since there are so many different tendrils and ties and glues which bind us to the paths we’re on, abrupt changes in direction just aren’t as pleasurable as we imagine they might be in our dreams.

Here’s the thing: we’re leaving.

We’re moving.

We’re selling out.

This simple fact has been a very real fact for us, and for no one but us, for a year now.  We reached this lonely conclusion while riding back from a joyful First Night celebration in Burlington, Vermont, as we realized, for the first time, what living in a backwater, tea-party, close-minded town like Washington, NH was likely to do to our farm as a business, to us as a family, to our kids as our future.  We saw with very real clarity how bleak the future really was; no industry, years of busing our children to the closest private school, and the very real likelihood that once we’d finally properly educated them, they would move elsewhere miles away and never come back.  Signs of collapse were all over the place:  a lack of actual farmers at the “Farmers’ Market”.  A PTO spaghetti dinner cancelled due to a lack of volunteers.  A town government suddenly aware of how it was getting in its own way, responding to the crisis by locking up public meeting minutes in the Town Hall instead of posting them online promptly so that we could all see the decline in black and white.  A student representative to the Hillsboro-Deering School Board declaring that he had no plans to go to college.  That’s right.  The student representative to the school board.  The kid with good grades and stuff.  He’s decided not to go to college.  Too expensive, he said.

Still it isn’t as easy as just packing up, putting up a For Sale sign and leaving.  For one thing this place that we live in has very long and very real family history not just for us but for the extended family.  For another the idea that we won’t be here in twenty years is a very new concept against the assumption, up until a year ago, that we’d be here until we died.  That’s why we spent so much time and energy shaping the yard, the vegetable gardens, the orchard and the sugar bush.  That’s why we’ve spent so much of our energy on town affairs.  Now that we’ve realized this isn’t where we want to be, that we need to get out of the trap, we feel lost.  Cut free, floundering, happy, flabbergasted, confounded.  It’s a real roller-coaster.

Also?  Up until now we haven’t told anyone.  Not family, not friends–just a few very select realtors whom we’ve immediately sworn to secrecy.  And yet, there are so many different immediate issues on a day to day basis that it’s hard not to get sucked in.  People asking me when our farm stand will be open.  Will we have fresh produce?  What do we plan to plant this year?  When will the chicks be arriving?  Can I buy some chickens this year? Won’t it be fun when our kids are older and they can bike down the road to our respective houses by themselves?

“I don’t know yet, it’s been a late spring….we’ve decided not to do chickens this year so we can focus on bringing back the yard….uh….uh…..Yes, won’t that be nice?  In a few years?”

The realtors, though?  Like any good divorce lawyers they’ve laid it out for us.  The cost layout.  How to achieve our ultimate goal. What people are looking for.  What we need to do make it sale-able.  Like, for instance, plowing under the acre of garden we’ve cultivated for all these years and turning it back into grass.  Updating the appliances for the sake of appearances, knowing full well that the next owners will tear up and re-vamp and re-model and re-paint and make it their own.  Basically we need to hit the brakes, hard, so we finally stop the tremendous momentum of where we thought we were going, turn around, and go down another road in a completely different direction.  Only it’s not the actual direction we eventually want to go, it’s the direction that someone else, a mysterious someone else who potentially wants to live in our current shoes, it’s the direction they possibly want to go in.  Only we don’t know exactly what that is, so we’re guessing.  And while we’re guessing, we’re hoping that we don’t lose sight of the direction we actually wanted to head in so that we can get back there without too much trouble.

We love this land, and this house.  We are proud of the apple orchard, the blueberries, our sugaring operation.  But we dislike our commute.  We’re in over our heads.  We dislike NH.  And we have come to despise this town.  And we finally, finally realized that it wasn’t an insult when the old timers told us to get out if we didn’t like it.  It was, actually, sound advice.  Too bad we never saw it for what it was…

until now.

 

 

Got Mine. Where’s Yours?

A few years ago here in Washington, NH there came out what appeared to be a sincere call for new blood to occupy the various and sundry positions, committees, commissions and boards that comprise this small mountain town.  The town does have its true locals; those whose families first settled and eeked out a living here, back when it wasn’t the First Town Incorporated Under the Name of Our First President, but merely “Monadnock Number 8″.  But those locals are few and far between, and aging.  Their offspring have sought other vistas and new opportunities.  Mostly, Washington is comprised of flatlanders who have retired here from Connecticut, Massachusetts, or occasionally, New York.  In the summer, the population swells to twice our normal size; Washington has several small lakes and ponds which house vacation homes.  Basically, Washington consists of retired people and summer people, with a few locals and a few young, working families mixed in.  And by few, I mean, getting fewer by the day.

Still, there was a call for young blood and we answered the call.  Lionel went out for a Planning Board position  and was elected.   It became apparent though, as they repeatedly scheduled “working meetings” during working hours on weekdays, and the near impossibility of both working a job one hour away from 9am to 5pm and also making a meeting by 6pm without having eaten a proper meal between, that they didn’t really mean it.   Or rather, what they’d meant was that they wanted more of their fellow retirees to come join their little cliques.  When Lionel asked, one evening, if they could possibly consider moving the meeting by a 1/2 hour so that he could more easily make the meetings, they all scoffed.  One of them said they needed to get their horses to bed.  Another said it would interfere with his dinner.  One retorted, “We all have problems.”

Recently an older woman announced, in the middle of Story Hour at the library, that we were all welcome to join the yoga classes which happened twice a month at Camp Morgan.  Momentarily interested, I and another parent asked what time the classes were. “Oh, they’re at 9am on Wednesdays!”

When we both explained, rather politely, that neither of us (nor anyone else who works) could make such a time, she blithely responded that perhaps we could make it in the summer.  I really didn’t know what to say.  See, we both work year round.  It was clear that she’d noticed that the population of her yoga class swelled in the summer but it apparently didn’t register that none of those people were actual residents.  Ironically, I and the other parent, who are actual residents, at least in the nominal sense that we register our cars here and vote here on election day, have memberships to health clubs in a separate town.  And not the same separate town, either.

Back when I was still trying to promote and support the local Farmer’s Market, I made a suggestion to some of the other vendors that, on the July 4th weekend flea market day, during which the entire Town overtakes the green we would normally set up the market on, that we cordon off a section of the green and have all of the Farmer’s Market vendors in one space, the vendors I was talking to just stared at me like I was from Mars.  I tried to explain that I thought it would be better for everyone involved if people who would normally visit the market were still able to find their regular vendors and that it would work better for the market as a whole, but they laughed at me.  “I do great on that day!” one vendor, who sells what amounts to flour and sugar, said.  Another vendor, who makes  jellies which contain large amounts of sugar and  vague  hints of fruit, nodded in agreement “Yeah, that’s my best day too!”  Translation: I got mine.  To hell with the rest of you.

The motto of the Granite State is Live Free or Die.  This motto can mean you are free to live your life without the interference of government or neighbor.  But it also can mean that if you haven’t gotten yours yet, you better just keep going it alone, because no one is looking out for you, or people like you, or people who need even more help than you.  Collaborating, cooperating or striving for the common good is completely out of the question.

That’s not to say that there aren’t people here in town who are trying to get something big accomplished.  One group in town is doggedly determined to fix up the Town Hall, add a true basement for office space to it, and renovate the beautiful and historic second floor which houses a theater capable of seating 100 people.  Another group in town is concerned that the current safety services are being compromised by a building too old and too small to accommodate modern equipment.  But the one doesn’t see the value of the other.  Their project is the most important, no, the only project in town.  Consequently, right around Town Meeting a flurry of friendly emails came flying about, starting with “Higuyshowareyouandthegirlshaven’tseenyouinawhile” and ending, predictably with “HOPE TO SEE YOU AT TOWN MEETING AND VOTE YES ON THIS!!”

Yeah…. remember that petition we circulated around town a while back?  The one about working families and education and all that?  That one you scoffed at and dismissed?  You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours?  Well my nails are all worn down and my back is getting awfully itchy.  Have fun with that project thingy.  I’m too busy working on mine.

Please, my fellow Washingtonians, be sure to keep your blinders on because those rose colored glasses only work when you look out of them straight on.  One day, the glasses will break and you’ll take them off, and, maybe, look around in surprise.  You won’t see the tricycle of your neighbor’s three year old.  Your neighbor drives her three year old to the only available daycare, three towns over.  You won’t hear the screams of laughter coming from the Town Beach.  What kids are left all go to camps hours away which maintain reliable hours.  You won’t see your neighbors jogging down the road because they all go jogging on their lunch break at their separate, lonely jobs in separate, far away towns.  There will no longer be a “school bus” sign down the road because there isn’t a school anymore.  You’ll see weeds, unattended roads, broken down houses.  You’ll hear the wind in the trees and the birds in their nests and you’ll still feel like everything is fine.  It’s why you moved here, after all.  And why everyone else moved out.  At least your taxes are low.

 

I Want To Be the Minority

It was the week that Nelson Mandela died that I finally realized I didn’t have to worry about  everyone else’s future.

I just had to worry about mine.

Not just mine, of course.  But my immediate family and genetically created future, that was what I had to worry about.  Our financial well-being, our physical well-being, our time, our place, our education.  I realized I’d spent a lot of time thinking about how to improve everyone’s situation in a community (or lack thereof) of people who want to live free, die.  Whose very last preference is to collaborate outside of some pretense of religious community, whose very core is to be everything and all to themselves and no one else.

Okay.  I get it!

Still, I agonized over a purchase of Alpen cereal the other day, a current favorite.  So far the only place I have found said cereal is at Market Basket, and the closest Market Basket is 35 miles away.  Then I found out I could order it on Amazon and have it delivered to my house for the same price, minus time, gas and energy, that I could get the product at Market Basket.  Instead of jumping at this obvious no-brainer, I started to worry that by going with Amazon I was succumbing to their McWalmartization of the internet, undercutting local jobs, contributing to the carbon footprint and possibly going against the very morals I had until then subscribed to. Should, I, instead, make the long trek to the brick-and-mortar which supplies local jobs..albeit lousy ones?  Was I solving something by going with Amazon, by reducing the number of distribution centers the cereal travelled to before it reached me?

Was I, in actual fact, worrying about the purchase of a processed granola cereal, when it was possible that I could make the same thing myself?

Anyway, gentle reader, you’ll be glad that I finally found that door.  I’ve installed it, closed it, locked it, and put in earplugs so I can ignore the incessant pounding.  And I’m purchasing the f-ing cereal online.   And maybe some other stuff as well.  And I will happily receive the benefits of time, energy, gas, and money, and I will. not. care. about the rest of it.

But I’ve made sure I can open that door, still.  Because I still want to Think Globally, Act Locally.  It’s just that this is not the locality to do it in.  I really want to be a part of a vibrant community, and help strengthen that community so we can all have a sustainable and prosperous future, despite the growing threats of pollution, climate change, population growth.  It’s just that there is no such community here.

Lionel and I have always taken an interest in Town affairs and in various ways been on different committees and commissions.  For a time I was the Chair of one.  Lionel was elected to the Planning Board.  We’ve always gone to Town Meeting and been deeply committed to the affairs and well-being of this Town  we’ve chosen to call home.  But recently, as we’ve pushed against brick walls and come up short, time, and time and time again, as we’ve been repeatedly reviled and ridiculed and outright ignored, we’ve begun to pull back.  Lionel quit his position on the Planning Board.   Recently, one day, instead of stopping at the Selectman’s office to let them know of yet one more County event that, in the end, they would completely ignore, Lionel came home instead.  “I figured I could get home ten minutes earlier,” he said,  the silver lining of being completely disengaged.  I stopped going to the Farmer’s Market, either as a Farmer or as a buyer, and gained a whole lot of time on the weekends.  We didn’t go to Town Meeting this year.

The latter was a big deal.   There was no good excuse for us not to go except a deeply personal anger and a sense that we could no longer allow ourselves to be angry at a populace that simply didn’t want to go where we wanted them to go.  So we deliberately didn’t.  We deliberately shirked our civic duty.  Lionel happily went to his day job and made money for us as a family, and I bundled up the kids and went to a jacked-up arcade in Nashua called, appropriately, Fun World.

And you know?  Although the day and night before I was wracked by a weird and persistent anxiety, by the end of the day when it was clear that it had not made one whit of difference whether we were physically present or not, I felt free.  Why I have felt that the future of this Town was somehow in my hands to decide I don’t know.  I do know that this place is not a place where I can speak my mind, or where I can trust the leadership, or where a community of like-minded individuals live.  But I now know that I am not responsible for them.  And that’s fine.  Because it’s become very clear that they’ve never wanted help from the likes of a progressive liberal crazy socialist like me.  And that I, progressive liberal crazy socialist though I am, deserve to live a life of liberty and happiness, you know, that ultimate American ideal, even if it doesn’t mean anything in the end, even though it means I have to drop everything I believe in to get it.

If you close your eyes, and your ears, and most importantly, your mouth…the taste of being the minority slowly dissipates until you’ve got nothing left.  At least it isn’t sour anymore.

It’s All About the Deere

(originally posted on swampyankeewannabes in February of 2005)

I’m a speed demon, I admit it. I’ve been pulled over so many times I don’t even make any excuses anymore, just hand the license and the registration over and wait for the inevitable. I’ve definitely learned my lesson.

I got a radar detector.

Now I’ve got other problems, mostly pertaining to the fact that the radar detector stays on while the car is off and slowly drains its lifeblood away. While we were gone the monster sucked my car dry and I didn’t even have my digital clock — yesterday morning, at least, I could stare at its fading display and know just how late I was going to be for work.

My brain doesn’t work so well in the morning. Since Lionel had already left for work that meant I had no other vehicle to jump start the car with. I really hate calling AAA for a stupid battery, but I couldn’t think of any neighbors that would be around (and awake) at 8am. On the other hand, it’s hard to jump a car if you don’t have another one. So:

“I know!” I said to myself. “I can roll-start it!”

“How are you going to do that, dumbass? You’re in the garage.”

“Okay, well, I’ll push the car out, until I get it to just where the driveway starts to go down. Then I’ll jump in, roll-start it, and be on my way.”

So, I got out of the car and started pushing. It’s a light car but I’m a light person, so I got it about half-way out of the garage when I came to the conclusion that this was stupid. Naturally, my mind drifted to the next inane idea.

“The tractor! I can pull the car out of the garage with the tractor!”

So I get the tractor out of her hiding place, and I attach a chain to my car, and I begin to tow my car out of the garage. I realize, at last, that if I do succeed in getting the car out onto the incline as I’d planned, there wouldn’t be much stopping the car except the tractor in front of it. It seems I’d reached an impasse.

Until it finally dawned on me that the vehicle I was sitting on had a perfectly good battery.

Now I could claim that I pulled the car out of the garage because naturally I had the intention of jump starting my car with my tractor all the while, especially since the tractor doesn’t fit in the garage. But then I’d be lying. In fact, it took me half an hour to remember I had a tractor, let alone that it had a battery. So call me stupid. But hey, fess up. How many of you would have just called AAA? What kind of story is that?

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