WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Walking blues

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On the morning after the election, we head out to one of our usual trails for a sunup hike. The air is suffused with oak must and the tang of fallen pine needles from the last storm to come through. Below us, the river flows like always, carrying different water from the last time we were there only a few days before. Same river, different water.

The dog sniffs his way along the side of the trail, cataloguing the animals that had wandered by overnight. Here and there he lays down his own scent so they’ll know he’s come along the same path. Everything’s good as far as he’s concerned.

There’s so much to say we don’t bother saying it. Better to be tuned in to the surroundings — high hills on either side of the canyon, one scrubby for the most part, the other growing mainly oak. The sky is getting lighter as we walk, from a faint lavender to the white of paper, until the sun is fully up and it goes serene blue on us. It doesn’t complement how we’re feeling. We’re feeling pretty bad. But it’s dependable and clean, and it makes us think that what happens in the world is far away.

I think we’re starting to say good-bye to some of the ideals we’ve been nursing all these years. Not that the ideals are dead. Just that, at our age, we’re not likely to see them getting back up on their feet in our lifetimes. Some, as fundamental as “don’t poison the air and water,” seem iffy right now. We’re not sure large swaths of federal land won’t be divvied out to cattle barons and logging interests, oil drillers, mining concerns. They’ve been itching for it. And where our fellow man once seemed neighborly and kind, we now wonder if there are thoughts in his head about all lives matter, ridding the country of Mexicans, and banning terrorist Syrian babies from coming here. It had seemed like we were making progress on climate change — our own conservative county full of solar panels on the roofs of homes — but now it’s going to be clean coal and I’m pretty sure there is no such thing. I expected the stock market to flop on Wednesday but instead it went up 250 points, with investment banks and pharmaceutical companies leading the way.

We pause for a minute or two to look out over the river and take in its whisper. Trees on the banks are turning yellow, and we can see leaves drifting down as we watch, falling into the water and floating away toward the bridge high in the canyon. We keep telling ourselves, We have this. And we do. Much more too, most of which can’t be taken away except by something random and natural like fire. We’ve always thought that things, by and large, improve — that old saying that history bends toward  justice.

Justice seems a cloudy idea now, though. Where once it felt like we could mark a lot of progress in our lifetimes in terms of racial attitudes, economic opportunities, global cooperation, we wonder now whether history ever bends backward, undoing itself, like the limbs of some of these trees looking for an opening of sky. It goes to show you, nothing is ever finished. Everything is always changing, and not always in the most beneficial way.

The dog — I’m starting to envy him more and more — is happy as we head back. He romps through short grass so dewy it looks like it’s covered in snow from a distance, and he’s loving the crisp air and the procession of smells. He trots along with his mouth open in that way that makes humans think dogs are smiling. Blissfully unaware of what’s on our minds. He stops to drink from a puddle, then looks up at a bird that’s taken up a perch on a bare buckeye tree, causing its branches to tremble and shaking the few orange nuts still hanging on.

By the time we make our way back to the road, the rush hour traffic from when we arrived has passed and it’s quiet through there. We can cross without running.

A lot of things have changed and will keep on changing. But we have some places that are going to get us through the next few years. The trees never give us any trouble.

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20 comments on “Walking blues

  1. kingmidget
    November 10, 2016

    Do not despair, Kevin. From a friend on FB:

    Fear moves fast and loud, progress moves slower but deeper. Commit to the permanence of building the unshakeable foundation, it’s all around us and it looks like your kids.

    The thing I agree with you about, however, is the unease this leaves behind … about what your neighbors really believe and think. As blue as we are here in California, there were still plenty of Trump voters. Their willingness to vote for him says something and I’m not sure I like what it says or that I want to be anywhere near them.

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 10, 2016

      It’s nice to be a hermit at times like this … 😬

      • kingmidget
        November 10, 2016

        Stop rubbing it in.

  2. Phillip McCollum
    November 10, 2016

    I saw this quote by Viktor Frankl the other day:

    “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

    You’re a good man, Kevin. I hope you’re soon relieved of any anguish you’re suffering.

  3. John W. Howell
    November 10, 2016

    I join Phillip in wishing you relief.

  4. cinthiaritchie
    November 10, 2016

    Hey, Kev, I think our dogs are “Occasional Soulmates,” lol. P.S. Nice post, and I am so jealous that it’s still warm down there (I’m headed out for a run in 39 degree and icy trails). Won’t say anything about the election results because it depresses me too damned much and upsets me too damned much and I’m trying to be happy and not let it bother me (but how in the hell can it not bother me?). Cheers and take care.

    • kingmidget
      November 10, 2016

      74 degrees here in Sacramento today. 😉

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 10, 2016

      If it didn’t bother you, you’d be brain dead. Time to accentuate the positive, I guess!

  5. pinklightsabre
    November 10, 2016

    That’s a beautiful piece, through and through. I thought similar, though not as elaborate or deep, watching my dog and going into her POV and her ignorant bliss in all this, and tried to transport myself there too, which it seems you did for a time, here. Loved this, thanks for sharing it. — Bill

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 10, 2016

      Thanks, Bill. I’m glad you liked. The sad thing is that our dog is totally neurotic, so I don’t really want to get into his head. But he’s a decent metaphor … 😉

  6. Audrey Driscoll
    November 10, 2016

    At least dogs are apolitical. Beautiful post…

  7. 1WriteWay
    November 11, 2016

    It had to do you good to go for a walk in such a beautiful place. I went to work (feel sorry for me) but at least the somber mood at my particular office reminded me that I wasn’t alone.
    I don’t mean to give you a hard time. Your post was beautiful and a balm. I’ve been studying my cats: their attitude that as long as they have clean litter, food and water on demand, and human furniture to curl up on, they’re happy. They are content. Their world hasn’t changed … yet.
    Thanks for the link to the Stoicism blog. It’s where I’m trying to get to. I can’t really articulate it, but I know it has to do with feeling helpless. It is very hard to accept an undesired outcome (understatement) when you feel you’ve done everything you needed to do to assure a desired outcome. But as Massimo says, we can’t control the actual outcome; only the effort we make toward it. I have a tendency to internalize, to feel failure over things I have no control over. I thoroughly agree with Massimo that social media is not the place to try and win over the hearts and minds of people who disagree with you. I’m seeing compassion among like-minded groups but mostly antipathy between those who disagree. Sure, I think Trump is the worst thing that America has ever done and I am in dread of what he and Congress will do once power has been transferred. But sitting around crying about it and sharing angry memes won’t change a thing. Phillip had a good point in a comment on one of your earlier posts about focusing on local elections. That would be a good place to put our efforts even if we can’t control the outcome.

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