Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
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.