About twenty-five years ago, my parents bought several acres near the edge of Pulaski County, Arkansas, a forty-five minute drive from downtown Little Rock. The property is beautiful, most of it wooded behind a small pond where my parents have reveled in fishing with their children and grandchildren.
I had gone to college by the time they moved, so as beautiful as I have always found it, I’ve never really considered it home. It is the place where my parents live. To be sure it is a place I enjoy bringing my children for them to roam and explore. It is a remarkable place, a stunning example of the natural beauty Arkansas is known for.
My parents expended a lot of effort early on taming the land and the woods. One of those times I was home from college, over a summer, perhaps, my parents put me to work. There’s a color you paint trees and perimeter fence called posted purple. If you are ever exploring and see it, it means keep out. Best to turn back and head the other way.
The house where my parents live sits not far off a road, a large shop my father had built right next to it, four or five acres of open field behind it, the pond and woods to the east and south, a fence to the west and a field of horses just on the other side. The woods make up the remainder of the acreage, twenty acres or so. It’s not a lot — you won’t get too lost — but it is enough to spend the day hiking around with a paint can, a brush and a machete, for the woods and bramble grow thick in Arkansas.
I cut through those back woods, a good bit of it. I stepped on turtles and snakes and God only knows what else, the grasses growing up beyond my head.
I remember being intimidated by that property. It was big, expansive. There was lots of wild stuff — actual, dangerous wild stuff, too, including wild dog packs. But once I got to work hacking and clearing and painting a stripe of purple here and there, it wasn’t so bad.
And once I was done, I could sort of see the whole property in my mind. And it didn’t seem so big.
I am hearing a lot of frightened voices searching for meaning in the Trump victory, and the now inevitable Trump Presidency. Hey, I’m scared, too. There is not one of us who knows what the future holds. There are people in politics who are much smarter than me who simply do not know what’s happening, who don’t know what the future holds — and anyone who tells you they do is lying.
None of us know. All of the guidelines and markers and tracking tools political people like me have used for years are lost in the dark canopy of the woods, the shadowy shroud of a foreign, dark forest.
We are in a wild wood we do not know. And we are lost.
But don’t look to me for answers. I certainly do not have any, at least not any that are easy.
What I do know is that we — and we means anyone who cares about our democracy, about the integrity of our nation, about our institutions of government and civic engagement, about who we are as Americans; not just Democrats — have a lot of hard work to do. We’ve got to put on the boots and the gloves and grab the machete and the cutters and get out in the woods and clear a path.
Because we have ignored the back acreage for too long, now.
I think part of what makes this answer so tough is that “the answer,” such as we desperately seek a singular answer, is that it is different for everyone. Change starts with that first step into the woods, and it starts slow. And each of us take that step in different ways.
People who love this country, people who care, people who give a shit should run for office. They should run for city council and seek boards and commission appointments. They should become engaged in local civic processes.
That sounds boring and awful, and in a way it is. But it’s the only way we get to take our country back — and more important, it is the way that we heal democracy itself. We need the institutions of government to work again. That’s not just Congress or the presidency. It is our city councils, our nuisance abatement boards, our school boards and zoning boards, our state legislatures.
Americans also need the institutions of journalism to work. That’s a long, complicated, tangled up issue, too. So we need innovative, creative ways to share voices, to investigate, and to have the truth be heard. Like I said, I don’t have all the answers. But I do know if you’re only getting your information from one news source, or limited sources, you’re not part of the solution.
In so many ways, we simply need to start the tough work.
My father has just retired. Mom and Dad have put the house and the property on the market (without much success). Maintaining that acreage is an awful lot of work. I’m sure whoever finally buys it will hike through the woods and forge their own trail.
I long to see their property, and America, in the springtime again.
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