The Freeze and Thaw

Featured image: Police cam video of Daniel Shaver (pictured at right with his daughters) just before being killed by Mesa, Arizona Police Department officer Philip Brailsford.  Brailsford was acquitted of second-degree murder in the case.

     by Pray for Calamity

Cold air bites at the tip of my nose and the upper rim of my ears as I crunch across the driveway to the wood pile.  Pulling from a rick consisting mostly of ash, I load my arms. We burned through the last rick of wood too quickly. Subzero temperatures moved in right after the winter solstice, and for weeks they held strong, the winds at night drawing the heat from our cabin through every crack and seam.  Wool blankets cover the windows, and we trade light for heat. At night we nestle into our bed as a family, buried under our down comforter, which can effectively create an ecosystem all its own. Before sunrise though, I will feel my cheeks getting cold, and I will head to the kitchen to find the last embers of the fire on the verge of extinguishing.  In the dark I will snap small sticks with my hands, then feed them into the steel belly of the woodstove, and layer split wood on top of that.  I wait, watching, listening. When I am sure that the fire has taken, I head back towards bed with the orange flicker lighting the way.

The year has rolled over on the calendars of western humans, and the northern hemisphere has had its shortest day in this particular planetary revolution around the sun. It is a time of transitions and resolutions, reflections of the year passed and goals laid out for the year to come. Personally, I feel that we are in a time of exposure. Open secrets once whispered and acknowledge but never loudly spoken are no longer able to be contained. An obvious example of this is the so-called “me too” movement in which powerful men in politics and entertainment who used their status to sexually assault others were publicly exposed, which then blew open the door for women in a variety of industries and lifestyles to report on the bosses and colleagues who used their positions as leverage to seek and sometimes force sexual attention. Basically, a lot of men in a lot of places of power have been using that power to harass and assault women (and yes, sometimes other men) and a lot of dirty laundry has been aired all at once.

Open secrets are not uncommon in our society. Uncomfortable truths that we all come to know, but fear to speak about lest our murmurings disturb the delicate balance of our universe, and tip the whole order into disarray. One of these open secrets that is getting more and more attention is the fact that the police in the United States are arguably a bigger threat to many people than criminals. With nary a legal or civil consequence for their actions to be had, police killed another thousand or so Americans in 2017.   The case of former Mesa, Arizona cop Philip Brailsford being acquitted of murdering Daniel Shaver attracted a lot of attention after the body cam video of the event was released, and the general public viewed what was essentially a snuff film with horror, aghast as Brailsford smugly derided the weeping father Shaver who begged for his life before being murdered. Most of the population now accepts that the police and justice systems by and large treat black Americans far differently, and far worse, than they treat white Americans.

Of course, when a nasty truth comes to light, especially a truth that cuts right through the heart of a person’s – or nation’s – identity, there are those who will flat refuse to believe it. In the case of the many exposed men who have been accused of sexual assault and rape, there are cadres of defenders who nit-pick each case looking to find where the accuser is either lying, or perhaps sought or deserved her treatment. It is just so with the issue of police in America. With each new horror show of a news story, even those complete with heartbreaking video as in the case of Daniel Shaver, there are defenders of the system, professional analyzers who find the moment the victim screwed up by not, in their moments of terror, following some command or by having made some innocuous and unconscious movement of the hand.  Then they scream, “See! He deserved to die!”

To these reactionaries desperate to believe that everything is OK, women who are abused and harassed by their bosses and colleagues deserve it if they ever take a meeting with a man alone, and untrained and fearful civilians must act with professional precision while teams of academy graduates laden with military firearms and earning a government wage can ignore standards and statutes alike while engaging in murderous street justice.

However, if we believe all these stories of rape and assault, we then have to start examining our culture and try to understand their source.  If we believe that the police are racist and unnecessarily violent and murderous, then we have to start examining our culture and try to understand why.  Such digging leads to dangerous places for the egos and identities of many. Our lies are pillars that hold up entire institutions and ways of viewing ourselves and the world around us. We have cursed and damned so many people to live out their days in slums or cages, if we haven’t just flat out killed them. If these sentences of impoverishment, imprisonment, and death were all the extension of a society built on lies, then that would make us some pretty terrible people.

Yes, better to not look down that well.

I find myself in a bookstore fairly regularly, and I have noticed that over the past few years, there has been significant growth in the survival magazine market. Of course, there are the homestead magazines, the gardening magazines, the hunting magazines, and the straight up gun fetish magazines, but then the other day I noticed something new. It was a magazine that had on its cover a man, a boy, and a woman, all presumably a family. They carried packs, radios, and firearms. A setting sun painted their faces a golden hue, or who knows, maybe it was a distant nuclear blast, as they stood near a ruined vehicle in some scrubland. The father was handsome with chiseled cheek bones, and the lightest Hollywood smattering of dirt across his brow. In true marketing fashion, this was a magazine with a good looking family surviving a civilization-ending EMP blast, bug out bags in tow.

Seeing this I thought to myself that I think it is basically an open secret now that our society is fucked. We are fucked, and no one is coming to save us. Things are going to get steadily worse and worse until the entire façade of civil life breaks into a series of dysfunctional pieces, and deep down, everybody knows it.

A few weeks ago a friend came over to my house, and as she helped me truck firewood from the front of our land to the house, I made a comment about this to test my theory.  I cannot now remember how I snuck it into the conversation, but at some point I said, “We’re fucked,” in regards to the future stability of our climate and the world of human comings and goings.  She looked at me with a light, knowing smile, and very sincerely said, “Oh yeah.”  I might as well have told her that the sun would set.

Of course, my friends are not exactly going to be a random sampling of the population, and they are all going to fall under an umbrella of social consciousness and ecological concern, to be sure, but the increase in television shows, magazines, and books that all orbit the topic of surviving the collapse of society, to me, is telling. For now, we can treat the topic with a bit of irony should we not find ourselves in like company, and laugh at the commercial selling dehydrated beef stroganoff that one can store in their closet for emergencies.

But the idea is out there. Years’ worth of promised solutions to energy and ecological woes have not been delivered. The fires are worse, the floods are more frequent, and still the powers that be are drilling and scraping for every last bit of hydrocarbon. I think most people assumed that somewhere, some group of serious people was laying out the roadmap of transition, and making sure that it would be implemented. The consequences are rolling in as expected, but the global solutions are nowhere to be found.  A few companies absorb government subsidies and put out press releases to keep the investors chomping at the bit, but a look around does not show me a world much different than the one in which I walked as a child thirty years ago.

If it becomes understood that this society as it exists has no future, that would mean we have to ask ourselves serious questions about how, or if, we are going to survive. That is a deep, black well indeed.

With a night rain came warm air. Gray morning light expands through the wood revealing a half decayed carpet of leaves. Only islands of snow remain, and they are thin and vulnerable. I have eagerly awaited this warm front. The straw in duck and chicken houses needs tossing, and when out in the animal yards I begin to survey first the damage; a plastic rain collection barrel has burst at its base.   Then I look to the work; scraping away the ground in front of every gate and door, as the heave of frozen Earth has made opening and closing most of them quite difficult, and no fix was to be had during zero range temperatures.

Animal gates and hen house doors that cannot be closed again once open are not a problem that can be ignored. Raccoons and foxes are particularly hungry this time of year, I can only imagine. A day or two above freezing are opportunities not to be squandered. Winter is only beginning.