The red-shouldered hawk sat on a short fence post close to the entrance of Shollenberger Park, putting it almost within arm's reach of folks heading out on their New Year’s Day walk. Odd to see the large hawk so close up – as if it was a tamed animal, used to having humans stopping to take phone-photos, to having them nudge and whisper, look, a hawk! No one wanted to spook it – we wanted its presence there on the fence post, where we could see the elegance of its black and white barred wings; the rusty-red breast, the hooked beak. We wanted it to validate us, to accept us. Within a few moments though, it flapped over to another post, just a bit further away from the people-path, where is could continue to monitor the marshy bank without hassle.
It felt so unusual, this close presence of the raptor, yet unusual has become our norm, hasn't it? These past few months have felt so twisted, so disturbed; it’s been difficult to get a handle on them. Even under the blue skies and bright sun, we were a subdued lot walking along the two-mile loop around a dredging pond bordered by the Petaluma River on the waterside and industrial buildings on the landside. I wished a “Happy New Year” to a few folks; most of them startled, looking at me quizzically; some of them mumbled a soft “you, too,” or even a “Happy New Year” in return.
Small hordes of sparrows, rufus-capped and white-capped, hopped in and out of the brush lining the walkway, melting into the bushy shadows as we approached, hopping back out after we’d passed. I try to imagine what New Year’s Day 2018 might be like – and I can’t. Too much unpredictability right now – an unstable man-child in the White House, perhaps there by illegal means; an Administration out to gut all government, as if we don't need any at all (anarchy, anyone?); a sense that all the social-support gains we’ve made in the past 100 years could be wiped out with a few pen strokes by a man of little moral integrity, vindictive and thin-skinned, willing to lie, or so it seems, for no reason whatsoever, abetted by his cronies, so willing to go along with him. They don’t seem to want a country in which citizens can thrive, but a hegemony to plunder for their own personal wealth.
Further along the path, a northern harrier buzzed the dried-up reeds of the marsh, swooping back and forth and roundabout, casing for rabbits and rodents; the fastest bird on the planet, a grizzled, stubble-faced man said to us, as he sat on one of the benches, his bike and radio playing soft rock music next to him. He looked like this was his personal living room and he was inviting us to share his view. It was magnificent –across the sparkly river, soft green hills edged the horizon, but I’m plagued by my mind; I can’t even keep track of all that bothers me. Nuclear posturing has already begun, awakening the dormant terrors of an annihilating war still lurking in the back of brains of the Boomer generation. Impeachment is a possibility – the President-Elect seems to be unable to give up his businesses, required of all presidents. He hasn’t put them into a blind trust, possibly because they’ll go belly-up; seems like being a billionaire is far more important than being a President to him. He flirts with the Russians; invites a Neo-Nazi, KKK-supporter into his Cabinet. Really? What is he thinking?
He is a provocateur by nature and training. Reality-TV shows are based on setting up circumstances in which people are emotionally driven to engage in conflict then filming the results, because viewers are drawn to conflict, disaster, fights. It is all about the ratings, the eyeballs, whether approving or horrified. But is this the way to run the country? Especially a country that, whether you like it or not, has been seen as a leader in international relationships.
Two egrets flew by, earnestly rowing over the marsh through the chilly air, close enough overhead that we saw their necks tucked in tight s-curves, unblinking eyes, long legs trailing fluidly behind like thick ribbons. What do they think of us perambulating around their territory, absorbed in our concepts, our internal sussurations of fear and dismay?
The whole situation seems so untenable, so unreal, so preposterous – it doesn’t cohere. And so I wonder – will the fabric somehow tear? Could we end up with a civil war? Will something unpredicted happen to sideswipe his presidency? And us, to boot? What about an asteroid? Is this where we have been left, praying for a deus ex machina to solve this unsolvable problem? But why do I think this is unsolvable?
Perhaps I am too pessimistic, too reactive. Perhaps things won't unfold the way I project they will. Perhaps I feed too often at the trough of social-media, that amplifier of emotions and rumor, the dampener of facts and reason. So I've decided to keep track of what I see, think and feel over the next year, hoping for the best, while keeping my eyes peeled for the worst.
Last night I heard the soft gurgles of rain; this morning is soft and gray and damp. Perhaps today we will put away the holiday gear; perhaps we will finish reading our holiday books. I will proceed - with more caution and less joy than other years, with gripped teeth and a sense of bedevilment. I will make the effort to be out in the wilderness where the political posturing can be ignored for an hour or two, and mental health restored. Perhaps I should be like the red-shouldered hawk, moving over to another fence post to continue my work, to dodge the worst of the annoyances, until things are set straight again.
My word for 2017 is "wild."
*with thanks to Cheryl Strayed author of Wild, from which this quote came.