What Lies Beneath
January 21, 2019 § 14 Comments
The storm came as promised. Gusts swept over the fields scurrying the snowflakes before my headlights in every which direction, as if they were debris thrown by ordinance or ants fleeing a kicked over hill. Slowly I wound along the ridge, questioning the curves and tamping the brake, snow masking the road’s edge and remapping what is usually the familiar route home.
At last safely parked in front of my cabin, I stood out in the gray night and watched the naked trees arch and twist, their bones clattering through the heavy rush of wind when the bare boughs of one would briefly mingle with its neighbor. Smothered by clouds, the moon could only break the night from utter blackness, offering no shine or shadow. The gripping cold was accompanied by a roaring in the air, and to me it felt like the beginning of the world, like a piece of the first days was there to be witnessed.
It felt Godly. So I tipped my hat to the powers of creation, and went inside to find warmth.
The following day was sunny. Early yellow light bounced off the perfect snow, and lit up our small home. With a heavy coat and tall boots, I tended to the chickens who were terrified to leave their wooden home, and to the ducks who find no fault with the world so long as they have liquid water.
As I made my way down the long drive back to my house, my neighbor’s two dogs ran joyfully to join me. The small one, looking a cross between a Jack Russell Terrier and a Corgie bounded along, and the large one, flat faced with long and bountiful fur pressed into me looking for a pet. When we approached my cabin, they caught scent of something that was beneath my house, and quickly set about seeking a way under the not yet entirely skirted dwelling.
I was only inside for a moment, having just slipped off my boots when the furious barking began. They were under my feet, in the crawlspace beneath the house, and I have never heard such a commotion. My own dog sought to join them, but I pushed him back as I stepped back out into the snow. Circling to the rear of my house, which sits more elevated than the front as it is built on a slight slope, I crouched low and peered in through the opening to the crawlspace. The two dogs, barking ferociously and threatening advance, had cornered a coyote.
Screaming for the dogs to come was fruitless. They were each in turn darting forward, trying to force the trapped coyote to commit to defending against one or the other. It bared its teeth, and from thirty feet away, even in the muted light, I could see them, sharp.
Quickly I retreated to the house to grab my shotgun, and after firing two blasts into the air, the barking stopped, and the neighbor’s dogs came to my call. With them closed up in my house, I fired the shotgun again, hoping to drive out the wild lupine.
Granting the animal time, I sat in the house, weighing options with my wife. It was Sunday, animal control was closed. Dispatch said they didn’t handle coyotes anyway. The roads were covered in snow. The road off of which we live never gets plowed, and the few residents here know that its four wheel drive or nothing at all. I quickly understood that the coyote, likely ill, was something I would have to confront myself.
On Friday, a small but informative clusterfuck unfolded on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. While it is difficult to untangle from a distance, what basically happened is that a convergence of people who were all present for religiously inspired political motivations turned into a morass of misunderstanding that was quickly lapped up by media outlets, and barfed onto the internet as a national shit show.
Seemingly, when members of the Black Hebrew Israelites, a fringe religion of varying belief structure that has seen its own fringes turn to antisemitic conspiracy theory, began shouting at a group of mostly white Catholic School students, many wearing MAGA hats, who were present for an antiabortion rally, and then a native man named Nathan Philips who was at the memorial that day for an indigenous people’s march, stepped between the two groups and began beating a drum and singing a song of prayer. Still with me?
While the crowd of students were amped from their verbal confrontation with the Hebrew Israelites, many of them began to gesture the “Tomahawk Chop” to the beat of Philips drum, when one young person sporting a red MAGA hat then stood nose to nose with Philips while smirking in what many angles of video made appear to be a challenge. The young man has since claimed his smile was a display of calm and refusal to anger. If this wasn’t all messy enough, there is the added irony in that one of Donald Trump’s most visible supporters along the campaign trail was a man known as “Michael the Black Man,” who happened to have been a follower of the Nation of Yaweh, itself a branch of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, who wore pro-Trump gear and claimed Obama was in the KKK.
What the ever living…
As usual, the media dug in, some outlets portraying the students as all highly disrespectful to Philips, which many of them were, but not likely to the level claimed as they were compared to the brash and violent resisters to school integration and civil rights. Other media outlets rightly said there was more to the incident, but tried to entirely absolve the young mass of white male students of any disrespect whatsoever, which is bold seeing as several of them quite clearly mock Philips in a racist fashion.
What the good goddamn…
The United States has an exceedingly and overtly racist past, and a more subdued and hidden but still racist present. Founded on war, and slaughter, and kidnapping, and rape, and slavery, the years have trickled on in the US with various leaps in social progress that are obvious, while attitudes of supremacy have been woven into the civil fabric where their remaining vestiges are hard to quantify, and even harder to rout.
Yes, slavery was abolished. Yes, with great effort, Jim Crow laws were abolished. It is wonderful that the white man in America finally decided all of fifty years ago that a black person should be able to eat lunch next to them or to defecate in the same toilet, but that didn’t wipe clear every lingering ghost of racist policy, nor did it scour the nation’s institutions of racist application of even seemingly equal law.
The redlining and blockbusting that formed urban ghettoes may no longer be legal, but the ghettoes remain nonetheless. The vagrancy laws that gave police permission to arrest essentially any black person they chose may be off the books, but stop and frisk remains. Plantations may no longer force the labor of black bodies for private profit, but privately run prisons chock full of black bodies harvest their labor for the benefit of private corporations.
Schools go underfunded. Police get away with murder. Police get away with covering up murder. Voter rolls are purged of names. Polling stations are closed in black neighborhoods. Municipalities finance themselves through the intentional issuance of tickets and fines and court fees levied upon the already poorer classes. Criminal sentencing is rife with disparity based on race, and this is all to say nothing of the fact that the poorest places in the nation with the highest rates of suicide are the prison camps, colloquially called reservations, where indigenous people live.
Racism is in the foundation of the American house. It is in the structure. It is easy to perceive racism as only about attitudes, and I think we prefer this because attitudes can change, and those who refuse to allow theirs to do so can be dismissed. For what it’s worth, I think over time, the issue of personal prejudice has greatly improved. If one compared attitudes one hundred years ago to those present now in the US, they would find markedly less overt racism. And that is good. But so much racist, particularly anti-black sentiment was stirred into the mix, poured into the foundation of the American project, that we cannot measure progress on attitudes alone.
In fact, I think it is dangerous to do so, because this hides the institutional racism that remains. It makes it seem as if the poverty, the poor education, the prisons, the deaths at the hands of the police, that all of it is a product of individual failing. It allows the persistence of the belief in white America that they have done their job to better the day merely by not harboring any ill will themselves. Then, coupled with the belief that individuals are solely responsible for their lot in life because they refuse to see the disease in the architecture of their systems, the disease spreads.
And then we don’t know who is infected. That cop? That HR manager? That smirking kid in the red MAGA hat?
Crouching low with the .22 rifle, I raised the scope to my eye. In the dark, the shape of the coyote was a black mass. I could make the silhouette of her ear, and then I saw the light green glint of her eye. The gun popped, and I saw the black outline of her head turn towards me, blood slowly pouring from her mouth. Firing a gun under your house is a damn thing, and I didn’t want to risk a larger caliber round. So I sighted her again, and fired, her body jerking with the impact. Still, her head was raised, and I sincerely hoped the small bullets had damaged her brain beyond feeling.
On the phone, the department of natural resources officer said that anyone they could send out to us, if someone could even get through, would just kill the animal, as a coyote that had willingly come this close to humans likely had distemper.
I don’t enjoy killing if there is no meat on the other end of it, but a diseased and contagious wild animal could not stay underneath my house. The third round I fired had her finally slump. Even that did not end her entirely. When minutes later I moved to hook her body with a pole, she had drug herself a few feet, and was still clinging to life. I emptied the magazine into her head. Damn .22.
With my boot I cleared the snow at the end of my drive and laid in the gap a bed of charcoal. When I set her on the black charred wood, I saw that the coyote’s legs were missing bits of fur. She had seen some wars. I took no joy in pouring gasoline on her, and burning her body, but there are too many dogs about, and I could not risk them becoming infected with whatever it was she carried then drove her under my house during that promised storm.