Walk with a Friend in the Big Empty

Yesterday afternoon my neighbor and I took off for the Big Empty with Bear. It was a glorious cool day with wind, but not the kind that knocks over trees. We had a good time. She’s a wonderful walking companion. And, she has a good eye. Soon after we started out she spotted a feather. It’s a tail feather from a Northern Harrier Hawk. I asked if she wanted it and she didn’t. But I did. I wanted it to keep my Sandhill Crane feather company. I didn’t want to carry it all the way — I know it’s a feather and all but I didn’t want to smash it or lose it along the way. I set it carefully in the grass hoping it was fixed well enough not to blow away.

Karen is curious about things and I really like that in people. We took Bear’s favorite little loop and Karen got to see Yellow Headed blackbirds for the first time. At the end of our hike one of them posed on a reed fewer than 5 feet away from us for a very long time. “They’re not very afraid, are they?” she said.

“That’s the whole point of a wildlife ‘refuge’.” I thought about a talk she and I had had a little earlier. I’d told her I got into going out there because it was open, empty, beautiful, quiet, a natural world I didn’t know much about, there’s no virus, no riots, nothing but itself.

On the way back talk turned to current events. Where I live, BLM means “Bureau of Land Management” and I’m pretty sure people in the West have to take a minute to translate BLM to Black Lives Matter.

“I don’t even know any black people,” said my neighbor.

“I don’t think there are many out here.” I thought then that a lot of America — in area — is like that. It’s not a matter of exclusion, either. There aren’t many PEOPLE out here. Then I thought of the so-called “fly-over” areas that make up a lot of 45’s base, and it hit me that it’s exactly things like THAT that alienate people out here from people in cities. While American cities are in turmoil people out here are worried that they aren’t going to have enough water to bring the crops to harvest. Our biggest problems in the past 24 hours have been a massive power outage that affected 2700 people and below freezing temperatures just when the first cutting of alfalfa hay is on the horizon.

Fly-over regions feel “ignored.” A rancher I know and respect very much said that 45 is the first president to care about farmers. This is categorically NOT true, but it takes a LOT of noise to penetrate the Big Empty — partly because of the wind, and partly because a guy on a tractor for 10 or 12 hours a day or out with his stock is NOT watching the news. Maybe that guy saw 45 yammer about “Our great farmers” twice and never saw Obama say anything. That doesn’t mean Obama didn’t say (or do) anything; he did. It just means the farmer didn’t hear it. If a tree falls etc.

The “big city” of Alamosa had two marches in support of George Floyd. Compared to other spots in the San Luis Valley, Alamosa is pretty urban. It has a university and a community college (branch). The Walmart is there. There are 9000+ people there. It’s a good bet that the people in Alamosa are better educated than the average just because the professors are there. An urban life is definitely more techno centered than a rural life as far as news media is concerned, anyway. The demonstrations — judging from photos, I didn’t go — were, except for one bizarre event — small and peaceful. People walked down the Main Street with signs and other people stood on the curbs. I don’t know who was supporting the march and who was not, but if it had made the TV news it would have shown a very different world.

My friend asked me why I thought all this was happening now. I told her my belief that this is the moment that African Americans were fighting their OWN civil war, that I didn’t believe anyone could give another person freedom because that person could take it back. I told her I believed it was phase 3 of the liberation of the slaves, a “war” that had to take place but that I don’t like it. I told her it made me sad, that I thought about all the African American students I’d taught and how it was a wild spectrum of motivation, preparation and comprehension, that it wasn’t just about us white people understanding the Blacks, they had to understand us, too, because we’re all on the planet together. I told her I liked the birder in Central Park a LOT and I wished I could invite him out here to see the Cranes, but then, I said, “Maybe he’s been here already.”

“It must not be easy to be a black guy who loves birds,” she said, “I saw a black professor of ornithology and I thought that was very strange.” I nodded, thinking about how we are all inured to expecting African Americans to be in THIS place and not THAT place, to be good at basketball but never have tried Nordic skiing. I thought about how I KNOW there is an attitude among some African Americans that there are things white people do, but that black people don’t. It isn’t just white people stereotyping. Inclusion involves so much more than we think of at first.

We got near the place where I’d stashed my feather. We both walked slowly along the road where the feather should have been. It wasn’t there. My amazing friend crossed the road, thinking the wind could have picked up my feather, and found it caught in the grass on the other side of the road.

I think we’re both glad we live here.


11 thoughts on “Walk with a Friend in the Big Empty

  1. Walking and talking with a curiosity filled friend is one of the best experiences. Kind of like parallel play for grown ups (?)…well, maybe not quite, but thoughts can swirl freely out in the Big Empty as you call it. There is no place around here that is really quiet. You make really thoughtful points about the racial divides and current issues facing this country…still.

    • I think we still have a long road ahead of us but maybe this is a big jump forward. I hope so. But you know I’m very tired. I think all this is psychologically draining on people. 😦 ❤

  2. This is so true. On every front. You make me want to visit the Big Empty and feel the wind and see the clouds (and maybe pretend to be a bird for a few minutes)…
    BTW I just discovered why I wasn’t seeing your posts – WP unsubscribed me.

  3. Very pertinent post, Martha. Since I’ve retired my world is much less culturally diverse, and in country areas where my mother lives, there are few people from non-European backgrounds. I think it is a shock to her when she visits the city, just how much the ethnic composition has changed. She feels in the minority and is therefore easily manipulated by scare campaigns.

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