Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Of Potatoes

“Well,” said my friend the poet, “we need to dig up the potatoes.” I was visiting one of my oldest friends and her husband over the weekend and this autumnal chore, and making dinner, comprised our plan for the afternoon.

There is a particular strain of sweetness in people who fold you into their lives, who welcome you to their to-do lists and chores. I find the ordinary to be more beautiful than words and it is a high compliment to be put in service to the chores of my friends’ lives. Ceremony and formality and the hiding of the gears of what makes a life work, this makes me nervous and uncomfortable, like starched clothes and stiff shoes.

And, so nothing could have made me happier than being handed a bowl and a trowel and heading to their garden. The potatoes we dug up looked like bulbous lumps of clay, all nodes and knobs. They were nothing like one might expect a potato to be, and much more fun to unearth for being a surprise.

In the course of a few days with these friends, I saw their jars of applesauce, their cords and cords of neatly chopped, split, and stacked wood from the trees in their yard. We walked on nature trails and dusty gravel roads, past hay fields and a therapeutic farm with solar panels on the barn roof. We stopped to scratch the ears of some pigs, on our way home from eating the sausage of their kin at a local café. Our dogs dug up and ate a dead rabbit, covering themselves with the terrible scent of rotten death to their great doggy delight, and our horror. And, without much fuss, we washed and walked and induced vomiting until the dogs were fine, if confused and damp. There was talk of hunting deer and picking blueberries, of clearing land to build, of the peculiar problems of being young and vibrant in old and rural places, where too many of the jobs depend on tourists who come, hungry to see a softened version of the past in this landscape. My friends fed me from their garden, on tomatoes the size of brains and cheese from the goats down the road and the syrup from their maple trees.

I like this way of being, where labor is part of a normal day, where life and death are omnipresent and gloriously visible. While we sat around a fire in their yard, I could almost taste their hours in the garden, growing the food we ate, splitting the wood that we burned. I was touched to be the beneficiary of their efforts.

It is the fall, when the world seems to shudder to a contented slumber. There is enormous contentment in recognizing the cycles of seasons, in digging out the potatoes before the winter comes in, in putting gardens to bed before the first snowflakes. The distinct difference of seasons is one reason that I love New England—the changes call attention to the time, force my eyes open to appreciate what is real and present before me, and that the particular joys of each season are in hibernation for much of the year make them each all the sweeter.

Beside the joy of living closer to the natural give and take of our spinning planet, dancing unevenly around the sun, there is also a sweet rebellion in these lives of greater self-reliance, of eating the food you grow and being warm through dint of your labor among the trees. I do not know anyone, yet, who is entirely divorced from the horrors of the global economy, who lives entirely unslaved by fossil fuels and unclean power sources and the bloody wreck of capitalism. But, today I don’t feel much like railing against all those things, or our cultural complicity and culpability. Besides, I know an increasing many who try to live away from these dangerous ways of being.

I’d rather speak more for the way of life that renders such anger and frustration unnecessary. Just beyond the surface of ordinary, there are better ways of being than what most of us know. Let’s go dig them up, and allow ourselves to be surprised and delighted by what we might find.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What is Possible

The truth is, we don’t know what is possible. Which is why the pushers of envelopes, the stretchers of bodies and minds, the pioneers, the prophets, poets, and weirdoes are so vitally important.

My older sister ran a marathon over the weekend. That is her medal. As I said to my younger sister after, “I’m so impressed by what she just did. I’ll never do that. It’s like watching a trapeze artist, and just admiring someone’s ability to do that.”

I love to see any articulation of passion and dedication and imagination writ out through physicality and labor. Nearly 3,000 runners took off for the BayState Marathon and Half-Marathon at eight o’clock in the morning. Each individual, all their hours of training and days of hoping, all this melted into a river of neon colors, pouring up the street in the sunlight rising up through the canyons of old red-brick mills.

Nothing compares to seeing someone you love do something they love. I am so proud of my sister, for her physical stamina and determination, for being courageous enough to do something she loves on such a scale.

In all things, I am increasingly sure that we should do more of what we each love. It is, truly, the most effective path I can think of for any thing resembling a better world that what we’ve got now.

I think of my sister, running for years on her own because it was right for her. And how, in the end, she is so very much not alone. As much as a marathon is a race and people will lose sleep over seconds, I found the whole day more of a celebration of the running these people all love.

Demographically, I am perfectly primed to be a fan of the singer Josh Ritter, and am particularly enamored of the line in his song Lantern: “So throw away those lamentations / We both know them all too well / If there's a book of jubilations / We'll have to write it for ourselves.”

Writing or running or living or doing anything out of jubilation sounds both unstoppable and possible.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Little Wind and Sunshine

I write a lot here, too much perhaps, about what is wrong with the world. Here are some words about what is right.

Sunday, I raced north to meet my father for a sail on the Gundalow out of Portsmouth. He was bringing lunch; I was in charge of cookies. Which didn’t get made, so I decided to hunt up some apple cider donuts en route. And so I got lost looking for the orchard, then was running too late to wait in the donut line at the scary Disney-like orchard. I sped off, worrying that I’d miss the boat, feeling badly that I had neither donuts nor cookies in hand, and mostly upset that here was something important to my dad and I was going to blow it.

Because it’s autumn in New England, I soon passed a no-frills tent in a parking lot that sold me six donuts in less than four minutes. The day was looking up.

When I rounded the last corner onto Marcy Street, I saw my dad jump out of the parking spot he’d been physically saving for me. I parked while he fed all his quarters to the meter. I can’t remember the last time I saw my father run, but he picked up his canvas L.L.Bean bag and I strapped on my backpack and we ran down the street, through the park, and down the gangway.

We weren’t even the last folks on board, but it was close enough to laugh and to feel like we’d won.

I’m partial to certain slants of sunlight. There is a clarity of light on fall afternoons—the air being colder, seems thinner, and so the light cuts deeper. That was the sun that came out as the gundalow maneuvered, via a discreet engine, away from its dock in Prescott Park. Being a smart-ass, I asked if the motor was historically accurate. Dad, who has molded and put up with my sense of humor for over thirty years, replied that, historically, they would have waited for the right tide and good wind, but that the Gundalow Company—which runs sailing tours of the Piscataqua River and does on-board education programs—needs the motor in order to run on a schedule compatible with paying for itself.

Once we were out on wider water, the captain cut the motor and passengers were invited to help hoist the sail. I’m not naturally nautical, but am fascinated by systems—that a line is pulled here, run through a pulley there, hoists up a triangular sail, which is connected by lines and  to a yard, which is then connected to the mast in a way that allows the yard to drop horizontal, and by some rhythm unfamiliar to me, lines are held in way that keeps the sail taut with wind, and the boat goes forward. It is an impressive display of tactile knowledge, somehow timeless. Gundalows were used around the Piscataqua, in the Great Bay watershed from pre-Colonial through Industrial Revolution times. They’re flat-bottomed sailing barges, essentially, and are not designed for anything other than hauling stuff from place to place. The onboard guide said to think of them as the tractor-trailers of this place, in those times. The total lack of traditional romance, of simple and functional and sturdy, this is a singular kind of beauty. It is one of my favorites—this largely unsung beauty of doing the unglamorous work of the world. The sunlight on the water, the orange and yellow maple and beech trees amid the pines on shore, these would make anything look good. But maybe it does already, if you remember to look.

While not looking through binoculars or listening to my dad’s stories about his various adventures—from the Coast Guard to mistaking a lobster pot for a shark while out rowing—I was thinking about what it would be like to live with nature. To live not by a calendar and a watch but by what the tides determined, by what wind did or did not come your way.  There are times when, in the mountains mostly, I have come close to this. There is something at once companionable and adventurous about not maintaining the illusion of human control. I’ve found this in the mountains, mostly, with finding that the mountains and the weather do not care about my plans or preparations. There is loveliness is in giving up control to the forces of nature. A strong wind anywhere almost always reminds me of this, and it seems that the windier it gets hiking, the happier I am. 

I live in search of some combination of this happy-companionable-adventurousness-not-full-controlled state and of being rooted in a home place.

We sailed back, docking just as the setting sun force of nature were making it a little chillier than comfortable on board. After a good wander around Portsmouth in the deepening gold light of the late afternoon, Dad and I drove our separate ways. I headed down Route 1-A, hugging the rocky few miles that are New Hampshire’s coastline, and thinking only about the sunlight and the wind and the water, not rushing for a clock. I forget about the ocean sometimes, having spent so long and owing so much to the mountains. And so, when I pulled off the road and sat for a while on the rocks, listening to the waves and smelling the salt air, I was surprised to find that the wind on my face feels the same sort of wonderful.

That thing I'm looking for, it's already, always here, I think. And, I forget to look, there are gorgeous sunrises and sunsets every day, better than clockwork.

(Photo by David J. Murray of ClearEyePhoto.com, taken from www.gundalow.org--I highly recommend checking it out and taking a sail next season.)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

How to Celebrate Success

Being an environmentalist is a lot of hoping in the dark, against the dark, feeling as if the dark is clubbing you over the head and stealing your skin. Maybe we like baby seals so much because their plight feel terribly familiar.

But, last week, news came out that the Brayton Point Power Station will close in 2017. 

Such success is rare. The outpouring of relief, of congratulations, of celebration regarding the foreseeable shuttering of a coal burning power plant that burns up the beauty of one landscape to spew pollution onto another, all the while heating the planet up and hurting us all in pursuit of cheap energy is cathartic and wonderful. We need to hold these good things as tight as we can, squirrel them away into our hearts as proof that all we work towards can become real.

It is a greatness that there will be one less coal burning power plant, almost soon enough to say that it is soon. Three and a half years, though, that’s not tomorrow. And, further, this power plant was an easy obvious target, a synecdoche for the larger issue of cultural reliance on unsustainable fuel sources supporting a ridiculously consumptive lifestyle. I hope, that with our relief at the end of Brayton Point’s coal, we don’t lose sight of the larger fight. As Winston Churchill allegedly said when a woman noticed he was drunk, “yes, madam, but in the morning, I’ll be sober and you’ll still be ugly.” Our celebratory euphoria will end, but the power industry will still be ugly. Capitalism never sleeps. 

And yet, this is somewhat the dawning of another era, Churchill’s "end of the beginning, rather than beginning of the end." The time of coal is dying out. And a lot of people poured a lot of passion and human-energy into working towards the closure of Brayton Point. Think of all the wonderful ways that energy and that focus can now be re-purposed into the world! This is what I am excited to see, what I am excited to be part of, where I see the true success of this outcome.

With all due respect to those who put their lives in service to the human and environmental angle of the closure, it is fairly obvious that the decision was an economic one, although the environmental push for regulations that contribute to the expense of running a power plant are pretty awesome unsung heroes here. And, it was never the coal itself that was stupid. It is the corporate forces behind the coal industry that were (are) willfully, dangerously cruel and stupid. They endanger human health and ecological well-being and exacerbate climate change and hide these costs under the blanket of cheap energy, while making a profit. There are now cheaper ways to make power, cheaper ways for power companies to make power, and to make their profits, which is what they care about in the first and last place. And, any time a company finds a way to do something cheaper, I am highly suspicious. It means they’re screwing someone over, abusing power somewhere, making a profit off of someone’s loss. Bastards.

Regardless of the element at stake, we’re always fighting against the nebulous, shape-shifting, powerful power industries of the world. And, if we’re fighting against coal and against, say, fracking and natural gas, then we’ve divided ourselves, halved our energy and voices of righteous dissent. The more coal recedes into the grime of history the more we can unite against an enemy that grows ever clearer.

It is a cathartic illusion that the cumulative weight of the environmentalist’s actions shut down the plant, but it is cathartic and good nonetheless. “Once upon a time, passionate people spoke out against the evil in their community, and then the evil left.” This is the narrative echo of every good fairy tale, these are the stories written into our DNA. Even knowing the less poetic economic truth, there is a certain amount of useful inspiration in the story we tell ourselves. Because it reminds us that things can change, allows for Emily Dickinson’s thing with feathers to fly in, encourages us to think what we would do, what we can do against the darkness and the ogres. What we will do.

I know this is exhausting. I wish we could save the world by tomorrow and get on with the business of living good lives, baking bread in stoves that run on compressed cow manure and riding bikes to train stations and reading great books in bed at midnight by an electric light connected to solar panels. I'm just sick, some days, of making the world better always feeling Sisyphean. 

On the other hand, what better way to show our hope in the world than by working towards those goals? I watch Amy Poehler’s show “Parks and Recreation” sometimes. In one episode, her character has a totally minor win—another character has removed some opposition to her proposed city park. Rather than do anything that looks like a traditional celebration or take a full minute to appreciate her success, Poehler jumps right back into work mode. To her, continuing work for what she loves is the celebration.

Let’s get to work! 

(Churchill's mugshot comes from the Nobel Prize website; Amy Poehler, preening as Leslie Knope, from salon.com.)

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Long Game

(photo from: http://voiceseducation.org)
My housemate grew up in the GDR. We talked recently about freedom and government leadership—swinging from climate change to vaccinations to consumer choices, ending with brain-drain, and how the Berlin Wall was built to prevent State educated people from crossing over to West Germany in search of better jobs and more diverse opportunities. “But you can sort of see their point, no?” she asked. “It’s a stupid and short-sighted action, though. If they’d waited ten years or looked at the problem more or something…”

We all want to do something. We want to solve the problems now, or yesterday. In our search for solutions there are a lot of quick actions, a lot of settling for any port in a storm, any horse in the race, of joining and doing because it is something, anything that feels like we’re regaining control. “There,” we can say, drying our tears and anxiety sweaty brows, “I donated to a climate action group, I bought beets from the Farmer’s Market, I wrote my Senators strongly worded letters, I work 50 hours a week at a place with a mission I believe in, I voted for the most electable candidate who didn’t make me nauseous, I biked to work, I’m only having one child…c’mon, World, I’m doing my part! Get better!”

We’re good at this, good at plugging ourselves into existing frameworks of solution pieces. And it is, perhaps, slowly working on some level, but I’ll admit find it all a bit rote and hollow at times. What keeps me awake at night—and I was up at one o’clock this morning, wide awake, eating toast, and looking out the window into the grayness at it all—is trying to figure out what is bigger or smaller, what is a deeper solution. There are things in this world I love to be point of breathless laughter. None of the easy solutions require anything equal to that depth of feeling.

The Berlin Wall was the clearest example of locking the barn doors after the horses run away. And, if I were a horse in the USSR, I would have bolted from that barn at the first chance I got, lest I be devoured by starving peasants. It was a quick and relatively easy solution—the people are leaving, let’s build a wall to keep the rest of them inside. It does solve one aspect of the problem, but creates quiet a few more. A deeper approach, potentially a more effective way to solve the same problem would be to ask people why they were leaving, and to adapt the barn accordingly, to make it a place where people would want to stay. However, that community-driven approach does not seem to have been something that the Communists went in for, which is a bloody irony.

The solutions we have for saving the world were thought up by hippy-types, also known as effective environmentalists. None of these are quite as draconian, as Stalin-esque, thankfully. But we’re still playing catch-up, solving the immediate and obvious, rather than looking deeper at the causes of the problems. Without doing some deep soul-searching on a personal level about our complicity in the forces that ravage our lovely planet, that abuse our fellow humans, we’ll only be throwing up walls and covering our cavernous wounds with Band-aids, and, maybe some arnica from the health food store.

We need to look deeper for the sources of the problems, and begin building the solutions from that point.  I believe that our over-consumption is a huge source the problems of the world. Deeper, the forces of media and corporate control that thrive on our mindless gluttony, that hypnotize us into believing that we need more cheap stuff to be happy, to be whole. And, the source of that is perhaps the breakdown of social structures that allow such stupid and cheap thoughts to gain ground in our beliefs and to shape our lives. But these are what I see as the sources, and I daily struggle with how to overcome them personally. They may not be your same seen sources, and so our paths to solution will be different.

And, regardless, this looking deeper and harder at both ourselves and the problems of the world, of trying to make the barn nice and treat the horses well so they’ll stay, this will take time. We’re not a nation of patient people. Most of all, we’re not patient with ourselves. We want to save the world, and we want to do it next week, and we suspect that if we maintain a certain routine and regime, if we follow the rules and push each other to be greener and kinder every day, then we’ll get there fast. Following anyone else’s dictum for as long as this will take becomes a trudge, not a long walk, we come down with guilt and “should” and “supposed to.” To me, as long as this problem is going to solve, as long as this world is going to need warriors and stewards, then we’re going to need to take time to rest and to enjoy ourselves, to fail and to lie fallow now and then. The urgency of the threats to our planet not withstanding, we must be more patient with ourselves.

If you aren’t familiar with the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver, I suggest you find it, and harness it to your soul. It allows for patience, it recommends happiness, it guides to the joy of finding that what you love best is actually the best path forward for you. It allows for your humanity within this long game we must play.

Do the same, if you’d like.

Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

How Much

How Many, How Much

How many slams in an old screen door?
            Depends on how loud you shut it.
How many slices in a bread?
            Depends on how thin you cut it.
How much good inside a day?
            Depends on how good you live ‘em.
How much love inside a friend?
            Depends on how much you give ‘em.
—Shel Silverstein

We love to measure things. Thermometers, stopwatches, report cards, tax returns, performance reviews, ratings for creative works, speedometers, pedometers, quarts, pecks, gallons, love, liters, populations, miles, casualties, parts per million of carbon, miles per gallon of gas, brutality of storms, land acreage, rain acidity, salinity, snowfall, personal carbon footprints, light-years, and on and on.

As if, if we can quantify something, we can know the fullness of our lives.

I try to not do this obsessive measuring of myself against the world. But, like everyone, sometimes, I fail. I’ve spent the last few days with the vague dark feeling in the pit of my stomach that I’m not doing enough.  This discontent, this slow panic keeps me awake at night and leaves me feeling grumpy and like I’m forgetting something important during the day.

And here it is: the world is still in shambles, and all my little acts and all my great hopes haven’t yet put it back together again. The ice is still melting, the temperature is still rising, the government is still corrupted by maniacal corporations and on and on. All the big things that I want to change are still big, and seem to grow bigger every day, while I struggle remain the same size, but often feel I'm shrinking. 

It always comes back to weighing out possibilities, to measuring our lives with coffee spoons. How small am I in proportion to the troubles of the world? How big do I need to be to combat those sad and terrible threats to everything we all love, we all need? How much effort will be enough?

I feel miniscule and overwhelmed, nowhere near enough and too lost to look for a map towards where enough might be found.

However, as I say probably once a day, I am friends with the greatest people on earth. They are artists and teachers and bakers and builders and athletes and students and explorers and nurses and craftspeople and doctors and poets and performers and parents and writers and musicians and farmers and pretty much everyone I know and love is doing their thing because they think it will make the world a better place. I am humbled beyond belief when I think of how kind and wise and accomplished and successful at living good—not perfect—lives my friends are. And that so many of them do such diverse and wonderful things. They are, individually and collectively, my heroes. I love them for their unique examples of how to live, their actions and attitudes. And yet, I know we all wonder, we all doubt, we all have the dark times of “is this what I’m supposed to be doing, am I good enough, am I doing enough?” (This is too good not to share, vis-à-vis self-doubt.) Because, alone, we know our own flaws and doubts and imperfections and suspect our deeper, cavernous, capabilities and so nothing we do ever seems like enough. 

And it isn’t. One person, in one way—even if it is their truest, deepest, rightest (leftist?), best and most beautifully articulated combination of passion, talent, and will—cannot be enough, alone.

It’s like that medieval, quantifiable silliness of how many angels fit on the point of a needle. How many people, doing how many things, will it take to build a better world?


(Illustration is Evening (Fall of Day) by William Rimmer. It's one of my favorite things at the Museum of Fine Arts: www.mfa.org) 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Lessons from Salem

“There’s a thousand witches in town, still.” So says the man holding a sign at a crosswalk recommending the voters of Salem, Massachusetts, cast their ballots for a man named McCarthy. 

“Really?” says my friend, Chris. “A thousand? That seems like a lot. How do you determine…”

But then, the light changed and Chris and I continued with our adventure through the once mean streets of Salem, without continuing to chat with McCarthy’s supporters, or even to learn what this McCarthy’s platform might be for Witch City.

Instead, we wandered along the red-painted historic trail through the garish Halloweeny-ness of the city. Whiteboards outside bars offered tarot and palm readings, one shoppe sells nothing but Harry Potter wands. Chris and I crossed through the graveyard, taking a slow saunter through the memorial to the twenty Puritans killed by their friends, families, neighbors and fellows in faith in the hysteria of 1692. Someone before us had placed a dandelion blossom on each of the granite benches. I resisted the urge to build a little cairn on Giles Corey’s.

In the gift shop of the Witch Dungeon museum, we found the answer to Chris’s question of how you determine the number of witches in town—an authentic copy of the witch tests used, printed up on faux parchment. One of the tests: if you prick the accused with a pin or needle and they do not feel pain or bleed, then they are guilty and must die.

We went to the Dungeon—a rebuild copy of the original. It was claustrophobic with the twenty-people on the tour. I do not let myself imagine what it would have been with fifty, with 150. I try to not think of the tidal-river flooded floor, of standing in salty ice water with river rats and human filth sloshing around my shackle-chaffed ankles. When you are cold, underfed, and dehydrated, your veins constrict, your circulation and reflexes slow. When I am very cold, my hands look blue and bloodless, like corpse fingers. If you pricked them with a pin, I might not bleed quickly. I might not feel the pain. Women, more than men, have poor circulation in our extremities.

Outside the dungeon, the town focuses on the occult and the absurd. Buy a witch hat, any color! Get your authentic dragon’s blood here! Vote for McCarthy! Only there, in the dim dankness of this dungeon, did I find what I sought—the perspective of the victims, a recognition that they were never witches, there was no magic spells, no Devil or evil any larger or smaller than what horror we humans have and do and will visit upon ourselves, on each other. In short, in the dark, the truth appeared.

I’ve been frightened by the Salem Witch Trials since I learned of them at six or seven. First it was the thought that some nameless evil could descend on me—a little girl. Then it was the recognition that innocent people were accused and killed on the say so of children, and on the nebulous understanding of the cause. It was as if my high school history books were still tacitly admitting that the Devil—in a very Puritanical, Biblical, literal sense of the Beast—might have been present in Salem in those horrible months. I heard the arguments about moldy grain giving the accusing girls hallucinations. I’ve read about other instances of teenage girls coming down with group manias.

What is rarely said explicitly is that the Puritans were to blame for Salem.  We blame the children’s imaginations, we blame the grains, we blame the West Indian slave woman. We don’t blame a conservative and constrictive all-powerful patriarchy, we don’t blame a way of life that sets up genocidal expansion and the fear that breeds. Perhaps we are too proud of being a Puritan-born nation, perhaps we are still afraid to name the powerful, or to live with a history that is as bloody and frightening as it is courageous and industrious. It is always easier to point fingers any which way but towards ourselves. History is written by the victors, the survivors, the powerful. In this case, written by the men and sons of Salem who needed some shield against their guilt, perhaps.

The tour guide in the dungeon gave the cleanest explanation of how such horror became real. To the Puritans, anything that wasn’t work or church was superfluous, was evidence of the Devil at work. This includes stories and games and laughing and expressions of human joy. The town was newly settled, Native Americans were not yet exterminated and would raid the town in deadly fights for what had been their grandparents’ lands. So the Puritans of Salem lived with a constant threat of death. I think of how on thin the nerves of people in war zones today are worn—the paranoia and despair and depression and fear and post-traumatic stress of people in Syria, in Palestine, in Iraq, Afghanistan, of any group living without reasonable certainty that today is not their last on this earth.

This is a toxic combination of fear and grief and guilt and repression.  In such straits, I would be tempted to believe in anything that promised anything better, even if I had to be dead to enjoy it. Faith, and the (cold, in this instance) comfort of a community of faith in such a life, would have been more vital than food or water. And then, to have those very people turn against you, shackle you in the darkness, condemn you to death…you would have nothing left, your community, your God, seemingly abandoning you.

And to be a child in that stark world—I would probably have been institutionalized if I hadn’t been allowed to express my imagination as a child. Into the repressed soup of Salem, Tituba arrives as a slave in the house of the minister. Not being brought up in this world, she is nonetheless put in charge of teaching a group of local girls how to be good Puritan housewives or servants. Any normal person confronted with a group of girls ages nine to seventeen would probably resort to some storytelling and humor, at the very least, to hold their attention darning socks or bonnets.  But then, the minister comes home, sees the work of the Devil in his own home, through the mouthpiece of this black woman, and beats Tituba almost to death in front of his nine-year-old daughter and the other girls.

His daughter becomes immediately paralyzed, I would guess with fear. But the Puritan doctor says it is witchcraft and the Devil, because that is the only group accepted answer. And so, sick with fear at the adults in her life, probably confused by the attention she’s being given, the girl names Tituba as the witch. Who promptly confesses, because that’s the only way to possible avoid death. And, the insidious thing here is that every confessor has to name other names. Tituba picks Sarah Goode, the only woman possibly lower on the social ladder of Salem than herself. Sarah’s daughter was also accused. She wasn’t killed, but, at the age of four, Dorcas Goode is kept in the Dungeon and watched her mother hang to death on Gallow’s Hill.

If there is a devil, if there is evil in this world, then it’s roots and horns and magicks and cloven-hooves are within our own so-human selves. Still.

But the other side of that bitter coin is that, bubbled and boiled down, the root cause of the Salem Witch Trials was that Puritans did not know to love their children, did not know to be flexible and how to share with their neighbors, how to see any viewpoint but their own. If that sounds familiar today, as thousands of people are put in dire straits and the leaders of this society act like idiotic children, it should be no surprise. These are our forebearers. When that willful idiocy is the problem, then the reverse is the solution—love, flexibility, open-mindedness, and, the courage and imagination to do these vital things, away from the dominant power structure. 

The witch hunt ended shortly after the girls could be rented out. Pay a fee—I’m guessing to a father or brother or husband or uncle, even a woman who could find the Devil couldn’t be trusted with money—and take a witch-finder girl to your community and she’d name your enemies as in league with the Devil. Once their corruption was exposed, they lost their power.

What a thought...