I was bummed several years back when some stupid, racist, loud, Republican Texans moved in next door. (There goes the neighborhood!!) They put up a 15-foot flagpole right in the middle of my view up the valley – an otherwise “pristine” view. Do I hate my country? Am I patriotic? Me, I think nations and empires are ephemera – they pass in the blink of an eye compared to the mountains that snag rain out of the clouds and send it down to water the landscape. How we all live has, should have, to do with things much deeper than lining up behind a flag.
I asked them to move the flagpole. Offered to pay for it. The reply? A nasty letter from a lawyer. And they hoisted Old Glory up, and left it there for two solid weeks – day and night, through storms including a hailstorm. They were gonna show me! Violate the basic rules of respect for the flag to spite me!
Lovely, life here in the bucolic countryside.
A coupla years later, in 2003, we had a medium-sized forest fire nearby which flared up on the 4th of July. Named the Encebado fire, it was started by lightning and burned about 5,400 acres.
5400 acres is about nine sections, a square three miles on a side. Not a monster of a fire, but when you can see the wall of 100-foot flames from your house, it seems plenty big. People say that fires are a normal part of nature. True enough, say I, but so is adrenalin in response to same.
It burned close enough to town that police were going door-to-door, advising people how to prepare for evacuation, and checking if any would need help. The evacuation was never ordered, but it came damn close. The fire got onto the south side of the Rio Pueblo watershed; had it gotten across that cañon, it would most likely have run up the other side and maybe even all the way up to the Pueblo’s sacred Blue Lake. The annual Powwow was cancelled that year, and the powwow grounds were used for fire crews that rushed in from around the West.
With all that going on, the town council, the county commission and the pueblo’s governor all issued emergency orders banning fireworks displays. And really, if you can stand in your yard and watch 100′ high flames felling a forest a mere three miles away, do you really need the adrenalin rush that goes with setting off roman candles?
If you’re the Texans next door, the answer to that question – incredibly – is “Yes!”
I get spooked by big fires – probably a universal human response. 1996 was another drought/big fire year. I was out in the mountains one day in early May, and suddenly an overwhelming sense of foreboding flooded over me. The next day, a Friday, I went in to buy renter’s insurance. And two days after that, Sunday, the fire broke loose: over 7,000 acres before it was done. The exact location where I’d had my premonition was scorched earth.
A bunch of people were burned out of their homes in that one, losing everything. It was a fast-moving crown fire, hot enough to MELT a cast iron wood stove. A guy I know, who didn’t evacuate (there was only an hour or so warning), rode out the fire laying in the cold water of the acequia (irrigation ditch) while the thing burned over him. Luckily, he suffered only minor burns & injuries. The insurance lady decided I had great powers of prescience, and we’ve been friendly ever since. Once the fire started, sales of new policies were suspended, so she had to turn a lot of people away.
Back to 2003
That 4th of July, I went over and said something to the Texans about shooting the damn fireworks off. Begged ’em to stop. They’d keep till another day when the fire danger was past.
Not that it did any good – they kept right on with the ’em. This was their big annual barbecue, and these Texans take that seriously. They’ve built a smokehouse, and import mesquite to cure their meat. They weren’t going to change their party plans for nuthin’! And all they had to do was turn around and face the other way, and they could have watched a friggin’ conflagration. Plenty enough thrills for anyone with a lick of sense.
I often tell myself: They can’t help it. They’re Texans. They don’t know any better. (Nothing personal pinche tejano, honest!)
These jerkoffs with their friggin’ flag, and their big party the day George Bush gave his acceptance speech at the 2004 Republican Convention, and their repeatedly describing a village ne’er-do-well (named Pablito, fer chrissakes) a “nigger”, have some kind of inexplicable superiority attitude, an annoying arrogance, probably because they have their big old flagpole and shitloads of money. And they keep their very own Mexicans (from Mexico) in a trailer on their property, to work for them. Spraying toxic stuff with some regularity, to boot! Probably an excellent example of jobs Americans wouldn’t want to do…
And there was a small epiphany that 4th of July. Being “patriotic”, and being a just plain old “good citizen” are not at all the same thing. Me, I skip the flag waving and saber rattling and associated drumbeats. I’m more in the “good citizen” camp. I recycle, and keep energy consumption down through a variety of “alternative” energy sources – some as low-tech as a clothesline, grow native and food plants, and so on. To my thinking, no amount red-white-and-blue bunting, no amount of “God Bless America” blasting out of a gigantic truckborne speaker is enough of a fig leaf to make up for not being a good citizen.
And so, those annoying Texans next door taught me a useful lesson. Even if they don’t know any better themselves.