Moral Confusion About Isolation in the Wilderness

When I was growing up, my favorite of our sheepherders was also a true hermit at heart. His name was Vernon — Vern — and in the winters he ran a cattle ranch in Texas where he had to interact with all sorts of people all the time. I don’t know how he fell in love with the (I agree, irresistible) landscape of my father’s ranch near Livingston, but he arranged to be a solitary sheepherder in a mobile cabin with a couple-three dogs all summer long. What I most remember:

He was an exceptional cook who did dynamite lunches for my Dad and me that beat anything we could get in town. We brought him groceries a couple times a week.

He had extraordinary rapport with Shepard dogs. He had an unusual combination of barks and whistles where it seemed like he was speaking to them in a secret language.

He treasured being alone. My mother and I went out to her relatives in Oregon for a couple weeks each summer. My Dad, lonely, decided he would make it a regular thing to visit Vern for lunch each day. First day, fine. Second day, okay. Third day, tense. Fourth day — Vern was nowhere around his mobile cabin. Message received.

He was a master at rifle maintenance. His guns were in perfect condition — gleaming with oil. When he decided to retire, he offered to give one of the nicest items to my Dad as a gift. Dad, a bit socially inept, wanted to pay for it. “You’ll take it,” said Vern, “or I’ll keep it!”

The foundation of his solitude, his enjoyment of being a hermit, was his self-reliance. He shot all his own meat. He couldn’t keep a garden because he had to keep moving with the sheep, but he raised as much veggies as he could.

This is a person with a noble hermit soul.

This is not anything like a hermit.

This is a creepy psychopath parasite thief. Similar examples with murderous impulses (when somebody shows up at the home they’re robbing) are among the most disgusting killers. That this confusion even results in a book is a bleak sign of the times.

The NY Times’ Freaky Fixation on the Clintons

Charlie provides an invaluable reminder of the weirdest case of journalistic fixation I can think of. Welcome note of what a rodent William Saffire was, too. I though he might be the last of a dying McCarthyite breed, but nooooooo.

The broadest explanation I’ve run across is a regional/cultural disdain that grows ever more repulsive: who do these Arkansas lumps — her with the fumpy dresses, him with the fast-food and shades and saxophone — think they are trying to run a country that’s crowned by Manhattan? They’re too seedy to not be guilty of something. And we’ll find out what that is if it takes 50 years and we have to make it all up.

Yech.

The Disappointing Development Beyond Disappointing in My Lifetime

Farhad Manjoo said it best in the Times:

an overall attitude that brutish capitalism is the best that nonelite customers can expect from this fallen world

That is our current condition in America. The anti-materialist crusaders in my youth warned that this was all to possible. Back then, I thought the danger was real, but that awareness of it would be enough to prevent it happening. But then, I thought the lessons of Viet Nam would be learned and we would not stumble into our current state of endless war. It coarsens, and corrupts and gives strength to the pernicious idea that we live in a cursed world where there’s no agency, only fate. And that chaos is only a form of change.

A Wise Old Cowboy Once Said …

As a child I heard a number of then-cryptic or opaque remarks from adults that stuck with me and seem more and more apt.

One came from an ancient ranch-hand who was a permanent resident in one of the rooms of my father’s hotel. He had been around in the late 19th century when there still was something of a Wild West and a Frontier. More than anyone I knew, he seemed diminished by having to spend his days in town and sleeping in a couple small rooms. But he couldn’t even walk down stairs any more. He spent a lot of time sipping cup after cup of weak coffee at the cafeteria counter.

During slack times when I was working behind that counter, the old dude would reminisce about the “Open Spaces” and his years helping herd cattle and sheep. He was especially fond of afternoons when he could be utterly alone — no sign of human activity as far as he could see. That was the real Open Spaces.

He knew that was less and less possible. One day he said something strange:

“When there’s no more Open Spaces, all that will be left is pounding on each other.”

The Hardest Right Lesson of All

(At least, it’s among the hardest to learn — I’ve noticed it at work since I first voted.)

Here’s one discussion of it, applied to  earlier times.

And here’s one applied to current events.

The Lesson is: if you sincerely believe in the Moral Majority, Family Values, the Establishment and the way of life extolled by the covers of the Saturday Evening Postyou’re gonna lose elections.

Another one not debunked enough is the notion of a “center Right” America. It’s as bogus as “trickle down” economics — just a prop for reactionary policies.