Outback Invaded

by Bruce Patterson, July 19, 2017

Trish, the boys and I had been in Ireland for only a couple of days when, with me piloting our rental car, we arrived at the outskirts of Drogheda. Facing the Irish Sea from the mouth of the River Boyne, the fishing village had been visited by St. Patrick his self back in the 5th Century AD. In the 8th Century, the Vikings turned the place into a trading post. It was “civilized” by the English under the Normans in the 12th Century and became the site of one of Oliver Cromwell’s most infamous massacres in the 17th.

So we pull up to a stop sign fronting a T in the road and, across the street, beyond a cyclone fence and standing in the shade of some unhitched wagons parked behind a warehouse, we see a scraggly-looking bunch of little boys and girls. A boy with sandy blond hair and rosy cheeks notices me staring at him and returns the favor, his chin up, his hands on hips. After grinning and nodding like I get his point, I make our turn and drive away.

“Those were Travellers,” I tell my boys. I explain how, although they’re pure Irish, the Travellers have been treated like outcasts for so many centuries that they speak their own language, have their own take on religion and are considered, and consider themselves, a separate ethnic group. Like “wandering” Jews and Gypsies, black and white Southern cracker trash, hobos and winos, broke down war vets and ex-cons, cripples and retards, left-handers and epileptics, pagans, blasphemers and heretics, subversives, snitches and traitors—the list of scapegoats wraps around the world—it seems the Travellers have been allowed to live mostly just to give those above them on the Pecking Order somebody to peck. (This as, as everybody should know by now, corruption spreads from the top down).

Even as a kid I had sympathy for the outcasts: the dwarf kid, the fat girl, the skinny little four-eyed boy from England, the pig-tailed German “Nazi” girl, the stutterers like myself. I mean, how’d you like to go through life looking like Alfred E. Newman or talking like Porky Pig?

The older I got, the more I was drawn to the outcasts and the more I realized that, gee, I was one of them in more ways than one. Also, being a second generation, “white” American male having the “Post-War World” as my oyster, I was brought up to thank my lucky stars seeing how much better I had it than my parents had it growing up in Chicago’s Depression Era immigrant slums. I know, I know: with opportunity comes responsibility; I got the idea already. I just lacked self-discipline. Wanting to be free as a bird, going off half-cocked struck me as a winning strategy. You know, to help me make up for all the fun my poor parents had missed out on.

Of course, I was brought up out West and that made a big difference. Back in Chicago the only canyon I knew was the alley and the backsides of the four-story wooden tenements seen from my granddaddy’s 2nd story back porch stoop. Out West the mountains, the desert and the sea inspired me a whole lot more than Sandy Colfax or the Harlem Globetrotters, Jack La Lane or Gorgeous George, Disneyland or Marine Land. The great, the big and the wide open makes everybody misfits, which means nobody’s a misfit, not in the eyes of the sky anyway. From up there we’re just more ants on patrol or solitary BBs entombed in our individual boxcars.

Know why in Western movies the heroes ride off into the sunset? It’s because they’ve got places to go they’ve never been before, and things to do they’ve never done before. Tomorrow isn’t a clone of yesterday.

Then who can forget the Original People and how they see life on earth? These “Savage Redskins” are our ancestors, too. If modern science has verified just one claim made in the old, Old Testament, it’s that all of us living today are the direct descendants of just one woman and just one man. (“Jesus was the child of God and a Woman. Man had nothing to do with it,” said Sojourner Truth.)

We cling to a mythical past because we’re scared of the future and yet what makes our future so scary is our clinging to our mythical past. For instance, have we really convinced ourselves that the natural world is our plaything? That a palm full of moist topsoil is dead? That the past and the future are dead? Has it occurred to us that maybe thinking like that makes us obsolete, defeated and deadly? We who trash the earth in pursuit of bright futures; we who mass produce Death Machines as symbols of wealth, power privilege, prestige and God’s favor.

How can we make our carbon footprints disappear like the invisible ink we use to sign our treaties? Who taught us that magic trick? Was it our mass-produced and customized Idiot Boxes constantly at our service and anxious to please? Or was it our handheld, pocket-sized Miracle Machines as imaginary friends?

“If it’s Italian you’re after,” says our automated main squeeze, “allow me to recommend...”

The gathering of the Rainbow Family of Living Light just wrapped up the other day (7/7). Before those pilgrims arrived some real nasty stuff had been said and written about them. And then, once their party got going, the media ignored them. No use encouraging deviants and rejects.

When the reps of the Rainbow Family finally announced that their gathering was going to be up at Flagtail Meadow in the Aldridge Mountains in a dirt-road-remote part of remote Grant Co., almost immediately there came a public meeting of the concerned citizens of Prairie City, Canyon City, Long Creek, John Day, Mt. Vernon and Seneca: the faraway towns and wide spots suddenly facing an “invasion” of as many as 30,000 New Agers, “aging hippies” and “street people” of the kind that shoplift, trespass, use foul language and engage with illegal drugs. A handsome young woman dressed in a rainbow was there to reassure the locals that while they most certainly are anarchistic and ecumenical, they’ll be peacefully assembling in celebration and ceremony as is their right under the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution they so cherish. The rainbows are just plain old Americans who just happen to be pacifists who pride themselves in doing no harm to either person, place or thing. At their core, they celebrate the hope for Peace and Justice.

Well some big old bull moose-looking woodsman stood up and asked the rainbow woman what was in it for them the rightful owners of the National Forest thereabouts. How are they supposed to like all these strangers coming from God knows where to mob their towns while just passing through to trash their meadow, spook their livestock, scare off the wildlife, compact the soil and maybe even start some forest fires? The rainbow woman pointed out that the gathering is an international event that has happened every year in the USA since 1972. Every year they pick a new place and they always buy their supplies from the local vendors. This year, she estimated, they’ll be spending at least $300,000 on foodstuffs and other supplies.

The dude groused about all the markets in Grant County getting picked clean and she corrected him by pointing out that, naturally, they buy wholesale and have the stuff delivered to the site. But, still, thousands of visitors will indeed be in need of refreshments and supplies and so those in the business of providing such things would be wise to stock up (the gathering produced at least $200,000 in retail sales in little old Grant Co. alone). Unable the come up with any further objections on economic grounds, the good old boy he changed the subject.

Then there was the back country County Sheriff who wrote a long Public Letter published in the Bend paper advising local merchants on the approaches to the Rainbow’s Ground Zero to watch out for purse snatchers and pickpockets, panhandlers, burglars, general-all-round sneak-thieves and shoplifters. The sheriff even explained how some of these “street people” like going into a supermarket’s meat department and punching holes in the plastic wrappers and then going outside and lazing out back in the shade of some shade tree just counting the birds and bees and shooting the breeze amongst themselves. After the grocery store clerk comes outside and throws the now ruined packages into the dumpster and returns inside, those street people will be up and diving inside that dumpster, retrieving that meat and then they’ll be off to enjoy a feast cooked on an illegal campfire.

Now when I read that the authorities were projecting that maybe 30,000 rainbows would be converging on Flagtail Meadow way up there on the divide between the Columbia River Plateau and the Great Basin, and that the Justice Department was sending a squad of federal prosecutors and the federales were sending in armed reinforcements to back up the heavily out-gunned local Lawmen, I knew there was no way that many people were journeying that far out into the sticks (At max, less than half that many rainbows actually showed up). And the rainbows pulled it all off with no violence or poaching and there was no crime spree. Since they didn’t engage in vandalism and failed to start any forest fires, seems there was no story out there worth reporting. You know, unless you’re interested in pagan rituals, Vision Quests, Horoscopes and what all. Yet all those thousands of strangers so far away from home out roughing it all those days and nights without piped in water or consumer electronics didn’t make for an interesting story. Not with the children watching anyway.

Meanwhile, back in Bend, the Annual Pet Parade took place to universal acclaim. Above the fold on the front page of the Bend newspaper I saw a giant picture of the celebrants and there must have been hundreds of them humans and even more dogs seeing how some people were showing off whole bunches of dogs skittering on the ends of fishing reel leashes. Some old ladies were leaning back on the reins trying to slow down what could have been a team of plow mules at quitting time who’ve caught sight of the barn. I read that all the pets: snakes wrapped around their owner’s necks, parrots on shoulders and perched atop heads, canaries in bamboo cages, monitor lizards paddling along on skateboards, proud pedigree Guinea pigs marching in phalanx, human musclemen bear-hugging 20 gallon living room aquariums filled with exotic tropical fish, science students holding aloft wood-framed ant farms, a 4H girl leading a matched pedigree pair of dwarf mules, a compact herd of pot-bellied pigs all had a mighty good time. If there was a single emotion that united all of the parade’s participants, it was United We March.

And yet, without explanation, the organizers of the extravaganza explicitly forbade the participation of felines: no cats allowed no matter what their size, temperament, breed or upbringing. After I read that violently anti-feline edict, I glanced at Last Chance our Siamese Tabby, blowing big Zees on the couch beside me. Our home is her castle, and her life is her own. I suppose if she could think like a human, she’d yawn at the news of the outrage. I don’t think she has ever had an appetite for an African rat, a prize-wining hamster, a parakeet, fence lizard or goldfish to tell the truth. On the dry side, she likes Friskies Indoor Cat Chow since it keeps her trim. On the wet side, she likes Fancy Feast Gravy Lovers Chicken Feast in Grilled Chicken flavor Gravy. That’d be “Gourmet Cat Food” to you, biped. Nirvana to her.

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