An Encounter With a Hunter on Thanksgiving Day

November 26, 2016

Tags: Trumpland, rural America, American racists, KKK, 2016 Election

A peaceful country road on Thanksgiving Day. Photo by Carol Bergman
Thanksgiving Day in Ulster County, NY. Because all the “Crooked Hillary” election signage was down, the “STOP” signs at the intersections suddenly stood out in high relief: stop, move on, they seemed to say.

I had left the ten-year-old German Pointer at the house and was walking my daughter and son-in-law’s adorable new rescue—part Husky, part German Sheperd we think--when I spotted a small blue car parked alongside the road up ahead. A man in full camouflage was storing his gear in the back seat. I heard gunshots in the distance and slowed my pace. As we were on the road, not in the woods, I hadn’t thought to put on neon colors and was wearing a black Gortex. Hunting season, oh dear. I had forgotten and so had everyone else in the house! All that cooking amd savory aroma was distracting.

Thank goodness the new puppy has light fur, I thought. He is learning to be obedient and stayed close to my left side. I praised him and then stopped completely. I was now about 20 feet from the blue car. I hesitated and almost turned back. But why was I afraid? I was afraid because, since the election, there has been violence. I was afraid because there are venal racists who speak in tongues similar to Nazi tongues, venal racists who are taking power in Washington. I was afraid because my family is Jewish, I could easily be taken for Arab, and because most of my ancestral family was murdered in death camps. I was afraid because the KKK endorsed our president-elect.

I recalled my first visit a decade ago to this “Trumpland” rural area, long before Michael Moore might have dubbed it “Trumpland.” My daughter and son-in-law’s house is next to a fire station. It’s an all-volunteer fire department and there are regular pancake breakfasts to raise money. We went to our first one, tried to strike up conversation, and were completely ignored. What was going on? City invasion was going on, the city/country divide more like a chasm since the construction of the Ashokan reservoir flooded twelve towns at the turn of the 20th century to satisfy the water supply of "city people.” That was bitter and long lasting, communities displaced and eracinated, graveyards unearthed and shifted.

At first, the locals did not know that my daughter and son-in-law were here to stay, that they were not city snobs. Thankfully, they would not be outsiders for long though the political divide, at times, is still stark. Nonetheless, they don’t argue or confront; they behave as good neighbors behave, helping out in a hurricane, coming to the rescue of a neighbor who fell down some concrete steps, becoming anti-fracking activists for the benefit of everyone’s water supply.

Now I could see that the man was young and that his camouflage was crisp and new. That was reassuring in some way. This was not a man breaking the law. Everything about his movements as he stashed the gear into his car and took off his jacket seemed sane and careful. But he was obviously not huting alone as I could still hear shots in the distance. I walked closer and wished him a Happy Thanksgiving. He turned to me and wished me the same. He had a cherubic face, a face that I could not imagine killing anything. And though I do not eat meat myself, and object strenuously to raising meat to be killed for food, I with-held my judgment. Hunting in New York State is strictly controlled by the Department of Environmental Protection. One turkey of either sex between November 19 and December 2. That’s it. These were wild turkeys, after all, I told myself, in a mostly poor, rural area, the very American heartland that East Coast intellectuals ignored in the recent election to their/our peril. Since then, like so many other democrats—small d and big D—I have been on a personal crusade to close the divides and understand what has happened.

As an experienced journalist I am accustomed to getting into the thick of everything, to ask questions and listen with grave attention to the answers. Why should Thanksgiving Day be any different? “Did you manage to catch a wild turkey for the Thanksgiving table?” I asked. The young man said, “yes,” and smiled. Could his family afford a store-bought turkey, I wondered. Were they relying on his prowess like the original 17th century Dutch settlers? Like the Cayugas or Onondagas who were here before them?

Those thoughts—stretching back into our colonial history—humbled me. And humbled I shall try to remain.

Building Bridges With Words

November 10, 2016

Tags: Valerie Pepe, The Constitution, 2016 Election Results

Il était une fois: once upon a time. This is the French “word of the day” that popped up in my email this morning. How quaint considering the outcome of the election. I have started to fill in the blank, as follows: Once upon a time women could not vote. Once upon a time slaves worked the fields and built the White House. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, gay marriage was against the law. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, interracial marriage was against the law. Once upon a time my refugee parents found safe haven in America.

And so on.

We all have our personal election stories to tell and many of them will continue to be troubled and troubling. For our personal health and well being, we have to regain our balance quickly. We all have friends, neighbors and family who have different religious beliefs, different politics, different priorities and challenges. Maybe they refused to vote, or voted for a third party on the ticket and this infuriated us. Maybe we stopped calling them and they stopped calling us, or we unfriended them on Facebook without warning or explanation.

As writers, it is our mandate to observe deeply and to build verbal bridges, not walls. Not to normalize the abnormal, I am not suggesting that. Nor to soften hardship or pretend all is okay when it is not okay. But to be able to continue a conversation, not to shut it down, that is what a writer must do, what we all must try to do in the coming months and years.

First things first, I wrote to my student, Valerie Pepe. For two years we worked on her book “Deformed; My Remarkable Life,” which has just been published. I knew a while ago that Valerie and I did not share the same politics; she supported Carson, I supported Bernie Sanders. I never discussed our choices, never brought it up, never responded to her stories about Carson. But, recently, we became Facebook friends. I usually keep my personal FB page private and suggest that my students “like” my Carol Bergman: Writer professional page. But sometimes these boundaries are permeable. My company had published Valerie’s book, we had worked together for more than two years, she is a mature and special person. I said yes.

I knew that I could hide my long post-election Facebook post from Valerie, but I decided not to do that. Instead, I sent her a private message:

"I don't allow many students to become my FB friend. You have been special. But we don't share the same politics. I have known this since you told me you supported Carson. You will read my post this morning and realize my dismay at the election results. I hope we will be able to talk about it."

Gracious as ever, Valerie wrote back to me immediately:

"Our Friendship comes first over anything political. Everyone has the right to believe in what they want. Miss you lots. I have a book signing tonight! All the best, Valerie"



A Mythic Election

November 1, 2016

Tags: French Revolution, tabloids, hate speech, Hillary

Marie Antoinette as portrayed in a scandal sheet before the French Revolution. These "libelles" were the tabloids and Fox News of their day. The hate speech they used with abandon led to the guillotine.
I’ve never enjoyed mythology, fairy tales or biblical stories nor have I –consciously—used any such references in my writing. I have not had a classical education, never learned Greek or Latin and was terrified by the grim Grimm Brothers Fairy Tales my European parents read to me. “The child intuitively comprehends that although these stories are unreal, they are not untrue ...” wrote psychologist Bruno Bettleheim in his book, “The Uses of Enchantment.” Exactly. And so it struck me as bizarre to find myself conjuring the character of Jezebel—that wicked, controlling woman from the Book of Kings --in an attempt to understand the unrelenting demonization of Hillary Clinton. Beyond the objective reality of her political and personal “mistakes,” why has she been so vilified? Why have those vicious accusing words “crooked,” and “liar” stuck to her and not come unstuck. She has been portrayed as a demon and as Satan himself.

I am reminded of Marie Antoinette’s fate during the French Revolution. Long before she was beheaded, she had been lampooned and stripped of her royal dignity in “libelles,” the tabloid scandal sheets of the day. Many of the writers were hacks tempted by money, without conscience or professional ethics. Gossip and rumor titillated a willing public fearful of the Austrian princess who had arrived in Paris to marry Louis XVI at the age of fourteen. Pornographic images of the Queen often accompanied salacious text. She was accused of stupidity, sexual deviance and treason. Surely, her entourage were all spies for her Hapsburg relations, these spin masters wrote. The constant repetition of words and images ignited a deep mythic fear in the French populace. It remains to this day. Ask anyone about Marie Antoinette and they will probably know nothing about her artistic achievements, her courage, or her devotion to her children.

How can we, as writers and journalists, begin to rewrite the false myths and false analogies we have been pummeled with in this election? Because it isn’t only Trump supporters who believe that they are true; I know Democrats who would never vote for Hillary. These educated “liberals,” believe everything they have heard or read about her. She is a lesbian, surely, one male friend said to me without blinking the other day, which, he implied, is much worse than being black. He is either going to abstain, or write-in a candidate, or vote for a third party candidate. I have tried to persuade him that he is deeply mistaken but I haven’t, as yet, been able to find the right words.


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