In the Midst of the March — NYC 1.21.17

When I learned about the Women’s March in New York City, an echo of the one in Washington and, as it turns out, others around the world, I knew I had to be a part of it. It was a visceral response, not an intellectual one. I simply had to march.

I’ve never participated in any overt political activism before — as a Kentucky girl I was too naive about Vietnam to get involved (except for tagging along on a protest march to the American Embassy in Rome in 1969); I didn’t connect with the feminist movement since I have always moved on an entrepreneurial plane, never saw myself as oppressed and have always thought of myself first not as a woman but as a person; even the Civil Rights Movement, from the refracted lens of Louisville, Kentucky, was hazy, although I do recall climbing up a light pole to get a better glimpse of Martin Luther King at a rally there.

The Women’s March was different. When there are 400,000 people — that’s the estimate for the number of marchers in New York City — it’s not as if I were there to beef up the ranks of protestors or have my individual voice heard.

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I went because I feel my nation is on the brink of its darkest period since the Civil War, and I am terrified for it, for everyone with a darker skin or a sketchy hold on residency, for issues of social justice and climate change, but particularly for the fate of women and their right to have dominion over their bodies in an era of a serial sexual predator as President. Doing something, anything eased my profound unease at the direction this country has taken.

The march was to start at the United Nations and proceed to Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. We never got anywhere close to the U.N. Every avenue was clogged with marchers. Indeed, crammed onto Second Avenue, it took us 1 hr and 45 min to proceed 2/3rd of a city block. No one, not the organizers nor the City nor the marchers themselves, anticipated the turnout. Eventually we, like thousands of others, spilled over the barricades and made rivulets of spontaneous marchers headed toward Fifth Avenue coursing up every available crosstown street, stopping traffic dead on Madison. No angry horns blew and I heard not a single siren the entire afternoon. Instead, everyone sensed history in the making. And it was. Because never before in America has the election of a president sparked such an immediate public upwelling of discontent. The Women March in Washington outstripped the inauguration for attendance. That is a statement. That is hope.

Everyone came — the elderly with canes and walking sticks and the very young perched on the shoulders of their fathers; the well-to-do, starving artists, students, homemakers, parents, people of all colors and creeds; the disabled struggled in that throng in wheelchairs;  groups like the ACLU,  Jews for Humanitarian Action and LGBTQ activists and myriad others that were not immediately identifiable to me were there.  And with them came a sea of signs — most were handmade and too small to be seen or read by anybody not standing in closest proximity. But that wasn’t the point. The point was to say what was on your mind. As my friend Bob astutely pointed out, the signs seemed to reflect each marchers individual tipping point as they confronted a Trump presidency. Because it was the Women’s March there was much said about the reproduction rights of women, many with a message and also a sense of humor, including this ‘Biblical’ one from the Book of Fallopians 19:73:

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Indeed humor in the form of mockery (Trump does lend himself so handily to that) was employed to get similar feelings across:

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Some penned their raw rage on any available piece of cardboard, desperate to speak out:

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While others expressed what they saw as the clear and present danger of our new Washington:

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But in this astonishing sea of signs very very few were crude, pussy hats not withstanding.

As we marched, chants and songs rang out — men, who made up about 20% of the crowd would echo women chanting Our Bodies Our Choice by chanting back, Her Body Her Choice. Some men hoisted their young daughters high off their shoulders while shouting HER Body, HER choice! with an urgency they had probably not known before fatherhood.

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While vintage hippy protest folksongs popped up off and on throughout the afternoon, sung by pockets of older women who vocally complained that they couldn’t believe they were still marching for the same things they had as students 40/50 years ago now.

Many chanted This is What Democracy Looks Like, meaning the scope and urgency of hundreds of thousands of Americans converging in camaraderie to protest what is and to stand ready to effect change. Chuck Shumer, U.S Senator from New York, popped in from the sidelines, leaning into the crowds and encouraging the marchers to “Keep Going” and the crowd called back to him “Don’t Give Up.” And we can’t give up. Won’t give up. This little girl, standing on a bus stop bench, held the sign that says exactly why:

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I am honored, heartened and ready to go work as part of that robust WE that fueled my heart and hope last Saturday. And rebooted my pride in America.

—Belle Songer

 

Best kept secret

Some secrets you know are safe because virtually no one will believe it enough to act on it. So here it is—Nantucket’s Best Kept Secret: January.

Sitting by my south-facing window, the sun is pouring in warming my lap and my spirits. The wind is whistling, true, but it’s also 55° out. Yesterday, the day before and the day before that, Cajun and I took long walks on the beach. She put herself in the shallows to hunt for sea monsters, coming up with some fine, if ancient and empty conch shells. You could tell by the pinwheeling tail that she was very proud of herself.

Five days ago we had a full-out blizzard. The wind howled, the snow blew horizontal and dropped about a foot of the white stuff on the four-or-so inches already on the ground. We hunkered down around the wood stove in our little antique cottage and felt very cozy. And lucky. There is nothing like a good snow storm on Nantucket. The Little Grey Lady is suddenly outlined in white. The moors look like fields of cotton. Snow rises up tree trunks indicating the direction the wind blew during the worst of the storm. Branches hold out their arms to catch the snow like supplicants in the church of Mother Nature.

Downtown is serene. A perfect stillness settles over Main Street. What house lights there are this time of year brighten windows and speak to others sitting out the storm by their own hearths. Watching the first flakes stick to roads gives way to astonishment at the snow that keeps on coming. Hedges and woodpiles and parked cars disappear under white blankets. We follow the weather reports of accumulation amounts with a mix of awe and glee. And as soon as we can, we bundle ourselves in all our winter gear and go out for a walk.

Since childhood it has been both a particular pleasure and a ritual to make the first tracks in new fallen snow. On Nantucket, it is possible to walk throughout the old historic district, right up or down the middle of Main Street, with nothing but silence, the crunching of boots and that clean snow smell to fill the air. After a blizzard, of course, this can feel like a trudge but it is a glorious trudge down memory lane. Of being folded into snowsuits and galoshes, mitten pulled over tiny fingers, hat tugged down over head and ears by a vigilant mother. To venture out into the snow. To leave the first footprints. To make a perfect snow angel. To be gifted a day or days out of school by Old Man Winter.

That’s not to say that there can’t be rude awakenings. Especially for the adults. Power outages come to mind. Ours, this last blow, lasted about 30 seconds, if that. But just long enough to knock out all the clocks. Other places on the island suffered longer ones which can lead to very cold nights. (We felt very smug with our woodturning stove and propane range). And there’s the trouble the plows inevitably make. Snow is rare enough on the island that it’s not just the DPW out clearing the roads. There are plenty of boys with their toys, and if you happen to be off-island or at work, say, you can return home to find yourself plowed out of your driveway. One year, it would have taken dynamite to break through the mound pushed right into our drive.

But all in all, the pluses of January far outweigh the negatives. Take this balmy weather we’re enjoying today. That’s the thing about January in Nantucket. It can be frigid but it’s a clear, dry cold, and when there’s a blue sky, as there often is, the light raking across the moors or the beach is exquisite. Sunsets are unparalleled. Old squaw draw graphite lines  across the southern sky at dusk as they fly back to take refuge nearer the island. Then just as suddenly—you know the saying: wait 20 minutes and the weather here will change—it warms enough to throw off coats and stroll the beaches for miles.

And if there’s snow, even lots and lots of snow, it rarely lasts more than a couple of days. Our blizzard was Saturday. By Wednesday all that remained was the greying piles of plowed road snow. We got to enjoy the drama, the beauty, the exciting sense of being in the midst of Mother Nature’s fury — and about the time one os on the verge of being fed up with it all, poof!, it’s gone!

From my window, I watch Cajun rolling in the green green grass, luxuriating in the hint of spring in January.

— Belle Songer

 

Kids Ask the Darndest Questions

The alternate title for this piece could have been Belle Loses Her Footing on the Slippery Slope of Sex Education.

Last week Cajun and I had a therapy dog visit at the children’s unit of a local facility. An energetic group of boys, seven to ten-ish, gathered in a circle around a very compliant canine. We talked about labrador retrievers, how a dog uses her tail to communicate, the purpose of whiskers. Then one boy asked how many puppies Cajun had had. The rest of the conversation, getting slipperier and slipperier as it progressed, went like this:

Me: “She’s never had puppies.”

Boy #1: “Why not?”

Me: “Because she she can’t have them.”

Boy #1: “Why not?”

Me: “Because she’s been spayed.”

Boy #2: “What’s ‘spayed’?”

Me : “Well, because there are so many unwanted puppies, veterinarians perform a kind of surgery on female dogs so they can’t have puppies. Male dogs are neutered. (TMI! TMI!)

Boy #3: “What’s ‘neutered’?”

Me (uh oh): “That’s when the doctor removes a dog’s testicles.” (Did I just say ‘testicles’ in a room full of little boys???)

Boy#2: “What are testicles?”

Me (oh no! oh no!):”Well . . .well . . .testicles are your balls.”

Suddenly the room is very very silent. About ten seconds elapse in group contemplation of this information. Then, finally:

Boy #2: “Does it hurt?”

I assure him it is painless and hurryhurryhurry on to a new topic.

One doesn’t get briefed on sex ed issues in therapy dog school, a fact I plan to bring up with the administrators as soon as I stop blushing.

— Belle Songer