July 5, 2004
(Swans - July 5, 2004) A group of San Francisco friends obtained a condominium for a long
weekend on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe. I was invited, although there
was no wife or equivalent "significant other" to bring at the time. The
result for me was a quiet period with very little responsibility save
taking care of my own interests.
Lake Tahoe is at the bend of the California-Nevada border, a blue lake formed by enormous forces of geology -- massive uplift of competing faults; volcanic action, and then glaciers that filled the 22-mile long body of water to a depth of 1,642 feet. The surface is at 6,223 feet in elevation. There are few places as beautiful.
Absence of phones in that pre-cellular age of more than thirty years ago when this visit occurred, plus the chilled air of the forest and lack of sound from neighbors or machines created a blessed atmosphere. The nine of us played board games, had languid discussions and dined on elegant salads and easy beverages.
On our second day, we decided at dusk to visit a casino on the South Shore, about five miles from our little home away from home. Had we decided to drive the distance there would have been no reason to write this essay, but we walked, being young and healthy but unaware the weather was about to change. Each of us bundled up against late December cold and we set off.
Hiking the Sierra Nevada is unparalleled; lush woods and, in those days, very sparse population on the east shore. We had the luxury of a packed gravel road but as snow started, we became aware there were no buildings at the roadside. It was an area bereft of population and, being cautious by nature, I hoped a vehicle would show up every now and then on our way to Stateline, Nevada. None did, as it turned out.
We were a happy group, even as the snow built up on our private road and the fall increased into a heavy cover. Wind picked up gradually but it was not a blizzard and we were nearing the halfway point -- as we guessed our location -- so a decision developed to continue. The casino would be so warm and, judging by the lack of traffic, we would have it to ourselves. My cautious brain wondered if we should have called to make sure it was open.
A mile marker came into view. We had covered less ground that we thought, only two of the five miles. Snow was falling so heavily that trees were obscured a short way in from the sides of the road. My hiking boots were warm and dry but others were in lighter footwear and I had concern about them despite their assurances that their socks were dry. It was too cold for melting water to seep in and they had heavy socks. Nevertheless, I was concerned. At 35 or so, I was the oldest of the pack and, being originally from Texas, it was my "job" as the head cowboy to worry. My hands, face and legs were chilled. Going back, closer than going on to the casino, started seeming reasonable. And, being the worrier, there was the task of walking back to the condo when we finished playing. Maybe we could get a ride.
The four men admitted to feeling cold but our brave five women professed to being just fine. We carried on.
Another half mile, however, and I was experiencing distinct discomfort. None of the others complained, though the group was much quieter than we had been earlier. We were throwing no snowballs. It was now the same distance home or to the casino. My hopes turned to a car or truck or -- I felt obliged to wish! -- bus coming along. A full moon gave us enough light, through clouds, but we were in possible trouble.
Two of the women started a game. They spoke of movie scenes and we were to guess the title, actors, and full plot of the film. The second one they chose, a film that always moved me to tears, was easy for me to guess but I held back, listening to my friends discussing the various scenes and agreeing how much each loved that picture. The film's ending was bereft of hope. The most sympathetic characters were all dead, some by violence but all prematurely, without justice.
Why did people love that film? Virtually every viewer -- and our entire group confessed to it -- was moved to tears. It made me wonder.
Why were we walking in the dark of night down an abandoned road in the midst of a dangerously heavy snowstorm? Had we taken leave of our senses or were we merely "watching a movie" that was uncomfortable, chilling and could be tragic? We were, after all, having fun; some less than others, but fun nevertheless. We liked it.
Moreover, recognizing that we liked what we were doing -- while thinking at the same moment that most people loved watching films that made them weep in sorrow -- I started warming up. Gradual relaxation fostered circulation, and a rosier glow.
People do things that make no sense, are sometimes dangerous, for fun. In addition, they do it repeatedly because liking the feelings, loving a chilled body, makes it possible. As this became a reality in my mind, my fingers and my nose felt okay again. I had been lagging behind but my pace increased and soon I was ahead of the group, leading the movie game that continued as we walked through a snowstorm that seemed to have found an intensity it liked. The threat that it might become unbearable eased in the lessening wind and snow. The beauty of our surroundings, the occasional sighting of the lake through openings in the woods and our little community of hikers became the reason for being on that road -- and cold.
Tiring of movies, we started singing, songs mainly chosen by the women. We passed a mile marker and a small sign declaring Stateline only another mile and a half away. We were closer than we thought. As the moon rose, our scenery lightened and at one point, peering in the moonlight across a narrow bay, we spotted casino lights and knew for the first time that it was surely open to us.
From discomfort, nearing the edge of being too cold for my health, I was now happy, enjoying the adventure with my friends and time coming soon in the casino. There was no pride in overcoming adversity. Neither the snow nor the dark nor the cold took any notice of me or us at all. There was no opponent except what seemed clear to me an overcome failure on my part to enjoy -- to like -- what I was doing.
It was an almost physical "change of mind," which reminded me that happiness and well-being can be a matter of choice. Even if we are in circumstances darkly worse than walking along with friends in a snowstorm we have the ability to select a mental attitude to help us survive. Heroes do it all the time.
Today, most of the people I know are having difficulty with America. They express strong concern over the character our nation presents to the world. I share that concern and wonder what will be necessary to regain our pride, international respect and fundamental traditions. Dour faces and a visible sense of despair, however, will not win the election this November, a milestone that is only the beginning of our national task.
It was common knowledge a year ago that "nobody could beat George Bush." The conversation was more about which sacrificial lamb the Democrats would trot out than what could be done to turn the nation around.
Then, bless him, along came Howard Dean. He did not seem to know that a second term for Bush was inevitable. Howard Dean didn't believe -- and demonstrated otherwise -- that the people of our nation thought scandals, lies, damaging partisanship and waging a war on false premises earned political victory. To their view Bush's record earned a ride out of Washington on a rail. And Howard said it. Loud and clear.
The nation owes him an enormous debt of gratitude. While my appreciation stopped short of thinking he should be president, it was imminently clear that his attitude -- he "likes" America and believes our people will do the right thing -- was the necessary first step for whoever could win voter support and victory in November. From where I sit in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on Hawai'i, it appears Dean's positive attitude has spread and has eroded the Teflon from Bush's administration. Daily news focuses on the "error of the day," a drumbeat damaging to anything the Bush campaign can dream up in defense. When credibility goes, flimsy attack ads lose their effect and those are the only ads in the Bush arsenal.
A growing number of middle-American voters now see a second Bush term as unthinkable, voters who only a year ago thought it could not be denied.
America changed its mind. It is clear that voters are considering casting a ballot against the Washington mob and moving positively on to the difficult years of rebuilding what is so severely damaged. I hear citizens far more interested in rebuilding America and our values than continuing efforts in Iraq where "staying the course" is only deepening the damage. This is an understanding possible for everyone. You do not have to be a Democrat to refuse to lie down in a snowstorm.
We can do it. We will do it. We have learned whatever it took to see -- for what they were -- the vile tricks that enticed our nation into such deep difficulties, the products of a nest of conspirators of fear who will be treated by history as they richly deserve.
· · · · · ·
US Elections & Democracy on Swans
America the 'beautiful' on Swans
Bill Eger is a former reporter and editor on major dailies and United Press International before turning to public relations. He was a speech writer and policy consultant in California and campaign manager for city, county and state-wide elections. He has served on county and state rules and platform committees at party conventions over a span of 40 years and is chairman of the Democratic 4th Representative District Council in Hawai'i. Eger publishes Hawai'i Island's Magazine at http://www.hawaii-island.com.
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