". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Friday, July 3, 2015

Cherries - The Hermione - The Shepherd's Life

I'm currently eating cherries.

Going down to the South Street Seaport and try to tour the Hermione this afternoon.

Tonight will hear Telmary, "Queen of Cuban Rap" -- there are many Afro-latin elements in her music, including jazz --  at Subrosa

A British title I've wanted since reading about it on the Guardian has recently appeared in the U.S. and I have it: The Shepherd's Life -- the subtitle is different from the British edition's A Tale of the Lake District -- here it's Modern Dispatches From An Ancient Landscape, by James Rebanks.

The author and his family have farmed and raised sheep in the Lake District since the days of the Viking takeover of the region. Despite certain modern equipment, they are still doing basically what their distant ancestors have done. Nor do deep-rooted people want to do anything else. Rebanks found school a complete waste of his time as a kid and left as soon he legally could leave.

But -- at some point he went to Oxford and got a degree and became a writer -- though he's still a farmer and sheep raiser, and identifies himself to himself and everyone else as that. To a great extent publishing his writing and his other activities are driven by his passion to keep farming, retaining his land and remaining on it, and his books, twitter account, directorship of various agencies are the means to do that.

Having grown up in an isolated rural world myself, these matters are of great interest to me, and much of it is entirely familiar and recognizable.

What is vastly different is the place where he, his family and the other families that are farming in the Lake District, who arrived when his did, are farming in a place that is flooded with millions of strangers -- tourists -- who carry on a relationship with the topography entirely divorced from that of the farmers.  This is fascinating material, as he describes and discusses what it means to the future of retaining any ownership themselves of their ancestral homelands. Our part of the world was of no interest to anybody elsewhere, except, perhaps, a few hunters, as we're a principle flyway for migrating birds including geese, and a great producer of ground game birds such as pheasant and grouse.

However, here, where I've been living my adult life, I've seen first hand the deleterious affects of having millions of people flooding into the place where you are struggling to stay and continue the work you love. I've observed it in the Caribbean and all over the U.S., as on the Gulf Coast and in the Mississippi Delta, where conglomerate gambling corporations' casino and development complexes destroy all the local business from fishing and farming to hotels to cafes and restaurants and even live music venues, and obscenely wealthy outsiders gobble up the houses and real estate as in New Orleans. None of these people coming in have any relationship to the place or the people who live there. They don't even see the residents, and they sure as hell don't give a damn about them or their homes, where their interlocking family and community roots descend deep into the mud of the place going back to almost the beginning.

What's odd is in the last ten years I've slowly been changing my opinion about sheep, including understanding that the long held idea that sheep are stupid is not only wrong, but propaganda from this country's cattlemen. Where I grew up bought into this mythology of the Western entirely. Cows good / raised by real men / beef is real food. Sheep bad stupid dirty / raised by dirty foreigners / lamb mutton not real food.

Elkhorn, on the Missouri River, in the North Dakota Badlands
This attitude can be seen, for instance in Theodore Roosevelt's Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail, written about the state in which I was born, where he bought a spread he called Elkhorn, and was a cattleman for some time. He was vehement about the distinction between a cattleman, or stockman, and the run-of-the mill fellow attempting to make a living out of the ground: In Ranch Life he stated that for the sheer, intense pleasure and satisfaction of being the boss of many and much, the king of all he surveys, the only life to rival that of a cattleman's, was that of the plantation owner in the antebellum south. Indeed, he could say that the modern cattle ranching spreads were the new plantations.

This is about as far from the satisfactions and passion of Rebanks and his people as one can get.

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