In God’s Country?

Yesterday, I took a beautiful drive to see the colors in the Smokies and to get fresh produce from Carver’s Apple Orchard in Cosby–a ritual I observed for years but had lately neglected. I used to go there with my family when my children were young until they began objecting to the long drive.

It is set in the tumbled foothills of the Smokies, and in the fall the views are magnificent. Color drenches the mountains around with the vivid red of sumac bushes, the orange of the maples and gold of the oaks and I don’t know what else. When I went there for the first time 30 years ago, it was, even then, a big orchard, but mostly concerned with apples. The only food on offer to eat was the fried apple pies, which they still have. In fact, I think the pies were better back then than now. But now there’s a restaurant serving lunches and dinners.

While I was eating my fried pie, I chatted with the cashier, an older (but younger than me!)  woman with dyed blonde hair and humorous, wide-set eyes. We talked about how beautiful the leaves were this year, and she told me that every day, she drives from Newport, the county seat, to Cosby in the early morning, and when the sun is cresting the mountains, the forest on the mountainsides glows with colors. Joy shone in her face as she said, “I wouldn’t give anything for that drive every day,” and a young woman in back of me said, admonishing, “It’s God,” and we both agreed, nodding, it was God. I am not a believer anymore, but why not?

Carver’s has expanded in recent years, as I found when I guided the car into parking areas spreading at least twice the old breadth; going inside the barn, I found it is now a cornucopia of fresh and preserved vegetables and fruits–fresh-pressed and bottled ciders, cooking pumpkins, walnuts and almonds and pecans and hazelnuts in the shell, jars standing in regiments with preserved asparagus and pickled eggs and chow-chow, big healthy heads of cabbage, molasses syrup, and of course the apples.

Hanging from the rafters of the barn are big hand-painted signs telling what each type of apple is best for–eating fresh, or putting in pies, or making cider from, or canning. In bushel and half-bushel baskets on the floor are thousands of apples neatly divided into type. It’s an embarrassment of riches. I bought an armload of food and left thinking about everything I didn’t get.

On the way back to Knoxville, I turned on the radio. I wish I hadn’t.

I only heard snippets…”this number of people…this small community in Texas…no names of the victims can be released until next-of-kin are told…”

The NPR announcer didn’t even have to say the word “shooting.” I knew.
And I knew the next damn thing would be some fake words from our cowardly politicians about thoughts and prayers. And so it was.

This morning I opened FB to see these words from Brian Griffin, a poet. I can’t do any better than to quote him:

“Of today’s mass shooting, our President said, “Together we join hands, we lock arms and through the tears and through the sadness we stand strong.” Excuse me, but no. No. No. No. That doesn’t work anymore. We do not stand strong against this, Mr. President. We stand bloody and dead and wounded and heartbroken and sick, and most of all, we stand vulnerable, we stand as targets, we stand in the line of fire, we stand subject at any time and anywhere to more, more gunshots, more broken lives, more senseless death because our leaders do NOT join hands, do NOT lock arms, and do not give a flying damn about the death of innocents, of children. Look, jerk. No more fake caring. No more fake prayers. The prayers you pretended after Las Vegas brought us this. THE PEOPLE WHO DIED TODAY WERE PRAYING, YOU FUCKWAD. So shut up. If you don’t intend to help, then shut up. JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP.”

Brian just about sums it up. There is nothing more to say. We stand wounded in this country, ready to fall, barely on our feet, bleeding. Our own people, the conservatives in this country who will not talk to us rationally about the over 350 million guns there are here, and the failing mental health system, and the despair–those people and those politicians who represent us in a Congress full of cowards are killing us all.

The only thing the politicians have to offer is “thoughts and prayers.” Every time. They say their thoughts and prayers are with the victims, who were (in church) praying up a storm at the time they were slaughtered and wounded. What did their prayers avail them? Where was God in their deaths? Nowhere. Where are the politicians in their deaths? Everywhere.

I wish I could have just stayed in the orchard, where I could just nod my head and agree, it’s God. Because outside that orchard, it’s so clear. God is not in the thoughts and prayers of the politicians. Their own political survival is in their thoughts and prayers. The campaign contributions of the National Rifle Association are in their thoughts and prayers.

That orchard may be the only real thing for me today.

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