When we relocated to Northern Virginia, we knew there were some things about the Northeast we’d miss. One of them is the breathtaking beauty of fall foliage. Springtime in Virginia is lovely. Fall, is OK if you venture west into the mountains, but around our home it’s just so-so. Up there, where we lived for over four decades, during a brief period each October the trees are adorned in such vivid hues that a visiting relative who had never been north of Philadelphia once remarked, “Oh! It looks so artificial.”
We could simply walk around our upstate New York neighborhood and revel in that remarkable sight, but the real deal was just across the borders in Vermont and New Hampshire. It was well worth the price of a weekend getaway staying at a cozy country inn and taking in the full experience of nature’s own light show. Now, with that time of year upon us, we sit here on the outskirts of the nation’s fevered capital, minds spinning with serious matters, and wishing we could drop it all and take a ride through the White Mountains. Courtesy of Covid, no chance of that.
Memories of trips in simpler days include the plethora of New Hampshire license plates we encountered that bore the state motto. Its inspiring words are commonly, and correctly, associated with the Revolutionary War. A letter written by General John Stark, “the hero of Bennington” on the 1809 anniversary of that decisive battle inspired its having been adopted as the state motto in 1945.
He ended the letter with,” Live free or die. Death is not the greatest of evils.”
Well, General, call me a coward, but you could fool me. Especially these days. I’ve given up a lot of freedom these past eight months or so, and will do it as long as necessary, to avoid death. Death is all around us, to no a small degree because of people who insist on taking those high flung words too literally. As I see it, freedom, precious as it is, is increasingly confused these days with license. Following the example of none other than the so-called leader of the free world, it’s become a badge of honor for many people to act out their personal selfishness–and stupidity.
To me, that motto always conjured up more than images of brave men battling to free us from the yoke of English tyranny. It also reminded me that there are actually people in this land who, if given the chance, would get rid of the government and its controls (and protections) altogether. Rather than a sense of pride, that slogan has always created uneasiness in me. I associate it to hardy mountain men and women eking out a hardscrabble existence with nothing but scorn for us sissified city slickers with our fancy clothes, our airs and our indoor plumbing. They represented a culture, comical to me in less tumultuous times, now terrifying, of lily white, “good Christian” folks toting guns, cookin’ up a mess o’ possum, saluting Old Glory, toasting to the good old days down at the VFW post, praising Jesus and voting Republican.
I’ve encountered my share of such rugged individualists, people who resent taxation, the “nanny state,” government “handouts,” vegetarians, and other “deep state” commie conspiracies. Donald J. Trump came to us courtesy of these very fine people. Still, in many ways they are really nice folks. That is, as long as you keep your political and religious opinions to yourself and aren’t looking for a discussion on Proust or Kierkegaard. I used to think of them as a small lunatic fringe isolated on the back roads and mountain hollows of rural America. What a delusion. Today it’s clear these people make up almost half of the population and have put into power a government that is committed to destroying itself and, ironically, restoring the kind of autocracy that their ancestors shed blood to rid us of.
These folks have always been all around us, not just in the back woods. It’s just easier to spot them now, because they’re the ones not wearing masks. For reasons you probably already know, they embrace that motto literally— and to the point of insanity. It’s not such a nice thing to say, but that would be fine with me if their insistence on living freely resulted in only them being the ones dying. Due to their selfishness, though, a lot of reasonable people are dying as well. Many of those deaths would be avoided if only these red blooded patriots would value life as much as they value their all important “freedom.” Live free or die?” These days it’s more like “Live free AND die.”