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Keeping up with the news

by Peter Rashkin

It was early January, 1980. We were staying in a motel in Murphy, North Carolina, while they were setting up a mobile home on the eight acre parcel we had bought twelve miles outside of town. We watched TV. It was the time of the Iran hostage crisis, and it seemed like the world was in a lot of trouble and could fall apart at any time.

Then we moved out to the woods. It was cold. We huddled around a kerosene stove, poured over seed catalogs and the Audubon Field Guide to Wildflowers of the Southeast. We built a chicken coop, planted asparagus, bought some rabbits. It was months before we got a radio, and after that we listened to Prairie Home Companion every week. Once a month or so I got the Sunday paper, and once, I remember, I found something in it that interested me.

We had our worries....There was never enough money...a hawk made off with my best hen...if it didn't rain soon we might lose the corn...But I didn't think much about Iran, or Washington, or any other hotspots. While I wasn't paying attention, the world didn't fall apart.

Every few weeks we would go into town for provisions...the A&P, the feedstore, the hardware store and the library. Occasionally we had company. Once in a while we took a little trip, but we couldn't leave the livestock for long.

For those few years, I pretty much lost track of world events, but I watched a series of beaver dams go up on the little creek that ran by our land, and once during a storm I heard a loud crack and, walking up the path a way, found an oak tree newly struck by lightning. I was like Pope's happy man, "whose wish and care one lone paternal acre span."

Now I live in LA again. I read the newspaper, and listen to talk radio and NPR. My friends talk about the OJ case. I'm on the internet and I'm Really Paying Attention to What's Going On. I write to my congressman, and send faxes to CEO's, urging them to Do the Right Thing. I worry about Chiapas, Bosnia, Chechnya, Rwanda, the bullying of the World Bank, the senseless, destructive War on Drugs, and the Globalization of Poverty.

And although I feel a little foolish about it, I pretty much think that I have this responsibility to play my small part in the political process, because if I don't work for my ideals and values, who will? In fact, when I look at the injustice, the poverty, the onslaught of reaction, the threats to the environment, I don't really think I do enough.

But it seems a long time since I walked in the woods.

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