Inspection- The 4th

by Ken Carman

July 4th: Beaver River Station, NY.

I feel in touch with my country’s roots today. Much of the east coast had thousands of trails that were the only access to crystal clear lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, and miles and miles of forest, back when we fought our way to independence. That’s also Stillwater Reservoir and Beaver River Station today… about 8 miles up the trail and tracks from where I partially grew up.

We celebrate the 4th with lots of big bangs and booms. The night before I headed here I watched fireworks in Ithaca, New York. I remember mentioning to my cousin that she had the “wrong brother” when she talked about the fireworks I might see in Ithaca on the net. I must admit: I enjoyed, but also have to admit the process doesn’t mean the same to me as it does one of my two brothers who loves fireworks with a passion.

To me fireworks are but “flash,” a display of beauty that is temporary and cotton candy-ish: lacking substance. Like clouds we make of them what we want, but they drift in and out of our lives, oh, so briefly.

Instead, for the 4th I would much rather stare across a vast lake, or mountainside… like the woodlands where early settlers had to brave the elements, wildlife and in some cases rightfully angry natives. I want to put a fishing line in the water: a newly rediscovered venture for me. Before I tossed a line for the first time in probably 45 years I used to go bullhead fishing with Dad: bucket loads of small squirming, sharp finned, slippery fish that we would dine on without even skinning them.

Such were probably the discoveries of early settlers, some living their lives out in the wilderness had to find more simple, in this case more delicious, ways to do common things.

Yes, some lived the lives of gentry and city dwellers. But the gentry and the cities were different then. Like in Beaver River Station, people knew each other, rather than the mad rush of the anonymous crowd headed to work on Park Avenue in New York City, or some almost invisible cabby from hell beeping and making an obscene gesture. My guess is, in “the day,” they not only taught their horses to do that for them, but they also knew who they were cursing.

They had smarter horses back then.

Kidding.

The gentry brewed their own beer, ate food from their own fields and, yes, some had slaves to do much of that for them. These days we just call many of them Mexicans. We rant, we spread fear, we talk of electrified fences to flambe’ Jose, Josette and the bambinos, but gleefully eat the crops they pick: doing jobs most of us would never do, while we barely notice dishes they’ve washed, food they serve, or the now clean motel rooms we left behind, oh, so gross.

They fill our lives.

Yet we barely notice them.

Yesterday we were more honest about it all. We just called them slaves.

Like other countries, such as Canada, we are here today because we live standing on the shoulders of fallible giants; relatives who crossed ships under sometimes horrid conditions, did incredible things. Others escaped being burned at the stake or other hideous circumstances because we weren’t the right religion, wouldn’t fight for the protestants or Bloody Mary, like some of my family.

Despite the historical idiocy that expresses itself in American exceptional-ism, not everything we did was good, or decent, or sane, or humane. But this is who we are, who we were, and if we face it all honestly there’s also much to be proud of: especially if we do face it all in a mature way… and try to make things better.

As bad as it may have been at times I’m sure, like us, they found great joy too. Just like I do looking across a reservoir that was once a river filled with logs destined to help build the America we now know.

All that to me is far more “American” than the bang and the boom.

And though he’s Canadian, I think Gordon Lightfoot may have expressed it best, many years ago, in his song called Canadian Railroad Trilogy…

There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real
But time has no beginnings and hist’ry has no bounds
As to this verdant country they came from all around
They sailed upon her waterways and they walked the forests tall
And they built the mines the mills and the factories for the “good” of us all

And when the young man’s fancy was turnin’ to the spring
The railroad men grew restless for to hear the hammers ring
Their minds were overflowing with the visions of their day
And many a fortune lost and won and many a debt to pay

For they looked in the future and what did they see
They saw an iron road runnin’ from sea to the sea
Bringin’ the goods to a young growin’ land
All up through the seaports and into their hands

Look away said they across this mighty land
From the eastern shore to the western strand
Bring in the workers and bring up the rails
We gotta lay down the tracks and tear up the trails
Open ‘er heart let the life blood flow
Gotta get on our way ’cause we’re movin’ too slow

Bring in the workers and bring up the rails
We’re gonna lay down the tracks and tear up the trails
Open ‘er heart let the life blood flow
Gotta get on our way ’cause we’re movin’ too slow
Get on our way ’cause we’re movin’ too slow

Behind the blue Rockies the sun is declinin’
The stars, they come stealin’ at the close of the day
Across the wide prairie our loved ones lie sleeping
Beyond the dark oceans in a place far away

We are the navvies who work upon the railway
Swingin’ our hammers in the bright blazin’ sun
Livin’ on stew and drinkin’ bad whiskey
Bendin’ our old backs ’til the long days are done

So over the mountains and over the plains
Into the muskeg and into the rain
Up the St. Lawrence all the way to Gaspe
Swingin’ our hammers and drawin’ our pay
Drivin’ ’em in and tyin’ ’em down
Away to the bunkhouse and into the town
A dollar a day and a place for my head
A drink to the livin’ and a toast to the dead

Oh the song of the future has been sung
Battles have been won
O’er the mountain tops we stand
All the world at our command
We have opened up the soil
With our teardrops and our toil

For there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real
And many are the dead men too silent to be real

[ Lyrics from: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/g/gordon+lightfoot/canadian+railroad+trilogy_20061665.html ]

Canadian Railroad Trilogy lyrics © Moose Music Ltd./Early Morning Music Ltd.

-30-

Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.

©Copyright 2011
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
All Rights Reserved

(Except Trilogy, as noted.)