Yesterday, due to the on-going calamity of representational government known as the State of Oregon, I was forced to drive six hours – round trip – to renew my driver’s license. This was because only about half of the very expensive government apparatus of this state is actually working in their offices at any one time, and also because the long-promised on-line renewal program is not on-line and no one seems to know when it might actually be on-line. By contrast, information about the next planned fire-bombing of the Federal building in Portland is readily available on the internet.
Under these circumstances a citizen is required to make an appointment, which is the only way one is allowed inside a DMV building. Appointments are also tricky to schedule because many offices, including the facilities closest to my house, are not taking appointments at all, and the soonest available appointments in the next ring of bureaucratic purgatory are in July, which is after my license will have expired. Given my requirement to travel, and to occasionally rent a vehicle, I was forced to make an appointment in Lakeview, Oregon, which is a very pleasant timber and cow town on the high desert, about 3 hours from my house.
After battling high-winds, annual spring road construction, and a proliferation of cattle haulers – ranchers in that country are scrambling to get their cows into the mountains due to the on-going drought and absence of feed on the desert – I arrived with about ten minutes to spare. I was delighted to find the parking lot empty and mounted the stairs to the office where I was met by a sign declaring in a kind of Prussian pique: NO APPOINTMENT NO MASK NO ENTRY BY DECREE!
Naturally, the one person working in the office waited until exactly 10:30 to roll up the steel door – he could see me waiting in the one chair via the video monitor — that protects his desk from the unwashed hordes of license renewees, and when it finally went up there was another layer of plexiglass and power-washers and bottles of hand sanitizer and rubber gloves and various ensembles of surplus military MOPP gear hanging on the wall.
To be perfectly fair, the gentleman who helped me was efficient enough and I was able to renew my license without any problems – if we discount the 6 hours of driving and the half tank of diesel fuel required to accomplish the mission. If nothing else that seems to fly in the face of Empress Kate’s solemn vows to reduce fossil fuel emissions, but why spoil the beauty of a green dream with reality. Also, what I was given was a flimsy little paper temporary license and a receipt for the $40 it costs to renew the license. Had I been interested in getting upgraded papers for legal travel within the realm – the REAL ID – it would have been necessary to bring in a stack of additional documents: a birth certificate, several utility bills showing my current address, passport, DD-214, and so forth. It’s interesting that not a single fence-jumper on our southern border is required to have any of those things to qualify for financial assistance, free medical care, free travel to be reunited with relatives also in the country illegally – and possibly using your social security number — free room and board in the meantime, and also free education.
But people will get used to anything. This is probably a good trait given what we know is coming: a cradle to grave progressive nanny state where the benefits of competition will be sacrificed on the altar of equity. Equity does not mean equality, by the by. What it means in present terms is that if you have something somebody else doesn’t, you will have to give it to them, most likely because you are a white supremacist or because you harbor any number of unconscious biases, or maybe you forgot to hang your Great Leader poster up when the woke mob went tear-assing past your digital threshold, or maybe because you have a Molon Labe morale patch on your backpack which, as any disciple of the Anti-Defamation League, or the brass-knuckle Jesuits at the Southern Poverty Law Center knows, is a dead-bang indicator of extremism.
A lot of it puts me in the mind of Vardaman Bundren, my favorite character from Faulkner’s masterpiece “As I Lay Dying”. Vardaman is at great pains to understand many of the machinations surrounding the hauling of his dead mother Addie to be buried in Jefferson, Mississippi, a trip that takes nine days. He watches the coffin being built, his brother Cash break a leg, his brother Darl becoming increasingly insane, Addie’s coffin nearly lost in the river, mules drowning, a barn fire, the growing stench of Addie’s body, and is confounded by it all. His youthful confusion is captured perfectly by Faulkner, who records that bewilderment in perhaps his finest – and certainly his shortest – chapter. “My mother is a fish”, Vardaman thinks, which both begins and ends the chapter, and then the story rolls on without him.
The week before my renewal episode, when the mayor of Washington DC was furiously banning dancing and/or standing receptions at weddings, 45 people were shot and 7 killed in Chicago in two days, and the President was ginning up a plan to send $4 billion of your tax dollars to the United Methamphetamine Republics of the northern triangle, I was down in Paisley helping the Murphy family trail a few hundred cows off the desert. The Murphys and their cattle make this trip every year – from the home ranch to the desert and then to the mountains and back again, and have for a hundred years – but a dry winter has made their desert grazing marginal at best this year, so they are coming off earlier, a few hundred head at a time. Unlike many of their neighbors, they still do it all horseback.
The cattle, now with calves, were in no mood to travel and so the day was a long running fight. Reluctant cattle are tough to move even with dogs. So we battled to keep them lined out as we climbed into the trees and across broad meadows and sagebrush flats. We hollered and whistled and cajoled and put the dogs on bitchy mothers and the horses grew tired and slow. We were following the same trail used by the Murphy family forever, the cold and silvered waters of the Chewaucan River on our left, and most of the time I wasn’t at all thinking about the American empire except as an afterthought, or when some Subaru full of campers in puffy jackets and man buns slowed by on the road, leaning out of their windows in desperate attempts to get pictures of the living history museum we must have looked like out there in the middle of nowhere.
By trail’s end, when we finally put the last pair through the old wire gate at the Peterson Field, we’d brought those cows a dozen or more miles up the river. We hadn’t dropped any off on purpose and hadn’t lost any, which is something of a feat considering the country we covered and the size of the herd. I hadn’t known then that my driver’s license was about to expire. Or what contortions that would eventually require. I wasn’t carrying my wallet or wearing a watch and I’m glad I didn’t know. And I’m glad I didn’t care what was happening in Chicago, or about the Footloose School Board decrees of the Mayor of DC. I didn’t know about the 4 billion for the tinpots and the cartels. And I heartily wish I didn’t know anything about any of it now.
With the herd through the gate we circled around them to equal points on the compass and let the calves mother-up, the bawling quieting down by increments as they reunited in all that expanse, the clouds high and white, the sage pungent in the cool air. And then I just sat my horse for the longest time, smelling his sweat in the saddle blanket, letting him crop that good green mountain grass, watching the calves find their mothers in the sage, and closed my eyes to listen deeper, as deep as I possibly could, into the river and the singing birds.