Here in the snug tranquility of Paradise Regained, the prettiest
cabin site in the Colorado Rockies, the momentous political events of
the day pass almost unnoticed.
When Ross Perot says he's copping out because golly, it never
occurred to him that his candidacy might throw the election into the
House of Representatives, the hummingbirds slurping up the sugar water
from our feeders don't miss a lick. When Bill Clinton tells the
Democrat convention that he loves both his mother and his wife, the
crystalline water of our bubbling brook doesn't pause in its downhill
run to the Gulf of Mexico. And when Danny Quayle gravely pronounces the
Democrat platform short on substance, Ned, the one-eyed beagle with the
headstrong personality and the mismatched jaws, stretches and yawns and
moves from the sunny side to the shady side of the deck.
The big news here is that an eight-point buck has been going
through our meadow between 8:15 and 8:30 in the evenings. Even Ned is
momentarily mesmerized by this delegate from the wildas though he's
reminded of his wolfish genetic traces that are mostly outvoted now by
his domestic impulses to roll over for a piece of cheese.
We human animals too find ourselves unable to look away as the buck
nibbles the clover. He looks up to watch us watching him and seems as
curious as we are. His squatter's rights to the meadow predate ours by
many millenia, but he shows no indignation at our trespass. Still, he
must wonder at our nesting place so elaborate with bright and gurgling
gadgets, and he must find the idea of a political convention as puzzling
as a gathering of theologians. He seems willing, though, to believe
that we mean no harm by any of it.
But why are we, who can drive by the deer in the pens at Pioneer
Park without a second look, so hypnotized by this one, so absolutely
incapable of looking at anything else while he's here? What is there
about a deer in our meadow that makes irrelevant the question of who's
going to lead the country for the next four years?
A part of it, I think, is that the deer represents what brought us
here in the first place, the romantic, individualistic side of the
American psyche that Thoreau spoke for, the side that says the hell with
what society calls being responsible. Like Thoreau, the deer is "a
self-appointed inspector of snow storms and rain storms," and finds that
"time is but the stream I go a-fishing in."
Certainly the deer is not among the masses leading "lives of quiet
desperation" because of what they call "doing their duty." Thus we
envy him and admire him and cannot look away.
But there's another side to being American that's even older than
19th century romanticism; it's the side that relishes rather than
ridicules doing our duty, and it goes back to those 17th century
Puritans who settled in New England.
The Truth, Mainly
And that's the side that Bill Clinton, once past his maudlin
confessions of love for mother and wife, was appealing to in his
acceptance speech. What sounds like his campaign catch phrasenot a
New Deal or a New Frontier, but a New Covenantechoes the language the
Puritans brought with them in 1620, language they wrapped around the
notion that we're a special people on a divinely ordained mission, and
because God is so clearly on our side, our end of the bargain requires
us to do our duty to set ourselves up as a city on a hillside for others
to be inspired by.
The Thoreau in us may say that going to the polls to accomplish
that end is a fool's errand because all government is so inherently
corrupt that it doesn't matter who gets elected anyway. But to the
Puritan in us, that smells like a futilitarian retreat from
And as much as it gravels my anti-Puritan soul to say it, I have
Because recent appointments to the Supreme Court suggest it
matters who makes those nominations. A national debt that's quadrupled
since 1980 suggests it matters who proposes our budgets. The measure of
a tree as no more than a number of board feet of lumber suggests it
matters who makes our environmental decisions.
And when the International Study Team tells us that because of
immediate and delayed effects of sanctions and the Gulf War, 70,000
Iraqi children under the age of five died in 1991 and nearly 26,000 more
died in the first four months of 1992, it must matter a great deal who
decides our foreign policy.
So while the romantic in us finds the deer in our meadows
irresistible, the Puritan within whispers that 12 years is a wickedly
long summer vacation from responsibility and that it's time to come home
Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.