It’s a time of year I generally look forward to: crisp fall days, new colors altering the landscape, chipmunks and squirrels stocking the winter pantry, a reprieve from the sweat-soaked days of summer.
And Election Day.
I am the daughter of Pud and Mary Marrs Goodlett. My fate was sealed. I am a political animal.
I admit that I generally get caught up in electoral politics. The adrenaline begins to pump. I spend more time in front of the TV watching debates and interviews with the candidates. My highs and lows are more marked. And my hopes are frequently dashed.
This year, as the rhetoric heats up and our country seems to split further and further apart, I have spent a good bit of time thinking about the people who don’t share my passion for politics, the ones who can blithely enjoy the gifts of fall while ignoring the political shenanigans in the background. I particularly wonder about the huge percentage of citizens in this blessed country who do not vote, who seem to have no interest in participating in our democracy.
Voting to me is obligatory. I put it on my calendar and my to-do list like any other important appointment. I do my best to be informed about the candidates and the issues. I have never missed voting in an election.
So how, I ask myself, is it so easy for others to ignore what for me is a very special day?
As I thought about this, I recalled my introduction to voter engagement. After my father died and my mother moved our family to her Kentucky home town, I’m fairly certain I accompanied her to the polling place each time she voted. I went with her into the voting booth, watched her close the curtain, understood that it was a private, almost sacred, ritual she was performing. Sometimes I was aware of one or more of the candidates she was voting for. Occasionally I had helped stuff envelopes at the candidate’s local campaign headquarters. I imagine there were times when I was not as aware of who was on the ballot. But I perceived voting as one more responsibility of adulthood. And, just like banking or grocery shopping or returning library books, she was making sure I was familiar with the obligations that would one day be mine.
I think now that that experience removed any mystery from the voting process. I was never uneasy about going to the polls and pulling that lever or filling in that circle or selecting candidates on the touchpad. It was my duty. And I was excited to have the opportunity to voice my preferences.
But I have to remember that I am a middle-class white woman who has not (yet) been targeted as someone who certain candidates or certain parties want to prevent from voting. I’ve never felt intimidated at the polls. I understand that I may not know everything I need to know about every candidate, but I am usually satisfied that I have done my best to understand the values and the issues they represent. I trust that I am as capable as any other citizen to cast a vote.
Not everyone has had my experiences. Not everyone had a parent who pulled back the curtain and showed a young child how simple it is to participate in something so vitally important. Not everyone has been made to feel comfortable, or wanted, at the polls. Not everyone feels confident that she can make educated decisions about the candidates.
I, of course, want to encourage everyone to vote. But I also want to encourage you to reach out to a friend or neighbor or relative who may not have made it a habit to vote and help him or her get comfortable with the process. It may be a young adult who has just been awarded the privilege of voting. It may be a neighbor who doesn’t get out much and simply needs a ride to the voting site or help casting an absentee ballot. Perhaps it’s an elderly family member who never bothered because she didn’t feel knowledgeable enough or didn’t feel that her one vote made any difference.
Let me remind you how much your individual vote matters. In the 2015 Kentucky gubernatorial primary, Republican candidate Matt Bevin beat James Comer by 83 votes: 70,480 to 70,397. For those two candidates, you better believe every vote mattered.
So as you revel in the glory of fall, make sure you remember to vote on Nov. 6. It is our civic duty. We owe it to our parents, to our country, and to all of those who have been denied the opportunity to vote since the founding of this nation.
Each October Rick and I look forward to our first walk down an old farm road near our house that in recent years has been taken over by a deciduous forest. The footpath is inaccessible in the summer, when the dense ground vegetation makes it nearly impassable. But as fall arrives, and the undergrowth begins to die away, we clear a path for daily walks. Our dog, Lucy, loves it as much as we do. It gives her new territory to sniff and new space to roam. It lets us feel like we have stepped out of our built world and into the heart of a woods.
Each year we also find that nature has somehow altered our path. A large tree has come down, forcing a detour. Oversized thorny bushes convince us to try a new route. Rains carve out a gully we have to step around.
We take all of this in stride. It’s fun to forge a new path, to see the woods from a slightly different perspective.
But across large swaths of the southern United States, two powerful hurricanes have altered the lives of thousands of Americans. Nature has once again roared ashore, destroying buildings, obliterating livelihoods. U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and other parts of Florida and Texas are still recovering from last year’s storms. Humans rarely win a battle with nature—especially when we continue to deny her power and resent any implication that our indulgences are contributing to her erratic behavior.
A report issued Oct. 8 by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds that these catastrophes will only get worse unless we hunker down and take the necessary steps to reduce global warming. If we don’t, it could cost us trillions of dollars. A New York Times article describes the threats we are facing as “a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040” as well as “intensifying droughts and poverty” and “increased coastal flooding.”
Forestalling this cataclysm will take international cooperation and a complete transformation of our economy, according to the report. We all know how likely that is to happen.
But when change is in our control, when we can alter our behavior to avoid such devastation, wouldn’t that be the obvious choice? Wouldn’t we at least want to take incremental steps to prevent worldwide suffering and economic loss? Why do we keep waiting?
Back along our woodland path, we see that the adjoining property has been cleared for a new home. Construction is ongoing. The owner is a friendly man, who loves my dog. But I can’t help thinking how human action has once again destroyed a small area of natural land.
This morning I saw two deer wandering down the middle of the main road through our neighborhood. They looked perplexed. They had just emerged from a small copse of woods on one side of the road. Normally, they bound immediately across the road, into the protective woods on the other side. But today the woods are gone. Acres of trees that have stood for decades have been bulldozed to make room for 50 more houses. Heavy equipment roars and beeps day and night. A whole hillside has been moonscaped.
I know the place where my house sits was once woodland, too. The remnants of the deciduous forest remain along the shoreline of the lake. I realize this area was also cleared for development. But in our part of the neighborhood, the houses were tucked into the existing trees. The sharp hillsides were allowed to remain. The natural contours of the land are still evident.
Being the caretakers of this land is a privilege. I understand that we have to accommodate the needs of the people who depend on it for sustenance. But isn’t it also possible to be thoughtful guardians, protectors of both the wild inhabitants and the future generations who will need to inhabit it? After all, we’re all dependent on each other for life. We cannot breathe if not for the woods. Our breath gives them sustenance. Every creature large and small plays a role in our complex ecosystem.
We may think we hold sway over all that is on this planet. That we have the power to manage it all for our own purposes. That is, until the next mammoth storm or wildfire or flood. And then we are reminded that nature always wins. That we have to be the ones to step out of the way of the fallen tree and think hard about how our actions contributed to its demise.
When David Hoefer and I started working on The Last Resort, we realized that the book could appeal to a variety of readers. Most obviously, I expected the people who had known Pud would have a sentimental attachment to the stories of his youth. From there, it occurred to me that others of his generation or perhaps folks who had grown up in similar rural communities would enjoy reminiscing about a time long gone.
As the project evolved, we began to think that other audiences might find something of interest in the book. Folklorists might find the boys’ customs or food ways a window into cultural norms of the time. Historians might appreciate the journals and the World War II letters as primary source materials that paint a specific tale of how one man navigated the journey to adulthood during a tumultuous period in our nation’s history. Botanists and biologists might be interested in the flora and fauna that Pud noted were prevalent in central Kentucky 70 years ago. Or they might find the awakenings of a young scientist a compelling story.
I also felt it was, at its simplest, a good story. People who enjoyed reading biographies or short stories would find it an enjoyable glimpse into a bygone era.
A year later, I believe we have in some small way tapped into all of these audiences. The book has helped me reconnect with family members of my father’s professional colleagues and childhood friends. I have heard from historians who have used the book in their classes. A handful of my father’s students have shared the book with their fellow scientists, in places as far-flung as New Zealand.
Over the next several weeks, I’ll have a chance to connect personally with some of these readers. I am grateful for all of them. I am happy that David convinced me to see this project through. And I’m looking forward to finding out what about the book piques the interest of each individual.
On Tuesday, Oct. 9, I’ll have the privilege of talking to members of the Lawrenceburg community, the now bustling central Kentucky town where Pud and Bobby and Rinky and Lin Morgan grew up. At the regular monthly meeting of the Anderson County Historical Society, I expect to see friends and family members of the boys who spent time at The Last Resort camp along Salt River. I expect they will share more stories of what life was like in that rural community in the 1940s. For them, it will be a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
On Wednesday, Nov. 7, I have been invited to participate in the Kentucky Authors and Poets event in nearby Frankfort, Ky., sponsored by the Kentucky Conservation Committee. I expect the audience there will include conservationists and environmentalists who work every day to preserve Kentucky’s waterways and woodlands. That audience may be more interested in John C. Goodlett the pioneering ecologist and plant geographer, or perhaps in the field notes of 19-year-old Pud Goodlett the University of Kentucky biology student. I share with them an interest in preserving the natural areas along Salt River and Elkhorn Creek and the Kentucky River so future generations can have experiences akin to those of the young boys at The Last Resort
And on Saturday, Nov. 17, I will be surrounded by more than 150 authors at the 37th annual Kentucky Book Fair sponsored by Kentucky Humanities. Some of the authors gathered there will present formal programs, and we will all be available to talk to curious readers and sign books. I will be humbled by the presence of Wendell Berry, Bobbie Ann Mason, Silas House, and Sarah Smarsh, among others. On that day, my likely audience may be avid readers of Kentucky history or readers looking for Christmas gifts for aging parents or grandparents.
Publishing this book has been a sometimes surprising journey. I am thankful for all the people who’ve expressed a genuine interest in the project. I hope you’ve enjoyed coming along for the ride.
For more details about any of these events, visit the Murky Press home page.