Did you feel that lurch? That was the earth shifting on its axis Monday night when GSA Administrator Emily Murphy finally acceded to a peaceful transfer of power. I can’t say that she officially recognized Joe Biden as the president-elect, because she didn’t. She never mentioned his name or his new role in her letter of ascertainment. But that doesn’t matter.
Those pleasurable frissons that followed on Tuesday? Those were the aftershocks we experienced as President-elect Biden’s new security team introduced itself to the country. Oh “the coherence, the humanity, and the sincere humility,” as my cousin Charley said. “So adult. So refreshing. So encouraging,” said cousin Sandy. Charley again: “I had to stop and sit down and listen to what normalcy and rationality and world leadership actually sounds like.” Ever reflective, cousin Vince added: “What a restorative influence he will impart to our allies… My spirit was buoyed by the quality and experience of the new team as a whole.” In short, as cousin Barbara said, “The adults have returned to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” Cousin Myra summed up our feelings: “WE ARE FINALLY BACK TO THE GOOD OLE USA !!!!”
I realize you may not fully share my family’s enthusiasm for this week’s turn of events. You may be fearful of the policies this team will support. You may feel it’s reactionary to celebrate a return to a state of decorum that emphasizes civility and diplomacy and compassion. You may agree with Sen. Marco Rubio that these individuals, if the Senate confirms them, “will be polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline." You may have been uncomfortable seeing that diverse group of vastly experienced leaders on the stage with President-elect Biden. It may feel to you that the earth shifted in a more dastardly direction.
But I hope, on this Thanksgiving eve, we can all exhale and count our blessings. Our democracy is intact. Record numbers of Americans were able to vote in the middle of a pandemic in a variety of sometimes novel ways, despite widespread and creative efforts at voter suppression. Amid fears of malign intrusion, the Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council said the election was “the most secure in American history.”
For 20 days after the election we held our collective breath, wondering if we could indeed come to a peaceful settling of the score. It appears the proverbial guard rails, though strained, have held.
Nonetheless, nearly half the nation stands to be unhappy with this outcome. Although President-elect Biden received over six million more votes that President Trump, the election revealed a deep and lasting bifurcation in our philosophies of how government should work and how leaders should behave. It will take remarkable effort on the part of our elected officials and every American citizen to pull together and address the harrowing list of challenges we face, starting with an out-of-control global pandemic and an economy that has abandoned a wide swath of the electorate.
So let’s all take that deep breath. Let’s see if we can reset our expectations, our hopes, and our vision of what this country can be. Let’s look to our right and our left and see who most needs our help. And then let’s get back to work.
A few years ago, as I was piecing together my father’s youth from his writings and photos, it seemed clear that three of his favorite Anderson County haunts were the camp he built with Bobby Cole on Salt River, Lovers Leap, and Panther Rock.
Perhaps the latter two were preserved in words or pictures largely because they were notable local landmarks, scenic hideaways from what passed for civilization in the small town of Lawrenceburg. The fact that all three feature rocky outcrops overlooking moving water may reveal my father’s affinity for those natural features. Or perhaps it’s simply a testament to the magnetic beauty of the limestone palisades that dot the eastern Anderson County landscape.
In 2015, retired biologist and Lawrenceburg native Bill Bryant took me to Camp Last Resort for the first time. My own love for the woods and water made me wonder, somewhat peevishly, why no one had ever thought before that I might like to see the place that was so special for my dad. The photo on the cover of The Last Resort shows my father perched on a bluff above the small waterfall near his camp on Salt River. When I saw that photo, it seemed clear where I got my penchant for sitting with my feet dangling over a rocky cliff. (See photos below.)
I still have not been to Lovers Leap, the Kentucky River overlook near where I used to bike as a teenager, on rural roads I imagine my father also pedaled. But last weekend I finally made it to Panther Rock—unfortunately, too late for Dr. Bryant, the expert on Panther Rock, to accompany me.
I’m not sure what I expected. I had seen one photo of my dad seated below the rock face, but it had been hard to make out the full magnitude of what the picture relayed. When our small hiking party caught our first glimpse of the rock from the narrow approach path, however, I was dumbstruck by its immensity. We scrambled down the steep path and poked our noses into the cave at the bottom of the wall. We negotiated the fallen rocks and boulders until we reached the small stream dropping sharply away from Panther Rock.
The whole area felt mystical, magical, remote. I could not believe this gem lay hidden, at least for me—majestic and unexplored—as I grew up roaming the domesticated woods and creek behind my Lawrenceburg subdivision, just a short distance away.
In local mythology, Panther Rock got its name in 1773 when Elijah Scearce, a hunter and trapper from nearby Fort Harrod, was captured by a Native American chief. That first night a panther supposedly sneaked into their camp under the rock face and killed Scearce’s captor. Scearce then memorialized the area by naming it after the animal that had purportedly saved his life.
The area seems to have preserved its magic ever since. I am grateful to the property owners who permitted us to absorb its wonder for a short time on a bewitchingly perfect fall day. I can only hope that generations of future explorers who stumble into this sacred place will experience the same awe as their forebears. I know I could almost hear Pud and Bobby speaking in hushed tones as they pulled bacon sandwiches from their knapsack.
Bobby Cole at Lovers Leap in 1941. Photo taken by Pud Goodlett. On May 13, 1942, Goodlett wrote in his journal, "Rinky, Bobby, and I went to Lover’s Leap this afternoon. We saw the unusual red sticky flower, and lots of pinks, but outside of these, the day was very dull. Lover’s Leap seems to have lost its attraction."
More photos of Panther rock, november 2020
Last week, as COVID-19 cases surged all across the country and the nation remained mired in a contentious election cycle, we in the Ohio Valley and the Midwest enjoyed unseasonable fall weather, with abundant sunshine and temperatures regularly reaching into the mid- and upper-70s. Each day I found myself setting my work aside and spending more time outdoors—walking the dog, bicycling tree-lined country lanes, kayaking on my small lake…and trying to stay upright in the rowing scull recently bequeathed to me by a friend and neighbor who had decided to rejoin civilization in Lexington.
That neighbor, David Bettez, was a day away from closing on his house here on the lake. I discovered messages on my phone asking if I would be willing to store his single scull on my property until he could find someone—possibly from one of the rowing clubs in Cincinnati or Louisville—who might be interested in it. I’ve known David and his wife, Roi-Ann, for over 20 years. I knew they were avid sailors. I knew they occasionally paddled their canoe on the lake. I had no idea David owned a scull.
As I read his message, I’m sure my pupils grew to the size of saucers and my heart started racing. I had always wanted to try rowing but had never had an opportunity. My cousins Martha and Becky are accomplished rowers who have regularly competed at the Head Of the Charles, the elite competition held each October on the Charles River in Boston. Once when I was visiting Martha in Seattle years ago, I went out to Lake Washington early one morning to watch rowing practice. They put me in the motorboat with the coach. It was a fascinating introduction to a grueling sport. I wanted to try it.
So I asked David if he would consider selling the scull to me.
Turned out that watching me wrestle with those big oars in the narrow inlet near my house was all the payment he wanted. I’m sure it was akin to attending comedy night at the local pub (back when those things were possible). The amazingly generous deal he offered included a day of instruction and several books on rowing technique and personal rowing adventures. The books will taunt me until I find a few days to immerse myself in them. The beginner’s instructional course took place November 9.
To calm any jitters before my introduction to the sport, I tried to assess what useful skills I might have accrued over my many decades of outdoor activity. I was accustomed to getting in and out of somewhat narrow, somewhat tippy boats. And I used to row our old metal johnboat, before we acquired lighter weight kayaks. This past summer, lazily backstroking was about all the swimming I did, so traveling backwards across the water would not be a novel sensation. In fact, my general comfort in the water made me less fearful of being tossed in by an unruly oar, even in early November.
So I hoped I could transfer some of those experiences into a successful turn in the scull. David was a gem—organized, patient, encouraging. I flailed. He talked me through it. Roi-Ann filmed. I nearly clipped the elaborate Christmas tree erected on a nearby dock. My neighbor Marc, standing on the shore watching, offered me a trolling motor.
I can’t say I ever really got the hang of it. But I think I understand, for the most part, what I need to do. Mostly I know I need practice. Miles, as Martha told me. I headed out on my own the next day, but the wind was whipping a bit and I decided I’d better not wander too far out on the open lake. So I still need many, many hours under my belt.
But more than anything, I relished having yet another excuse to be out on the water, far from all the daily horror that seemed to be smothering us. I relished a new physical challenge, at an age when bending over to tie a shoe or reaching for a clothes hanger can result in weeks of debilitation. I relished that I have friends who are willing to part with a piece of their own history so I can create a little history of my own.
Sometimes the best tonic is taking a risk. Putting oneself in a situation where humiliation is nearly guaranteed. Opening oneself to a new joy. Life can become routine, even a little dull when opportunities for new experiences have been sorely limited by necessary precautions during a pandemic. I was fortunate to have a new challenge drop in my lap. How could I let it pass without giving it a whirl?
Vince Fallis, of Rabbit Hash, Ky., gets this week's last word.
To all those who portrayed the Black Lives Matter protesters as looters and arsonists, I point your attention to the crowds gathering in the streets of New York and Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., as well as other cities, this weekend. This is what a peaceful demonstration looks like when people are delivered from the threat of autocracy and the evil that it, by necessity, brings. It is a spontaneous outbreak of shared joy and brotherhood, and a vision of opportunity and equitable treatment for those with the most to those with the least.
It will not magically cure all the ills that have accrued, but will breathe hope into those so desperately in need of it. Who knows, maybe some of the least likely will eventually come over and join the party.
Hope springs eternal.
If you haven’t already—and many of us have—Tuesday you must vote. It is our responsibility as citizens to exercise our franchise. It really shouldn’t be optional, and in some countries it isn’t. In 22 countries, voting is mandatory. Many of those countries are in Central and South America, including our neighbor to the south, Mexico. In Australia, failure to vote can result in a $20 fine.
Despite Americans’ typical apathy about voting—which is incomprehensible to me—it looks like we may have record turnout for this election, and that is good. In some places, such as here in Kentucky, voting is easier than it has ever been, thanks to remarkable bipartisan collaboration between our governor, Andy Beshear (D), and our secretary of state, Michael Adams (R). One of the few positives that we can attribute to a global pandemic will be the expansion of voting options across much of our country. And despite transparent efforts by some to suppress voting in certain communities, U.S. citizens are coming out in droves. As of October 31, two states, Texas and Hawaii, had already surpassed the total votes cast in 2016.
If you feel that none of the candidates has sufficiently wooed or inspired you, get over it. I haven’t heard a single candidate address the unique challenges of an aging sub-five-foot female who navigated the world most of her life as a redhead. I can’t sit home and wait for a candidate to speak to my truly special needs. I am responsible for carefully assessing the candidates and their plans for this nation’s future and voting. That’s not just my privilege as an American citizen; it’s my obligation.
As U.S. citizens, we are awarded munificent benefits. In exchange, we assume certain duties. It is our job to vote, whether there is a candidate who passionately inspires us or not, whether there is a candidate who speaks to our specific needs or concerns or not. We must make a choice among the candidates on the ballot, human though they may be. We must choose the candidate who best aligns with our values and our goals for this country.
That last statement is important. Our vote should not be solely self-referential. We should not look for the candidate we think will increase our personal wealth or grant us superiority over other citizens or anoint us with some special power. We should choose the candidate we believe has the vision for making the country better for everyone. Our fate as a nation rests on the success of us all.
Eddie Glaude Jr., the James S. McDonnell Distinguished Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, recently said, “Liberty has become a synonym for selfishness.” We must change that. We can only be free when we take the steps to ensure everyone’s freedom. Our embrace of liberty should lift up others, not hurt them. Or sicken them. Or impede their ability to succeed.
In his comments, Glaude also said, “The idea of national sacrifice seems not to be in currency right now.” We must change that attitude, too. The first “sacrifice” we all can make is to take the time to vote. After we have taken that step, perhaps that will lead to making other small sacrifices necessary to tamp down the pandemic that is raging across this country. And then, who knows? Perhaps we’ll discover that these small sacrifices—doing something that may be inconvenient but that may help our fellow citizens—make us feel better about ourselves and our prospects as a nation. I can only hope so.
So if you have already voted, take a moment and see if you can identify one person in your circle who may be reluctant to vote. Call that person. Ask whether he or she has voted. If necessary, ask what you can do to eliminate obstacles for that friend or family member. Urge them to fulfill their civic duty. Urge them to make a choice that will lift us all up and move our nation toward a more perfect union.