Show Snovels and Other Trivia


Eugene, Oregon, rarely gets temperatures lower than the mid-twenties (-4 C.) or more than an inch or two of snow accumulation. As I write, my yard contains fourteen inches that fell in the last day and a half, and snow is still falling. The airport is closed, and Amtrak (America's long distance passenger train service) hit a tree forty miles from here, and its passengers were stranded in the train for 36-hours with too little food and heat. Few people own snow shovels, and I even saw one woman clearing her driveway with a round pointed garden shovel.

I didn't even know what a snow shovel looked like (verbal maladroit that I am, you could put a gun to my head, and the term would still come out show snovel) before moving to Minneapolis in October 1988, just in time for the season's first snow. I always enjoyed buying tools, and my fondness for shoveling certainly stood me in good stead, but I would have had to do it regardless in order to get the car out of the driveway and to avoid a fine for letting snow accumulate on my sidewalk. During my two winters there, the Twin Cities (the only thing that separates Minneapolis from St. Paul is the Mississippi River) never had a snow so heavy that it brought life to a standstill. 

Therefore, when I heard Minnesotans whining on the TV recently about the sub-zero cold, I thought they must have turned into sissies because I remembered zero degrees as being almost balmy on sunny, windless days. Sure enough, when I looked up the winter lows during my time in Minnesota, I discovered that in both '88 and '89, the mercury hit -24 F (-31 C.), which wasn't even regarded as noteworthy. In fact, my area of southern Minnesota was called the Banana Belt to distinguish it from the far colder northern Minnesota cities of Duluth and International Falls. Truly, global warming has spoiled Twin Cities' residents if they regard -5 (-21 C.) as cold, although I'm sure that the schnauzer we had back then would agree with them because when I dressed her in her fleece-lined red coat and took her for her daily walks, she would run up to the door of every house we passed in the hope that someone would let her in.

The southern Willamette Valley doesn't do well with heavy snow, and god forbid that we get an ice storm. I live near downtown and had naively imagined that our power would stay on regardless, but a few winters ago, it was out for six days during zero cold (-18 C.), and it was out for four days during another winter (zero being very unusual here). Because I use a BiPAP for severe sleep apnea, power outages are no joke for me, and my potted plants don't think any too well of them either. Fortunately, we have a gas fireplace insert that at least enables the plants to survive and for us to remain in our home (I power my BiPap with a twelve-volt battery).

As I write, many thousands of people are without power, but thankfully Peggy and I aren't among them. We're also fortunate in that we have no place that we have to go because while I think our four-wheel drive car would do fine, I don't want to get salt on it. When I moved to Minneapolis, I was as ignorant of salt as I was of snow shovels, so when I saw trucks scattering sand on the roadways I concluded that the sand was being used instead of salt, but I soon learned that the two are mixed.

Well, here I sit in my cozy home, writing and listening to Vivaldi in the company of my wife and four cats. Life could certainly be worse. I could have a schnauzer that I felt obligated to walk "for her own good" no matter how much she hated it. I still don't know if I did right by that dog, but she came through it okay, finally dying at age seventeen.

Mississippi On My Mind

My ancestral roots go deep in Mississippi, a state that regards itself as God's chosen part of his chosen nation, yet lags behind the rest of that nation in every measure of welfare. For instance, Mississippi ranks 50th among the fifty states in health care, 49th in infrastructure, 49th in opportunity, 48th in economy, and 46th in education.* The state is such a hellhole that it receives more money from the federal government than it pays into it, which makes it all the more extraordinary that Mississippi consistently elects politicians who oppose helping the poor. I can think of a few reasons for this. 

(1) Although poverty plagues the entire state, the 37% of the population that are black suffers more. Because white Mississippians tend to attribute their black neighbors' problems to laziness, improvidence, and sexual immorality, I think it likely that the state's resistance to receiving federal aid is partially inspired by a desire to harm its black residents. 

(2) Mississippi only elects conservative politicians (preferably Southern Baptists) who get misty-eyed while talking of their love for Jesus and who interpret the Bible literally. No candidate who believes in evolution, global warming, or the antiquity of the earth, can win an election in Mississippi, and I would despair of even calling an ambulance if I were openly pro-choice or favored gay rights. Despite this, white Mississippians are wildly enthusiastic for President Grab-em-by-the-Pussy because he at least claims to love Jesus and to support Biblical morality and "science." If pressed to explain their inconsistency, white Mississippians say that, although Trump might fall short of being exactly perfect, well, who is. It is not a tolerance that extends to fetus-murdering, fag-loving, gun-banning Democrats who have never "invited the Lord Jesus Christ into their hearts."

(3) From its antebellum era onward, white Mississippians were infamous for their a reactionary mentality and mistrust of the federal government. Envision a belligerent neighbor who decorates his yard with junked cars and half-starved dogs, and you have an image of Mississippi. I'll give two examples: 

Although the state's antebellum economy made a handful of people spectacularly wealthy, the rest of the population's inability to compete with slave labor kept them impoverished, yet this did not discourage tens of thousands of poor Mississippians from marching off to kill "nigger-loving Yankees" so that rich men might keep their slaves, euphemistically referring to that war as a struggle for state's rights. This same mentality remains evident in Mississippi's support of politicians who pander to the state's religious and racial prejudices while opposing its economic interests, only today's rationale is religious liberty, by which is meant the liberty of conservative Christians to force their values, ceremonies, "science," and monuments, on everyone else. 

Here's my second example: during my adolescent years in the 1960s, the state's economy suffered because out of state businesses were unwilling to locate to an area where people were being bombed, shot, beaten, and jailed, simply for exercising their right to vote. It was true then as it is true now that the more the rest of the nation scorns white Mississippians, the more white Mississippians are convinced that they are "suffering for righteousness' sake."

How, then, does Mississippi explain its many failures or the advancement of such secularized areas as New England and the Pacific Northwest? Mississipians quote the Bible to prove that God tests those he loves; they argue that, despite being the prayingest state in the Union, Mississippi needs still more prayer; and they claim that God punishes the parts of a nation for the sins of the whole. As a result of its refusal to act in its own interest or to take responsibility for its failures, Mississippi blames its every problem on someone else. For example, it blames school shootings on the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that compulsory school prayer is un-Constitutional ("When the Supreme Court kicked God out of our schools, it invited Satan in"), and I wince when I remember being struck on the head when I didn't stand for opening prayer while on jury duty. Such is the mentality of people who blame violence on too little prayer but, in my case and others, use violence against those who don't pray. It was this mentality that led me to leave the state because I concluded that I had to either stand up for my convictions and bear the consequences, or I had to move to where sanity prevailed. I made the latter choice, although I am still pained by the knowledge that I acted out of cowardice, and that I abandoned those who shared my values.

Mississippi has been on my mind of late because Peggy recently went there to visit her father, commenting before she left that she was about to fly into hostile territory. I could but agree. Although Mississippi could be far worse (in the absence of Federal protections, it could be a Christian version of theocratic Islamic nations), my memories of having lived there for 36 years are nonetheless demoralizing. No one should be made to suffer simply because he or she is a non-conformist or a member of a minority, and I'll never get over the fact that Mississippi's oppressing majority claims moral superiority by virtue of its love for Jesus Christ.