Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Season of the Hunt

There’s a certain beauty and comfort to the swing of the seasons, the certainty of traditions, the trusted cycles. Used to be in this region of long summers and long rains that the first drops signaled the slide to the holidays, the days of harvest, of snugging up the homestead. Back in the days when I cleaned motel rooms between poems, the rise of the rivers brought the travelers intent on snagging a steelhead or salmon in the swollen rivers of winter. Trade at the motels rose as the rivers rose. The summerfolk had gone, the adventurers and the rains were here.

Now in our region there is a new tradition, a new sport with the twist of the season. The start of the rains, the drop in temperatures to below freezing—these signal the good times of rousting the campers and raiding the homes of those without addresses.

Perhaps a signal goes off in the offices of deputies as soon as it is wet enough and cold enough. Severe weather alert: hit the camps.

Again this year teams of sheriffs went to the hills and bushes and beside the river. Said theSheriff, chatting carefully on local radio, the deputies went in and “we were actually here last week starting notification, letting them know it’s gonna happen, giving them some alternatives, giving them some ideas…where they might go & some other county programs”.

This sounds like the most beneficent of social welfare programs. Go to that elderly veteran trying to recover from his wounded heart and body and reach out a firm, loving hand. “hey man, you don’t have to sleep on the muddy ground!” Say to the young mom and her daughter, “hey, no worries”.

But that’s not what happens. The veteran, the mother, the dozens of others receive a note telling them to clear out or else.

What programs are they offered? Where are they told to go, as they leave what possessions they cannot carry, or as they return to their camp to find all they had has been taken and thrown away?

Here’s the Sheriff again: “Well, obviously, one of the biggest problems we have…is services. There’s not a lot of services here…we’re trying to encourage people to go to where the help is available.”

And where might that be? Los Angeles, with its thousands, not dozens, of people sleeping on the streets? Eureka, where the few shelter beds are not enough even for the people of that city? The helpful TAP (transportation assistance program) can help those who have families to return to.

That won’t help the young woman whose family is the furthest thing from safety. That won’t console the widower fearing everything he has left, everything he has left to love, will be taken from him if he is found again trying to sleep, just as his wife, his home, and all his previous life were wrenched from him. He doesn’t sleep too well at night, waiting for the sound in the brush, waiting to be found once again.

We force our neighbors to live as if they were hunted. Because they are hunted, in this traditional season of the hunt. And even if the TAP program fits some temporarily displaced soul, the program requires some waiting. When your gear has been taken, when it is raining, and your clothes are wet, and the temperatures are dropping into the 20’s, and you have no place to go…how are you going to wait for the paperwork?

Says our Sheriff “uh, I feel that it is time for this area for us to step up and help. There’s a lot of people in this area who have expressed their concerns so I’m trying to help deal with that”.

Right. The confiscated gear, according to the papers received by our most at risk, will be stored 30 days. In fact, it is taken to the dump by the helpful SWAP team (a new twist in the games, using prisoners—well, at least they get some fresh air and time outdoors).

“They broke my home” said the wild eyed, shocked man. He’d lived there for many years, in the curve of a hillside, with his things. “They came and they broke everything down”. Where will you go, I asked. “I don’t know” he said “I’m homeless now”.

It is the time of the long rains. Of the return of the salmon, and the greening of the moss. It is the time in which nights bring frost and memories. People draw their children close and sit by the fire and dream.

And outside our neighbors shudder. It is the time of bronchitis and pneumonia. Of death by exposure. Our neighbors, without their bags, blankets, or a place to rest, hope to find a moments sleep. Maybe even a dream or two.

“Are you okay?” I asked the man who is dying of cancer. “I mean, with the raids and all”. He says “I’m fine. I carry all I have with me, and I get up before light”. He smiles and asks how I am doing.

I don’t quite know what to tell him.

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