Gravity Works: Happy Birthday America

By Denis B. Hall

Every Fourth of July for 30 years I woke up, put on a fancy shirt and celebratory hat, and greeted Crested Butte’s annual parade with “Happy Birthday, America.” I don’t do that any longer; I’ve simply outlived the demographic. Besides, my shtick was time-worn and my enthusiasm waned.

While many holidays can be observed quietly and privately, a celebration of nationhood generally mandates more outgoing revelry. In a town where revelry is first nature, Fourth of July celebrations can leave amateur bingers in the dust. I left those days behind too.

“So what do you do for fun?” a friend asked a totally reasonable question.

“I’m easily entertained,” I responded, but didn’t elaborate. I celebrate the American dirt under my feet. I ride my bike on public land singletrack or hike around and look at the views. I celebrate the landscape that claimed me a half-century ago; I am defined by my place. Like I said: easily entertained.

Although not exactly fun, I am also entertained by American politics. Secure in my high-altitude Crested Butte bubble, much of the nasty results of American politics is filtered by thin air and cold temperatures. However, like spoiled meat, politics has spread its stench.

Although perhaps not the most patriotic of souls, I have always been a proud American. I show up, pay attention and speak my truth, and I try not to be attached to the outcome (three out of four ain’t bad). I figure if I can’t affect big-picture change, I will help craft human society right here in the frozen food section. Bring a warm coat and boots.

Given the celebratory nature of Fourth of July, I am trying hard to remain upbeat. The holiday celebrates the birth of an American nation, which for all its faults is a wonderful experiment in social evolution. Our machinations have stopped being entertaining, though; there is nothing entertaining or celebratory about our recent devolution.

All right, the cat is out of the bag and I might as well jump in with both feet. I am a proud, left-wing progressive. My lifetime credentials are impeccable. I subscribe to neither Republican nor Democrat politics because I feel both ideologies and the process itself are flawed. I am saddened and frightened by polarization that leads to intolerance and violence.

I am offended by the people we chose as leaders. I am disappointed that Americans—for whatever reasons—installed a lying, ignorant and deceitful blowhard in America’s House. I am disappointed mostly in myself for not seeing it coming.

When I was a young man, I remember thinking, “Gee, we sure have it good. I only hope the offal doesn’t hit the fan when I’m too old to duck.” Well, here I am, and the fan is clogged with the stuff. We no longer know the difference between truth and propaganda. Paying attention, I deconstruct right-wing crap and left-wing bullshit to try to glimpse a semblance of truth. Yeah, good luck with that.

I never thought I’d have to be careful about what I say in public. If you don’t think things are this dire, go to Colorado Springs or Grand Junction and speak your libtard mind. Hold forth in front of the Crested Butte post office where once I was accused of treason—at the top of my detractor’s lungs.

I believe I have a responsibility: If I criticize something, I’d damned well better offer an alternative fix. I admit in this case the fix is beyond me. Maybe I no longer understand the American demographic. Maybe I’ve lived so long in the Crested Butte bubble my mind isn’t resilient enough to understand the big picture. Maybe the thin air has affected me in unforeseen ways. Dementia or Indica?

For the short term, for at least the celebration of our American holiday, my alternative fix is to forget about everything for the day. Have fun. Be patriotic. Go drink PBR and Jack Daniels and party with your friends. Eat hamburgers and watch fireworks.

Take Edward Abbey’s advice: “Get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space…”

Celebrate your place and your community. Celebrate that you live in what is still the last best place. Is that upbeat enough? Whatever you do, don’t talk politics. Happy Birthday, America.

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