2016-06-22 / Opinion

Politics on a Very Local Basis

* Kirby Olson is a Humanities Professor at SUNY-Delhi. His recent collection of poems is called Christmas at Rockefeller Center (WordTech 2015). * Kirby Olson is a Humanities Professor at SUNY-Delhi. His recent collection of poems is called Christmas at Rockefeller Center (WordTech 2015). I’m about to eat oatmeal. I have it every day. I put a carton of Chobani yogurt on top. It’s plain oatmeal, although sometimes I add cinnamon. It’s a very quiet pleasure. I have a kitchen window that looks out over an undeveloped mountain just in back of the Delaware River. Turkey buzzards circle for roadkill down on Route Ten.

I came from a small town in eastern Pennsylvania. The magical part of the week was Sunday School. To some extent, church still feels like home. It provides continuity. I’ve lived now in Seattle, France, Finland, but coming back to the Appalachians and living again along the Delaware River feels like home.

My parents were from even smaller towns out in Iowa. I’ve travelled, but that was travelling. The mountains are my home. Even in the sophisticated countries such as Finland (the Democrats cite Finland often as their model of what America should become), there are still rural areas where churches rise and citizens gather to worship. The values are clear and affirmative and simple.

The red state values fit the rural areas. You work hard, families stay together, transcendent truth is found in the church.

In the cities everything is in motion: nothing is affirmed. When city people speak, it is parody upon parody of a lost original, with nothing affirmed. Underneath it is a quiet sadness: the mourning of the unmoored.

In the poetry of Robert Frost on the other hand you have the quiet happiness of someone who knows their community and affirms its values. God, family, the work ethic. Fog burns off the river and reveals a fisherman standing in waders since dawn. He’s not a tourist. He’s planning to eat the fish with his family at supper after saying grace.

Geological time is at some variance with the model of the earth built in the Bible, particularly in Genesis. Following stream beds, as you can on the map of Delhi, we can see the outline of the streams that have flooded into Delhi for something on the order of 100,000,000 years. As I walk through town, I try to remember that there were once Indians living here, and before them the Mastodons, and before them there were dinosaurs. Ice ages went and came. It wasn’t always like this. There used to be trains that carried the heavy business. Down below the seven-story building (the tallest in the county, and where I work) is an area where strange old buildings are half-falling down. What are they doing there? It used to be the old train depot. Now gone for 50 years the train line is still what orients this village. The pile of crumbling weather beaten yellowing buildings (now almost collapsed) house a few feed stores, a newish soda machine, a car-wash, a lumber company (the Delaware river starts just twenty miles north of here and one branch of it comes through Delhi), and some other things I haven’t been able to identify. They used to bring in coal and take out milk via the train to Walton. Does anyone still use coal to heat their home? Now it’s the highway that goes along the path of the railway. It goes fifty miles south to a town called Deposit. Deposit is what the old lumber companies did. They deposited their logs there.

Today that area to the south of Walton is mostly desolate. Many towns that once lined the Delaware River are now in fact underneath the water of the enormous reservoirs thirty miles or so in length that belong to the NYC water department. Lonely highways stretch alongside of them. Every ten miles or so one sees a house.

When the train stopped running and was replaced by the highway, a sense of Delhi was lost, but it can still be found in the summer. Every Friday in July a town committee tries to replicate a painting from the 1950s by Stephen Dohanos that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. We have bands play in the octagonal building (gazebo) in front. There are hotdogs, and fireworks, and cotton candy, and people sell everything from tarot readings to toys and potato salad, while children compete for prizes by playing basketball, and there is a parade in which the fire departments of hamlets from all over the county try hard to keep in step as they march down Main Street.

The county is largely Republican. It still has farms, local businesses, and shops. The local people have real farms that produce milk for the local people. Democrats, however, are moving up from New York City. They have stuff like Alpaca farms. Some of it is just for a kind of Green Acres fun, but some of them sell the Alpaca fur to boutique fashion people. Those people are generally Democrats. These are people who want a check from the government and don’t want to have to do anything for it but believe it is wrong that there are really rich people somewhere, since they should get their money through raised taxation. Some of the Democrats have a second home in Delhi, but try to vote in both places in order to make this dream come true.

A huge fuss goes on in Washington, DC as the politicians throw around race, gender, and class, and other huge terms, and try to block each other’s projects, and take tax money and give it to their constituency in exchange for votes. I think the only money that makes any sense is money that you’ve worked for yourself, so I am against more taxes, or for taking money from rich people who’ve often worked hard for it.

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