Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Thing with Feathers

After an exhausting, yet exhilarating two weeks of traveling and attending conferences, I was headed home.  My Southwest 737-700 series Boeing airplane landed in Portland Maine just before midnight, but not before circling out over the dark and deep North Atlantic on a cold, but not frigid winter’s night. Now that I’m working in Portland, the 32 mile drive has become routine, and I tend to drive quickly down the turnpike, often sharing the highway with a handful late night drivers and the occasional truck hauling wood products to a their awaiting warm southern destination.  Flipping between John Tesh’s radio show, Intelligence for Your Life, and First Wave satellite radio, I realize I was tired, and raced home.

Exit 32 arrives and I step on the gas of my white 4-cylinder Elantra, trying to catch the fleeting green light and pass through the intersection to the route 1 connector and the back roads to my house. I don’t see another car the rest of my drive.  With a half mile to go, I turn right onto my tree lined road, and pass the darken
Into the Darkness      Maine
homes that are scattered acres apart, separated by woods and small fields.  No picket fences here. After leaving the highway, I drive a little more causally, aware that critters, like deer and the occasion moose, may suddenly appear in the road in front of me.  Before reaching the driveway, my salt covered headlights catch the slinky crawl of a small animal crossing the road.   It’s safely in the other lane and just about to disappear into the forest, but I notice a brilliant flash of white. I smiled to myself, knowing that the skunk and I avoided a life altering collision.

Three days earlier, I sat in the expansive ballroom, the size of an airplane hanger, at the Hilton in Downtown Houston, Texas.  Things are just bigger in the Lone Star State.  A single soul in a sea of 4,000 activists, I eagerly awaited our conference’s featured speaker, Laverne Cox.  It must be my lucky year; this was my third in-person encounter with the most recognizable and fiercest trans activist today.  She also happens to be a beautiful woman of color.  I hope that doesn’t sound shallow, but she is beautiful, inside and out. 

Ask anyone who was there, Laverne’s speech was magical, visceral, and transformative. But right before she was introduced, activist MC, Kate Clinton, made a shout-out to Maine, announcing that the state Supreme Court had ruled in favor of a transgender girl in Maine, allowing her and any other trans students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity and expression.  The applause felt wonderful, knowing I live in a state what will protect the rights of our trans youth. Immediately following that exciting news, Laverne bounced onto the stage to the voice of Houston’s own Beyonce.  The roar of the hungry crowd sounded like a microburst.  It was apparent the enthusiastic greeting touched our speaker; "You're going to make me cry," she shared with the audience, “This feels so amazing, all this love that you're giving me tonight.”

The rest of conference was beyond my wildest expectations in terms of strengthening community and building my capacity as an
Laverne Cox   Houston, Texas
equality activist, but paled in comparison to Laverne’s revolutionary call to action and love.  She spoke passionately about CeCe McDonald’s recent release from prison and her fight to defend her life, rather than becoming another statistic. And with the certainty of a hate survivor, declared, “calling a trans woman a man is an act of violence.” 

 I awoke to a bright Monday morning, half dressed, after crashing on my bed a few hours earlier.  Dragging my body like a zombie to make coffee, I decided to stay home and give myself a day off.   With the sun warming the air, and the roads relatively clear, I felt like I needed a short run to clear my head and feel grounded. After two miles I turned south onto route 9 to continue my favorite loop that has a brief yet striking ocean view.  While I love running by the sheep farm and seeing the ladies in the snow covered field, I don’t enjoy running along a highway with cars and trucks racing by 60 miles an hour.  With snow and ice covering the shoulder, there was even less room for error.

Looking ahead I noticed a lump in the shoulder.  As I approached, I recognized the too familiar sight of a carcass, another victim of a hit and run.  In the 4 years since returning to running, I’ve jogged thousands of miles, and encountered countless dead creatures along the way, like birds, squirrels, raccoons, deer, and many others, who didn’t have a chance. Each time, I slow down slightly to look, their eyes are usually open, and stare right back at me.  Often the animal lies there for days, and sometimes weeks; decomposing and feeding scavengers over time, then slowly dissolving back into the earth.  Jogging past the frozen corpse, I realized it was a skunk.  It looked peaceful; with no visible signs of the collision that took it’s life, probably the night before.