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between-our-steps-10-07-17-doubleWhen I drafted this reflection on my recent visit to the US, I had not heard about the shooting in Las Vegas. I was going to start with a panel on dystopia at the speculative fiction convention I attended. But as we drove, I saw a huge flag at half-mast. For Puerto Rico, I wondered. I saw a few more before we stopped for gas, and the news program shown on the pump talked about a shooting. The restaurant TV had more information. I listened with horror.

The next day, one report talked about a country music concert, which had been organized to raise funds and to mourn, where a singer who had been a die-hard NRA supporter said it was time to change the laws.

This is a part of American culture that I don't understand, but I can hope and pray with many south of the border that some laws will be tightened.

The thing that the panel on dystopia did was open my eyes to dissent. The topic was dystopian literature and how close the country was to falling into dystopia. The moderator said, "So much legislation in our state and our nation is stripping away our humanity."

With quiet assurance, the panelist and audience talked about why specific legislation was problematic and which directions disturbed them. They talked about how literature could surface issues the way novels like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 had in the past. People named the responsibility to stimulate compassion and push for open dialogue, freedom, cordial debate. They supported alternative voices--such as the cultural and LGBTQ communities--that were offering a different direction.

The whole atmosphere was so different from what we see on CNN or Fox. My eyes were open to look for a different America.

This "con" was different from others I have attended in that cosplay is central. As well as a well-organized masquerade, people walk the halls in costumes that are mostly hand-made. There were elves and steampunk engineers, every warrior you can think of as well as beloved comic book characters. I saw someone dressed like Cousin It from The Adams Family except instead of hair, they were covered with shiny mardi gras beads.

I was reminded that although I wear street clothes at this kind of event, people have fun and explore their identity in many different ways.

We went on from the "con" to a family visit. We took a walk on a trail with courteous cyclists, runners, and lots of people walking dogs. The path was full of people. We got to a huge off-leash dog park where dogs and owners greeted each other.

For lunch, we drove to a tiny village in the middle of a corn field. On the way, we stopped at the side of a narrow road to admire "the big tree." Two cyclists and five other cars had stopped as well to look at an oak tree that would take five people with arms outstretched to reach around it. The trees wide canopy shaded the road, and the scars of many fallen branches marked its trunk. Estimates say that the oak is 350 or 400 years old.

It is just a tree. There are bigger ones. Once a tree of this age would not be one-of-a-kind. But in a land where most fields are worked and planted, this tree is admired. The road goes around it, and the field does not approach too close.

We learned about a gym class called Outdoor Ed where as well as sports and kayaking, the students learn fishing and hunting. This is a breeze for the farm kids and an introduction to a different world for the city kids, but both learn the rules and the reason for them. In the context of the shooting in Las Vegas, this class offers an opportunity to talk about a proper place for firearms.

Each hotel with a pool we stayed at had a lift to help people with mobility issues get into the pool. This kind of accessibility assist is not easy to come by in Canada.

It was good to get south of the border, to see ordinary life and overhear ordinary conversations. There are things I don't get, but I was reminded that the shrill voices we get on the news are not the only ones.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister, and writer living near Walters Falls.


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