Reacting

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Painted Hills, Oregon: A rock along one of the boardwalk trails

I’d tried posting this earlier, as a brief “out of town, here’s a cool picture I took, I’ll be back at the weekend” sort of post but the mobile site and my phone wouldn’t cooperate. So I’m back. We were down in the States with my family for the week, and we spent some time in the Painted Hills in central-eastern Oregon. I hadn’t really been in that area since I was fifteen and on a school trip (albeit further east than where we were this time).

We stayed in a brightly painted cottage overlooking a small cliff with my family. This particular trip included me, Beowulf, Eowyn, my parents, my grandfather, my three brothers, and the girlfriend of one of my brothers. And my parents’ dog. The place may have technically been a cottage, but it was definitely roomy enough that we didn’t feel cramped, though we did spend most of the full days we were there out hiking, so there wasn’t really time to feel cramped.

The Painted Hills and the surrounding area are very beautiful, but it’s an entirely different landscape than what I’m used to. The rolling hills, the rocks, the cliffs, the short pines and sage brush, the short bursts of drenching rain interspersed with wind and sun…it’s remarkable and amazing but there were moments when it felt like being on a different planet, almost like Spock and Kirk were going to come charging over the next hill, with aliens in hot pursuit.

I’m used to the Canadian Pacific Northwest, the rain that comes and goes, the tree and snow-covered mountains that ring the valley we live in, the rivers framing our cities, the greenness of it all. Stepping out into nature is to step into the forest and feel the ancient trees surrounding me.

In the Painted Hills, there’s no cover, no dense canopy to shield you from the sun and wind. And the land is ancient beyond words. The old growth trees I know are barely children in comparison to the layers of bright colour in the rocks that are millions of years old; the fossils they find in the area are older than the earliest beginnings of the human race. It’s awe-inspiring.

And in the midst of taking in all this, I was reading snippets about Orlando and Pulse. The first news coverage I heard didn’t even mention that it was a gay nightclub. It all seemed so far away – we didn’t even get cell coverage out where we were and the wi-fi at the cottage was a bit spotty at times. So my reaction was delayed, for all that when I heard I slipped outside so I could pray without worrying that my family might notice that I wasn’t praying just to Jesus. My emotions about it all hit yesterday, and I ached with grief and anger, but mostly grief and a bit of resignation, because mass shootings happen so horribly often in the States and I wish people would stop squawking about the Second Amendment and recognize that guns are fucking dangerous implements that are designed to kill people and that it’s stupid to make them so widely available (yes, there is gun violence here in Canada, though not nearly as much as in the States, and there are a lot of gun owners. But most gun owners tend to be hunters and that’s what their guns are used for, and you certainly aren’t allowed to buy assault rifles here). Oh, and yes, obviously, I’m a fan of gun control, and unapologetic about that.

For all that I’ve never been a nightclub person, for all that I am a bisexual woman who only came into a fuller understanding of my sexuality in my late twenties and am often perceived as straight (I’m out where I can be), I understand that these places have often been sanctuaries to the LGBTQ community, in a world that all too often rejects us. The murders at Pulse were not just horrific murders, violations of the sanctity of life and death, they were also violations of sanctuary.

I don’t know what to do, other than grieve, and try to send out some kind of prayers to whatever gods might be listening. I know there’s support stuff going on; Equality Florida has a GoFundMe that, when I checked just now, has raised over $5 million dollars to help support the families of the victims who died and for medical help et cetera for the survivors. There are small ways I can make a difference, but it’s one of those times when it all seems so overwhelming – there’s so much suffering and injustice in the world and it seems like it never ends.

And this is one of those times when I realize that I don’t precisely believe in an omnipotent god (or gods) anymore. I did once, I know that. Just not right now. Maybe I will again someday, but not today.

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Painted Hills, Oregon

 

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