2017 Year-End License Plate Report

As you’ve probably guessed, 2017 closed with the map looking exactly as it did at the end of September. It wasn’t a bad year at all. I spotted plates from 45 different states. AWOL at the end were Alaska, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Mississippi, and the perennial holdout, North Dakota.

I heard secondhand reports of Nevada, Utah, and North Dakota (no kidding), but if I don’t see it, it don’t count.

At the West Tisbury post office a few weeks ago I was comparing notes with someone else who plays the game — in fact, it was her husband who got me started about 30 years ago. She’s been having friendly weekly competitions with friends: whoever spots the most in a week wins. I like this idea. It would make the later part of the year, when whole weeks and even months go by with no new sightings, more fun. The yearly tally would continue, of course, but each week would bring a new start.

Speaking of new starts, my 2018 map is now posted on the fridge, but the only states logged so far are Massachusetts (hard to miss because there are four of them in the driveway I share with my neighbors) and Pennsylvania (which isn’t all that common in the #2 spot but it’s no way as unusual as the Louisiana I spotted one year while on my morning walk). It’s been cold as hell lately — the kind of hell a snowball would have a very good chance in — and I haven’t been on the road much.

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Ice Disk Votes Blue

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

What a wild ride it was last night! I bitch about social media at least as much as the next guy, but sometimes it functions as a virtual town square that gives us a sense of our own power and potential. No real-time space is big enough to contain us, to make us visible to each other.

Last night I quickly gave up trying to focus on anything else. On Facebook I flitted from my own timeline to the local Indivisible group to the MV Democrats group to the Stronger United Movement, with occasional detours to bona fide news sites. The gloom-and-doom option was always there, but I never stopped thinking that Doug Jones might, just might, pull it off.

Or thinking that if Roy Moore did win, the Republicans might come to sincerely wish that he hadn’t.

At some point hope coalesced and started to grow, like it really might happen. Nail-biting increased. I popped another beer. Like the vote was tied at 49%/49% and the precincts that hadn’t reported yet were urban and/or mostly African American and/or leaning blue.

And it happened. NowThis live-streamed Jones HQ. People were wired, pumped up, ready — then Doug Jones and family came on stage for a victory speech. All the while comments were pouring in from all over the country and Canada, so fast I could barely read them, never mind “like” the ones I especially liked.

I was part of this national/international celebration. I was whooping and hollering like a nutcase in my studio apartment.

Candidate Elizabeth Warren at the West Tisbury library in August 2012.

The election of 2012 was like this. President Obama was re-elected and Elizabeth Warren reclaimed for the Democrats the late Ted Kennedy’s seat, which was briefly held by Republican Scott Brown. 2016 was something else again: local triumphs coupled with national disaster, and knowing I was not alone was so important.

And now I do believe we’re on a roll. May it continue!

P.S. If you’re new to my cold-weather ice disk obsession, here’s an introduction from exactly four years ago. The mold is my dog’s outside water dish. Once winter gets going, I can have four, six, ten disks lined up in a row. It’s early yet. The most I’ve had so far this year is two, the mid-November weekend of the Indivisible Massachusetts conference in Worcester.


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For more than 40 years I’ve made virtually all my own bread. For the last almost 10, I’ve used sourdough almost exclusively.

Today Alabama voters go to the polls to elect a new U.S. senator.

There’s a connection between these two things. Bear with me: read on.

Before you mix up the batter, pour half the doubled starter back into its jar.

My sourdough starter resides in a mason jar in my fridge. Before I make bread, I double it: pour the contents of the jar into my big bread bowl, whisk in about a cup of warm water and about a cup and a half of unbleached white flour, then leave it out all night to ferment. In the morning, a cup goes back into the mason jar and the rest stays in the bowl to raise the loaves-to-be.

Early last spring I committed a Big Stupid: I started adding ingredients to the starter before I’d doubled it. (You can read about it here.) In other words, my starter was now batter and I needed a new starter. I’d started starter from scratch before so I knew I could do it, but it takes several days even if it works the first time, and it takes new starter a while to become as tangy as the old.

New starter, direct descendant of old starter

Last month I did it again, but this time was different. Between Big Stupid #1 and Big Stupid #2, I’d doubled my starter and given a cup to each of two neighbors. Wonder of wonders, both of them had kept it going, and were using it in ways I hadn’t imagined (sourdough focaccia!).

Both offered to double it and give me a cup back. I took David up on his offer because Trav and I walk by his house at least once a day, whereas Tom lives maybe three miles up the road, which would have meant getting in the car.

At the moment I can’t think of a better example of “giving is receiving.” Moral of story: If you’ve got a sourdough starter going and you haven’t done it already, offer a cup to a bread-baking neighbor.

Now back to the Alabama U.S. Senate election. On November 12, six Vineyard women, including me, headed off to the statewide Indivisible Massachusetts conference in Worcester. It was wonderful: inspiring, energizing, and practical. Five of us car-pooled together, so the trip to and from was filled with great conversation and lots of laughter.

The Vineyard contingent. From left: Lorraine Parish, Holly MacKenzie, me, Margaret Emerson, and Kathy Laskowski. Missing: Carla Cooper, who had to leave early because she didn’t have a ferry reservation.

A few days later the bunch of us got together to write postcards to Alabama Democrats supporting Doug Jones for the U.S. Senate seat left vacant when its previous occupant was appointed U.S. attorney general.

The impetus came from Indivisible. The nationwide postcard-writing campaign was organized by Postcards to Voters, an outfit that I was previously unaware of and am now seriously impressed by. Doug Jones’s was their 32nd campaign, and probably one of their largest. (They’re now up to 34.)

The Jones campaign provided key talking points that had to be incorporated into each postcard (Doug Jones is running as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate, the election is on Tuesday, Dec. 12, and Doug has devoted his life to fighting for liberty and justice for all). Then you could pick and choose from various options, such as Jones’s support for health care access and quality education.

First time volunteers are asked to submit a draft postcard, and when it’s approved, you’re sent as many addresses as you think you can do in three days. Names are not included, so you use a generic addressee. My faves were Most Valuable Voter and Very Important Voter. You don’t sign your own full name either; initials or first-name only is suggested. The idea is to protect both sender and recipient from invasion of privacy.

I got into the postcard thing. After our postcard-writing party, I kept going. By the mail-out deadline a week ago, I’d written and mailed 110 postcards. I bought postcard paper at EduComp and printed my own:

I’ve only passed through Alabama once in my life, in 1971, when I was among hundreds of college students who went to Mississippi as poll watchers for Charles Evers, brother of Medgar and the first black person to run for statewide office since Reconstruction. My main memory is of a postcard in the rack at a bus station titled “Beautiful Negro Homes,” which immediately sold out to the other students on my bus. So my mental map of Alabama was limited to Montgomery, Selma, and Birmingham.

Some of my addresses were in Montgomery, but all the rest of the towns I had to look up: Opelika (I had no fewer than 24 addresses in Opelika), which isn’t far from the Georgia line; Florence, in the northern part of the state across the Tennessee River from Muscle Shoals (which I had heard of); Monroeville, between Frisco City and Beatrice on Route 21, where I also had addresses . . . I only had one address in Lower Peach Tree, but I’m still wondering what happened to Upper Peach Tree, which isn’t on the map.

Writing postcards to places I’ve never been and can’t visualize put them on my map. For sure I know Alabama geography better than I did before, and along with hundreds of thousands of others I’m biting my fingernails waiting for today’s election results.

Turns out I’ve got a new neighbor here on the Vineyard too. I knew Lorraine Parish, one of my fellow travelers on the way to the Indivisible conference, by reputation: she’s a fashion designer who runs a highly visible shop on State Road in Vineyard Haven. What I didn’t know is that she grew up in Alabama. One of the many, many people who’ve been fired up politically since the November 2016 election, she returned to Alabama at the end of last week to stay with high school friends and work on the ground the last few days of the Jones campaign.

So I’ve been remembering and relearning that political organizing really is about personal connections, and that passing it on is a good way to get a lot back.

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November License Plate Report

As you can probably guess from the lateness of this report, there were no new sightings in November. Boo-hoo.

However, yesterday on the boat coming home from an eye appointment in Sandwich, Malvina Forester (my trusty 2008 Subaru) happened to be right behind a car with — ta-dah! — Hawaii plates. I am not the kind of person who in ordinary circumstances will walk up to strangers and start a conversation, but my proximity to the driver of a car with a Hawaii plate on it was not an ordinary circumstance. So I knocked on the driver’s-side window.

The driver, a white woman in her maybe early 40s, did not seem alarmed or even especially surprised by the interruption. Nor was I especially surprised by her lack of surprise. On one hand, when you’re sitting in your car on the freight deck of one of the SSA (Steamship Authority) ferries, your options are limited. Your car is hemmed in by other cars, and nothing’s moving till the boat docks on the other side of Vineyard Sound. On the other hand, the worst thing that generally happens on the freight deck is that someone’s car alarm goes off and the noise drives everyone nuts.

Come to think of it, if I were a thriller or horror writer, I might set a suspense scene on the ferry freight deck. An unsuspecting car driver or passenger is as much a sitting duck as, say, the bed-bound woman in Sorry, Wrong Number. Be glad I’m not into horror or suspense.

Anyway, the woman’s story of how she came to be driving the car was a little confusing. I did learn that she now lives on the island and that the Hawaii plates would remain on the car till they expired, whereupon the car (which was definitely not the large SUV with Hawaii plates that I spotted in the hospital parking lot in September) would be reregistered in Massachusetts. Indeed, there are barges that transport motor vehicles between Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast; a quick Google search just turned up the info that it costs “a little over $1,000 to ship an average-sized car” from one place to the other. In other words, this is not something one is likely to do often or lightly.

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Seasonal Switcheroo

Earlier this week I was wearing a T-shirt. I wasn’t wearing shorts although my shorts were still in the shorts drawer, which is the drawer directly under the one with the tank tops and sleeveless Ts.

Daylight Saving Time ended last weekend. Sunday morning I woke up just before 6 instead of 7 and Sunday afternoon (evening?) Trav and I went walking in the dark at 5 instead of 6. Still, Monday I was not only wearing a T-shirt, I was working with the front door open. The light was November but the temperature wasn’t.

I wasn’t exactly in denial — I’m actually looking forward to the first ice disk of the season! — but I hadn’t made any preparations for the cold-weather season.

Then the temperature dropped, and after two days of breezy 40s and 50s I decided the time had come. Yesterday was the day.

Storm insert in waiting

First step: Swap the screen insert in the storm door for the heavy cold-weather one. First I wrestle the storm insert out of its narrow, cramped storage space downstairs. It’s heavy, bulky, and inflexible, so I bring it around the outside of the building instead of trying to navigate the tight corners of the inside stairs.

My studio apartment is on the second floor. On the first floor are my neighbor-landlord’s studio and my bathroom. I use the inside stairs when going to the loo.

Step ladder in place. Photo bomb by Trav.

There’s a door to the outside at the foot of those stairs. I use it when sneaking out of the house while Travvy is busy with the peanut butter bone I give him so he won’t notice I’m leaving. It’s been many years since he worried about me leaving, but now it’s our little ritual so I give him a bone anyway.

The inserts are held in place by four plastic doohickeys (technical term). Settling the insert into position so that the doohickeys can be snapped into place challenges my virtually non-existent DIY abilities, but I’ve been managing for 10 years now so I can do it.

The step ladder, by the way, is a new addition. Until this fall, I’ve stood on my office chair, which has wheels. This adds a little suspense to the process of snapping the top doohickey into place.

Selfie with door and screen

Once the storm insert is firmly secured, I spray it with Windex and scrub it with a paper towel. In addition to its cleanings in the fall and spring, I do touch-ups in the months between when the canine noseprints start blocking the view.

The photo at right turned out cooler than I expected. The screen insert behind me is ready to go downstairs for winter storage. In it, just under my left elbow, is the west-facing window at the other end of my apartment. Somehow Trav did not wind up in this picture. He was probably asleep on my bed.

I was on a roll, so I proceeded with the second half of the seasonal switch: replacing the shorts and tank tops in my drawers with longjohns and jeans, and the lightweight dresses, skirts, and shirts in the closet with turtlenecks, flannel shirts, and sweaters.

Some years this takes a couple of days. I drag my two storage boxes out of the closet and trip over them for a couple of days before I start emptying drawers. This year I did it all in about 45 minutes. Trav helped by positioning himself so that I had to step over him every time I passed from one half of the apartment to the other, usually to get a swallow of tea. This keeps me agile.

I haven’t turned the heat on yet, but since the temp tonight is supposed to hit the mid-20s F, that may be about to change. Whatever, I’m ready.

Clothes in transit

Travvy supervises.


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October License Plate Report

You’ve probably guessed from the sheer lateness of this report that there were no new sightings in October. Sniff.

Pretty cool election news from Virginia, New Jersey, and Framingham, though. 🙂

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Late October on the Line

My #1 technique for surviving reasonably sane in these bizarre, bewildering, and outrageous times is to relish as much as possible the small satisfactions of daily life, like walking with my dog, working on my novel, baking bread (and occasionally other stuff), and . . .

Doing laundry.

Lacking a washing machine, I do my laundry at the Airport Laundromat. It opens at 8 a.m. I get there not long after. Trav and I then take our morning walk around the county airport while my clothes wash. This invariably prompts at least one complete stranger to ask if Trav is a husky and when I say “Close — he’s a malamute” we get into a conversation about dogs, their dog(s), my dog, northern breed dogs in general. When Trav and I continue on our way, I feel somewhat encouraged about the state of the country.

Shorts and jeans together on the line

When Trav and I get back from our stroll, the washers have finished their work. I scoop the socks and undies into the smaller of my two canvas carryalls, the shirts, shorts, and jeans into the larger. We drive home. I hang the big stuff on the line and the socks and undies on a drying rack on my little deck.

Drying rack

I do not hang the wash out because I am a fresh-air freak or an environmentalist. If I had access to a dryer, I would probably use it at least some of the time. However, the dryers at the laundromat cost a quarter for a scant four minutes and it takes several quarters to dry even one load of light summer laundry. (1) I am cheap, and (2) I want to get on with my day.

My method of choice requires sunshine and, ideally, at least some breeze. Wind shortens drying time and so becomes more important as dark closes in on both ends of the day. It also takes care of wrinkles, but for me this is not a big deal: I do own an iron, but I don’t own any clothes that need ironing. This past Friday was a perfect laundry day: bright and breezy.

Quite a few of my T-shirts have something to do with the 2016 election and its aftermath.

As regular readers of this blog and my followers on Facebook know, I chart the seasons by what’s hanging on the laundry line. Early this past week, before the rain moved in, I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt most of the day; when the sun went down, I’d change into jeans and a long-sleeved T.

For late October there seemed to be an inordinate number of shorts and T-shirts on the line. A glance back through several years of laundry pictures, however, revealed a comparable number of Ts on the line in late October 2011. My own photographic record keeps me from claiming that this was the warmest October in memory.

Along with all the shorts and Ts there were several pairs of jeans, two turtlenecks, and a 3/4-sleeve henley. No sweaters or longjohns, however. I haven’t even taken my cold-weather clothes out of the closet. Nor have I turned the heat back on: I won’t do that till after I’ve closed the second of my two skylights and swapped the summer screen insert in my storm door for its cold-weather counterpart.

The Japanese maple outside my window is just beginning to think about turning color. Is it running late? That maple has its own folder on my laptop’s hard drive, and photos from previous years tell me that it doesn’t reach its spectacular peak red till the second or third week in November.

One of my newest T-shirts has just six letters on it:


It’s hanging upside down in the photo above, four shirts to the left of Trumpbusters. WTFJHT is the name of a daily e-newsletter I subscribe to: What the Fuck Just Happened Today. It accurately describes itself as “Today’s essential guide to the daily shock and awe in national politics” and I highly recommend it. However, I find it easier to retain balance and perspective if I keep myself grounded in the slower, more predictable changes of the natural world and the laundry line. I recommend that too.

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Growing Up with Guns

By Susan Robinson

Susan Robinson posted this comment on my October 7 blog post, “Gun Store on Main Street.” It’s an eloquent story in its own right so I asked and was granted permission to reprint it here. It’s been slightly revised. Susan and I belonged to the same women writers’ group in our Washington, D.C., days, before I came home to Massachusetts and she left for New York and eventually New Mexico, where she’s lived for years with her husband, Albert, and a diverse family of critters, including the dogs Tony and Red (pictured below). SJS

The Mud and Slime of the Place . . . This reply is from the mountains of northeast New Mexico, where the mud when wet has the slipperiness of slime: ask anyone who’s driven on it. I have an unevolved view on gun control, dating from growing up in Texas, where for my 10th Christmas I was given both a 4-10 shotgun and a contraption where from a tripod three arms stuck out, a heavy cardboard duck on the end of each, and a pretend rifle that sent out small plungers. The idea was to knock each duck off as they whirled down a spiral on the central pole of the tripod. I became a very good shot.

My first living targets were two young mallards who landed on the lake, joyously turning somersaults in the water, not knowing I was about the blast them into oblivion, which I did when my father said “Pull,” meaning the trigger. I saw them lifeless on the water and trembled for a horrified minute. My father chuckled to me during that time. I saw my choice and, in the rest of my life living with my parents, shot many ducks and quail. Our family ate these but we had enough money and certainly didn’t need to. Once my father shot a swan by accident, thinking it was a goose, and gave it to our dog, who dragged it around for days, to the laughter of family and friends.

I remember my father’s telling me about gun safety: always the barrel pointed straight up or down indoors and, when not intentionally shooting, the safety always on until the last minute, and the gun cleaned. If the barrel isn’t clean inside, the shooting can go badly awry. I remember vividly the scent of the oil we used on cotton discs to thread through the eye of a rod and twist around inside the barrel, and the sight looking through the immaculate barrel when done and I could put the gun away. We kept my father’s gun and mine in the closet in their leather cases. He and I were not to shoot in a group or when other people might be around—too dangerous. I doubt my safety instructions were unusual for a white, upper-middle-class or upper-class Texas child.

Through my childhood and adolescent years, I heard of several people known to immediate family members who were shot. The first was B.B., a white man, hunting in a group of fabulously wealthy friends and relatives, who shot himself by accident climbing over a fence with his gun. I was told about this as an object lesson: If you climb a fence with a gun, pass the gun through first. Next I heard that a boy in my brother’s high school class at the all-male St. Mark’s School of Texas had shot and killed another boy, naked, in the shower after a party at the first boy’s house. Two weeks later the shooter was seen pumping gas at his father’s gas station. None of this was in the newspapers. The two boys involved in the murder were white. (There were no children of color in this school because S.M., the one black fifth grader brought in to integrate the school, another classmate of my brother’s, had hung himself within a year of entering the school. My father, then chairman of the school’s board, did not consider himself oblivious to institutional racism).

When my friend across the street became engaged to L.S., who was white, my mother gave her a wedding present. A week before the wedding, she and her mother appeared at our back door, returning the present and telling us that L. had shot himself while “cleaning his gun”—the standard explanation for suicide by gun at that time and place.

My uncle Robert Treat Paine Thompson (white) had a long career as a hired gun for John Paul Getty. Uncle Bob’s job was to threaten and when necessary kill anyone who tried to get in the way of Getty’s buying any piece of oil property he wanted in east Texas. I never met Uncle Bob until I was 25 and living in Houston. My father, having heard Uncle Bob had tracked me down and was going to invite me to dinner, cautioned me that as a child my father had seen Uncle Bob corner a rat in the bathroom and kill him with a pocket knife, and from then on my father had never crossed Uncle Bob.

Once when I accidentally picked up an extension phone at my parents’ house when the Uncle Bob on my mother’s side was visiting (I had two Uncle Bobs), I heard him threaten to kill the man on the other end of the line if he failed to go by a certain business decision. That Uncle Bob’s brother, H., threatened to kill his daughter if she didn’t hand over her inheritance from my grandmother, threatened her so often and so convincingly that his wife (a woman not allowed to leave the house or have a telephone) managed to help her daughter run away and come live with my family. Uncle H. kept a gun under every bed in his house, and when my cousin, years later, returned to her home with her fiancé so he could meet her mother, her younger sister and brother came to the door with guns pointed at the fiancé until the sister recognized my cousin in the car. The children had been taught by their father to come to the door with guns whenever someone they didn’t recognize showed up.

I only learned as an adult that not everyone in the U.S. or the world shared the (white) Texas gun culture I lived in.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, my husband and I live on a street that was called “Heroin Alley” when we moved here, and the gun deaths were both drug-related and a consequence of (Latino) family members not having role models for anger management. The stresses of poverty, including lack of options for earning money, have played their role. My dogs are terrified of the sounds of neighborhood gunshots and can distinguish them from gunshots on radio newscasts. At our mountain cabin, the gunshots have become more frequent over the years, limiting where we can climb and, along with climate change, making the (welcome to us) deer, elk, owl, bobcat, mountain lion, coyote, and bear sightings, footprints, and scat we find fewer and fewer. These mountains have become increasingly dangerous. My priority in leaving our land to someone when we can no longer care for it is that they will not hunt there.

These events have festered in my life and still inhabit it with the ear-splitting report of a shotgun at close range and the kick of a shotgun butt against my shoulder. All this has led me to become a Quaker, a vegetarian, and a person deeply skeptical of the term “reasonable gun control.”

two dogs

Tony and Red, happy that their waiting has paid off and Albert
and Susan have made it over a fence to go home (in the mountains).

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Gun Store on Main Street

Early this past week an email went round with the subject line “Gun Store on Main Street.” It started thus:

“It can’t happen here”… Sinclair Lewis

Or could it? There is a proposal in the works to open a guns and ammo store on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, between Mikado and Off Main. The Board of Selectmen will be taking the matter up at their next meeting, a week from today, Tuesday, October 10. Check the Times for details and confirmation.

The sender then called for people to pack the selectmen’s meeting and “do whatever we can to prevent this from happening.” (The proposal is no longer on the agenda for the October 10 selectmen’s meeting, but will most likely be coming up in the future.)

I don’t know the sender, but I did recognize many of the original recipients. (Having had a “blind copy fail” recently, I’m not going to snark at this guy for not concealing their names and email addresses.) One of them forwarded it to a friend of mine, who forwarded it to me.

By then this was a hot topic in the Islanders Talk Facebook group, from which I quickly learned that there was more to it than was told in the email, and the next day the Martha’s Vineyard Times posted a story, “Gun Store Plans to Sell High-End Shotguns,” that clarified the matter even more.

In short, the proposal has been made by the man who runs Vineyard Time, an existing Main Street watch and jewelry store that caters to a well-heeled market. According to the MV Times story, these shotguns are used for skeet shooting and sell for between $20K and $100K.

The price range does boggle the mind, or it would if I hadn’t lived on Martha’s Vineyard long enough to realize that I share these hundred square miles with plenty of people who live in a whole other world. Among the other stories reported this week, in the Boston Globe as well as the local press:

A south Florida woman, who claimed to be a psychic, pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court in Boston to hiding more than $3.5 million of income that she was paid by an elderly Martha’s Vineyard woman to “rid her of demons through repeated exorcisms,” according to a press release issued by acting U.S. Attorney William Weinreb’s office.

In the wake of the latest, and worst, U.S. mass shooting, it’s not all that surprising that the proposal, details of which are still sketchy, caused some alarm. My own initial reaction wasn’t exactly blasé, but my contribution to the Islanders Talk discussion was a question about the economic feasibility of a gun shop on high-rent Main Street. If indeed the proposal is to add inventory to an existing shop that already caters to the very affluent, it doesn’t seem off the wall.

But still, well — “guns on Main Street” is one of those phrases whose impact is greater than the sum of its parts.

My own attitude toward guns and gun control evolved rapidly after I moved here in 1985. In Washington, D.C., I didn’t know any hunters. Guns were the province of law enforcement (about whom I’d been somewhat leery ever since my antiwar organizing days) and criminals (who didn’t even pretend to be on my side). On the Vineyard it wasn’t long before I was meeting hunters and families of hunters and learning that hunting had a long, long history on Martha’s Vineyard. It was more than a sport; like farming and fishing, it was part of feeding oneself and one’s family, and as with many other essential activities traditions had grown up around it.

Not to mention — the hunters and fishermen I met tended to be environmentally savvy, and much more knowledgeable about woods and water than I was.

So I have no trouble maintaining the distinction between “gun owners” and “gun nuts.” Gun nuts all (I’m guessing here) own guns, but gun nuttery goes well beyond gun ownership: it veers into the territory occupied by the more fanatical forms of ideology and religion. It deals in symbols and slogans. Fueled by the National Rifle Association (NRA) since the late 1970s, it has become an integral part of the right-wing platform, and yes, it is related to white supremacy and a particular view of masculinity.

For a concise explanation of how this happened, see “How the NRA Made the Gun a Symbol of Tribal Identity,” Adele Stan’s October 4 column in the American Prospect.

As George Lakoff, author of Don’t Think of an Elephant, frequently points out, appeals to reason alone are generally ineffective against the deep-rooted moral convictions embodied in these symbols. This has not stopped the proponents of reasonable gun-control measures from circulating countless charts of gun-violence statistics and wondering why gun nuts don’t immediately see the light and stop insisting on their right to own as many assault rifles as they want.

In the current political climate, the chances for progress look pretty bleak — and it seems that even some liberals and progressives have adopted the right-wing view that the 2nd Amendment guarantees the right of all (white) citizens to bear arms, no questions asked.

In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, looking for signs of hope and a way forward, I came across this story in New York Magazine from last December. Subtitled “An Experiment in Empathy,” it tells of more than a dozen individuals “on both sides of the gun debate . . . [who] had agreed to meet face-to-face, tell each other their stories, and try to understand one another’s points of view.” The stories are riveting, and not easy to read. Position papers, polemics, and charts of statistics are a lot easier. But better than any other single piece I’ve read recently, this one conveys what “we the people” are saying and hearing when we talk about guns.

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September License Plate Report

At first glance it looks pretty much the same as the end-of-August map, right? Now take another look to the left of California. Hawaii! Toward the end of the month, I took a swing through the parking lot at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital — a good source of unusual license plates, especially in the summer — and there, tucked into one of the smaller lots, was an SUV with Hawaii plates.

Coloring it in on the map, I realized that Hawaii was #45 — a number that this year has come to have other, less-than-halcyon connotations. No matter: as far as the license plate game is concerned, 45 is Hawaii, nothing more, nothing less.

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