It’s July. Black Lives Matter protests are still going; COVID-19 is raging across the US like a California wildfire on gasoline; Karens and Chads are still karenning and chadding; and police departments still need defunding. The BLM moment may be evolving into a movement. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg … and yes, icebergs are still melting because climate change remains an existential threat. Whew! What a time to be alive.
With all of this, Mech and Jennetta are still hiking. As you know (if you don’t, read June 24th post) we did a hike trifecta for my birthday in June, but what’s better than one birthday hike trifecta? Two birthday hike trifectas! This time to celebrate Jennetta.
Hiking is freeing but never mindless. On the contrary, it is always mindful. Hiking allows for some periods of deep immersion in nature but when I escape to hike, my mind escapes with me and I’m never completely free or separate from the issues that concern me. Accordingly, being mindful is not just about where I hike, trying to respect and understand the natural and cultural resources, and acknowledging the original owners and users of the land, but being mindful in the way that open spaces and nature facilitate introspection and the expansion of my mind, allowing my thoughts to roam free, far, and wide. When I’m hiking with others, the mindfulness frequently results in a range of deep, meaningful conversations.
I don’t live or work on what I think of as the frontlines fighting anti-Black issues, but I am a Black Immigrant Woman, and as such, I’m always one encounter away from being a central character in the narrative. Consequently, even as we celebrate life and birthdays, the injustices that pervade are never far from my mind. I sometimes go to sleep thinking about these issues and wake up doing the same. I write pieces of posts in my mind as a shower. I ruminate on why some white people think they are an extension of the police as I eat and that cannot be good for my digestion. So, now more than ever, I appreciate the opportunities to be able hike in open spaces while I grapple with the issues as I see them – I can silently and not so silently rage while nature soothes and nutures me.
Our most recent trifecta was the weekend of the 4th of July. Hopefully, if you’re American, though you were surprised to discover Juneteenth this year (like Columbus discovered the West Indies), you do know that the 4th of July is not just about barbeques, fireworks, and retail sales. That it is the date on which the US became a country (and colonizer in its own right), having fought and gained its independence from Great Britain. This 4th of July weekend I had a lot to think about, and rather than keeping those thoughts to myself or just offloading them on Jennetta and Ivan as we hiked, I’m using my pen to share them with you as well. You’re welcome.
It’s a trifecta. I hope you’re in it for the long haul.
July 3rd – Jennetta’s birthday – Angeles National Forest and Bouquet Falls
The thing about being a Black lover of the outdoors and avid hiker, is that you don’t always know what to expect when you’re communing with nature. Especially at a time when (review paragraph one) … confederate monuments are coming down – by law or by force, BLM has been painted on several prominent streets across the country, and Black lives clearly do not matter to everyone. In response to these and more changes, some white people are ‘showing dey ass’ for reasons that only they can articulate (or not) and understand. In the midst of this soup (shit fest?) we continue to be Black in the outdoors, cause nature … gotta love it.
I recently heard about ‘Bouquet Falls’, our trail for Jennetta’s day, through a Facebook group. Along with compliments about how nice the falls were, were comments about not going alone, the area being a bit sketchy and so on. Given the source of the comments, I had to wonder about whether they were inferring that the area was too rural, wasn’t safe for Black people specifically, or just wasn’t safe at all. Think of Christian Cooper, the birder in New York’s Central Park, who had the ‘temerity’ to remind a white woman that her dog should be on a leash. She essentially endangered his life by calling the police and reporting that she was being threatened by an African American man. Also recall the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Georgia for simply running while Black.
As I said, who knows what you’ll encounter when you set out to commune with nature. However, there were three of us hiking (Jennetta’s birthday so Ivan joined us), we did our usual research before the hike and off we went. The Bouquet Falls area was kinda rural (no cell service in the area), but I didn’t feel unsafe. However, I did have many thoughts … before, during, and after. Before I get to those, a bit about the hike to the falls.
Sometimes directions are confusing. Or you don’t print a map, so without cell service you have to wing it til you find it. We started the hike on a US Forest Service OHV trail, realized it wouldn’t lead to the falls and headed back down. That was close to two miles. I’d driven to the falls before the others arrived, so I knew where to go by road, but not where to locate the trailhead (that’s why the sign is the last photo). We set off again in search of the falls, but after another mile or so, decided to go back to our cars and drive the rest of the way. We piled into one car and drove. Not too far by car is definitely not the same by foot. For that particular road I was glad that we returned for a car. That road wasn’t built for walking. Driving was safer.
We finally got to the falls, relaxed a bit, and chatted about future hikes and trips. When we were ready to leave, I thought we should at least hike down a part of the trail. So that’s what we did, then scrambled up to the road to go back to the car. Here’s what we viewed and experienced while thinking, scrambling and chatting:
When we say Black Lives Matter, when I say my life matters, does it mean that someone else’s life or some other group’s lives, matter less? Are goodness and wellbeing in scarce supply? Can’t we all have lives that are equally valuable? This disparity in thinking about extending and safeguarding basic human rights for all, also encompasses access to natural outdoor spaces like public lands. The latter is underpinned by the tired notion that Black people and people of colour generally do not appreciate the outdoors. In my mind, these trifling statements are usually followed by ‘like white people do’. Anecdoctal evidence and scientific research show that we do very much appreciate and enjoy the outdoors in a variety of ways, even in ‘traditional’ ways like hiking, camping, backpacking, mountaineering, etc. on public lands.
For decades the National Park Service has grappled with how to encourage greater use by Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) of the 400 plus sites it manages. This concern is shared by state and local parks around the US as well. To its credit, the NPS has conducted research; protected areas that are meaningful and historically relevant to BIPOC; improved interpretation at sites and through its website (see https://www.nps.gov/subjects/africanamericanheritage/visit.htm); hired more BIPOC (see https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2017/02/diversity-in-national-parks/); marketed more to BIPOC (see https://www.nps.gov/subjects/africanamericanheritage/twenty-and-odd.htm); and so on. In the last 15-20 years (not a long period considering that the NPS was created in 1916), NPS sites have witnessed increased use by ‘minorities’, but the numbers still do not parallel the proportion of these minorities in the US population. Use of other federal public lands (e.g US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management) and some state parks are likely to be similar. The efforts by the NPS and state parks to be more welcoming and relevant to BIPOC are critical when one considers that the survival of the federal, state, and local parks systems rests on BIPOC. In the future, when the current ‘minorities’ constitute the majority, will they support parks if they do not have a vested interest in them? Will they support parks if they do not see themselves and their history reflected in them?
July 4th – Birthday of the United States of America
On day two of hike trifecta two, Jennetta and I “hiked” Stocker Corridor Trail and a short trail in Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. What can I say about number two? 🤔 We were outdoors and saw some California native plants. There were good interpretive signs on both trails. It was an easy walk of just over 4 miles when we combined the two trails, so we got some exercise. We’ve done many 3-4 milers that were a lot more challenging and visually stimulating than these two trails, so it was a bit disappointing.
With these trails being what they were, I had lots of time to think about some weighty issues. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that the “hike” did not meet our expectations of what a hike should be, given the date and what’s been happening recently with this experiment in democracy; the US has not yet fulfilled its promise of the country it should be either – at least not for Blacks and African Americans.
What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony … Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them … I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future” (Frederick Douglas, July 5, 1852).
On the 4th of July, one of my colleagues sent me a ‘Happy Independence Day’ text. I appreciated the sentiment, just like I appreciate her, but July 4th is not my independence day (I’m on the latter end of the cultural assimilation – cultural respect and appreciation spectrum). My Independence Day is November 30th because on that day in 1966 Barbados became independent from Great Britain.
My National Pledge: I pledge allegiance to my country Barbados and to my flag, To uphold and defend their honour, And by my living to do credit To my nation wherever I go (Lester Vaughan; adopted April 2, 1973).
The chorus from my National Anthem: We loyal sons and daughters all Do hereby make it known These fields and hills beyond recall Are now our very own We write our names on history's page With expectations great Strict guardians of our heritage Firm craftsmen of our fate (Irvin Burgie; C. Van Roland Edwards. Adopted November 30, 1966).
That early morning 4th of July text triggered a new set of cogitations. For instance, does one pledge allegiance to a country or to an idea? It’s one thing to be born a citizen of the US but an entirely different situation to become a naturalized citizen, because that means one is consciously agreeing to fight for a country that will not always do the same. Black immigrants who become citizens of the US pledge allegiance, swear an oath of fealty to the country. To what are they really pledging – country or idea? Consider Frederick Douglass’ speech of 1852; the remnants of slavery; Jim Crow era; the civil rights movement; institutionalized racism; police brutality against Blacks at much higher rather than other groups/ethnicities; the third stanza of the US national anthem that some deem to be racist (even if seldom sung, still exists), and the current Black Lives Matter Movement. Are Black immigrants pledging allegiance to a country or an idea? We of course have our own issues with racism and more in Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean but those require dedicated blog posts of their own.
Some Americans celebrate two independence days: June 19th (Juneteenth) and July 4th. Some Americans celebrate one independence day: Juneteenth. Just as there are two independence days for some people, there are also two national anthems. However, if you didn’t discover Juneteenth until 2020, chances are you’re yet to hear Lift Every Voice and Sing, written by brothers James Weldon Johnson & John Rosamond Johnson in 1900. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People adopted Lift Every Voice and Sing as its official song and labelled it the black national anthem in 1919 (NAACP; NPR); The Star-Spangled Banner became the US national anthem through an Act of Congress in 1931 (US House of Representatives, 2020). There are many beautiful versions of the Black national anthem. For good measure, here’s a third special recording of Lift Every Voice and Sing.
In 2020 Daveed Diggs asked What to my people is the fourth of July? It is a relevant and timely introspection for all African Americans and other Blacks in the US. It is also edifying for everyone else.
July 5th – A hike trifecta must have a third hike, otherwise it would be another kind of ‘fecta’, but neither ‘tri’ nor ‘super’
July 5th was a hot day. We decided to do an evening hike around 5:30 because earlier in the day was out for Jennetta and it would’ve been too hot after 10 am. No complaints from me, I like hiking in the evening and I especially dislike waking up early – my body actually aches when I have to do it. We had a time and a trail in Towsley Canyon in mind. However, I knew by 3 pm that it would still be too hot at 5:30 so we delayed until 6:30 – a good time for a cool-ish sunset walk. We chose San Francisquito Creek and Santa Clara River trails in Awesome Town because hiking uphill in Towsley at 90 degrees temp was the opposite of tempting. It turned out to be such a nice walk (not a hike) that at mile 6, I was hitting my stride, had a good rhythm going and did not realize we had made it back to the turnoff for our starting point.
Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt. Flat, familiar trails meant plenty of time to chat, so we did just that. One of our topics:
What a powerful statement. What an earth-shaking reminder. Stated so bluntly, it is a profound and necessary jolt to the system, a much needed whack to the psyche. This type of ‘monument’ is not a US phenomenon but the reality of former European colonies everywhere – a shared legacy of the descendants of formerly enslaved Africans in the ‘new world’ (where Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492) that many of us must grapple with on an ongoing basis.
My grandmother’s grandmother was half-white (in Bajan parlance, a ‘back-ra missy’) and it certainly wasn’t because her parents were in a loving, consensual relationship. So while my body is not a ‘confederate’ monument, it is a living monument to a similar phenomenon, in which despite the abolition of the slave trade (1807), emancipation (1834), and the end of apprenticeship (1838) in the British West Indies, my ancestor did not have the ‘freedom’ to choose what happened to her body – the one thing that each of us should ultimately own. Formal ‘ownership’ had changed, but power remained vested in the white plantocracy, and so many human monuments – ‘back-ra missies’ and ‘back-ra johnnies’ – continued to be ‘erected’.
One week ago we finished another birthday trifecta and it was great. Yes, even with the Stocker Corridor Trail. We covered around 13-14 miles in the three days and they were a backdrop to excellent conversations and much food for thought. With two trifectas done, we decided we would do one per month for the foreseeable future. That is our optimistic plan. However, it’s only July and it seemed like a year’s worth of shock and awe happened between February and June. July is shaping up similarly.
As I was working on this post a few days ago, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced an upcoming update to its policy on foreign students on F-1 and M-1 visas effective the fall 2020 semester. Another piece of shock and awe (shit storm) which blindsided campuses around the country and has resulted in lawsuits challenging the policy being swiftly filed on the east and west coasts: Harvard and MIT; California’s attorney general with state and community college chancellors. Other campuses and university systems have announced plans to take similar actions.
In a regular summer or fall semester, international undergraduate students are allowed to take a maximum of 3 online credits. ICE allowed an exemption to this policy in spring because of the swift changes that needed to be made in March to manage COVID-19, permitting international students to take all of their courses virtually if necessary. Now, based on last week’s announcement, international students must be enrolled in courses that are fully or partially in-person. Students who have not yet entered the US will not be granted visas if their college/university is completely virtual. Students already in the country must leave or face deportation if their campus does not offer in-person instruction.
I am mostly alarmed for the students who are currently here and may not have the option of in-person classes. What would the US gain by deporting foreign students who are in good standing and actively pursuing their degrees? Why risk increasing infection rates in other countries by deporting students who may be carriers (remember the US is number 1 in the COVID-19 ‘race’ but not in the COVID-19 fight)? In my estimation, this is simply a poorly conceived measure to force institutions of higher education to return to in-person instruction, as part of the US president’s ridiculous façade of a return to normal. Never mind that states are reporting record tallies of new COVID-19 cases daily and deaths have already passed 137,000. Nothing to see over here.
So anyway, we plan to do a trifecta every month, but who knows what will happen come August. As far as I’m concerned it should already be June 21, 2021 and I would probably sleep better and for longer periods if hiking really were a mindless activity and not a mindful, mind blowing one.