This morning, while I was having coffee and watching my daughter scout out a handful of free-range, organic Purely O's that had spilled onto the floor, Stella, who was outside on her mat, started to bark like Invaders From Mars were pelting our backyard with proton bombs. Turns out it was just a work crew from Georgia Power, which of course is the big corporation that provides most Georgians with electrical power, and who technically owns a huge swath of land in my parents' backyard. Georgia Power also owns an even huger swath just south of their property, where a series of high-voltage power lines run up and down an ancient mountain - now a steep, verdant hill - called Pine Mountain, which rises up several hundred feet and which I explored as a boy almost nonstop, and especially enjoyed summiting so I could get a near-panoramic view of the county I lived in and several neighboring counties as well.
Twice a year or so, Georgia Power sends a work crew out to "maintain" the areas underneath and around the power line. They bush-hog this area in the winter, when everything is dry and brittle. And in the late spring, they send a crew out to spray herbicide onto the new growth. And so that's what Stella was barking at: An unannounced crew of unknown sherpas with bright orange chemical packs mounted to their backs, waving wands of chemical death as they traversed through our backyard, en route to the power line.
It's been said forty thousand times already, but I'll say it again that here in El Sur, a strong case could be made that recent Mexican emigres are the new Blacks. Everybody needs somebody to scapegoat, after all. And so I'd say that the average emigre is at the bottom of the social totem pole, if you wanna carve society up like that. More to the point, I'd say that whoever happens to be poorest is at the bottom, and I know that in my beloved Georgia, poverty ain't exactly loyal to just one race...But still, it bothered me that these guys were all brown-skinned and in their early Twenties, ripe for exploitation, with bags of herbicide taped to their spines - herbicide that hasn't been long-range tested because this is America and nothing here is long-range and the worst job always goes to the most desperate - also known as the hardest working. The desperados are also the ones who are least likely to unionize, much less ask "Hey, is this chemical even safe?!" Ahhh...Ye Olde Babylon Culture. (Who will be the new Blacks in 14,000 CE, when Vega is our North Star? When we have all become Black for the fourth time around, will the world be set right again?)
As the men started their ascent, I walked out into the yard and snapped this shot. They were about 1/4 of the way up, and moving at a steady clip. From my vantage, though, they appeared to be moving in a slow, gentle formation. The arc of the herbicides shooting out of their wands and hoses, splashing onto the foliage reminded me of how much I used to enjoy landscaping, especially watering plants in a new installation I had worked on. All that life and potential. The water finding its own, perfect course to the subterranean root ball...They went higher and higher, into the morning mist, up the steep climb, through the bramble and new pine growth. At one point, one of the men turned back to see the view of his world. Spotting me, a boy, a speck in my parents' backyard, he lifted his hand and waved. I thought of Neal Armstrong. And I waved back.