And the Waters Turned to Blood
by Rodney Barker
Except when hurricanes came raging in from the Caribbean, most North Carolinians took it for granted that their sparkling sounds and estuaries, productive fishing grounds and vacation dreamlands, would always be there to be enjoyed. Environmentalists who warned of impending disasters were viewed as scaremongers and extremists. Even when, in the spring of 1995, an unusually high amount of rainfall was followed by a consistently warm and calm regional weather pattern, producing huge algae blooms and masses of submerged aquatic vegetation that clogged the Trent River where it fed into the Neuse at New Bern, the public seemed to be satisfied when state officials said: Aquatic grasses are good. Fish love them. Give it time, and it will clear up.
By the end of June, people were no longer buying that answer. A mat of green scum carpeted the Trent, so solid that it looked as if you could walk on it. So clogged was the river’s current that it was virtually unnavigable. There were even reports of dogs dying from drinking the water.
Dancing with the Devil
by Rodney Barker
At Marine Corps headquarters (HQMC), Eighth and I streets in Southeast Washington, D.C., where the commandant of the Marine Corps had lived and presided since President Thomas Jefferson picked the spot, the turmoil could not have been greater if Marines had been engaged in a military campaign. The Marine Corps was a proud organization that embraced a powerful code of integrity. Its lustrous reputation as the nation’s truest warriors was based on each leatherneck’s commitment to the hallowed concepts of honor, duty, and country. The Corps was supposed to be a tribal brotherhood as much as a military service, and loyalty was a religious vow with its members….
Perhaps the crowning insult was delivered when Time magazine carried on its cover the picture of the square-jawed Marine normally seen on recruit posters, except this leatherneck sported a black eye.
You could all but hear the commandant’s teeth grinding each time he picked up the paper and saw another cartoonist making the Marine Corps the butt of an outrageous joke. One drawing in particular that was reported to have aroused his wrath parodied the Marine hymn:
From the halls of our own embassy
To the girls of the KGB –
We pass our country’s secrets,
To break the monotony…
First to let them bug our offices
And to steal the codes they’ve seen,
You had better change the guard tonight
He’s a United States Marine.
The Broken Circle
by Rodney Barker
At the entrance to what locals call Chokecherry Canyon the surface turns to packed dirt where gas companies have bladed a trail through sand and sage and scattered pinon trees. In all directions drip tanks, well heads, and pipelines loop out of the ground like busted guts. Where it crosses the dry washes, the road suddenly goes soft. Sand is worse than mud. Spin your tires twice and you’ll walk out.
For years this desolate region has been a popular place for family outings. Parents bring their kids out on weekends and holidays to pick chokecherries, to picnic, and to hunt for potsherds and arrowheads. Some say the area is haunted by its native past. Whether you are superstitious or not, anyone who has spent much time out here will admit the land is strangely charged.
Standing in the loose fine dust of an arroyo, you will sometimes think you hear the trickling of water over rocks and feel a refreshing coolness wash over you.
Great crinkled rock formations that look like immense scaly lizards basking in the sun seem peculiarly alive in another dimension, and appear to follow you wherever you go.
A coyote grinning at you from a ridge will disappear without a track, as though it ducked down an anthill.
The senses belie and magic abounds, as at the start of some mythological creation.
And everywhere, Indian artifacts lie buried in the earth – spear points, stone tools, carved fetishes. There is just no telling what secrets these windblown sands and sun-scorched hills might yield.
by Rodney Barker
The customs of every country are strange to first-time visitors, but an extra measure of difference was added in this case because of the enormous gap in living standards between the two nations at the time. The austerity and privation of postwar Japan was not only a world away, but decades behind the America of the mid-fifties. Coming from war-ravaged and impoverished Hiroshima subtracted another ten years in time, making the airlift to the progressive, modern suburbs of New York tantamount to traveling through time to the future.
Landing in upper middle class homes, the Maidens were dazzled by the latest in automatic amenities. And while they marveled over the way music and movies could be brought into the living room at the touch of a button, they were naturally just as curious about the work and time-saving devices that allowed the American housewife to do her chores in a fraction of the time it took a Japanese wife to complete the routines of housekeeping. To date there had been little progress in modernizing the Japanese kitchen. Except in certain urban areas, gas was not generally used for cooking, so women had to rise early to make a charcoal fire in the brazier. Lack of refrigeration meant food spoiled rapidly, which required going to the market on a daily basis, sometimes prior to each meal. Because so many more bowls and plates were used than in Western cooking, washing dishes was a tedious process. So it was with amazement and delight that the Maidens discovered that the modern American kitchen was a virtual appliance center. Everywhere they turned, a shining gadget beckoned – an electric stove, a toaster, a Mixmaster, “the fridge,” a freezer, a dishwasher, a garbage disposal – and they exulted in the testing of one after another.