Half-Mast Aftermath

Hiking the Balcony Falls trail up the AT

Hiking the Balcony Falls trail up to the Appalachian Trail. Side trails off the AT are blazed blue.

When I’m on the road, I often get bad news from half-mast flags. I see a flag half-raised and I call somebody and ask, with trepidation: “What happened?” In the space between the flag and the news – sometimes moments, sometimes hours – I wonder, worry and expect the worst.

On Friday, out for a walk, I saw a lowered flag and came home to the horrific news from Connecticut. I read just enough online to know the what. I didn’t try to learn the why – because there is no why. There is no reason. Then I shut the machine, made a fire, watched the flames and wept.

Trail intersection where the Balcony Falls Trail finally gained the ridge and met up with the AT.

Trail intersection where the Balcony Falls Trail finally gained the ridge and met up with the AT.

Several years ago, my family was very closely affected by an all too similar shooting and we learned the hard, heartbreaking way, how brutal the aftermath can be when horrific news hits close to home. We knew firsthand what had happened and it was almost too much to bear. The endless speculation about the why, the relentless media cycle – less about meaningful answers, more about meaningless ratings – was truly unbearable.

To Matt's Creek!

To Matt’s Creek!

The news is as bad as the act itself: morbid curiosity, endless speculation, so much gossip, too many lurid details, the kind of frenzy that mass killers have come to expect. How the public loves to hate people who want to be hated. Made famous and infamous, we give the madmen exactly what they want.

A stately old tree, with a fading white blaze, marking the Appalachian rail.

A stately old tree, with a fading white blaze, marking the Appalachian rail.

Yesterday, to get away from the news, I took a long walk in the woods. On a sunny December Saturday, I was not alone. On my 12-mile trek I crossed paths with a number of hunters and lots of hounds. Being in the presence of loaded guns with a mass shooting on my mind was a bit surreal, but everybody I saw was safe and cordial. We said hello and  went on our separate ways.

As long as I can hike safely – decked out in bright orange – I have no problem with these men and their guns in the woods. I do have a problem with semi-automatic and automatic weapons. There is vast middle ground; I know, yesterday I hiked right through it.

A black & tan coonhound, one of my many radio-collared hunting hounds I met on my walk yesterday.

A black & tan coonhound, one of the many radio-collared hunting dogs I met on my walk yesterday.

This blog is apolitical because I am apolitical, but let me say this: We must evolve. We don’t live in 1791. Times have changed, guns have changed. We’re not talking about muskets anymore. This horror of guns and very public mass killings – which seems near continuous – will not stop until we take real and decisive measures to update the Second Amendement for today’s world and today’s arsenal. Our country must move forward. We must seek the middle ground. How? The same way you climb a mountain. One step at a time.

The James River Valley

Overlooking the James River Valley

Click here to read my previous post on how to be seen and be safe when hiking in hunting season.

Also, read this plea, written by the mother of a developmentally disabled and disturbed young man, for better resources for the mentally ill, another side of this terrible coin: http://anarchistsoccermom.blogspot.com/2012/12/thinking-unthinkable.html

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
This entry was posted in Appalachian Trail, Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Sustainable Living. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Half-Mast Aftermath

  1. seekraz says:

    One step at a time…well said.

  2. Alice says:

    Those half-staff signal posts never bear good news. I bet you heart just pauses–I know mine does. Many long overdue issues need to be addressed for sure.

  3. You and I have both learned an important spiritual survival lesson, and that is to get the facts then pull the plug of the television. As I read more of your post, I understood how you found that wisdom – through previous experience. We weep for the most-recent sadness, and we reopen wounds from earlier grief. Sometimes we need to purge.

    I have also found healing in solitude, and those of us who have found that ‘gift’ are lucky. I cannot imagine being in a city that rarely gets quiet where i could find few places where i am alone with my thoughts without the influence of modern man.

    your images (and words) were comforting, and i hope that they give others comfort as well.

  4. Mary, thank you for that thoughtful post. This half-mast event is so, so heartbreaking. ~ Kat

  5. beeseeker says:

    This is written with wisdom and force – one step at a time can be the only real way to make progress, but I agree one hundred per cent with your view of the media circus. Thank you for posting this sane and considered blog.

  6. Mary, Thank you for sharing. I also was horrified to hear the news and went for long quiet walks on our snowy hillside these last several days to seek the beauty of nature, to seek what is still right and good in our world in order to be a part of the healing process for all of us. You are so right in your comments about the changes that need to be made, and that first step needs to be made NOW. I have posted a few photos reflecting my thoughts/ feelings on FB and plan to share a blog on WP, also, as this is not something that can be just shoved aside. Thanks again for your sharing and your comments. Carol

  7. Jason says:

    It’s not often that I find myself in disagreement with what you write, but this is one of those times.
    Horrible tragedies, like the one in Connecticut, should make us reflective on how such a thing could happen. The common knee jerk reaction seems to be that we must eliminate guns, or certain type of guns, from private ownership. Many times, the Second Amendment is mentioned, along with the proposition that the amendment only applies to “muskets”. Personally, I think we should give the men who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights a bit more credit than that. The aforementioned use of the term “muskets” is an example of how we, in the present, seem to almost see those men as true visionaries in some areas, and simple time-handicapped bumpkins in other areas.
    The First Amendment, guaranteeing the freedom of the press, is held up as a conceptual underpinning, whose reach covers the efforts of those working in mediums that didn’t even exist as flights of fancy in those days. The Internet, World Wide Web, digital newspapers and, yes, blogging are all terms that would get you blank stares in 1791. So does that mean the freedom of the press only applies to news that’s presented as ink on paper? I don’t think so.
    The idea that the Second Amendment only covers muskets fails the same common sense test. These men had fought a war, at the beginning of which, a group of common citizens armed with rifled flintlocks outfought the most powerful army on the continent who were armed with smooth-bore muskets. In fact, it’s become legend how American colonists with their superior Kentucky or Pennsylvania long rifles were able to outreach the British muskets, which were only accurate within 50 yards. That aside, specific weaponry, or medium, are not mentioned in either amendments because the writers of those two ideas wanted them to exist as just that, ideas.
    Does that mean that there are no limits on what one can say and arm themselves with? Of course not. The three branches of government has weighed in many times on both of those issues. However, there will always be fools who’ll yell fire and sick individuals who’ll choose to take lives that don’t belong to them.

    • Matthew says:

      Well said. Restricting the legal possession of weapons, or altering the 2nd Amendment is not going to keep people safe. Now if there had been teachers with close access to a weapon, the outcome might have been much different.

      • Just as pornography should not be protected under the 1st amendment, it would seem sensible that assault and automatic weapons should not be protected under the 2nd amendment. There are both freedoms and responsibilities that must be considered in regard to the greatest good for the most people.

      • Jason says:

        I know many people sneer at the idea of allowing qualified teachers to have access to arms as being ridiculous and not being grounded in reality….many people would be wrong.
        What’s considered the first modern day mass school shooting happened in 1997 at Pearl High School in Pearl, MS.
        A 16 year old student stabbed and bludgeoned his mother to death and then drove to his school, where he killed two and wounded 7 with a gun. He, then, went into his car in order to drive to nearby Pearl Junior High School where he planned to continue his rampage.
        However, Joel Myrick, the assistant principal at the high school, was able to prevent him from driving away by confronting the boy with his personal weapon that he had retrieved from his car.
        There’s no way of knowing how many lives Mr. Myrick saved that day, but its indicative of how modern media works that deeds of heroes like Joel Myrick will be overshadowed by the infamous deeds of twisted individuals like the one in Connecticut.

  8. “For every thousand hacking away at the leaves, only one is striking the root” ~Henry David Thoreua ( I think)

    We can change laws, build fortresses, we can institutionalize those with mental illness, we can have strict regulations, but the only thing that will really matter and make a difference is if mankind starts valuing the gift of life. Until that is done, no law or fortress will prevent this kind of thing from happening.
    You can make all the laws, meds, institutions, prisons, etc,.. that money can buy, but unless the soul of man is addressed, there will be no change.
    Striking at the root is the key.
    When you don’t stop it at the source, there will always be symptoms.
    Think of it as preventative medicine, because otherwise we are just applying band-aids to very large, gaping wounds.

  9. Noel says:

    It never ceases to amaze me how so many people can focus on the implement of horror rather than the horror itself, or put confidence in our government to somehow control criminal access to forbidden things in the face of the obvious example of illegal drugs. There is no reason to believe that the shooter in CT wouldn’t have killed as many children if armed with a single shot .22. He was intent on killing unarmed, innocent, and mostly helpless people. An axe would have worked. The guy in China used a knife.

    As details emerge, we’re going to find out this guy was profoundly disturbed, influenced by all the predictable outside factors, and fit the profile to a “T”. Hollywood will condemn guns, schools will ban sharpened pencils, the media will chant the killers name until it’s burned into our brains like “Dylan Klebold”, and politicians will fight to get to the microphone to offer their easy answer.

    The world IS changing, but ask this: If a law was passed forbidding the publishing of pictures or names of spree killers, would that be more or less effective than banning some kind of guns?

  10. Noel says:

    There’s been MANY children killed in knife attacks over the last few years in China – around 20. Wiki has an article, of course, with dates and names, so your “hardly” hardly applies. Six year olds aren’t going to be able to defend against any gunfire, or much of anything else.

    I’d like to see some focus on identifying the underlying issue with these killings, not just a blame-a-gun reaction. Look a the headlines – it’s already a pure gun control debate. At the very least, the database for instant check should actually get filled with info – anybody remember the Virginia Tech shooter had been determined to be mentally unstable by a judge, but still passed the instant check? I’m sick of reactionary politics where laws are passed to make illegal actions “more illegal”, yet no enforcement or implementation occurs, no root causes are determined, and the crimes continue.

    Guns are a fact of life, just like alcohol abuse, illegal drugs, and the internet. Genie isn’t going back into the bottle. There’s a very definite pattern behind these mass killings, and prevention isn’t the impossibility so many people think it is, and massive violations of the individual rights of the mentally ill aren’t necessary to solve them. It’d be great if banning and confiscating guns that look and function a certain way would fix the problem, but it’s naive to believe it would.

    “Mr. McVeigh, your fertilizer is ready to load….”

    • Dan Beideck says:

      No one disputes that knifes have been used as murder weapons. However, I’d much rather face someone wishing me harm that is armed with a knife than a gun. And for what it’s worth, I believe the government currently tracks individuals who purchase fertilizer closer than it does guns.

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