Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929) was a prolific literary scholar, author, social activist, and advocate for global peace in the aftermath of the First World War. In 1924, explaining her support for Democratic presidential candidate John W. Davis, she said: “Though born and bred in the Republican camp, I cannot bear their betrayal of Mr. Wilson and their rejection of the League of Nations, the one hope of peace on earth.” She was also, almost certainly, a lesbian. When a colleague dismissed “free-flying spinsters” like her as “fringe on the garment of life,” she rejoined: “I always thought the fringe had the best of it. I don’t think I mind not being woven in.”
Bates was from Massachusetts and spent much of her career on the faculty of Wellesley College. But she spent the summer of 1893 teaching at The Colorado Summer School, affiliated with Colorado College in Colorado Springs. “One day,” she recalled later,
some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse.
That was the day she wrote the lyrics to “America the Beautiful.” A few days ago, while gardening and listening to Neil Young’s 2006 album Living with War – which ends with his cover of that song accompanied by a children’s choir – I found myself tearing up. Writing this, I burst into tears again. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’m not in full control of my emotional state these days.
The people who currently run Colorado Springs talk a lot about how much they love America, but I’m not sure what they would make of Katharine Lee Bates. Actually, I am pretty sure. My parents moved to the Springs in 1986, when I was 21 years old, and I’ve been keeping it at arm’s length ever since. My folks have made it their home regardless and at this point, at 82 and 81, they’re there for the duration. These days they’re hunkered down and doing fine, all things considered.
In 2019, Forbes magazine ranked the oil billionaire Phil Anshutz the 41st-wealthiest person in the United States. Yesterday the Gazette, the reliably conservative Colorado Springs daily he owns, published an editorial headlined “Can we save all lives in Colorado regardless of expense?” The editorial sardonically suggested banning gun ownership because “A bullet can blindly strike any American almost anywhere at any time, just as a virus could enter that same person’s nose.” Bullets and viruses – equally natural and random. It concluded: “To make ‘everyone safe’ – to save every life possible at any cost – we are swatting a deadly bug with a demolition mallet. We might destroy ourselves with unfathomable, deadly, long-term economic harm.”
Here in Seattle on Tuesday evening, Jenny and I watched Governor Jay Inslee give another televised speech. The reopening of the state economy, he told us, “will look more like the turning of a dial than the flip of a switch.”
We’re going to take steps and then see if they work. … We believe we can soon allow some elective surgeries to take place, so long as health workers have sufficient protective equipment. … This recovery requires a strategic approach guided by science, not politics. … Now, our state and many others remain drastically behind what we need for testing. … We’re doing all we can to acquire that. We need the federal government to help us.
He pivoted to the wider effects of the pandemic and the shutdown: “We have simply got to redouble our efforts to protect the most vulnerable among us. We are going to have to steel ourselves against this virus for quite some time.” Social and economic inequities, he said, have “already been exposed in ways really not seen in modern times.” He urged the need for “social supports to the most vulnerable of those affected,” and he ended:
We’re still here together, and we’re still faithful in our ability to come together as a community. So I want to thank you for supporting our efforts. So stay home, stay healthy, wash your hands, and we’ll talk again soon.
Jenny and I were disappointed that Inslee – we think of him as Jay – didn’t announce the founding of the Republic of Cascadia. It’s probably just as well that he didn’t, because he’s getting enough grief anyway. After his speech on Tuesday, the Board of Commissioners of Franklin County, which in local parlance is what we call “east of the Cascades,” voted to reject the statewide stay-at-home order. The vote was in response to a motion handwritten by Commissioner Clint Didier:
I move that Franklin County End recognition of the Governors “stay at Home Emergency proclamation. that is now Deemed Unconstitutional. We support the reopening for all Builder & small Business that want to work.
Dennis Rea and Pete Comley and I exchanged some grim banter via text message:
Pete: My standard reply to anyone that suggests that the economy is worth dying for is always “You First!”
Dennis: “After you, I insist …”
Pete: “Forward he cried from the rear and the front rank died” – Roger Waters
I remarked that I wasn’t going to be visiting Franklin County any time soon, and Pete quipped: “Typically not high on my list anyway.” And the other America remained comfortingly remote until Wednesday morning, when I read the Seattle Times article quoting what Sheriff Adam Fortney of Snohomish County had posted on his Facebook page:
I believe that preventing business owners to operate their businesses and provide for their families intrudes on our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As your elected Sheriff I will always put your constitutional rights above politics or popular opinion.
Snohomish County is a lot closer to home than Franklin County. It’s the next county north of King County, the county that includes Seattle. It’s also where what was originally thought to have been the first Covid-19 case in the United States was identified on January 21. Googling to confirm the date, I see that the New York Times story published that day began:
A man in Washington State is infected with the Wuhan coronavirus, the first confirmed case in the United States of a mysterious respiratory infection that has killed at least six people and sickened hundreds more in Asia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Tuesday. … The infected man, who is in his 30s and a resident of Snohomish County, Wash., developed symptoms after returning from a trip to the region around Wuhan where the outbreak began.
On my phone yesterday I mapped a route to the county line at North 205th Street & Aurora Avenue N. Snohomish County is 9.6 miles from our house.
Also on Wednesday, a friend in Texas told me by email that he had rescued a cat from an attack by his two dogs, and that the cat had clawed him on the wrist.
“It’s a pain that I haven’t felt in years,” he said. “Wish I lived in Washington State right about now.” I replied with gushing praise for Governor Inslee. “He is amazing,” my friend granted. “The Pandemic is creating a nice selection of potential non-authoritarian leaders, if nothing else! But in this case I was thinking access to my favorite painkiller from college days.”