The entire valley that cradles Elmira Pond in pine-covered ridges smells like a giant campfire burning. I’ve checked the Active Fires map like a hen scratching the same bald patch of ground, hoping a missed grasshopper will show. There are no fires; just smoke.
Maybe it’s controlled burning or slash piles at logging sites. I turn to the local news for Bonner County, seeking any explanation for the haze. I’m greeted with a series of stories about Scotland’s freedom. Did I accidentally Google “bonnie lass” county or something related? No, it’s my local newspaper, but the editor seems obsessed with Scotland and freedom.
I won’t lie. This is what came to mind:
Clueless to the current political debate regarding Scotland’s independence, I imagine my Scots forefathers mumbling freedom like a prayer when they crossed gray seas to the the shores of the New World. Here, they forged lives based on ideals of freedom, amidst the institution of slavery. They demanded religious freedom with proper zeal, yet picked petty fights with neighbors. Men were as free as their social standing and coin in pocket; women not so much.
Just what is freedom, anyhow? Anne Goodwin initiated deep discussion with her review of A History of Loneliness by John Boyne. The question that is intriguing and part of her post title, is “why do good men do nothing”? This relates to freedom in regard to liberties and rights. When inequality, oppression and abuse exist, why do good men still look away from the beleaguered personal freedoms of another?
This is why the legends of people like William Wallace creep into our utopian vernacular with cries of freedom. It wasn’t so much that the character portrayed in Braveheart was a great orator of that profound word, it was that he fought for his freedom, the freedom of his neighbors and his country. He was the good man who did something.
But there are extremes to pursuing freedom; pitfalls to doing nothing or something. Different people desire different freedoms. Some wish to worship openly, fervently to evangelize as called to do so. Others wish to seek solace in the secret place with God, and yet others wish not to be bothered by the notion at all. All three gather for lunch and who has the freedom to pursue his or her belief?
Laws are of little help. Close to election time, debates rage across the social media plains like opposing buffalo herds, each rallying a cry of freedom–laws to protect the rights of the unborn versus laws to protect the private bodies of individual women. Which law upholds freedom?
Laws now force every American citizen to buy insurance. I’ve chose my feminine care with midwives over the years, including two home births. But the insurance companies call the shots and it is now illegal for midwives to treat non-pregnant women. I feel robbed of my healthcare freedom of choice.
Thoughts go to my characters who were real people facing real issues, too. While they might be befuddled by the politics, disputes and discussions of modern times, they would be familiar with the ideal of freedom. And it was no less complex in 1861 as it is in 2014.
Sarah Shull would have sought freedom from the constraints of her gender and societal expectations. Because she had an affair with Cob McCanles the shame fell squarely on her shoulders. Men were free to screw around; women were to blame when caught. The consequences that isolated Sarah drove her to escape to the west. It was a freedom she craved enough to show Cob how he could swindle the money needed. Yet, she never did find freedom because her livelihood would depend upon men and she didn’t make the best choices.
Cob McCanles was self-righteous. It probably never occurred to him that he infringed upon the freedoms of others by taking freely what he wanted. He used his power of gender, size and position to take what he felt was due to him. In a way, he represents what is wrong with the American ideal of freedom. If you are powerful enough, glib of tongue and convincing, you can roll-over those less fortunate who stand in your way–your wife, your community, those who can’t stand up to you and therefor are seen as inferior.
Wild Bill Hickok was someone who stood up for the oppressed. In a time when few cared to acknowledge inferiors–women or slaves in the south–he held his strong-willed mother in respect and helped his father free slaves through the underground railroad. He wrote letters home that he felt the frontier was no place for women and children–they deserved the freedom of safety. But he took the fight too far. He killed Cob, believing that he was defending company and government property. He killed many more men thinking he was making the frontier a free and safe place. When does freedom have the right to kill?
Messy thoughts, perhaps hindered by the smoky haze still lingering in my valley. I hunger for the ideals set up in myth and legend; I believe in the hero’s journey that we can enter the abyss and find the elixir; I believe things happen for a reason and the we are all connected to a bigger picture.
But that’s me. What of you? And how can we ever agree upon what is this thing that the movie character William Wallace cried out in the throes of death, “FREEDOM”?
September 17, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) let freedom ring in your story. It can be about breaking out of oppression, standing up to a bully, fighting for inalienable rights. Does an individual’s freedom conflict with the cause of the greater good? Does freedom of the greater good oppress individuals? It could be a political debate, a social media argument, a snippet of reality failing the ideal. Or make it heroic. Let us feel like wearing kilts and shouting to free Scots! Be free with your imagination.
Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, September 23 to be included in the compilation.
Bull Fighting by Charli Mills
“It’s my God-given right to clean up on Rock Creek.” Cob tensed his muscles, reminding Sarah of a tethered bull. Dragging boards by a nose ring drained the bull’s fight. Cob raged freely.
“Who does he think he is? Wellmen had better get back here with my payment or he and that skinny little wretch of woman he’s shacked-up with are out on their duffs!”
Sarah flinched at the familiar words used to describe her situation with Cob. Shacked-up felt oppressive especially with him on the prod. “Cob, just calm down. Come to bed.”
It was her only protection.
And I leave you with music to inspire your stories of freedom:
Rules of Play:
- New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
- Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
- Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
- Post your response on your blog before the following Tuesday by noon (PST) and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
- If you don’t have a blog or you don’t want to post your flash fiction response on your blog, you may post your response in the comments of the current challenge post.
- Keep it is business-rated if you do post it here, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.
- Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
- Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
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