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Why am I painting at a time like this?

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“Why Am I Painting My Living Room?”

This little phrase comes from a song by Lou and Peter Berryman. I first heard it in the 80’s on one of my favorite radio stations, KAXE out of Grand Rapids, 91.7 FM Northern Community Radio. I was an avid listener because, back then, I was living and raising my family “off the grid”, part of a roving migration of young people across the country, in search of “cheap land” in out-of-the-way places. We were the beginnings of a new generation of homesteaders, part of what’s been called the “Back-to-the-Land” Movement. Our small battery-powered radio was my connection to the outside world.

Back then, I didn’t realize that I was also a member of the “Baby Boom” generation. We were the offspring of World War II GI’s who’d been drafted in droves and sent to Europe to fight the Nazis, or to the South Pacific to defeat Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor. While they were overseas, the women left behind who were destined to become their wives, waited anxiously, and then welcomed them home with open arms. For historical reference, the war ended in 1945. Modern birth control methods would not become available until the 1960s. Stop and imagine for a minute. 1945? Abstinence? Ya, sure!

Fast forward a few more years. There we are! Lots of us! Come the mid-60’s, now we’re young adults, free to roam, ready to make homes of our own!

We repatriated aging farms or picked a piece of raw property and built our own little shack in the woods. We learned how to survive on little or nothing by reading books by farmers, philosophers and new age frontier carvers; from a seasoned gardener, or another greenhorn living down the road who had arrived here not too long before us — kindred spirits pursuing a dream — the freedom to live our own way. Exploring and experimenting were the name of the game. Being resourceful, living by trial and error, working hard, getting strong, and of course having fun, creating a new lifestyle, and believing we were changing the world in the process. Oh, youth!

Fast forward forty years…. I spent a recent Saturday, April 21, at the 10th Annual Earth Fest in Mt. Iron. Yes, some of my core values persist, even though I now have electricity and running water, search the internet and type on a computer. Organic gardening and putting up my own food for the year are still ritual necessities. Browsing the displays of a vast array of alternative energy systems, and seeing them marketed to the mainstream, are a part of that long-ago dream still coming true. Gathering together once a year with hundreds of other folk, viewing or doing the same things that I cherish so much, helps to rekindle my flame for living more simply “so others may simply live”.

But back to that song, and those lyrics…. The Berrymans are known for their clever and humorous twist on life. In 1988, when this song was copyrighted, the world was engaged in the last throes of the infamous “Cold War”, a decades-long period of the nuclear “duking” match between the United States and Russia, then known as the Soviet Union. Both empires had built the most ridiculous systems of mutual mass destruction in human history, able to destroy the planet multiple times over even though its nuclear conflagration would have ended it all, for everybody, in Round One! For me, this little song became the social statement of the year in that silly, but oh so succinct, style of the Berrymans.

In recent weeks, as “fearless” leaders from the U.S. engaged once again in hard line threats with another nuclear power, what did I find myself doing but painting my living room! And in the repetitive stroking of the paint brush against the swirling world of my private thoughts, it became ever so clear how some things have changed, while other things remain all too familiar. If you take the time to check out the Berryman’s lyrics on-line, with a shake of the head and a good chuckle, I think you’ll discover exactly what I mean.

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