While there is no place like home, I can’t imagine not ever getting away from time to time to explore what the rest of the world has to offer.  After more than six months of exploring, discovering, learning, and resting, I’m now back home in West Howard.

I had hoped that, during my time away, tensions between the districts and Capitol  authorities would subside. It seems, however, that they’ve only grown worse. As the districts clamor for a say in their own destiny, central forces press harder to maintain control over others.

As I write this, the leaves outside are gracefully bidding farewell to their parent trees, twirling like ballerinas as they descend to the ground. It’s a beautiful time of year in Howard County. My daily commute takes me from West Howard to the outskirts of Baltimore, allowing me to observe the gradual transition from rural to urban and back again. The drive is always best when the seasons change. West Howard is at a higher elevation resulting in slightly cooler temperatures that mean a later autumn start start. This gives me an extended show of the fall color change and spring bloom.
In returning to West Howard, I made a decision which I will likely come to regret: I reviewed social media.

We didn’t get the usual summer this year–one filled with barbecues, summer sports, camping trips, vacations, and outdoor concerts. Rather, many residents of Howard County remained captive in their homes, either afraid to engage with neighbors or forcibly kept from doing so. This downtime begot cabin fever, and cabin fever seems to have sparked a renewed interest in social media. Until just recently, I was too busy with my travels (or perhaps too liberated by them) to have concern for Facebook or Twitter.

Out West, not West Howard, but the far western parts of America, fires raged both in the forests and in the hearts and minds of the agitated and woke. Inspired by these events, the social media sphere of Howard County also caught fire. Actually, it might be more appropriate to say that it rekindled and refueled smoldering embers left by the great Child Redistribution War of 2019.

I wish I could say that I’m surprised by the toxic attitudes which permeate the county like oil seeping from the Exxon Valdez; I am not. I am, however, mighty disappointed. I’m disappointed that this is what the world is. When the Capitol runs “effectively,” it has the population entranced, hypnotized, and contented with circus acts and other distracting forms of entertainment. Team sports, especially, seem to provide a safe outlet for that deep-rooted human desire to belong to a tribe.

With the coronavirus siege, most of these mass tranquilizers were no longer available to the authorities. I guess they believed that Netflix would be enough. Sure, most people were happy for the first couple of weeks. Sense of purpose quickly faded though. If we weren’t working, attending school events, or socializing with family and friends on the weekend, what exactly was the meaning of life?  If you look at Facebook, you might think that the answer is in telling others how to live their lives.

I had a quiet, uneventful drive home this evening. The sun hadn’t quite set, but an overcast sky was dark enough to lull me into a reflective state. Yet even in the dim light I could enjoy the vivid blankets of red, orange, and yellow that still clung to the trees in the eastern parts of the county. Closer to the shire, most of the leaves have already fallen.

Despite all of my years, I still find something deeply touching about the changing colors of the leaves. In summer, it is a vast sea of green, with little contrast or diversity from tree to tree, at least not from a distance. Purpleleaf plum trees and other show pieces notwithstanding, one must get closer to the trees to better appreciate the individual differences in the leaves and bark. In summer, we just see forest.

In fall, there is this encore. It’s like final attempt at individuality. Even among the maples, for example, we witness such a wide range of reds, oranges, and yellows that each of the 15 maples on my farm have something different to say. Even the humble Sassafras jumps out of the shadows in a coat of gold.

It’s not that I don’t understand humans that drives me away. It’s that I don’t care to spend my life telling others how to live their lives and having them tell me how to live mine. On my various journeys, I relish the opportunity to learn new cultures. As a new outsider, I am often welcomed as a novelty, and not forced to conform. If one stays long enough, however, conformity is a must. Society, it seems, does not appreciate individuals, because they pose a threat to society’s identity. Humans prefer to run in packs, either self-organized or externally categorized. Like the trees in summer, nobody wants to appear different.

When winter sets in, I embrace the darkness as a time for reflection. There’ll be no leaves on the trees, save for a few of the oaks which sometimes cling to their leaves throughout winter. There are, of course, the evergreens; I’m not quite sure what I think of them. There is something reassuring about their devotion to the show, yet I have trouble accepting their reluctance to change. Can’t they just take a break? I feel like they’re trying to make us feel bad.

Some humans, like the evergreens, simply can’t let go. While the oaks, birches, maples, and all of their deciduous compatriots agree to take the winter off, the evergreens just keep at it.

One of the more disturbing Facebook developments is the increased desire by the Capitol busybodies to shame children from other schools. They have been especially critical of Glenelg High School, trolling the threads of its youths to find anything they deem privileged or socially unjust. They then make blanket statements about the entire school, condemning all of its children for their existence in the shire. They continually go back to events since which many winters have past. The evergreens just can’t let it go. No matter how hard trees of all colors want to move forward, the judgmental evergreens want to call the shots.

I look across West Howard, the vivid and diverse fall colors, the uniqueness of their leaves and bark…the varied growth rings within…all of the joy and life that they bring to us. How eager they are for their spring rebirth! I marvel at the beautify of each individual hue; I can’t imagine shaming them for not conforming.

No community is without faults, and West Howard certainly has its share. But we recognize that life is a learning process. In those formative high school years, children are trying to find their way in the world. Most interesting to me, perhaps, is the fact that Howard County children haven’t actually attended school since March, yet the busybodies still want to cast stones and exclaim, “They need to learn how to check their privilege!” I’d have to ask the germaphobes what exactly they expected to happen when they shuttered the schools and locked all of the children away from society. They’ve holed up in their bedrooms on Chromebooks, doing their best to make sense of jury-rigged online curriculum. It should come as no surprise to anyone that those children, like the pernicious adults who are shaming them, are using social media to express themselves. Perhaps it would be more constructive for them to rally around thinly-veiled Marxist movements to burn down local businesses?

When I set out on adventures, I travel to places free of censorship, criticism, and thought control. I don’t like everything I see, hear, or think, but I accept it for the diversity it brings. I accept that I may be wrong and keep myself open to the possibility that the world may know something that I don’t.

I’m not sure what to make of Howard County anymore. I have seen many changes in the last 10 years. I cannot say if the change is “good” or “bad.” I can say, however, that some of the change is not hospitable to my kind. It does not feel like a place that I can easily call home. There I am a fugitive, wanted for thought crimes. Lucky for me, West Howard is home. Here in the shire, at least for now, I can be me; Capitol authorities have little influence here to compel me to be like them.