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The Old Farm - John Paul Riger
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Of Racism, Stage Fright and Trout


            Many people wrongly consider racism to be a purely human or national phenomenon when actually it's part of an ancient, global struggle that occurs between similar species.  I witnessed it with my own eyes for the first time when stocking hatchery-raised rainbow trout into a lake.  I carried a few netfuls of fish down to the inlet that was just a small spring of fresh, clean inflowing water.  I'd already checked the temperature and it was fifty degrees Fahrenheit, perfect for the fish to acclimate.  The fish basically lingered at the spring, slightly disoriented from the transport which was expected.  I returned to the truck and sat on the tailgate and waited for them to start piping.  "Piping" is a term that's used when fish surface, to gulp air and kind of "burp" it through their gills, basically forcing air across their gills.  It looks as though the fish are feeding on the surface when in fact they're just forcing air across their gills to kind of "comb" the gill filaments with air, to realign them, to clean them of mucous and such.  When the fish start piping it means the stocking was successful.

          But on that day the fish didn't pipe.  And as I waited and watched, I realized they weren't going to pipe.  It was very unusual.  So I returned to the spring inlet to see if there were any fish remaining as they usually wander off into the lake to pipe their gills clean.  I was surprised to see most of the fish were still holding in the spring water inlet.  So I sat right there and observed them a bit.  They were breathing properly, that was obvious.  But why on Earth they wouldn't venture out into the lake was bewildering.

           A few minutes passed then suddenly something caught my eye.  I saw one of them returning to the spring from the open water.  Then another, then another.  It was then that I saw three of them returning together all being chased by smaller brook trout!  "Brookies" are a completely different species of fish from the same trout family.  They'd already established a wild population in the lake and weren't about to tolerate the invasion of the rainbow trout I'd just stocked.  To the brookies, the rainbows were a threat, they were foreign invaders.  I watched the brook trout actually bite at the retreating rainbow trout with their mouths and razor sharp teeth.  It was then that I witnessed for the very first time in my life that racism could very much be a part of the natural landscape; the struggle to survive with fish communities and that it may also play a role in natural selection among fish, perhaps all species.   In fact both rainbow trout and brook trout are exotic species to the little lake I'd just stocked which originally was home only to native cutthroat trout.  Cutthroat trout are in serious decline throughout the intermountain west of North America basically from the invasion of foreign species of the same family (races) in their native habitat.  That's actually problematic with all native species across planet Earth.  If an exotic species can survive and thrive in a new and foreign habitat it will do so at the expense of native species.  It's been proven many times over among plant and animal communities alike worldwide.

          I suffer from stage fright every single time I perform.  But to deal with it I have to understand exactly what stage  fright is; that it's a primal, irrational fear that dates way back to when we were cave dwellers.  Back then whenever a less dominant member of the clan would attempt to gain the attention of others it was often met with reprisal in the form of a rock in the face or a club across the head by a more dominant clan member.  Somehow that same primal fear is still embedded in the blueprint of my awareness.  So for me the solution to overcome stage fright is rational.  First, I understand what stage fright is; that when I step up to play the piano for others, no one's going to hit me in the face with a rock or club me over the head.  That's simply no longer a realistic fear because we're no longer cave dwellers; we're now civilized.  Also, knowing well the music that I'm going to perform goes a long way to overcoming the fear.  Being prepared; knowing that as soon as I jump into the music after the first two measures, I KNOW that I could play the piece with my eyes closed.  Because I've played it hundreds of times before helps a lot.

          So like I can only speak for myself, but maybe racism is something I can overcome by a similar graduation of my part of the collective consciousness?   Embrace the idea and understand that racism is essentially just another primal, irrational fear?  That nobody's gonna threaten me just because they're a little different than me ?  That I understand it and can easily graduate my consciousness to realize differences exist but they're nothing to fear?  In fact once I learn to appreciate the beauty of our differences perhaps, just as the coral reefs are so balanced and beautiful, I too can celebrate the beauty and balance of our condition as a member of the whole instead of as an individual?  I definitely have the ability to understand racism and likewise have the ability and intellect to overcome my natural, primal behavior.  That's precisely the challenge we're going to overcome.  So the next time I behave racist I'll try relax and rise above it.  That alone will help douse my fear.  I can do this!  I know I can!  I so got this!

About the music:  My dad was always real sick and my mom moved all us to an Appalachian farm so he could have a few years of peace before he died at the age of fifty-three.  The old farm was all but dying too.  It had no water, no plumbing, no sinks, no toilets...  The old buildings were falling over and the barn was fetid from old moldy hay, pigeon doings and rats. Our house smelled like bats.  We managed to care for a few ponies, a pig, three sheep and one mean old horse.  But I tell you guys, I loved that old farm.  Libby and I were married in the front yard under the great maples and my brothers and sisters played drunken bluegrass damn near til dawn on our night.  I tried to capture the inspiration that finds me from memories of that old place with this music.  It was written specifically for my new trio to perform live.  I hope you enjoyed it, "The Old Farm". 
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