Events of the last week have overtaken not just America but much of the content of my current novel, The Women of the Oak Savannahs. In this book I tell the story of a community of pregnant women that rise up and in act of civil disobedience blockade and attempt to protect and preserve a precious wooded hillside in Napa County.
Five years of work has gone into this manuscript. There are many characters. One of the villains is a dangerous deputy sheriff. His actions taken as part of a tactical squad during a mass arrest of the pregnant women stands out as haunting to my eye. He puts one citizen in the hospital from a beating, falsely imprisons another, forces sex upon a woman in another.
Many days over many months while dealing with these scenes I was often filled with doubt and a sense of being too contrived, being too dramatic, that there was insufficient reason to place a broken deputy into this manuscript. But, I also have a community of pregnant women committing an act of nonviolent civil disobedience and for the first time in their lives facing arrest and imprisonment.
We live in a precious fragile world. Destroying trees to make room for more vines, more wine, more tasting rooms may nor may not be the right thing. As in George Floyd’s being murdered by four Minneapolis Police, thinking they would get away with whatever they want to do, that is true until it is not true. We don’t know for certain why Mr. Floyd’s murder has triggered such a huge reaction but it is in fact put our democracy on the brink, not since the Civil War has there been such strife.
I was considerably less ambitious and my choice of finding a community of pregnant women to form the blockade was in part my effort to embody the metaphysics of another desecration on the hillsides, the cutting down of thirty-thousand trees, the contamination to the drinking water, the extinction of the salmon, the increased rate of cancers, and my effort to get my readers to care about the people fighting to for a better world. That fight has leaped off the page and out onto the streets of America. Here is a small fragment from the end of the novel, where the midwife speaking to one of the pregnant women gives voice and words to the meaning of bringing a precious new life into the world
“Never give up on the majesty of who you truly are. A woman is the gateway, a mother manifests flesh for the spirit’s vision. That force in your womb is a soul with a birth certificate, named and dated, place and time of first breath, father and mother. Soul… I testify to you, under penalty of punishment for surrendering false word, girl know this, a woman’s heart is not unlocked by merely touching the surface of her skin. Not your white skin, not my black skin. Our power, the heart song that resides within extends like a wave all the way back to that first flash of primordial light, we are the sousaphone player’s belly busting pitch perfect bass note Big Bang. Womankind is light’s most lickerish fusion of mind and body. We are the soul-makers. I can feel our spirits twine-bound, matriarch to matriarch to all these she-trees. You, wounded, pregnant, riven with doubt, up to your chi-chis in doll face despair, the twisted double helix pairings, the genetic plotting points, life’s instruction manual passed down by our ancestors, we are what remains of the best who were here before us, you seize hold of starter batter from your mother, hold this cosmological code in the furnace of your womb sending evolutionary wisdom into the oncoming climate crisis infused onrushing century ahead. Your body’s wonder-working is far more indomitable than you allow your worried mind to know.”