Saturday, November 19, 2011

on the restorative properties of chocolate, vs a macro lens

I’ve got the bends: I’m decompressing from the week of jury duty, and the main symptom, as of right now, is irrational anger. It’s not the content of the trial itself, as heinous as that was (more on that in a minute). It’s the effects of several-days running of being trapped in windowless rooms, with no opportunity to ramble and explore. As I joked with my fellow jurors at the time, as we cooled our heels in our deliberation room while the attorneys and judge squabbled, for the nth time, about how to proceed through the quagmire of evidentiary rules, sometimes you just have to go into airport mode. You’re not in control of things, so sit back, put your feet up, and enjoy a good book. This sufficed for me to get through the week as it was happening, but the pent-up frustration built up under the surface. Hence, today’s crankiness.
I just got inside from about a half hour in the woods. I would have stayed longer, but the camera battery died.
Whew. OK, much better, already.
This is an ash seedling that’s dive-bombed into a moss-covered stump.

The turkey-footed casing of a yellow birch seed. The seed itself is to the left.

I’m pretty sure this is club moss – Lycopodium – and these are the reproductive bits. Those specialized leaves contain spores.

A decaying maple leaf. Reminds me of coming in for a landing at Any Airport, USA that’s surrounded by subdivisions and tract housing.

Moss’s fruiting whatsis.

A snuggling convocation of same.

This kind of moss looks like baby ferns. Two points if you spot the yellow birch seeds.

Gasp. A striped maple. This is where my camera battery gave up – I need to go back so I can show you the incredible colors of the twigs on this guy.
So do you want to hear about jury duty? Brace yourself: it took chocolate chip cookies, as well as a double shot of brownie sundae, to clean my soul when it was all over. The soul is best cleaned with exposure to nature, but chocolate’s restorative powers are not to be underestimated.
The defendant was charged with three counts of sexually abusing his daughter, starting when she was in elementary school, and continuing until she was about to enter high school. We heard three days of testimony, followed by a morning of closing arguments and instructions from the judge. Finally it was ours to deliberate on. A particular detail in the evidence came up on the second day that sealed the deal for me, but I listened carefully, with an open mind, for the rest of the trial. 
When it came time for our first straw poll, there were four or five of us who felt no hesitation in saying we felt the defendant was guilty. The remaining seven or eight were unsure, and wanted to replay some of the testimony. We trouped back into the courtroom and listened to the audio recording of certain parts of the trial. When we gathered again, I found myself explaining what I made of this testimony. I hesitate to describe it in too much detail here, but essentially, I argued that the worst possible case scenario was that the witness in question (not the complainant) was a flat-out liar. I showed how it didn’t matter, given other testimony from other people we had established were credible. We could toss this witness right out the window, and it wouldn’t make a difference. We took another straw poll, and only two people were now unsure.
I wondered if I should have followed my ninth-grade ambition to be a lawyer – an ambition that lasted maybe a week.
Another hour or so passed while we mulled things over. Our foreman had us vote officially, and there we were: unanimity. Guilty on all three counts.
It was only the next day, when I read about it in the local paper, which, unsurprisingly, had major, simple facts of the case wrong, that I learned that the defendant could be sentenced to up to life plus 25 years. They don’t tell you that ahead of time.
The whole experience was, on the one hand, a logistical and financial hassle (the pay is well under minimum wage). But on the other hand, it was a privilege to get to do this. I mean, what’s the alternative? Just one judge? No thanks. Vigilante justice? Perhaps more viscerally satisfying, but I’ll take “presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” any day. 
In Vermont, you have to serve either three draws, or three trials, whichever comes first. This trial was actually my second: the first was the week before, and the defendant settled the morning of the trial. My next draw is in late February, with associated trials all during March. Until then, I’ll enjoy not having to ask an armed deputy permission to go outside.

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