LOCAL VIEW –Beautiful Breezes–

Winter may be conceding defeat, at long last, (though they are still getting May snows to our west, in Denver and Minnesota).  After our bit of sleet here last week, the south finally broke through the veritable wall of chill that always seems to keep New England cold, even when the Mid-Atlantic states swelter, most every April (and, this year, into the first half of May).

The dividing line between summery-warmth and early-spring-chill is often shown on weather maps by a warm front approaching New England from the south. We Yankees watch the approach of this warm front with both hope and cynicism.  On rare occasions it flies right past us: I recall one hot spell in the first days of April (in 1990?) when we hit 90ºF, but such events are rare. More often the warm front stalls. Things conspire against it’s progress. The waters south of New England is chilled by winter; mountain ranges to our west allow cold air to crouch low, and to refuse to budge. To our west the warm front may proceed north to Albany, Burlington, Toronto, even Montreal, but it dips south to the east, and can’t cross New England.

The warm front is attached to a storm to our west, and the south winds ahead of that storm are assisted by high pressure to our east, (which is a westward extension of the Azores High, locally known as the Bermuda High).  As the storm is deflected to our north by this high, it eventually finds a “weakness” and proceeds east to our north, “over the top” of the high pressure. As the storm passes to our north it drags a cold front south, and the cold front usually passes over us just as the warm front is tantalizingly close, brushing the warm front (and all its warm air) out to sea.

If the cold front is powerful, then clear, crisp weather follows, but if the cold front is feeble, and if the Bermuda High is strong, the cold front becomes stationary just to our south, and dreary weather continues, as the stationary front eventually becomes a warm front as the next storm approaches. Sometimes the front undulates like bumps on a shaken jump-rope, and a series of weak storms pass.  But this isn’t all that interesting, unless you are a meteorologist. In fact it irks you, if you are stuck in New England, suffering cold and cloudy weather, craving spring.

By May, to our north, the nights are getting short and the days very long, and there is simply no way the north can generate arctic air, with so much sunshine. Rather than “arctic fronts” the cold fronts start to be called “polar fronts”.  Also the boundary between the north and south retreats north, as does the “storm track”. Therefore it is usually May when we finally see some truly summer-like air make it this far north. Hallelujah!

I will post all the interesting maps at the end of this post, but, knowing some are bored by maps (an attitude which I fail to understand, but respect), I’ll simply state what we experienced.

One thing I should mention is that an indicator of clean waters, called by some “the State Bird of Maine”, appears just when the weather gets nice. It is called “the black fly.”  It is a reason many who move to New Hampshire depart after a summer or two. If you work outside, as I do, you tend to like cold mornings, as black flies don’t pester until temperatures approach 60ºF, and also you tend to like breezy days, when swarms of insidious insects try like heck to swim upstream and get to you, but fail, just downwind.

One nice thing about this cold and wet spring is that the chill kept the black flies at bay. I got lots of vegetable gardening done. However it was also weather great for growing grass, but not so great for mowing, as the grass was too wet.

At this point I should mention another thing. I draw a distinction between gardening and gardening. Eh? My distinction boils down to this: “Can you eat it?” I spent years, even decades, working as a so-called “landscaper” for charming, rich old ladies, producing a crop you could have stored in a teacup. It wasn’t a total waste, for my work did feed me, my wife, and five children, but it bugged me that no actual food was produced. The old ladies had money, and their pay bought food, but all our work in gardens produced no actual food. Therefore, to this day, I have an almost allergic reaction towards non-productive gardening; (IE: “landscaping”.) I don’t mind growing sunflowers (seeds are high in protein), or roses (rose-hips are high in vitamin C) or day lilies (buds and wilted blooms make a delicious soup) but I very much mind cutting the grass. No one eats the grass. It might be acceptable if the cut grass was fed to livestock, which you could eat, but it isn’t.

In any case, my wife doesn’t want to hear my brilliant arguments. When the grass at our Farm-Childcare gets long, she believes we look more “professional” if it is cut. Because I believe I should chose my battles, I meekly cut the damn stuff. Fortunately it has been so rainy this spring that I haven’t often had the ability to cut the damn grass. But consequently the grass has gotten deep. I have noticed my wife giving me glances of an aggrieved sort. The time has come to act, or face consequences.

Yesterday would have been a perfect day to mow, as it was hot and muggy, and the black flies came swarming out. Back in the day I could keep them away by chain-smoking, as they don’t like smoke or nicotine, but since my lungs told me I had to quit such fly-repellent, I have found an inferior repellent is the exhaust of a mower. But yesterday, just when the grass started to dry out, the humid heat would produce a drenching downpour, and therefore the best use of my time was in the vegetable garden, where I produced future food for humans by planting seeds, and was present-tense food for clouds of hungry black flies.

Today would have been a perfect day to work in the vegetable garden, as the surge of tropical air fed a storm passing to our north, and as it strengthened it brought south a cold front, and then, as the departing storm strengthened further, the winds increased to a point where the average speed approached 20 mph, and a few gusts approached 50. There was not a black fly in sight.

At this point I should mention a final thing. At the northern latitude where I live you had better plant as early as you can. You have a limited “window of opportunity”. The growing season is so short that many crops will fail to mature, if you wait too long. Furthermore the sun is as high in late May as it is in early August. Farmers know that, after early August, the sun gets too low, and growing slows down. If you plant a bean after early August, it may sprout more quickly than it does in May, but then the sun is so low the bean grows in slow motion. If you plant in May you see results fast.

Therefore, on a breezy day in May, without a black fly in sight, the last thing I wanted to do was mow the grass. Yet I had to do it. I approached the mower with a bad attitude. To my own amazement I swiftly felt I was more lucky than I believed possible.

The grass was so long (and my rider-mower has such problems) that I had to creep, and the job took forever. (I exaggerate, but it did take hours.) Yet by the time I was done I felt blessed, for I can think of no other way I could have been forced to sit on my duff outside, and witness how wildly beautiful a windy day in May actually is.

There are times it is good to see what an ass you are. Behind my mower, I left cropped turf, basically a Marine crew-cut, as ahead of my mower I witnessed long grass responding to the wind. Have you ever watched long grasses on a windy day? How they ripple and shimmer? And sink and bound-back? How beautiful grass can be, yet what beauty was I making? Producing cropped turf behind me, that fed none?  (Maybe this experience should make me more understanding of those who cut me down, feeding none). In any case, it was amazing that the long grass I detested, when I began, became grass that was my guru:

What a wonderful windy wind it was
With gulped air clear from Canada; sky clear
As well; green grasses displaying the laws
Of brisk breezes; bounding far faster than deer
On the run; and shining and shimmering,
Rippling in clear sun’s pure white: A cool light
So different from yesterday’s simmering
Tropical humidity: Sheer delight
Whisking away the wetness; sweet sighing
Drying the dampness, then deeply roaring
To make new-leafed boughs bow, and trying
To make grasses bow. But bowing’s boring
If you’re hay in the wind. Instead, you prance,
And make ups-and-downs be part of your dance.

(To those of more scientific inclinations, I hope to find time to update this post with meteorological maps explaining the situation which led to the above sonnet.)

*******

Here are the promised maps, (from the Weatherbell site, which offers a 7-day free trial subscription, if you love weather maps.)

Yesterday’s map shows a strengthening 995 mb low departing over Nova Scotia, with strong breezes (blue) in its wake, and a cool, Canadian high-pressure pulled down over the Great Lakes to our west. The “Bermuda High” that gave us warm south winds is weakened to a small circle off Florida,  partially by a sub-tropical storm (actually given the name “Andrea”) moving through it and out to sea over Bermuda. As “Andrea” fades northeast the Azores High, to the lower right margin, will again extend west and combine with the unusually strong (for southerly latitudes) 990 mb low over Nebraska, which gave Denver snow on its cold side, and which is drawing warm air from the Gulf of Mexico on its warm side (and causing tornadoes where the cold and warm clash), and south winds will surge north again.

AA1 gfs_mslp_uv10m_conus_1

The Canadian High suppressed the above-normal warmth (red) to the southeast states, as much of the north and west was below-normal. (Blue, green and purple.) The cold and rain to the west is seriously delaying spring planting in America’s breadbasket.

AA2 gfs_t2m_anom_conus_1

The warmth is expected to rebound in the east in two days:

AA3 gfs_t2m_anom_conus_10

And then a ripple of cold again rides “over the top” of the high pressure, perhaps giving us thunder in three days.

AA4 gfs_t2m_anom_conus_12

The upper-air 500 mb maps have shown a stubborn ridge in the east, and deep trofs to the west that are forced to head north and then ripple up and over the eastern ridge.  Yesterday’s map showed above-normal pressures weakened to the east by “Andrea”, (light red) as the trof to the west is impressively below-normal (purple). The last trof, which was impressive out west, is far weaker, as it reaches Maine.

AA5 gfs_z500_sig_conus_1

If this pattern persists some places out west might not be able to plant at all, which makes my small, experimental garden a little more meaningful.

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UNLESS YOU BECOME AS A CHILD

I’m getting old. I think I may even be starting to show symptoms of “second childhood”. Despite a return to cold and wet weather I failed to muster the proper attitude of dour, sardonic sarcasm, and instead continued to potter about the Childcare’s garden quite contentedly. Lots went wrong, but it failed to piss me off. Children ran through freshly seeded plots, and I shrugged it off. The radio reported politicians behaving like idiots, and I chuckled rather than raved. What was wrong with me?

When the United States sent an aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf, and Iran sneered it could take the carrier out with missiles, and I didn’t immediately thrash about in agony over my failures to be prepared for Armageddon, I checked my pulse. I wasn’t dead, so then I wondered if someone drugged my coffee. It just wasn’t like me to remain calm.

You see, according to my original script, by now my Farm-childcare was suppose to be more developed than it is. Using the extra income I’d make from either a best-seller or a hit-song, I’d be able to afford restoring the land to the productivity it achieved around 1860, when it produced enough to feed perhaps a hundred people (and make just enough money to raise a family). That may not be enough to profitably compete with modern agribusiness, but it would be a boon to my community in a wartime situation, when food supplies from far away might be cut off. It is a complete failure on my part that, even after years of effort, the farm at best could feed two or three. Ninety-seven neighbors might starve, because I failed to write a hit song.

Shame. Shame on me. How dare I potter about whistling? I should be cursing my weakness, and the failure of my society to pay me millions for my poems. I should be pacing like a tiger in it’s cage, not happily running like a hamster in its wheel.

What ponders the hamster, watching its wheel
And wondering if it should go for a spin?
It knows spin goes nowhere; sees that the deal
Is non-profit. Does it grin a small grin
All the same? And how about my labors?
My poems unpublished? My soil’s hilled beans?
My good deeds done for nobody-neighbors?
I grin a small grin when I think how it means
So little compared to what’s Eternity’s,
Then think how God may be pleased if I spin
My wheel right. Solomon’s futilities
Be damned. It simply isn’t a sin
To stretch my old limbs in the wheel and get sore
When my dance is for God, and not to gain more.

Perhaps part of second childhood is having a decrease of motivating hormones. There are ads on the radio stating “erectile dysfunction” is some sort of serious problem I should seek help for, like a drug addict seeking detox and rehab, (though, looking back, it seems “erectile function” got me in far more trouble than “dysfunction” ever did.) Hormones seemed to fuel desire, and then lots of frustration when desire wasn’t fulfilled, (and some joy but also a strange dissatisfaction when I got what I wanted), yet both sides of that desire-coin can be avoided when you skip the desire altogether. Not that I sought desirelessness like some Yogi in the Himalayas. It just happens when you get older, to some a curse but to others a blessing.

I happened to be in a state of mind where second childhood felt like a blessing even in the rain, and then the sun came out.

With the sun as high as it is in early August, the delayed spring exploded, with buds bursting to unfolding leaves. If you have ever dealt with farmers when “June is busting out all over” you know they enter a state of manic frenzy.  But I just couldn’t quite do it. I continued to potter, and failed at farmer-frenzy.

Formerly failure stung like a whip, and like a whip it spurred greater effort, but after fifty years that gets old. A man does his best with his gifts, and beyond that he can do no more.

What I just wrote is more profound than it looks, and young artists should take heed: If you are fated to be a Norman Rockwell then fate will supply you with help, and a Saturday Evening Post will appear to make giving your gift easier. Study the lives of artists who achieved fame and success and you’ll see none made it alone. The coincidental meetings and “lucky breaks” are astounding, and may make young artists jealous that they see no “lucky breaks”, yet such jealousy only occurs because they don’t see fame and success can be a pathway to misery, nor see that it can be very good luck to avoid all that, and instead lead a quiet life with a good spouse, unnoticed and untroubled, and blessed with far more tranquility than fame ever offers.

It has started to occur to me that it is lucky I never became a one-hit-wonder and gained the cash that would allow me to demonstrate how productive my “failed” farm (and hundreds of thousands of other “failed” farms) might be. Such success sounds like ceaseless work of the restless sort, when I prefer work of the pottering, restful sort. I understand I am blessed, (though some might call my luck a blessing in disguise, a sort of silver lining in the gloomy clouds of failure).

One failure many farmers face is that cute, lovable chicks become horrible beasts called “pullets”. They are basically dinosaurs hiding their reptilian nature with feathers. They neither cluck nor lay eggs like hens, and instead are the annoying adolescents of the chicken world.  They make the innocent and adorable peeping of chicks into a peeping so annoying you want to kick them. Therefore all the people who were so eager to help me when the birds were cute chicks lose interest when they become gawky, demanding pullets. Therefore you’d think pullets would like me, their only loyal and true friend. But no, the word “thank you” is not in their vocabulary, and if I am at all late they rush to the door of their pen hurling peeping insults at me, crowd about my feet and never thank me for not stepping on them, and then dig into their food without a look backwards in gratitude. (Even dogs at least wag their tails at you while gulping down their dinner.)

Some farmer’s wives, through prolonged patience and kindness, can can eventually civilize these dinosaur pullets to a degree where, as hens, they strut into a farmhouse and hop up into the kind woman’s lap to be petted as she watches TV in the evening. However, as pullets, they are all far from such civilization, and few farmers have the patience and kindness necessary to generate warm and fuzzy feelings towards a dinosaur. Yet something about getting old and gray allows me to like the birds even when they only pause from fighting each other over food to give a glare with all the beaming warmth of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

If I can feel pleased by even a pullet’s glare, then I can be pleased by other things, more easy and favorable, and less reptilian.

For example, I neglected some things last year, such as my patches of Rhubarb and Asparagus, and therefore I should be punished this year with failed crops. However Rhubarb and Asparagus do not forget the wheelbarrows of manure they were fed in prior years, an overcame the competition of last summer’s weeds, and grew even more prosperous, with root systems becoming even more vigorous. In fact this spring, for every shoot of asparagus I cut, three more spring up.

Here’s another example of how my weakness (being old and lazy) strangely blesses me:

I’ve sadly faced the fact I can’t weed like I once did. Nor can I hire the young and strong to sweat in the sun like I once did, (because I haven’t sold my hit song yet). Therefore I decided to buy a fabric that rich people use around the base of their their roses, to prevent weeds. It costs a pretty penny, but with hourly wages rising the fabric costs much less than a human. Also in theory the fabric is less work; you sweat under the sun laying it but then get to sit back, where old-style weeding was a constant battle. Then I discovered it had a further benefit, besides blocking the growth of weeds. Because it was black, it absorbed the sunlight. Even on a cloudy day (because the sun rides as high as early August) enough radiance penetrated clouds to make the fabric slightly warm, even when rain mixed with sleet, and therefore, because the soil beneath the fabric was made warmer, my peas germinated more swiftly, and are two weeks ahead of friends who planted at the same time without black fabric. Who would believe being lazy could have such a benefit?

In conclusion, the decrepitude of old age is turning out to be more pleasurable than I expected.  Who would think failure could be such fun? It makes me stop and think, for it is so contrary to logic. How can an old geezer’s impotency have such potency? How can becoming desireless give me what I desire?

I don’t claim to fathom what I’m glimpsing. But it does seem my second childhood has some of the qualities of the first, and, because I run a Childcare, I have ample opportunity to study children as they get utterly stoned on the narcotic called “Spring”, and then to think about how Jesus stated we must become like such irresponsible little individuals, if we are to ever taste bliss.

How to regain joys barefoot boys heft
When they’re walking whistling down summer’s road
Freed from school’s failures, from “F” after “F”
And all that shame? They have shed such a load
Of ignominy. They are free, free, free of it.
The final school bell ends a fifteen round fight
And they’re the loser, but they don’t care a whit
About such unforgiving displays of might,
And find forgiveness in summer sunshine.
How can they be so certain they’re embraced?
They’ve achieved nothing, and yet a divine
Compassion is their fate. Surely they’re placed
On the level of angels. Their whistling
Is praises to God, who smiles, listening.

Might Want To Stock Up On Foodstuffs.

Some disconcerting statistics are starting to crop up (pun) in the graphs that farmers and people who invest in the “futures markets” attend to. The cold spring, and more importantly the wet spring, has delayed a lot of planting, in some cases to an “unprecedented” degree.

The problem with getting off to a late start is that it makes the planter susceptible to an early frost. In northern lands a growing-season is a limited window-of-opportunity, and there are many crops which are basically useless even if they are 95% grown.

Corn, beans, and squash were basic Native American foodstuffs, and all required warm summers. The point at which summers became too short and too cool was the dividing line between the agricultural Indians that grew the “three sisters”, and the hunter-gatherer Indians to their north. Here in New England there was, when the first Europeans arrived, a noticeable difference between northern and southern tribes, largely revolving around the most practical way to avoid the bother of hunger, called in extreme cases “starvation” or “famine”.

Modern Americans are some of the most spoiled people on earth, when it comes to worrying at all about food. In America the poor and uneducated are strikingly fat, which leads to jokes about the sanity of Americans. People from other lands know what it is like to walk into a grocery store and see no food on the shelves. Americans cannot envision such a state of affairs, and many haven’t a clue where their food even comes from.

This is an amazing downfall from the situation in my grandfather’s childhood in the 1890’s, when over half of all Americans were farmers, and all had to deal with horses because the automobile hadn’t been invented. Americans have been orphaned from Mother Nature, first by entering the indoor reality of the mills and factories, and now by living life gazing into the screens of TV’s and computers.

Fortunately, perhaps because of the agricultural foundations of America, many Americans resist the movement into the indoors, and have a somewhat idealist drive to be outdoors-men, (even when it is obvious they are pretenders.) The original idea of a suburb, (which is in some ways the antithesis of a true farming community), was sold to gullible Americans because people wanted to escape the city and get “back to nature”. Then, when the children of the suburbs realized suburbs were nothing like farms, the children became Hippies who wanted to form “communes” and get “back to nature” in a more genuine manner. Such Hippies tended to bail out from their ideal communes, once they realized how much hard work was involved, and sought a better-paying life in a bank or making a new thing called “computers”. Once they got some of this better-pay, what did they want to do with the money? Move out a bit farther from the city, outside of the sterilized suburbs, and create a little, toy farm and get “back to nature”.

Every ten years America has a census, and one thing the census attempts to determine is people’s “occupation”. The census-taker asks you to fit yourself into a list of categories.  One category was always “farmer”. But the category “farmer” will not even exist in the 2020 census. Farmers in some ways no longer matter, they are such a tiny minority. Is it any wonder that, if you bring up Jefferson’s ideas about “Yeoman Farmers”, many respond with a look of complete incomprehension?

This incomprehension strikes me as a bad thing. It is a form of ignorance, and ignorance isn’t good. In my small way I fight against such ignorance by running a Farm-Childcare where children can see what my grandfather took for granted. After ten years of dealing with modern youth I no longer am surprised when children, with innocent honesty, ask questions such as, “Why do you dig carrots from the dirty dirt rather than get clean carrots from the store?” or “Why do you get eggs from that hen’s stinky butt when the supermarket’s eggs are clean?”

My grandfather would have never asked such questions, as a child. He was not divorced from the outdoors to the degree we have achieved.

To some degree we have achieved a good thing, for we are not as cold nor as hungry, but in another way we have become stupid, because we do not have the same desire to work hard to avoid being cold or hungry. Many only experience hunger on purpose, when they diet.

We think food is a given. It most certainly is not. We think we have escaped Mother Nature. Again, we have not.

Even though the American census will no longer ask if people’s occupation is “farmer”, a surprising number of Americans still farm. They may not list it as their “occupation” on the census, but they devote time and money to their “hobby”. They produce tiny crops and sell at local farmer’s markets, yet people will pay double for what they produce.

Why? Because it tastes better. How much better? Well, when you can get eggs for $2.00 a dozen at a supermarket, some will pay $4.00 a dozen for “free range” eggs at a farmer’s market. That is how much better the eggs taste. The yolks are yellower and bulge up from the frying pan, rather than sagging flat, and the whites of each egg are of two consistencies, (thin and watery, and jelly-like), rather than the single, slimy substance which egg-whites turn into, when they sit in commercialized refrigerators for weeks and even months. But most importantly, they taste better. When people taste free range eggs they say, “Oh yes, this is what eggs taste like; I had forgotten.”

This is no big deal, if it is just one fellow selling an extra dozen eggs his six hens lay which he himself can’t eat, a few times a week. But, if it is thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of small fellows selling eggs, it adds up, and threatens a part of American Agribusiness called “Big Chicken”. Like “Big Oil”, they have a lobby in Washington, and seek to to protect their multi-million-dollar investments in non-free-range chickens by concocting complex legislation and thick sheaves of regulations that makes it a total headache for an ordinary bloke to simply sell a dozen eggs.

I personally have yet to deal with Big Chicken, but did experience the threat of Big Milk. Back when I was milking my goats I sold the raw milk (and some cheese we made of that milk), to people who wanted such produce. Then I learned such industry was highly illegal. In California the Federal Government had spent considerable dollars to arrange agents to come down hard on a store selling raw milk, as if they were selling drugs, or involved in child-prostitution. The hippies in a small store in San Francisco were flabbergasted when a veritable SWAT team charged into their New Age shop from all sides with drawn guns.

What was the crime? Apparently, in the entire United States, raw milk had caused seven cases of some serious illness. This was the excuse used to make a farmer selling his own raw milk illegal.  Not wishing to face a SWAT team, I then looked into making my industry legal, and discovered regulations involved having hot and cold water taps in three separate rooms with tables and all pails made of stainless steel. I decided the investment, (a year’s income for a poor fellow like me), was not worth selling a little milk, and also decided the children at my Childcare would not benefit from seeing Federal agents (who ought be dealing with drug smugglers) swoop in and lead me off in handcuffs, so I stopped milking my goats, which was exactly what the Big Milk Lobby wanted. Apparently their slim profits were threatened by dangerous outlaws like me.

Jefferson likely was rolling in his grave. It was a perfect example of Big Government (AKA “The Swamp”) oppressing the Yeoman Farmer, which Jefferson detested. But taking things a step further, in terms of Americans feeding fellow Americans, it was suicidal.

You see, there is a thing that doesn’t care a hoot for government regulations, called “The Weather”. And it can reduce a crop to zero, and no lobby in Washington an stop it.

Currently agribusiness is deeply concerned because President Trump is increasing tariffs to China, and China might get mad and retaliate by refusing to buy our soybeans. This would be a sad situation for agribusiness’s soybean-producers, if they actually had any soybeans to sell.

They might not. If you look back to the graph I started this post with, and understand corn can’t be planted because the weather is bad, you should understand soybeans also can’t be planted, if the fields remain a sea of mud in pouring rain. In other words, we might have a very low production of soybeans this year.

In such a case the crafty politician-capitalists of China, thinking they might “leverage” a deal to get lower soybean prices, might be flabbergasted to discover there was no deal to be had, because America had no soybeans to sell.

Just as China assumes American agribusiness is so brilliant it will always produce a huge surplus of soybeans, the American people assume agribusiness will always produce full shelves in  supermarkets. But Mother Nature can step in and turn millions of square-miles of farmland into swamps. This is what happened in Europe, when the Medieval Warm Period gave way to the Little Ice Age, and a terrible famine was the result.

However many young Americans are not only divorced from the dirt-poor farms their forefathers worked hard to farm, (and propelled their nation to greatness through farming), and not only do young Americans also fail to study history and see how the plenty of good times can be followed by the poverty of bad times, but they also don’t even know enough to store up extra food in their kitchen shelves for the next day, let alone for a serious famine. Many hardly use their kitchens at all, preferring to buy prepared food.

My grandmother behaved as if famine was right around the corner. She was always canning and pickling and salting the plenty of the present tense, because she knew the plenty of the present might fail. And she actually once saw plenty fail, when the stock market crashed in 1929. My Grandfather had to work without pay to keep his boss’s business from failing, but my Grandmother kept producing dinner on the table, because she had so much canned and salted and pickled.

Sad to say, modern wives are not so prepared. Some live such a day-to-day existence that, in their kitchens, they have not even a can of beans for tomorrow.

My advice is to stock up. It will not cost much. I’m not talking beef in freezers. I’m talking dry stuff, like flour and beans, cornmeal and dried lentils, rice and dried peas.

Throw in a few cans of tuna or chicken, and maybe some tomato sauce and salsa, and it just might be that you are sitting pretty as other Americans riot out on the streets.

And if you have an actual garden, and grow actual food, you may be in for a battle, if this summer continues cold and wet. But fight the good fight. Your small harvest may be far better than that of agribusiness, which I fear has forgotten the reality of honest dirt in favor of the swamp called politics.

I hope my forecast is wrong. But, if one is going to be an Alarmist, it is far cheaper to store up some food in your pantry, than to derange the entire economy by banning fossil fuels and erecting a wind turbine in your pasture and solar panels on your barn. You can’t eat good intentions.

LOCAL VIEW –Her Hardest Hue To Hold–

it’s a cold, black night, 37ºF with sleet occasionally tapping the window pane, mixing in with the icy rain. Not the start of an Ice Age, (I hope), for I’ve seen it snow in May before, but definitely not Global Warming. Tomorrow’s high temperature could be twenty-five degrees below “normal”. Not that we are ever really normal, around here.

It’s a good night to look at the bright side. Some springs get off to a fast start with a blast of heat, and daffodils bloom and wither on the same day, but this year they have lasted nearly a fortnight in the cold. Blooms usually don’t last so long even in a florist’s refrigerator.

In one way the chill is a dream-come-true, because there is a part of me that wants to hit the pause-button, every spring. Spring has a habit of leaping past, all too fleeting and intangible, like time through an old man’s fingers. There is something beautiful in springtime which I deeply want to savor, if not grasp.

First green’s gold’s hard to hold in mystic May
As all the twigs get lacy, before shade’s
Grown the cool, green dark of June. Sunbeams play
In the gold glades, where even a shy maid’s
Unafraid to pass me walking through woods.
The wonder awes. The breeze isn’t hushing
Summer’s hush; soft leaves gentle winds; no “shoulds”
Or “coulds” or “woulds” list and schedule crushing
Madness in my mind. Heavy boots are shed
And I walk light-footed and light-hearted
Through lime-gold light. Have I died? Am I led
To see the bright end of what God’s started?
Like dawn after dark, wondrously uplifted
By healing from bed, the whole world is gifted.

There. At least I attempted to sketch the fleeting wonder. Robert Frost’s sketch was more succinct:

Nature’s first green is gold, 
Her hardest hue to hold. 
Her early leaf’s a flower; 
But only so an hour. 
Then leaf subsides to leaf. 
So Eden sank to grief, 
So dawn goes down to day. 
Nothing gold can stay. 

But I disagree with the master, in terms of the grief. There is something in spring that is the exact opposite of grief. I think the grief is due to our desire to capture it, to clutch it in a fist like a brute picking flowers.

I spent a while attempting to capture it, (though hopefully not like a brute), with a camera, but felt hopelessly inadequate. It was like trying to catch a sunbeam with a net.

What I wanted to capture was the way the first shade of spring is so green-golden it can hardly be called “shade.” It is more of a light than a shade, but cameras have a hard time with such subtlety. The sky was too bright, and made the light coming through the leaves look too dark.

The images were actually better looking away from the sun, though that view utterly lacked the enchantment of light coming through leaves.

During our few sunny spells midst weeks of rain I snapped picture after picture, and few came close to the reality I wandered through. It was fairly obvious I would spoil the joy if I persisted in trying to capture it. Rather than joyous I’d be frustrated. But I couldn’t help myself, I suppose because one can’t help but exclaim when one sees something beautiful. Perhaps it is a bit crude, like a teen-aged boy releasing a long, low whistle when he sees a gorgeous girl, but it was what it was.

At some point the desire to grip spring like a strangler gave way to merely traveling through it, like a wayfarer on a road.

I think, in the end, my saving gurus were the small boys at my Childcare. Also my dog. And my goats. They had no desire to be artists and take pictures or write sonnets, and instead they galloped and pranced, without the need to choreograph like artistic dancers, but rather like goats and dogs and boys. They are what they are.

Of course, there is always someone who will object to such undisciplined skipping and gamboling. Bureaucrats might frown to see boys walking by a pond without coast-guard approved life-jackets, but fortunately the closest thing to a bureaucrat around was me. In our case the nearby nags were a bunch of Canada Geese. Apparently we had no business disrespecting the invisible no-trespassing signs they had laid out to keep all in proper order, and came swimming up like a gang of hooligans bugling their baritone-to-falsetto yodeling.

The boys refused to have their joy depressed, and, displaying a complete disregard for fellow species and the ecosystem, told the geese that they refused to allow their joy to be intimidated.

The battle was prolonged and furious, but in the end everyone was happy and no one got hurt. (Six-year-old’s have weak arms, and the geese were too smart to draw closer than twenty yards.) A weakling voice in the back of my mind was feebly telling me the episode was politically incorrect, but another was voice was telling me spring itself is politically incorrect, and instead sung like Julie Andrews:

Tra la, it’s May, the lusty Month of May;
That lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray.
Tra la, it’s here: That shocking time of year
When tons of wicked little thoughts merrily appear….

Every year I wonder if it can possibly happen again, and every year I am surprised when it actually does happen again: Spring!

My wife left town for a few days to help organize a baby-shower for my daughter-in-law in Maine, and this enabled me to really get into the spirit of spring by playing hooky an entire weekend:

I skipped church on a dull Sunday, and I
Immediately heard a sweet choir sing.
Though spring lay gray under a charcoal sky
Light shone on me. “What the heck’s happening?”
I wondered, “Where is my dose of mortal guilt?”
All I felt was a bubbling gladness.
There was no black burden to make spirits wilt
And only a day free of such sadness.
I felt like a boy when school has let out
For the summer. With sweet spring in my stride
I crossed the gray world. My heart yearned to shout
“I’m free as a bird” but I hugged it inside
And let birds do the singing. God alone knows
How I worshiped, as from the dead I arose.

************

My wife away, I had beer for breakfast,
Then got on my knees in the garden to plant.
Unshaven, uncombed, I happily messed
In mud for hours, and none said, “You can’t.”
Dirty and sweaty, I felt palms get gritty
And pitied poor bankers sans-dirt-under-nails.
Who needs a penthouse atop a loud city?
Who needs more money when cash always fails
To purchase what toil can give me for free?
Busy as Beaver, I find I forget
To pity myself, and hum like Sir Bee
From flower to flower, and yet,
Though small as an ant, under sky too tall,
I also am huge, for I’m part of it all.

These are good things to remember, on a stormy night with sleet tapping at the window panes in May. And one odd aspect is the realization that Spring’s joy is not due to having desire fulfilled, nor due to renouncing desire, but simply by skipping desire altogether. It is the ultimate hooky.

AN OPTIMISTIC MONDAY

April has continued wetter than normal. I’ve planted the peas despite the risk of rot, (due to the garden being more mud and mire than dirt).  I’ve also got the onions in, with each small bulb planted in a hole poked in “weed fabric” I’m experimenting with, (as the less time I have to weed the more time I have to write). Because the fabric is black it absorbs sunshine even when the visible light is largely hidden by clouds; (yes, you can get a tan on a cloudy day.) The soil under the fabric is warm, and each onion is planted in a small pool of warm, brown water. It’s sort of a gamble, but then, farming is always a gamble.

The rain can depress your mood. The mind has a habit of expecting the worst at times. I find myself thinking of the Little Ice Age, when it rained all summer and crops rotted and famine was so prevalent that the average height of Europeans (judging from skeletons) shrank by three inches. Yet if you get too depressed you don’t even try, in which case the chance of famine becomes a certainty. Therefore I try to keep plugging on, and to teach children at my Childcare there is reason to hope, despite mud (which they actually enjoy.)

 

Though I am cheerful on the outside, I can be crying on the inside. A selfish voice in me grumbles, “But what about me. Why do I always have to be the one cheering everyone else up? When is someone else going to cheer me up?”

Yesterday was a bit like that. Sunday should have sun, but the brief gleam at daybreak had already clouded over and sprinkles of cold rain fell, even as I walked out of church. The sermon had been excellent, but the real world seemed very different from the sanctuary. The time had come to practice what I preached (or had heard preached).

I  took a nap. After all, Sunday’s suppose to be a day of rest. But I still had to feed the goats, in the cold rain, late in the afternoon, and they looked glum and pessimistic. Where they like to hang out under the barn, when it’s raining, is largely now a mire, and they perched on drier rocks and shot me annoyed looks, as if the mud was all my fault.

That’s gratitude for you. Not a single thank-you for coming out in the rain. I scolded them and told them that if they didn’t wise up I’d turn them all into chops and steaks. But then I noticed they weren’t listening. They were looking out from under the barn with what seemed to be hope. A silence announced the pattering of rain had ceased, and they then ignored the grain I was feeding them, and hurried out to sample spring’s first, lush, green grasses. To the west a single beam of sunset escaped the lid of clouds, and the entire scene was changed. (Sonnet time.)

The cold April Wet had me walking brave
But then the rain stopped. I stopped. How the heck
Am I suppose to be serious and grave
Without the rain? My head swiveled. My neck
Craned. All around clouds blazed with sunset.
I thought, “Red skies at night; sailor’s delight”,
And a strange beaming brought play to eyes I met.
A single ray of sun displayed a might
So great it defeats a whole day drenched so wet
The garden became ooze. A single ray
Makes all the difference. In the blackest cave
A mile underground dark is chased away
By a single candle. Though men may rave,
All their rage and all their crazy blindness
Can be defeated by a single kindness.

Seize the moment. Today’s sun may be the only sun forecast for the entire week, but I’ll get the potatoes in, once the sun comes up.

LOCAL VIEW –Gloom’s Glee–

I am feeling a need to redefine the word “dour”, a word which which tends to fail to include a sort of gallows-humor I often notice in dour people, and instead dismissively defines the dour as “relentlessly severe”.

The simple fact of the matter is that life isn’t all sunshine, especially in northern lands. In fact just a few days ago I was texting with my youngest son, and it was 76ºF in New York City, where he was, while it was 32ºF just a five-hour-drive north, where I was, in New Hampshire. Now I ask you, is that fair?

Life isn’t fair. This is especially true if you are from the north and have blond hair and blue eyes. Certain racists blame us northerners for all the world’s problems. Believe me, we don’t need such gloom. The weather up north is gloomy enough without additional politics. We couldn’t survive, without a sort of gallows humor. Here is a dour sonnet:

The gloom returned, just as I expected.
New Hampshire’s not known for it’s sunshine,
Especially in April. One is led
To believe we’re deceived. A pet peeve of mine
Is that, ‘round here, a true “bolt from the blue”
Is the sun itself, ‘specially in April.
Sunshine’s not expected. Therefore it’s true
That people move here, and then like to thrill
About our Autumn foliage, but by
April they’re fed up. Good-bye ‘n’ good riddance.
If you can’t abide gloom, don’t even try
To live in the north. Instead have some sense
And seek some place full of camels and sand.
You’ve got to be dour to live in this land.

Yesterday we got a “bolt from the blue”, which was a sunny day in April. This usually has nothing to do with south winds. Dry winds come from the cold northwest, yet so powerful is the sun (as high in April as it is in August) that even though thawing ponds refreeze overnight, by noon you take off your coat under the hot sun. The problem is that the dry wind then swings around to the moist southwest, and clouds increase, and that hot sun vanishes. It is then that warm air gets as far north as New York City, but all we get is the chilling clouds.

A further problem is that the single sunny day with bright sunshine makes people crazy, especially if they are not acquainted with the dour truth of northern gloom.

I once worked as a landscaper for a wealthy woman from Virginia, and she became frantic in early April because the weather became downright hot, and we had no tomatoes planted. It took every iota of diplomacy I owned to calm the lady down, and to inform her that to plant tomatoes in early April is a bad idea, in New Hampshire. A week later, as I pruned budless roses in her garden in a snowstorm, she called me in to her warm, glassed-in porch and, with Virginia hospitality which I, as a dirty gardener,  was not accustomed to, served me tea and a delicious “five bean salad”, and also informed me, with a glance out at the falling snow, “You were right about the tomatoes”.

There was something about the begrudging way the good lady said “You were right about the tomatoes” that was very dour, but also makes me want to redefine the word “dour” to include humor. There was something very northern in her glance, as she looked out through her greenhouse’s glass to a world turning white. An extreme irony.

If truth must be known. the moment this gracious lady’s starchy, northern husband died, she vamoosed back to Virginia. Southern Hospitality does not feel at home in the north. But maybe I did teach her a bit about Northern Hospitality, which includes telling people not to plant tomatoes just because a single day in April is sunny.

This is not to say that I myself can’t be infected by April sunshine and be made insanely manic. Just a couple days ago I was guilty of buying a flock of peeping chicks for the children at my Childcare, but then discovering that, when I went out to dig post-holes for their coop, that a rock-hard semi-permafrost made digging difficult, only ten inches down in the dirt.

Who is going to help me, (and those poor chickens), by slamming through permafrost with a bladed crowbar that weighs forty pounds? I’m getting too old for such nonsense. I became dour, as I contemplated my predicament, huffing and puffing.

Life isn’t fair. When that gracious lady from Virginia became manic she had a young, blond man appear to help her out, (me), but, now that I’m as old and gray as she was back then, what do I get when I become manic? I get blamed for all the world’s problems because my skin is too white.

No sooner did that grouchy thought pass through my mind when a very blond boy appeared to help me. (It is hard to blame him for all the world’s problems, as he is only five years old). (Also his ancestors came from Finland, which didn’t enslave anyone that I know about.)

LOCAL VIEW –Facing The Destroyer–

In humanity’s attempt to get it’s puny mind around the infinity of the Creator, humanity is forever subdividing the unity of God into various aspects. At its worst this fragments Oneness into a whole pantheon of lesser gods or saints, who tend to be at war with each other, but at its best it is like a lover listing the beautiful attributes of their Beloved.

One trinity, made out of the inseparable One, is the idea of God as Creator-Sustainer-Destroyer, (or Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva, in Hindu thought).  People (myself included) seem to have trouble with the third part of this trinity, “God the Destroyer.”  Though we know all things in creation are fleeting, “dust-to-dust, ashes-to-ashes”, we object to death.  We want life to be “eternal life”.

Because people object to “God the Destroyer” there have been various attempts to soften this part of the trinity, such as “God the Dissolver,” (as if being dissolved is somehow more acceptable than being destroyed). Amidst the amazing variety of Hindu thought are several sects that redeem Shiva by giving him creative and sustaining attributes.

I suppose God smiles at our attempts to rehabilitate Him. He also likely appreciates our love of life, and our attempts to avoid death.  There is something in the human spirit that rebels at the idea of termination;  we have a hunger for tales to end, “they lived happily ever after”,  though we know the truth is, “until death do we part.”

Even though I am a “childcare professional” (IE: baby-sitter), and dealing with children tends to involve me with God-the-Creator and God-the-Sustainer, I have been dwelling on the morbid topic of God-the-Destroyer lately because it is not merely autumn, but a particularly wet and gloomy autumn. Brooks that usually barely trickle, (or even go dry, some years), have been rushing, and the mossy rocks have been lush.

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There have been small ponds where I’ve never seen them before in the drenched woods, to throw sticks into. This allows boys to practice vandalism, (and to be boy-the-Destroyer), without getting into trouble.

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It was so wet that some trees, especially sugar maples, did not achieve their full glory because leaves rotted even as they turned, and rather than leaves of pure crimson they were crimson blotched by brown and black spots. This dismal situation didn’t seem to diminish the jauntiness of children walking through golden glades of rain-drenched beeches.

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The sheer cheerfulness of children in rainy woods seems a defiance of gloom: A puddle in the path of life is a joy; jump in it!

Meanwhile I am not finding as easy to keep up with them as last year. I can feel the damage caused by all those hundreds of thousands of cigarettes I so foolishly smoked in my past, and I huff and puff walking up hills. The hand of mortality lays on my shoulder, and I see how “the wages of sin are death.”

But then I watch the glee of children, and the thought occurs to me that the wages of sin are children. Men strive to make sex something other than what it is, but it goes right on overpowering men’s will-powers and creating babies, which is the real reason for sex, (though violin-makers see sex as good excuse to sell violins to violinists). Some men then get all gloomy about the wages of sin being child-support, but that is usually because they do not spend enough time with their children, and miss the joy. Many hire an old geezer like me to experience the joy, and pay me for it.

One thing I’ve found remarkable over the years is the relationship children have with creation, as they rollick through the woods and fields. They are not at war with nature. Nature puts up no signs that say, “Fragile ecosystem. Stick to the path.” It is environmentalists who want to ban children from the outdoors, and to instead show children a lot of depressing videos about how man destroys all he touches. If children get the chance, many fall in love with the outdoors, (though some children are more inclined than others, and a few children, I’ll confess, seem born to be indoors.)

Children develop a respect for life out of love for it. In the woods I really don’t have to preach all that much about respecting livings things. Some small ones torture ants and frogs and scar a tree’s bark, but it is usually more out of curiosity and rambunctiousness than out of sadism, and the same children who were the worst offenders at age three tend to tattle on their peers at age five.  I can honestly say I do a minimum of preaching, and nature does the rest.

Not that nature coddles them. New Hampshire is no Polynesian Island, and there are mosquitoes and black flies and ticks, and the weather, especially this year, can cause people who move here to change their minds and move out. But, despite the fact children can become understandably wary of the woods after stepping on a hornet’s nest, few are anything close to becoming permanently scarred and neurotic. Instead they, even at age three, become this remarkable thing called “tough.”

As the autumn passed the lands to our north became snow-covered early, and, on the rare occasions when the rain stopped, we started getting bitter blasts on the back-side of storms, as they blew up into gales over the Maritime Provinces of Canada. One day the north winds howled so fiercely there was spin-drift and whitecaps even on the relatively small flood-control reservoir, as a bitter gale roared from the north.

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With wind-chills below zero Fahrenheit, I suspect most would have chosen to stay in, but I took a group of three boys and two girls out, all under five years old. It included a three-year-old inclined to red-faced tantrums. He was not at all pleased by the idea of a hike in the roaring wind, but he was not pleased with the idea of staying in, either. He thought the entire idea of child-care was a bad idea, wanted to go to work with his mother, and, among other things, I had to gently remind him that the word “fuck” is not a good word. Given the choice of staying indoors or being outside with the small hellion, I chose the environment where the wind could drown out some of his whining, though I had to carry him the first quarter mile because he was flopping to the ground and girning, and as I carried him his voice was particularly penetrating, an inch from my ear.

All five children were especially well dressed. I likely was the coldest person on the hike, due to the fires within me producing less hot blood than in my younger day. My mood was not particularly good, because my current staff is nearly as decrepit as I am, and two were unavailable due to work-related injuries, (a twisted knee, and a sprained wrist.) I had to fill-in, when I had planned to sit in my warm study by my cozy computer and write about Arctic Sea-ice. So I was in the same mood as the squalling three-year-old I carried. But I have been running this child-care enterprise a decade. (We will finish our tenth year this December.) Even when it seems God-the-Destroyer is manifesting, I know what to do.

The first trick I used is one I picked up from the children. It is to rejoice, when the weather is bad, over how very bad it is. The north wind’s gusts burned exposed faces and made us wince and flinch away, but we clambered up to the top of the flood-control dam, where it was worst, and four of the children laughed as the wind shoved them around and all but knocked them down. The fifth child, (who of course was the grumpy three-year-old), made it obvious that he deemed us utterly mad, and folded his arms, and refused to climb up to the top of the dam.

This brought about my second trick, which is to foster wonder. What do you do when the wind is cruel? What do animals do? Where do they go? I turned the wondering into a project: Find a place where the three-year-old would be comfortable. We walked around to a sunny hollow on the downwind side of the dam, and “had snack”. Though the wind still scoured down and moved the tops of the tall, dead weeds we crouched midst, at ground level it was quite tolerable. I explained this was the sort of place deer and my goats hunkered down during cold gales, taking advantage of the low sun as it shone for the first time in days. The children, even the three-year-old, chattered happily as we picnicked.

Actually this simple knowledge (stay in the sun and out of the wind) is knowledge some bank presidents lack. If their private jet ever crash-landed in a winter forest, they might needlessly freeze, while my little children would, in an almost instinctive manner, chose the warmer paths and survive. Even homeless bums know enough to cross to the sunny side of the street, as the supposedly-wiser bankers stoically stick to striding a straight line through the shade. (This may not seem to make much of a difference in a five-minute winter walk between sky-scrapers, but over the course of a day, after your jet crash-lands, all the chilling adds up).

We next sought out the deeper woods in small valleys where the wind won’t go, but the sun shines through the now-leafless trees, and there the kids had a great time, balancing while teetering along fallen logs; throwing sticks into a stream to watch them float with the current; and chatting and quarreling (which is officiously called “developing social skills”).  The three-year-old forgot I was never-to-be-forgiven, and joked with me. Despite the cold we were late heading back for lunch. An entire morning, which many would have called “too cold to go outdoors”, had been spent under the sunny sky, with the tree’s branches clacking in the wind overhead. The day was redeemed.

I often shake my head over how little I actually do, in this redemptive process. Perhaps I get some credit for directing traffic, but I don’t do the driving. Most of the joy radiates from the landscape, and from the children themselves. At times I see a relationship maturing between creation and the created which seems very natural and very beautiful, yet which some (of the environmentalist ilk) strangely mangle. Rather than a love affair between the walker and the woods, some promote a “protective” alienation.

One good thing about getting kids outdoors into the cold is that it burns off a lot of calories, which has positive effects: Children fuss little over their lunches, eating voraciously like small wolves, and then they conk out quickly into deep naps during “quiet time”.  This gives me sweet silence, and time to think more deeply about man’s alienation from creation.

When I was younger I think I was less interested in having a love affair with nature than in wrestling with it. It is interesting to watch my older son,  now entering middle age, as he tests himself against what New Hampshire weather can dish out.

As a landscaper and snow-plowman he spends a lot of time outside, but after growing up in my house, (which was built in the mid 1700’s and is like an icebox in the winter), made him a man who has nothing against the luxury of warmth indoors. He is building a new house behind my house, and I could not help but notice the care and attention he put into having heated concrete floors, (when I thought he should be in more of a hurry to just finish). Warm feet at home at winter is very important to him, and part of his battle with nature,

He thought the weather would remain fair, which of course it never does. Even before the concrete pad was poured a great deal of time was squandered (I felt) in laying an intricate, complicated network of heating, plumbing, sewerage and electric conduits, with various baffles of insulation. The floor is indeed an amazing floor, but when the walls finally started to go up the final fair weather was ending, and the bad weather beginning.

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Since then it has poured every weekend, which is when he finds time to work beyond his ordinary work. Downpours constantly fouled up his plans. Over the years he has helped many other local fellows build their houses, and the fellows want to return the favor, but it is not the easiest thing to assemble the crews needed, when they all have other jobs. After all the work of making the arrangements, it would again pour. He fell behind schedule, and then the onset of winter was particularly early, with eight inches of snow. Perhaps he was pushing his luck a bit, but one Saturday my breakfast was interrupted by a crash outside, and my daughter yelling that my oldest son had rolled his truck. We dashed out to see, fearing the worst.

The truck hadn’t actually rolled…

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….but things didn’t look good. As the truck skidded backwards down the slippery slope my son made the split-second decision to ram the stone wall rather than risk skidding across the street and plunging down into the neighbor’s house.

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At this point there was little talk about a love affair between man and nature, and the walker and the woods. God-the-Destroyer in the form of snow seems to be battling God-the-Creator, in the form of my son. However I silently philosophized that this conflict forms a necessary tension, a friction which creates traction in creation.

A preacher at a nearby church refers to the above as “a rich man’s problem”. People in Africa would love to have a truck, or even a bicycle, to have problems with.  We should be thankful to have such problems, but I didn’t mention this to my son. Instead I said I was thankful he was all right.

He seemed, if anything, invigorated by the challenge. Like a jaunty child walking with swinging arms in the rain, my son set about surmounting yet another difficulty. He brought a rented “lull”, (used to lift shingles up to the roof), down the hill, lifted the truck while pulling with a chain, and the truck came off the wall with a loud squawking noise as it settled back onto its frame.  Amazingly, very little was wrong with the truck.

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For the most part I watch the battle between man and nature, (or God-the-Creator and God-the-Destroyer), (or friction vs. the slippery slope), as an interested observer. There may have once been a day when I could out-hustle others on a construction site as the brawny “gopher”, (go-for), but those days are past. Back then I could make up in brawn for what I lacked in knowledge, but now I am largely in-the-way. The little knowledge I have is antiquated. For example, back in the day we lugged heavy bundles of shingles up ladders; I did not even know what a “lull” was. Secondly, I’ve slowed; if I did lug a bundle up a ladder, just to show I can still do it, I’d be in everyone’s way as I caught my breath at the top.

Compared to what I once was, I’m puny. I’m increasingly a weakling. God-the-destroyer is having His way with my physical frame. Though this is normal and natural and part of the so-called “circle of life” I don’t like it one bit. I grump it would have been easier if I was puny to begin with and had little to lose. It is a lot harder because I once was very strong. (I was also incredibly good-looking and amazingly smart, no matter what my siblings may tell you.) But I can give such things up, because I have watched amazing athletes be forced to retire at the young age of forty, and seen some of them move on to being brilliant coaches.

It is far harder to give up dreams. This was brought home to me as my favorite goat, “Muffie”, died unexpectedly.

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I doubt I can do justice to how deeply I was troubled by the death of what many may see as a mere dumb goat. However Muffie was a friend, and also the last of a blood-line. I once dreamed Muffie would be the first of a whole herd. Nine years ago, as Muffie was bottle-fed by children at my Childcare because her mother died while giving birth, I had ambitions. Now I am tired, and the dreams are dyeing.

The death of a dream is in some ways a ridiculous thing to be troubled by, for a dream is a dream. It may not ever have come true, and this means you are grieving something that never existed in reality, a bit like Lieutenant Kéje in Prokofiev’s suite.

However a dream has power. It is like the apple dangled in front of a reluctant mule, prompting it to plod on even when it wants to quit. Even though the apple is never reached, the mule may plod on and achieve other goals.

A dream is the conception of an idea. The time between conception and the fruition of the dream may be called a sort of pregnancy.  When the dream comes true it has many of the wonders of childbirth, but when a dream doesn’t come true it has much of the ugliness of stillbirth or abortion.

When you hit age sixty-five you are not like a baseball-player switching from the role of player to the role of manager or coach. Rather you are giving up the game itself.  It is a totally different sacrifice, and far harder to bear.

When I was young, it was far easier to sing that “for everything, there is a season”.

But now I have reached the age when it is the season to give up on dreams.  There is a part deep down in me that just can’t do it.  As death approaches I just can’t give up on life.

This brings me back to the start of this essay, where I spoke of how we dislike the idea of “God-the-Destroyer.” We disliked the idea from the start.  It was a seventeen-year-old girl, Laura Nyro, who in 1967 wrote, “And when I die, and when I’m gone, there’ll be one child born in this world to carry on; to carry on.” After a version was recorded by her, and then by  Peter, Paul and Mary, a bunch of young white hippies, attempting to sound black and gospel, had a smash hit  in 1969:

But it is all well and good to defy death when you are young and vigorous. It is not so easy when you are faced with the increasing feebleness of age, and are suppose to be “aging gracefully.” How can one be graceful when one sees no grace?

Anyone who has seen the beauty of God-the-Creator and God-the-Sustainer tends to fight death, and to, like Dylan Thomas, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

But, if you rage against what the Creator made a definite part of creation, namely death itself, are you not telling God he is wrong?

You’d be surprised at the dark storm-clouds which the death of Muffie sent my mind drifting up and into.

Fortunately my wife smacks me back down to earth, so I don’t forget my worldly responsibilities, but even as I shoveled the snow from the walkways of our Childcare my mind drifted elsewhere, miles and miles away.

I arrived at an odd conclusion, which may get me pitched head over heels out of many Christian churches. It was that the end of creation is death, and God-the-Destroyer.  Therefore creation itself is the “everlasting death” that Christianity warns against. And, in a strange manner, that makes Christians like Hindus.  Yikes!  How can I make such a claim?

It involves some convoluted thinking that I know will get me in trouble, but basically suggests creation is the process and not the Goal, the road and not the Destination, the creation and not the Creator.  If we have “life”, then life can be a thing we have in creation, and also be the Goal of creation. If we are tricked into identifying “life” too much with the material things and the dreams of creation, then we see life turn to death. But if we see life (and most especially love), as more important than creation, then we escape the death that always ends life in creation, and instead triumphantly arrive the goal, which is everlasting life beside the throne of the Creator.

Now supposing I, (as seems likely the case), am too concerned with the creation and neglect the One who made it. I am doomed to face God-the-Destroyer, rather than the embrace of God-who-is-love, at His throne. If my worldly tendencies make me too focused on creation it will not matter that I complain, “But I was loving my neighbor”, because it will be obvious that I cared more for the creation than the One who made it, Who is the Reason and the Goal. Big mistake. Rather than eternal life, I get everlasting death.

Then what?  This thought occurred to me even when I was a very small boy. I have no idea who told me about everlasting hell. I simply recall fleeing the grown-ups to an alcove in the attic, by a tiny window, and imagining myself punished in everlasting hell,  and pouting, and growling in a puppy-voice how I’d never, never surrender to such a mean bully.

Then what? What happens when you have failed to live up to the standards of the Christ, and have blown it big time?  Is it all over forever?

What happens when you laughed at Noah for building his ark , and sneered at him for believing in what made no pragmatic sense to you?  What happened when it then rained and rained and rained, and his absurd ark in a middle of a dry desert floated safely away, as you treaded water until you couldn’t tread, and drowned?  Did God have no mercy on you for being the sensible one, and caring for sensible things, and maybe even caring for family and neighbors as Noah ignored such things,  instead seemingly wasting scarce resources by building a gigantic, silly structure out in the middle of nowhere. Why the hell should you get hell, as the nincompoop Noah gets blessed?

The Bible actually states the sinners of Noah’s time were not forever cursed. According to Saint Peter, between the time Jesus was crucified and the time he rose from the dead, he went to hell to visit the sinners of Noah’s time. Why?  To preach.

This creates a big problem for Christians.  Why? Because if I was sitting in hell I would not call myself “forever cursed” if Jesus himself appeared and took the time to “preach” to me.

I assume that Jesus would not take the time to preach unless some hope, healing and good could come of it.  Why would he preach to the damned if damnation was forever? What purpose would it serve? To go, “Nyah, nyah, neener-neener-neener. You’re damned and I’m not”???  That doesn’t sound like the Lord of Love to me.

This incongruity in scripture may have resulted in the idea of “purgatory”, which many Christians call “Non-Scriptural.”  But me?  I simply think God’s love is more than I can fathom.

This leads me on to the completely Anti-Christian idea of reincarnation, which seems bound to hopelessly divide Christians from Hindus until the end of time.

According to the Hindu, when most die they do not escape creation, but remain trapped. They, after a time contemplating the mistakes and/or joys of their past life,  are born into a new body, with a new brain that cannot hold any memory of the past life.  They are born again, but usually it is only to die again. They die over and over and over, this time rich, this time poor, this time black, this time white, this time healthy, this time sickly, this time male, this time female.  But, whether king or peon, the result is always the same: death.

It occurred to me that reincarnation is the same thing as everlasting death.  There may not be the gulf between Hindus and Christians that they each believe. They both believe that, unless you escape time (to the eternal) you are trapped in time (the everlasting.)

After all, what is the use of being born again, if it is only to die again?  If it turns out the Hindu are correct, and I am born again in a physical body, it likely will mean I will have to take math classes again. Who in their right mind wants that?

Both Hindu and Christians speak of an escape from “everlasting death”, which is an escape from the very-real part of creation we call God-the-Destroyer.  Both state we must put the Creator ahead of creation.

Yes, they waste time quibbling about the details. Is the one life a single incarnation or many?  Did the Christ come once as Jesus or more than once as Vishnu, the Avatar?

To be honest, I lack the experience and wits to weigh in on such matters. I can wonder all I want, but it is only wonder. In the end I have to confess my incapacity. In doing so, I recognize I need the help of a Master.  There is no cotton-picking way I’m going to Seventh heaven without a Savior, and it matters not a hill of beans whether you call that Rescuer the Savior, Avatar, Messiah, Rasool, Vishnu, or Christ.  All that matters is that you recognize love has a Source, and the nature of the Source is Love, which Christians believe took on mortal flesh and walked (and walks) among us as Jesus.

As my life enters the phase where I deal more with God-the-Destroyer than with the Creator or Sustainer, it occurs to me I am blessed to be a mere baby-sitter, dealing with children just entering creation. Not that I always feel blessed. It is not seen as “manly” to be a baby-sitter. Among the politically correct, being a baby-sitter earns me few kudos. But I am blessed all the same, because simply dealing with the very-young exposes me to something utterly different from God-the-Destroyer.

For one thing, the very-young are more wise than they have any right to be. Even though they have brand-new brains, they are not un-programmed computers we are adding data to.  They already know stuff they have no business knowing. How can they know? The secular blame “genetics” and the Hindu blame “past lives” and the Christians blame “God’s gifts.”  Me?  I really don’t know, but can’t help but smile even when I’m gloomy. Why?

I suppose it is because the trust children enter life with (which is so sad to see harmed in any way) holds a joy which, in and of itself, seems to prove that the reason we are born is not to die.  After all, if they were only born to die, why would children laugh?

I may now be facing death, as we must all do when we can no longer call ourselves “middle aged”, but that does not mean death, or “God the Destroyer”,  is the net result of living.  There is another reason for life.

I can’t fully explain what I’m attempting to say, but I hear it in the cries of children.  At times it is hard to hear when they are in your face. I hear it best when they are far away, and sound like a glitter sledding down a distant hill.

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Like glitter on a distant winter hill
I hear the children sledding once again,
And once again I feel the ancient thrill
That drenches deja-vu on all that big men
Construct and think is mighty; all that kings
Claim they can control, and all that we mourn
And think that we are losing. Of all things
We want to grasp, the most fleeting, least lorn
Is the eternal song of children at play.
On the hill an ancient oak has hearkened
Since before the Pilgrim’s children had their day
When the children were Indian’s. No end
Is there to the Truth in the distant mirth,
And that is all ye need to know on earth.