Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Not quite angels on high, but close

Late this morning we needed to attend to some errands. We ended up driving 30 or 40 miles or so, round trip, through cold air, under darkening, cloudy skies, past frozen marshes locked in by ice cover not yet safe for skating or walking. Farmers fields are bare and barren. Fallow fields are tan and tawny and sere. Parking lots and grocery stores are full of people hurrying in preparation for tomorrow's big meal.

The scene wasn't entirely gloom and doom, but neither was it full of cheer. Then, we noticed a in the empty sky a lower cloud waving against a ghost-like backdrop. A line, no, a couple of puffs, no, line, back and forth the shape shifted and writhed until it finally came into focus and our heart leaped with joy. GEESE! A large flock of Canadas, probably close to 50 or more, headed Northeast at mid-day. To feed? Back to open water somewhere to rest after a morning feeding session? They were headed in the wrong direction to be migrating.

Canada geese headed away
Canada geese headed away
Photo by J. Harrington

We're not sure what it is about waterbirds, especially larger ones such as geese and swans, that pleases us so, just to see them. We've watched the pattern long enough to simply enjoy it: large flocks in the air, heart soars. Years ago, when we were among the honorable order of active waterfowl hunters, we thoroughly relished the number of things we got to spend time messing about with:

  • boats
  • canoes
  • waders
  • shotguns
  • dogs: Labradors in particular
  • shotshell loads and patterns
  • decoys
  • trailers
  • canoes
  • pick-up trucks
  • camouflage for: hunter, boat, shotguns, etc.
  • buckets and satchels and like to haul most of the above
  • thermos for coffee
  • gloves and warm layers
  • water and snow proof outer shells
  • paints for decoys and camouflage
  • calls for ducks and geese
  • lanyards for calls

swans resting on ice
swans resting on ice
Photo by J. Harrington

We've no doubt forgotten some odds and ends and maybe even some major piece or two of equipment such as blinds and cases (floating) for shotguns. We're going on record, right now, to say how very grateful we are for all the hours and days "wasted" with friends (two and four-legged) in swamps, marshes, tidal creeks, clam flats, lake shores, cattails, rushes, etc in pursuit of waterfowl that were worth every outrageous cent they cost in dollars per pound. Were it not for those hours and  days, we might still be looking forward to a butterball tomorrow, instead of an organic, free range, flavorful bird. Count me among those who, like Aldo Leopold, cannot live without wild things. I'm thankful we still have some to enjoy. Shortly after we finished our business and had returned home to walk the dogs, the darkened skies shared some snow showers. They reminded us of the old waterfowler's saying:
Fust it rained
And then it blew
And then it friz
And then it snew!
We settled for three out of the four today. Good enough! We still had a lab to walk in the snewshower!

                     Call Him Zero

It struck them both as strange: although each pond and lake
clear to the coast was locked in ice, no open water,
the imperious wind kept pushing waterfowl inland. That night
a winter moon stood high and pierced the thin clouds’ vapors
so the boy could contemplate their emptiness inside.
Relentless, the flocks flew westward. The border collie whimpered,
putting his forepaws now on one sill, now another,
as if some odd creature circled the house.
                                                                                          This lifetime later,
a man, he looks back on that stay at her farm, its details clear,
their meanings still vague. His grandmother called it wrong as well,
that the weather should be so frigid even in such a gale.
As a rule this kind of cold needed calm. He sees the fire,
the dazzle of sparks when she loaded a log. What seemed most amiss
was how the old woman’s house no longer felt safe that visit.
He wanted and did not want to know what the dog might know.
He tried to picture the menace outdoors. He longed to shape it
so that he might name it. And after these many miles to now,
away from the ruby glow of the metal parlor stove,
from that blue-eyed collie, from the woman he so admires and loves
recalling that night; after so much time,
                                                                                          he still believes
that to name a thing is to tame it, or at least to feel less bewildered.
Not Death, for instance, but The deaths of Al and Virginia, his parents.
Not the abstract legalism, Divorce, but The disappearance
of my sweet wife Sarah, run off with that California lawyer.
Not simply Alone, but I have no children. Was that the wail
of geese coming down the stovepipe? If so, it would be a marvel,
but he knew it wasn’t. The caterwaul from the barn was alarming,
and more than it might have been had Grandma herself not startled—
after which she put on her late large husband’s threaded farming
coveralls outside her housedress, which rode up and made
a lumpy sash. She stepped out under cloud and bird.
He would not follow. Rather, he stood
                                                                                          indoors to wait
until she came stomping her boots through puddled barnyard holes
like a child herself, kicking ice shards to scuttle along
like beads from a broken bracelet. No matter. The world had gone wrong,
violent and void at once. She said, The mare has foaled.
On tiptoe, she read the mercury out the kitchen window,
then told her shivering grandson, We’ll call the new colt Zero. 

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Be thankful for hope!

Thanksgiving is two days away. We've been thinking about all we have to be thankful for in addition to all we can find to worry about.

After walking the dogs today, we're very thankful that we have a warm house that protects us from the wind and the windchill. We're thankful for the affection and company of those who share this house (and property) with us. We're thankful that we're more healthy than not, that there's food on the table and clothes on our backs, and that the vehicle in the garage is a major upgrade from our first car many, many years ago. Twice a year we had to hope it would pass inspection and were thankful when it did.

prepared to be thankful and full of hope
prepared to be thankful and full of hope
Photo by J. Harrington

We're thankful that, as much as they're being abused, the institutions in this country have maintained much of their resilience and, we hope, should be able to recover and/or be repaired when the current madness has exhausted itself. We are thankful that, several years ago, we read Rebecca Solnit's Hope in the Dark (first edition). Like Mr. Spock on Star Trek, Solnit offers a different, logical and irresistible perspective and how to survive, help each other, and, perhaps, even thrive in times like ours. She recently had an article published in the guardian that you should follow the link and read. Here's an example of why, she writes:
"Social, cultural or political change does not work in predictable ways or on predictable schedules. The month before the Berlin Wall fell, almost no one anticipated that the Soviet bloc was going to disintegrate all of a sudden (thanks to many factors, including the tremendous power of civil society, nonviolent direct action and hopeful organising going back to the 1970s), any more than anyone, even the participants, foresaw the impact that the Arab spring or Occupy Wall Street or a host of other great uprisings would have. We don’t know what is going to happen, or how, or when, and that very uncertainty is the space of hope."
Her description of where hope lives and what it is leave no room for even a hair-splitting, nit-picker such as yr obt svt to find fault.
"Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognise uncertainty, you recognise that you may be able to influence the outcomes – you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists adopt the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It is the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterwards either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone."

"I hope there's a seed inside this shell!"
"I hope there's a seed inside this shell!"
Photo by J. Harrington

If you find yourself in need of a source of hope more immediate than words, and you don't have a kitten, puppy or young child nearby, bundle up, head for nearby woods with some bird food, and watch chickadees for awhile. It's always worked for us. Hope often appears as insouciance, a key chickadee trait.

                     Of History and Hope

We have memorized America,
how it was born and who we have been and where.
In ceremonies and silence we say the words,
telling the stories, singing the old songs.
We like the places they take us. Mostly we do.
The great and all the anonymous dead are there.
We know the sound of all the sounds we brought.
The rich taste of it is on our tongues.
But where are we going to be, and why, and who?
The disenfranchised dead want to know.
We mean to be the people we meant to be,
to keep on going where we meant to go.

But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how
except in the minds of those who will call it Now?
The children. The children. And how does our garden grow?
With waving hands—oh, rarely in a row—
and flowering faces. And brambles, that we can no longer allow.

Who were many people coming together
cannot become one people falling apart.
Who dreamed for every child an even chance
cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not.
Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head
cannot let chaos make its way to the heart.
Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child
cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot.
We know what we have done and what we have said,
and how we have grown, degree by slow degree,
believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become—
just and compassionate, equal, able, and free.

All this in the hands of children, eyes already set
on a land we never can visit—it isn’t there yet—
but looking through their eyes, we can see
what our long gift to them may come to be.
If we can truly remember, they will not forget.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.