Thursday, June 25, 2015

Beware the Barrenness of a Busy Life

Beware the barrenness of a busy life. Socrates noticed that a rather long time ago. He was the one who issued the warning. I wonder if people were as harassed back then scooting here and there, strained by commitments and buried in work. When you see movies of those times they appear to me as positively idle compared to this life we’ve created around us. But something had Socrates say that.

It struck me the other day as I labored away to answer letters that had piled up in the several months-long busy season our business creates twice a year. I had grimaced every time I looked at the stack, feeling the throes of commitments I’d made to a speedy reply. But strangely, every one of the 25 letters waiting on me started out the same way mine did… “I truly apologize for taking so long to answer. I have been so busy.”  Most of the letters were international, so it appears the busy life has somehow gotten to us all.

I do remember periods in my twenties where spare time was abundant. The major difference that I can see was that I had no computer (they didn’t exist then) and no TV. Instead of watching, I knitted, read, had compelling discussions with friends, sewed most of my clothing, took walks with no intended destination and made all manner of gifts for those I loved. It was a full life. It was not a busy life.

I read a curious article a week or so ago about the concern employers have presently over employees not taking their due time
off. I didn’t get to read to the end of the article to get the whole picture, because I was waiting for printed material in a store. When it was done, a perfect example of what I’ve been talking about, I jumped up and ran off to accomplish the next thing on my list. But the gist of the article was that we require the refreshment of time away and the occasional break or holiday to refurbish so many essential parts of being, and people have just not been doing that with increasing consequences to the workplace and home.

What is more worrisome is that we are now training up the youngsters of our culture to see the world as a race from point to point. When Bert and I work at day cares, the most common word spoken to children as their parents pick them up each afternoon is, “Hurry up, come on, let’s go, let’s go.” There is no languid hand-holding and quiet strolling to the car, delighting in one another’s company while sharing the events of each other’s day. Instead
little feet pound the floor trying to keep up, while heading on to the next event of the hour. I don’t think our youngest generation will carry any memories of lying in clover fields watching clouds float by or sprawled on a nighttime hill with their parents letting the marvel of the starry sky awe them. We will not be a better people for this lack. Wonder and awe feed us as much as meat and potatoes, only they feed what is deep within us, the place from which curiosity, creativity and intuitiveness bubble up like a forest spring. And such moments of rest and repose keep our hearts not just healthy but open and kind.

A few nights ago, Bert and I sat on the back step shelling peanuts. We didn’t talk. We just enjoyed the simple task, the closeness of one another, the song of a mocking bird in the dark that surrounded us and that life asked nothing of us but returned a sweetness that fills me still. Barrenness is for deserts not people, and I’m not sure busyness has much to offer for itself either.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Night the Moon Touched the Ground

It was just another ordinary fall evening. A friend had been visiting our farm having come up to give us a hand with some renovations before winter set it. She always enjoyed her stays with us, and we enjoyed her skillful carpentry and great company. Living as far north as we did, visitors from our former life down south were rare to non-existent. So Pearl’s 400 plus mile trek to our place in northern Alberta was more than appreciated.

While we kept on with hauling hay and combining grain in the face of fast approaching winter, Pearl refurbished the outside of the old house we lived in. It had been one of the first in the district we’d been told, the living room often used as a courtroom when local behavior deemed such decision making processes necessary. I still remember the first land tax notice we received. The home place acreage where the barn and house were located was worth less than a similarly sized parcel of crop land. I laughed and asked my mate if he thought the home actually lessened the value of that piece of land. It was serviceable but old indeed.

On the particular day in question, Pearl had finished a new set of stairs leading to the closed-in porch. She was testing them out, sitting on the top one having her afternoon coffee and cigarette. Since we didn’t smoke, she never smoked in our house. She was always respectful that way. I had just come in from hauling hay ready to start evening chores. I had a cow to milk, chickens to feed and sheep to bring close in for the coming night before we sat down to eat. The days were already shortening, so I hurried along to get chores done. A beautiful sunset was stretching out across this big sky country in shades of mauve and burnt orange and the air had a nip to it reminding me of what was soon to come.

When supper was over, Fred went out to his shop to work on some equipment repairs, I was separating cream and making butter and Pearl took her coffee out into the brisk evening to once again sit on her new stairs, relax and have a smoke. She had been out there about 20 minutes when all of a sudden, I heard the door open quickly and her whispering voice, tinged with alarm saying, “Christina, come out here – quick.” I was in the middle of washing the separator, but I stopped, and began to dry my hands on a tea towel. Her head poked in the door this time and she was even more insistent. “Hurry!” 

There was a definite look of fear in her eyes. I wiped any leftover water on my jeans and jumped into my wellingtons. I came out the door and turned to the east where she pointed. “What is that?” she asked, pointing perhaps 80 yards away toward the end of the barnyard. She was standing behind me as one does when they feel the need for protection. I was standing stock still in awe of what stood before me. 

“Pearl” I said over my shoulder, “what are you smoking?” Then I giggled.

She was in no mood for humor. “What is that?” She was dead serious.

“Pearl, that’s the moon.”

“No,” she countered.

“Yes it is.”

Before us sat a huge orange ball. It appeared to be two to three stories tall in diameter. It looked like it was sitting smack on the ground, as if you could walk right up to it and touch it. It was a sight I will remember the rest of my days.

I turned to Pearl who still looked a bit disbelieving and asked, “What did you think it was?”

“A UFO or something.”

I laughed softly and said something about damned city-slickers, and then I gave her a hug. We both laughed like young girls sharing yet another secret of life as we watched it all too quickly begin to seemingly shrink and rise.

I have felt since a child that the great tracts of nature are an ongoing gift to us humans. They stand just at the end of our lanes, just out beyond our back yards or in my case, at that time, just where civilization melts into wilderness; and there they are. In the words of Wallace Stegner:

“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed ... We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.”

And that wild country includes not just what is on the ground with us but the alluring, incalculable vastness of what also lies above us, especially on nights when it appears to have come for a visit.

Here’s what one such “moon visit” looked like in Wellington, New Zealand. Do take a peek.