I get a gold star this year for having my plant orders ready early. Last year several plants that I wanted were gone by March. I think people were shut in, bored, and were desperately wanting spring to come. That might well be true of this winter too. So --- I’m ready to call/send them in. I’m also ordering less. It’s an unhappy realization that the energy I have must be portioned out carefully --- and Kerm’s energy too. Dreaming about gardens is my panacea when winter annoys; I just need to rein in the scope of those visions. Weeding is much easier from the perspective of a cozy chair by the fire than on my knees in April.
One of the TV shows that both Kerm and I enjoy is “Finding Your Roots”, aired on PBS. It is quite amazing to see what research can discover about one’s ancestors. My brother was very interested in genealogy and compiled reams of information about both sides of my family. My Scottish father and my French mother with a Dutch great-grandmother thrown in make an interesting combination of genes. It is --- I hope --- a good mix! Learning about the “back stories” is fascinating. I wish I’d asked more questions when there was someone to answer them, although my mother did a good job of introducing me to family members via their tombstones. Knowing about forebearers provides a background that makes me think hard about all those who are responsible for me being who I am. As this favorite quotation says: “Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.” *
I’ve been fortunate in having family members who provided good examples for me --- perhaps not always, but certainly often ---- and lots of love, though it wasn’t always expressed in actual words. My siblings were twelve to twenty years older than I, so it was my good fortune that I was able to find a closer acquaintance with my brothers and sister later in life. I would hope to not waste my opportunities with family members and friends who are still with me. It is harder as we scatter ourselves from state to state, but good family ties promote health, happiness and a feeling of security, so we keep trying. I’ve always been comforted to know that if I’m in trouble in New York, in Massachusetts, in Connecticut, in Virginia, in Washington State, in Arizona, in California, in Colorado and now, in New Hampshire ---- I can call on family to rescue me. 😊
Ties are always being broken by distance and/or death, although the good memories continue to be blessings. Last week, we had news that a very good friend died at the beginning of January. Richard Cole hired me to supervise the OFA Nutrition program in Schuyler County way back in 1981. It was a new agency and we were all unfamiliar with each other. Dick managed to turn a diverse group of people into a cohesive team. And in the process, Kerm and I became good friends with Dick and his wife, Mary. Dick had a trio --- the Dick Cole Gospel Group --- for whom he sang, played the piano and wrote music. Spencer Singers joined them for several enjoyable concerts plus ice cream parties and picnics. At work, we did an annual Staff Day Away and Dick offered some very funny and creative workshop ideas as part of team-building. He managed a complicated budget with skill even as he worried over its inadequacy. This man who excelled in personal integrity, in music, had a great sense of humor, and was good at fending off useless NYS mandates, will be missed. He was a fine person and a good friend.
“There is a stillness in winter ---a silence that comes from the gentle, falling snow. It calls us to listen to the beat of our own hearts and to the ancient wisdom of our ancestors, whispering through our veins.” Tara Shannon**
The death of someone close often leads to thinking about one’s own life in some depth. However, we should take the time to do some soul-searching, not just when death makes us pause, but rather like annual chimney-sweeping or cleaning out the eaves. Winter seems a good time for this. Our early ancestors didn’t have electric lights, cars, planes or anything else that could keep them up at night or traveling hither and yon. Humans, like other mammals, used winter to rest and restore, and from what I have read, it was also a time of meditation and spiritual growth. We, who can run to the grocery store whenever we choose and fly to Florida for R&R tend to forget that our minds and bodies need a surcease from over-active living. We need time to reflect on how our inner spirits are faring. Could life be more satisfying? Do we need to be going in a different direction? Who do we need to forgive? From whom do we need forgiveness? How can we live a more meaningful life in total?
A 20th and 21st-century plague, probably more virulent to a good life than COVID, is getting stuck in a rut both in our daily lives and in our perspectives. We allow our routines to freeze into solid barriers that do not allow change or flexibility; we get up, shower, eat breakfast, go to work, do whatever it is we do at work, go home, fix dinner, watch TV or veg out on the computer, and go to bed. If we aren’t aware, we end up doing the same thing the next day and most days thereafter. In a similar way we view the world from our comfy little perspectives; having decided what/who we wish to believe, we refuse to explore further. We say we don’t have time for reading, for joining community groups or church. We don’t have time or energy to sit in nature for a half hour to restore our senses. We don’t even try to understand those who think differently. We are oblivious to the free moments we could easily have if we weren’t so entranced with being busy or lingering on-line. A routine can be useful, but when overdone it can make a life that sees no growth or blooming. Possibilities come with thought, and possibilities inject new life into our days. An understanding of why people do what they do --- or think as thy think--- may just temper our frustrations and add to our peace ---- and possibly, the world’s peace.
At this point in my life, I’m not as involved with outside activities as I once was. But I try to stay informed and alert to the world around me. Instead of moaning about what I can no longer accomplish (something I catch myself doing too often --- like daily), I need to do that which I feel especially called to do. Someone else must now join committees, transport people to the hospital, serve on boards and fight fires (not that I ever did this!). I hope the younger people in their communities do feel a responsibility to fill the gaps left by those of us who have less stamina. There was great story recently about high school kids of Sacketts Harbor, NY, who finding a dearth of volunteers for the local ambulance corps, took the training and became the community’s new, and very competent, rescue unit. Good and responsible.
Our neighborhoods or villages, with their small churches, volunteer fire and ambulance corps, Granges, Lions’ Clubs and community centers are vital to our national health. Without them, we don’t really know each other which eventually results in not really caring for each other. And we’ve seen far too much of that. Getting to know people --- even those with whom we disagree quite strongly ----reminds us of our mutual humanity. It is hard to hate someone with whom we’ve eaten pancakes at the Masonic Lodge or whose children have played together with ours. Networking is considered a business trend, but personal networking is far more crucial. It’s called keeping in touch!
Now, in late January and early February, cabin fever usually sets in. Any time I’m feeling dull or moody because of too much winter, I go to the garden books and catalogs. Would that rose blooming with sunrise colors be right on the new pergola or should we try that crimson and cream honeysuckle? Might we, in our down-sizing decisions, forget about the small veggies like beets and carrots, just getting them at the Farmers’ Market? Maybe we should follow the old Biblical custom of letting the land rest for a year (and us too)? There are many ways to fill winter days with interest, whatever one’s interest might be. What is yours???
I’ll leave this thought with you: “Once upon a time…..there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.”*** If we can be glad at least twice a day, simply for life, no matter whether the sky is gray or sunny, and no matter what grief we may be feeling, I think that our days will be less frustrating. And winter might not seem as long!
Carol may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
*Linda Hogan ---Television personality and former wife of Hulk Hogan. Known for her TV show, “Hogan Knows Best.”
**Tara Shannon – American actress and the creator of “Rabbit and Bear”, a currently popular and relevant cartoon.
***Terry Tempest Williams ---American writer, educator, conservationist and activist. Much of her writing has been influenced by the arid landscape of Utah. She advocates for environmental justice, women’s health and protection of public lands.