So, there I was, shovelling snow off a low-sloping roof here at the old Hope Ness farmhouse one recent, snowy, late afternoon.
These days here just south of the 45th Parallel, halfway to the North Pole darkness starts coming early, about 4:30 p.m., followed inevitably by darkness of course, by 6. But I knew a thaw was coming, with rain in the forecast, and I was worried the increasing pressure of the wet weight might lead to disaster. So I clambered up through the snow onto the roof and went to work with a snow shovel – all 70-plus years of me.
I was driven to save the world, even if only that little corner of it. At least that was doable, and gave me the opportunity to look back on my work, to feel that something had been accomplished; just in time, maybe. And so it was.
A side benefit was that it gave me cause to count my blessings in the face of advancing age. For a moment there I could indulge myself in my own little illusion of eternal youth.
All things were possible again, including the planting this coming spring of another garden of corn, beans, squash and potatoes – a bit more modest and realistic in size, but big enough, especially when it comes to spuds, which I love to grow.
I conjured up visions from last summer of healthy rows of Irish Cobbler and Yukon Gold in bloom. I took satisfaction from knowing there were none of the dreaded potato beetles chewing holes in the leaves; nor would there be, because I had mulched all the plants and rows with straw, thus interrupting the life-cycle of the beetle and eliminating the threat organically, entirely without the use of pesticides.
Despite the unsually dry, hot summer here last summer I barely managed to keep the garden irrigated enough with buckets of water from a nearby dug well, until a timely rain revived it just in time.
You haven’t lived until you’ve seen how wonderfully thirsty plants respond to that restorative blessing. And then I could barely keep up with the abundance of the green, yellow and burgundy bean crop wanting to be picked. Nature has a lot to teach us about renewal and hope.
I confess I let myself tarry for a while in these personal thoughts of spring pleasures as an escape from the latest troubling news in the fateful countdown to the inauguration of the new and very controversial President of the United States of America.
I say “perhaps” because I still cling to the hope that anything can happen, that a man who continues to prove on an almost daily basis that he is incorrigably unsuitable for the job could actually surprise and not lead his people and the rest of the world toward disaster, to use one of his favourite words.
We’ll probably know the answer to that question by spring. Many of us will either be heaving a big sigh of relief or watching virtually helpless as our worst fears take shape in terrible reality.
But enough of that for now. There’s a lot to be said for taking a good, long moment, a deep breath, to step aside from “the sound and the fury” and remind ourselves there’s still plenty to feel good about in the here and now, plenty to look back on with pride, and to look forward to with hope. In fact, I’d say we must.
I think I had almost forgotten that; I confess it was getting me down – a kind of morbid obsession with the unfolding events, including the endless procession of talking heads and their opinions.
Where is the truth? One keeps hoping it will appear, like a life-giving summer rain. We hunger for it, thirst for it, desperately.
I’m thinking again, reminding myself maybe just in time, thank goodness, that it could be right at our fingertips:
Step aside from the worries, take a moment, look at the stars, plant a seed, have hope. Above all, let the sun shine and the rain come; then gather and share your abundant crops.
I think there’s a good chance you’ll find the exquisite truth among them.
A version of this was originally published in The Sun Times in January, 2017