We arrived at our winter redoubt in Arizona about a week ago. We have made this cross-country trek several times and always enjoy it. Even look forward to it.
Each of us experiences it differently. And those differences have elicited some curious responses when chatting about it with friends, not to mention some friendly quarreling about when to turn on
the radio to catch up on the news.
One of my quirks when traveling is to shut out the news as much as possible. I could easily drive back and forth across this endlessly beautiful and fascinating country without ever turning on a radio or sticking those god-awful buds into my ears. I am one of those rare birds who, as Thoreau put it so sagely in Walden, has “never met a companion as companionable as solitude.”
A light coating of snow now blankets our hillside, snow shovels at the ready. The new snow blower waits quietly for its first call to duty.
Life is now lived more inwardly, more reflectively. Books having piled up for some months now await their turn in line. Thoughts that have incubated for some time seem riper for reflection, perhaps a temporary resolution of what have been conflicting possibilities. Few would disagree that each of us has much to think about these days. There is the media’s penchant for over-covering stories and seeming willing and eager to give us things to worry about, even fear.
A good friend gave me a book several days ago, convinced that I too would enjoy it: On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor. It is wonderful when several pages into a new book one feels right at home and looks forward to the journey. This book is about the journeys that constitute each of our lives. Our lives can be tracked, just as an experienced hunter can track a deer. Moor writes that “Without trails, we would be lost.” Even if one chooses not to track one’s life, one does leave a trail. We make decisions that determine which turn in the road we might take. Robert Frost famously wrote about choosing one of two roads, and having chosen to follow the road less traveled made quite a difference. But every choice makes a difference and thus becomes just another tile in the mosaic of our lives.
This year’s apple harvest on the hill was one of the best, despite several trees having taken a year off. In past years we have dried, canned, frozen and made delicious varieties of apple breads, muffins, etc. Actually, my contribution is working the apple peeler and doing a fair amount of the drying.
Sandy is the master baker, freezer, and canner. This year we picked together. I have an extendable apple picker I used with some degree of success. Pretty hard on aging shoulders. Sandy suggested shaking the trees, a system that worked well at canopy level. Etched in memory is Sandy’s comment, on the heels
of our activating her suggestion: “Now, that’s apple pickin’” Finally, 10 sheetrock buckets were filled to the brim. Since we have barely consumed the freezing, canning and baking efforts of the past several years, cider seemed a reasonable approach.
We are beginning the process of bedding down most of our gardens for the winter. I am reminded of what Robert Frost so sagely stated in his poem “After Apple-Picking,” that there comes a time when the harvest we so looked forward to has run its course and a new desire has arisen: to step aside, rest up a bit, and move on to other tasks — or simply do little or nothing for a while.
Inactivity has its limitations, too. As I write, I am looking at the stack of “to be read” books on the shelf beside my reading chair in my study. One title sticks out: Hannah Arendt’s classic “The Origins of Totalitarianism.”
Two days ago, after visiting a friend in the village, I walked home, a jaunt of about five miles.
I am a walker by nature, but it has been a while since I have taken a walk of any substantial length. Most of our walks around here are two to three miles. That, coupled with working in the gardens and doing chores up here on the hill, usually serves as a worthy, and tiring, supplement to longer walks.
However, that walk a few days ago reminded me of the salutary rewards of a long, leisurely walk, a walk Thoreau so sagely described as a ‘saunter.’
As I started my way up Pink Street, a neighbor stopped briefly to chat. After a bit of neighborly catching up, he observed I had two walking sticks. At that moment I was only using one, saving the other for the uphill climb ahead. I informed him of my wife’s encouraging me to walk with two sticks, believing it might help improve my posture.
He paused for a second, I suspect to gather up his philosophical wits and, with respect to my wife’s concern for my posture, said, “that’s why I don’t have one.”
Despite knowing all too well that language is always evolving, there are some aspects of its constant evolution that stick in my craw.
My wife is the unfortunate recipient of my constant grousing about things I hear people say on the radio every morning. If I were to compile a list it would be long and, well, possibly annoying to some (especially the guilty!) and characterized as pretty nitpicky. So be it. We aging amateur linguists who see ourselves as unanointed guardians of the language feel compelled to fight the good fight despite knowing full well it is a losing cause. Knowing that one is an underdog gives one a bit of a lift. It gives one a sense of righteous buoyancy. Here goes:
If someone says something I agree with, all I need do to indicate my assent is say, ‘yes, I agree.’ Why is it necessary to totally agree or totally understand or totally something or other? Either we agree with one another or we do not.
With increasing frequency, especially during interviews, respondents will preface a comment with “having said that.” Well, if one has already said ‘that,’ why mention what one already knows – you have said that. There are psychological aspects to language and perhaps such reminders have a place. But if your listener has actually been listening, there is no valid reason for having to say ‘having said that.’
William Cobbett published his classic on gardening, “The English Gardener,” in 1829. I turn to it often not so much for its gardening advice, but for Cobbett’s often curmudgeonly, sometimes philosophical, comments about certain plants and how to go about dealing with them.
Interestingly, his section on what he describes as “garlick,” is short and to the point; plant it, dig it up when ready and hang it to dry. That’s it.
It is garlic harvesting time here, an early summer routine I always look forward to. I love digging it up or, as is possible at times, pulling it up out of the ground (always making sure to grasp the stem firmly at the bottom – and stopping if it might be a bit recalcitrant). I had cut off the scapes a while ago, some of which Sandy has used to make a delicious pesto. Some are at rest in the compost bin. Once all have been plucked up out of the ground (very muddy these days!) I transport them down to the barn for my favorite part of the ritual: brushing them off a bit, tying them up into bunches of five, an arbitrary number I decided on years ago, and then hanging each bunch from nails placed along the barn rafters.