Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It's cold out. Near zero F cold, which even for central New York is cold. I haven't ventured out, having been house bound for a month with my new hip, I am not innured to winter this year. So I hang inside, vaugly resentful of the confinement, but not so much that I am willing to rouse myself, put on longjohns, heavy pants, socks, high boots. And that is just the nether half of me. The top gets a long-sleeved Cuddle-Duds undershirt, a turtle neck, a sweater, down jacket, scarf, hat, mittens. Fortunately I am old enough to go to the bathroom before I start this dressing ritual.
On slightly less cold days, in other winters, I get dressed, get the dog and her lead. J gets dressed. We get in the car, go to the neighbors to get their English Mastiff out for a romp. If the sun is out, as it is today, it is comfortable in the sunshine. We drive to the park, leave the car at the closed gate and head toward the lake.
As a kid, I'd have been sledding on the hill behind my house, spending hours careening down the hill, dragging the sled back up and doing it over. The goal was to go fast enough to slide past the flat space at the bottom of the hill and start up the next hill. I always wanted to get in among the small cedars that were retaking my family's garden area. We cut them occasionally for Christmas trees, but mostly we ignored them, letting that part of the property go back to forest. It is houses now, sold when my mother moved to Florida. Only the oldest, Mattie, who left it to her and one other sister had any feel for the land. The others viewed it as something to get away from. They grew up on the farm and wanted nothing to do with farming, farms, or farmers.
The place lives only in memory, mine. And perhaps in the one set of neighbors, still living there who would remember the place as it was.
Does it really make us unhappy, I was going to say crazy, to be disconnected from the land? Wendell Barry argues that it does, or rather he argues that the industrialization of our lives makes us crazy:"What is utterly alien to both is corporate industrialism-a dislocated economic life that is without affection for the places where it is lived and without respect for the materials it uses." ( We could live in cities with gardens, pets and the city wildlife and not feel so alienated if the valuation of those things were equal to the worth of machines and a life constrained by them. I am not arguing that we give up machines and go back to some non-existant Neolithic paradise. But the love of gadgets and machines, the eroticism of that physical and mental landscape distorts our understanding of our place in the world. We do belong to nature, even if only in part. We need nature. How many of us have plants on our desk or pets in a small apartment? What does that indicate about our psyches? If you don't grow rare violets, why do you have a plant? Is it only decoration? What are you decorating? Is it a statement? My boss likes plants so I will have one? Or is that violet or airplant a response to an unacknowledged need to touch wildness, to connect to the living world denied by the air-conditioned office, the artificial light, the computer and phone on your desk?
In winter, when nothing blooms where I live, the seed catalogues arrive in January. Nice timing, since by that time the outside whiteness makes flowers and vegetables REALLY attractive. Read the catalog, resist the urge to sniff the pictures, hoping for scent, admire the colors. The vendor hopes you will be overwhelmed by sense-longing and order a lot of seeds and plants. It is easy to do. I have lots of seeds left from other years!
But it IS winter. So I bundle up, get the dog, go to the lake to look at the geese, to find tight-furled buds on the trees, to look for the first returning ducks or later in the season, the bluebirds.
Winter is part of the life-cycle too. Go out and walk, even if it is cold and snowy.

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