Sunday, January 25, 2009

Some never fly south....

Hey, Robin, got news for ya. We gain two additional minutes of daylight today. All we need is a January thaw, and you can have more than this meager watering trough.

Winter arrived early this year. We got our first major snow in early December. Even more dramatic, it has not taken a hiatus for any period of time since it showed up in its white dress. It has coated us in ice, dumped a few 6-10 inch snowfalls, and mixed in some sleet. We have witnessed the thermometer in the minus range a few mornings, and hunched our shoulders against daytime winds that drove us inside. Whenever the sun shows up against the stark blue sky, it fails to provide any warmth.

We have not heard water dripping from a mid-winter thaw that would ease the ice burden in our gutters. The papers have run their annual articles about cabin fever, but we are quickly running out of antidote.

Pam took this picture last weekend. We had received 3-6 inches of snow for two out of three of the previous days, which created the fluffy pillows covering the two-foot foundation already there. A collection of cardinals and robins were watering at this break in a neighborhood creek path.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Governor Paterson's Opportunity

Governor Paterson gave his State of the State address on January 7. The speech did not hold the anticipatory drama that usually accompanies a Governor’s opening speech, because Paterson had already released his budget proposal for the year. The budget is the true policy document and lays out the executive’s priorities and direction, so the pundits did not expect any large surprises in the speech.

Paterson noted the economic condition of the state early , calling it ‘perilous.’ I did not hear the full speech, but when I read this line so early in the text, I felt let down. A leader needs to raise the hopes of the populace during difficult times, and by leading off with such a negative adverb, he takes us down into a hole.

Granted, he did follow by exhorting us to rally our resources, to marshal the skills and determination of our citizens, to demonstrate that we are truly the great State of New York. He waved the flag of hope, shared sacrifice, and better days ahead.

But every newspaper headline, radio and television soundbite, news website, and the ever-growing blogosphere led off with the word ‘perilous.’

All of this ignores the most important part of his speech, the part that was not in his prepared text: Governor Paterson recited a poem. And his poem represented everything his speech could, or should, have: the passion of the leader, the soldier who grasps the fallen sword and forges on in the face of difficult challenges, the risen warrior who rallies his citizens to push on.

Paterson made more than one major symbolic statement by reciting his poem. Being blind, Paterson memorizes his remarks before he speaks. He memorized this poem as a student in elementary school, harking back to a time when reciting poetry was a frequent learning exercise. Being blind, Paterson has overcome his own barriers and risen to prominence – but he does not view his blindness as an impediment to his abilities to do what he is capable of doing. He rises above us all.

He makes another statement that may not have been intended. In tight fiscal times, there will be a great deal of pressure to cut funding for the arts. Granted, poets are not a money-making employment category in any time period; but poetry is an art, and is deserving of our attention in education, in literature, in publishing, and in funding by society through our government. Paterson highlighted the power of poetry by reciting his poem at the outset of his most important annual speech as Governor.

I occasionally open a meeting at work by reading a poem. It calms me down before I go into a long, or potentially contentious, meeting. But it also creates a tone at the beginning of the meeting: people are quietly attentive and generally focus on the poem, whether it is the recitation or the power of the words themselves.Governor Paterson did the same thing. It was an impressive statement.

The poem was "Opportunity", by Edward Rowland Sill; you can find it here.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


Every day has its routine. How much do our routines change over time?

I now live in my fourth apartment or house since I left Oxford. I am in my fifth job during that same time period, which now spans 31 years. We have had two kids born into those homes; one has already left and lived in five places of her own. My own daily routine has been defined by those factors – the time schedules, the locations and distance from work, the schedules of everyone else in the house, the events and activities in which we all participate.

I know what my daily routine is today. But I wish I could reconstruct what it was like ten years ago, or 20, or thirty.

Sometimes I mark the passage of time by how many times I have made the bed. These days, I groan when I bend over to pick up the pillows off the floor and arrange them appropriately at the bedstead. I get irritated if I have to stoop over multiple times because I have dropped one, or because a couple of the decorative pillows made their way underneath the bed on the other side.

I don’t remember thinking this way twenty years ago. Pam was commuting to teach about 25 miles away, and was out of the house long before me. I would get our daughter ready for elementary school. I remember doing her hair every morning, and how inadequate I felt at doing pigtails or braids. We were usually in a rush. Even now her elementary school pictures make me cringe because I see the poor results of my hairdressing.

But what was the morning sequence then? What time did I get up in the morning? What time did I shut the door behind me and head to work? I’m sure it had its own repeated choreography that covered the bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, and out the door – getting dressed, making the bed, pushing the kid along, getting breakfast, checking the backpack one more time.

This is life, the regular dance and pace of it all. We assume the script, the steps, the daily timetable. But we shouldn’t belittle it. We are the sum of our actions, whether large or small, whether they make the front page of the business or entertainment sections or just result in a hug from a little girl before she gets on the bus.

This was triggered by a story I heard on NPR earlier this week. A college student and his professor did a year-long project in which a small group of people took a picture every night at 7:15PM and loaded it to a website. The time was chosen deliberately; it was generally after dinner, but before people got settled into their evening routine. The result is a collection of pictures of people in their routine, creating their daily lives – a picture journal that covers one year. Taken as individual items, each picture could be rather mundane; taken as a collection, it is a fascinating record.

The kind of camera I wish I had in my head twenty years ago.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Seasonal Loss

We began to de-Christmas the house yesterday. I get a sense of sadness in my gut as we do this – putting away the holiday towels, taking the candle lights out of the windows, gathering all the little snowmen and holiday dolls scattered about the house. It’s a feeling of nostalgia, maybe of loss, I haven’t really pegged it. Both kids are in their 20s, and I wonder how long the Christmas excitement lasts – as if we will never have this again. An irrational feeling, certainly. I hear from others who have grandkids and they describe the fun of watching little kids at Christmas morning, or they talk about what the kids want for Christmas. Such things sound like re-generation.

Advent is the season of waiting. Now that the event has occurred – a celebration of life and hope – how do we treat our lives? Maybe the best way is to invoke Wendell Berry again: give ourselves away.

We are taking down the tree today. It may be some time before I can retrieve the outside lights, as they are frozen under a significant mantle of snow and ice. But that’s fine, they represent the last vestige of Advent during the dark hours of winter.