December 20, 2012 § 2 Comments
This morning, after chores and breakfast, and after Penny had left to deliver Fin to his once-weekly primitive skills school, Rye and I went skiing. The conditions were, to say the least, questionable: There is perhaps an inch-and-a-half of snow remaining from last week’s storm, with tufts of grass emerging at regular intervals, like unruly locks of hair poking out of a hat. Still, the snow was of a consistency and temperature that made for surprisingly effortless gliding, and we struck out across the big hay field that borders our southern boundary.
We skied for maybe an hour, stopping every so often to examine a pair of animal tracks (for the record, deer, squirrel, mouse, hare, and grouse), or to examine a winter-dead plant, most of which Rye assured me were highly poisonous. The boys’ knowledge of these things is so much deeper and broader than mine, that I never know when they’re serious and when they’re merely playing with my ignorance. I chose to play it safe, and did not gnaw on any of the dried and listing stalks my son asserted would have me writhing on the ground within minutes.
When we reached the apex of the big, steep hill behind Melvin and Janet’s farmhouse, I suggest turning back: That hill is damn steep and nearly as long, and the snow was little more than a sheen of immature ice. The whole thing looked sketchy as hell, but Rye, who just a moment before had been so touchingly concerned that I might ingest a plant-borne poison, had turned heedless. “What fun is life without a little danger, Papa?” he said. Crikey, I thunk to myself: The boy’s got a point. So we straightlined it and swooped down and both of us were grinning to beat the band.
I am constantly reminded how rich the small, unexpected experiences of my life can be, and I wonder how it is that I live in a culture that seems to have lost sight of this truth. I believe that every human is born with this appreciation, but somewhere along the way, it is sacrificed to the often overwhelming realities of contemporary American life. Sometimes I wonder if it’s simply bludgeoned out of us, via the stimulation of modern entertainment and digital omnipresence. And I suppose this is what saddens me most about the ever-increasing clamor to engage children in the realm of technology: The slow, intractable blunting of their connection to natural world and appreciation of the minor, almost mundane happenings of life.
A few days back, I wrote about the idea of being a shore, of considering the multitude of wave-like influences big and small that each of us face on a daily basis, and which of these waves we should choose to ignore, and which we should choose to absorb. I am becoming more intrigued by this idea, which seems as if it might be a matter of simple discernment, and I am wondering if discernment is yet another skill being lost in contemporary American society, perhaps as a result of the very same bludgeoning I spoke of before. After all, it certainly isn’t profitable for people be truly discerning about what they allow into their lives. I’m going to close this with an excerpt from an essay I wrote about our annual haying adventures with our friend Martha, who is a 65-year-old, cigarette-smoking, dairy-farming ex-Olympian, and one of our favorite people on this world.
In recent years, I have come to understand that certain moments shape my life by a measure not consistent with their brevity and immediate imprint. These are not the big events, the births and deaths, the unions and separations, which for all their significance are the commonplace joys and tragedies of humanity. Rather, they are almost imperceptible splashes in the pool of my existence, like when I glance up at Martha perched on that big green tractor like a sprite riding the back of some great beast, 100-pounds soaking wet atop 12,000 pounds of machine, towing another 10,000 pounds or more of hay and baler and wagon, and I marvel at what it means to be human, to be of the species that for better or worse has invented all this stuff, this amazing, crazy, magical stuff. I mean, my God, to be towed through a field at the hind end of a 20,000- something pound chain of steel and rubber and grass? And to have the master of that chain be a cigarette-smoking Olympian with the bones of a bird and the work ethic of an entire friggin’ anthill? It’s almost as if I can feel the small stone dropping through my surface. It’s almost as if I am not just the pool, but also the shore and I can see those little waves rushing toward me.