I have been pretty much inactive on the blog front (and others) since late September. My wife and I have spent most of this month at our camp in Washington County, Maine. That was a glorious season: I was away from all the electronic communications that I, like anyone else nowadays, seem more and more to rely on. It was us and the moose and the dear and the loons and the eagles.
I am headed now to the prairies of North Dakota for a week with my brother and two other dear friends.
I feel blessed that in my retirement I can make such retreats. I am working hard at feeling un-guilty about them. At 71, it were time. Like many, I seem always to have told myself a story that involves urgency: I have to do it --whatever "it" may be-- and do it now, or, better, yesterday.
This habit of mind persists even though my professional life is over for the most part. I do chair two organizations that mean the world to me: one is the Downeast Lakes Land Trust in the part of Maine I've been referring to, an organization that has conserved almost 400,000 acres of woods and waters in its twelve years of existence, even as it provides sustainable forestry jobs in a part of the nation that is always more or less in recession (downeastlakes.org); the other is Central Vermont Adult Basic Education (cvabe.org), based in Barre, Vermont, and serving three northerly counties with literacy instruction, which nowadays involves computer literacy.
These obligations do take time, especially the former as we work hard to finish our latest project, acquisition of 22,000 acres that we have already protected from development, but which we want to own, so that it will be managed responsibly for timber. It also includes a fabulous domed bog of over a thousand acres.
But I don't have to punch any time clock; our children are grown and need no hands-on tending; life is simple.
Or life should be. At least, that is, it should be simpler. For all that I live surrounded by some of the most beautiful country in the nation, and for all that I have access to different but equally gorgeous territory in Maine, I can lose touch even with the physical blessings I enjoy. As Wordsworth famously put it,
Getting and spending we lay waste our powers.
Little we see in nature that is ours.
Such alienation from the tangible world strikes me as a greater and greater blight in our technologized age. I have the firm conviction that the farther we get from our physical realities, the more radically we make the (false) distinction between our bodily and spiritual lives, the more we pay for it. We can turn vicious: e.g., we can imagine the victims of military attack are statistics, not living and breathing organisms. We can be....well, silly, as, in my opinion, are many of the academic theorists who have carried the day in our humanities departments for a long time– men and women who speak in such obliquities and abstractions (and almost exclusively to one another) that their assertions seem to bear no palpable relation to the world of those who live in very different circumstances.
Or we can get– what? I guess the word that comes to mind is creepy. My wife and I didn't see or hear much in the way of news while we were up north, but I did pick up a Bangor paper one day as I went into the village for supplies. In the so-called Family section of that weekend edition, a young woman who had just had her first child described how she was going to chronicle the little girl's early years. The first thing she did was open a Facebook account for her daughter, on which she meant to post significant developments. The other thing she established was an email for the child, to whom she meant to write a letter every two weeks for an indefinite period of time. There were other, equally cybernetic measures she meant to take, but I have mercifully forgotten them by now.
Just as we did five children, my wife and I have been savoring our little grandchildren, five of them now too, and have been spending every minute we can with them. This involves not only the (wearying) fun of frolicking, at a playground, in the woods, on the living room floor, and so on; it involves more too than snuggling close to them as we read bedtime stories and entertain their wonderful comments and questions; it also involves giving baths, wiping bottoms and chins, feeding them and cleaning up after– all those physical gestures, pleasant and otherwise, that go into close human interrelationships.
Facebook? Email? That is creepy, right?
Or am I just an antiquated and sentimental old fool?
Maybe the truth lies somewhere in between.
Out my window just now, I see a small grebe diving under the surface of our pond and re-emerging, making small ripples that run cross-grain of the wind-made wavelets. The duck's behavior seems enough, when I get right down to it, to make a day.