The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Archive for December, 2013

The Dreariest Day of the Year

I notice that some people make a tradition of wishing others a happy New Year,and fill the ether

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 with resolutions about weight, conditioning, removal of bad habits, attainment of good ones,

And wealth. It always seems to come up that we hope wealth for ourselves and each other.

Well, this just doesn’t make sense to me. I personally have never been wealthy in the traditional sense, and the sense that I did believe myself to be wealthy usually revolved around the beginnings of relationships – marriage, the birth of children, etc., not so much annual observation of the single most dreary day of the year.

Dreariest day of the year?” you challenge, most incredulous, thinking of all the parades, and fireworks, and football, and honeyed hams and confetti. Mounds of confetti.

Ayup. Dreariest. Day. Of… the… year

Granted, I love sitting around eating deviled eggs, and lolling on the sofa chatting it up on the internet, watching two football games at once, texting my kids stupid football jokes in cities far away from myself. But this day, here in the Northern Hemisphere, long has a reputation of being – if you happen to be one of the 3 people in the hemisphere without children, wife, cell phone service and satellite hookup, or tickets to a parade and/or bowl game – a traditional day one week after the festive familial joy of Christmas, the last fervent strains of the Hallelujah Chorus finally fading into wallowing echo in your head, the shrieks of children and grandchildren getting EXACTLY the useless gizmo they so desperately wanted – (take a breath here) This day, finally clear of all the hoopla, the cleanup and recovery after the hoopla, sitting quietly in your chair sensing the sudden vacuum of noise and bustle.

Is the first moment you wake up and realize with a chilled foreboding, “It is winter”. No, not the Charles Dickens Christmas winter, not the Currier and Ives sleigh-bell-festooned joyful celebration – no – just winter. Cold. Pale. Heatless, lifeless, devoid of the things we warm-blooded creatures have managed to learn to live without, but not to live without pining for. The sky is a pale blue, the sun barely mustering into what should have been a mid-morning azimuth before stalling, barrel-rolling over backwards and diving for airspeed just to make sure it can make sunrise tomorrow. That distant, cold orb that in summer sucks the sweat out of our brow, browns our skin, fries eggs on the sidewalk, begs to be let back down in its bed and sucks the life from our marrow by the gloom of an ice-clouded sky. There is no hope for tomorrow, it will be dreary too. If you’re lucky, the excitement will be how much snow piles up during the next storm, or how high the river might crest. But we are old now, and do not get out of school for snow.

And so on this dreariest day of the year I cannot bring myself to lie to you, to pretend that I can wish with any hope a happy New Year. The best I can offer is that you have an entire year. Yes, that’s it. May you have a 2014, in its full entireness.

Live it.

Pace yourself.

Take this festivity that we’ll make tomorrow, and squirrel some away, that you can pay it out over the next few months, while the dreary season lasts.

When Spring comes to us, sit on the grass, and feel it growing beneath you.  Spend a cold morning curled up over a bulb of crocus, or hyacinth (heck, both if you were smart) and watch it come creeping out of the half-frozen ground into life, ahead of everything else in your garden.  Make friends with it, even if it leaves your knees stiff, and your insides shivering.  It is good form as a host to welcome the first comers of a journey.

And when the Plum trees bloom, and the dogwood springs overnight into a dazzling white explosion, stand beneath that tree, even if it is but a small one, and look up through the blooms at the sky beyond, be it a brilliant spring morning, or soaking your face with the showers that must come – look up, and let the growing power of the sun, filtered by the dogwood’s testament, caress your face in its promises, in its tears of joy at return, and it’s beaming face of a friend well-met again. That is it’s only job. Let it fulfill it’s destiny by bringing you hope in the wake of this dreary season.

And when you look out on your lawn, and realize it once again needs a trim, go quickly before you get your mower, and roll in the grass like a week-old foal. Your old, tired legs are no worse that that foals gangly, uncooperative underpinnings – go get in the grass. And then call your son or daughter from across town, or across the state, to help you get up again. Stay there until they arrive, and feel in their arms the strength that once was yours. Relish the passing of this strength. And hold the wee grandchild’s ears to your lips and whisper to them that someday they too will be strong – because grandma is making them oatmeal cookies this very moment.

When the rains have slowed for a few days in mid-spring, go into your garden with a spade, and turn over one shovel-full of earth. Drop that shovel-full onto the paving stones beside the garden, and with the help of someone very small, get down there and count the worms. crumble the earth – find all you can, and put them in a plastic cottage cheese container you cleaned out and set in a cupboard for sealing leftovers. Let this one go. fill it with worms, and a little soil, and count them all out of that shovel-full. When you’ve finished, put the dirt back, put the worms on top, and together count how long it takes them to disappear again. Count loudly enough for the neighbors to hear. It’s important to let your gardening competitors hear how lively your worms are, and how smart your grandchildren are. And…It is one more thing for you to know.

When the rains of June come, and the wildflower patch you planted in a box alongside your house has gone wild with color, call your daughter and see if she’s had any contractions. If she even hesitates to answer, put your wife in her car with the bag you’ve packed for her, and launch her like a torpedo, to answer the hesitation before it becomes fear. Take the wee ones to the river, and play in the rocky river bed, letting your bottom bounce with the current over the rocks while they ride you like a fishermen’s dory, screaming “Shark, Shark!” in high-pitched fear of such magnitude that they squeal with laughter. Wade beside them on your hands in the shallows against the rushes, and point out the frogs, staying close to make sure no one actually eats a pollywog.

In the heat of July, and not a moment before, haul yourself out of those shallows, and let your drenched body dry from beginning to end in the midday sun. Call out the shapes of clouds out loud, even if the grandkids have long since gone home to their mommies and daddies, pick up your cell phone and text your kids the pictures of the clouds, and tell them to pass along what you see. Make sure and do it while they are at work, late morning, when they are fully aware of just exactly how much longer they have to spend indoors today. And don’t feel guilty for a second.

As the golden hues of August begin to emerge, drive to the nearest wheat field – especially if it takes several hours. Step into the stalks along its edge, and feel for a moment the solidarity of the whole field’s worth of individual plants whenever a breeze rushes by. Sway with that wheat, and remember to yourself how to bend – remember to do it amongst friends. Text one or two of them a picture of where you’re standing, and explain why. And thank them.

The fruit harvest of late summer will soon come. Begin to visit orchards just to see how they are being tended. If they’ll let you, lie in the shade of a peach tree, and spy for yourself a nicely developing fruit, and contemplate that fruit. Think of it, sliced and in a bowl with cream. Listen to its succulence. Make sure you know how to make a good crumb crust for the cobbler. Quietly, and vividly, remember the feel of your grandmother’s hands holding yours, teaching you to pare and slice a fruit into a bowl – remember how she smelled, and how her voice warbled in those last years as she told you that you could have another cookie from the counter. Remember where she lies, and go pay your respects.

Go far away in September. Wherever you are – don’t get caught there in September. Go, feel the road beneath your wheels, and the hot wind in your face.  Chase the line between earth and sky until you fully grasp the magnitude of the horizon. Aim for it. You’ll know when you’ve gotten where you’re going when you don’t know where you are, exactly, and realize you no longer want your phone to tell you. Oh…and find a different way home.

When October starts to whisper in ominous tones the impending winter, take its warnings seriously. Let the instinct to gather, to harvest, to make sure you know your neighbors, fill you. Visit your neighbors, especially if they are much older than you. If they are well, they will fill your arms with blackberry jam, and apple butter, sealed with wax and love that no longer has children to be sealed for. You are now that child. Be the child, and bring whole-wheat toast you made yourself, pop it into their toaster, and share the first jar of jam right then and there. If they are not well, they will have no jam. Bring your own. Tell them about how much you loved your own grandparents, and let them be yours for the moment. And leave the rest of the loaf of bread when you go.

When the first real storm of the fall hits, go out into it, and feel its madness. Let the wild winds foment around you, tug at your spirit, try to take you away from where you are, to places they can only whisper promises to. Hold the wind in your hands, wrap your grip around its hard pull, knowing you can’t hold it, knowing it can’t take you. Strive that futile challenge to its limit – and then with all your heart release it – letting it ascend again back into the heavens, but bearing your scent, your struggle, your mark upon it.

And as, once again, the Christmas music starts again, and families gather, and remind each other they still belong, let whatever familiarity you have be lent out freely.  Push, pull, or drag the joy of Christmas with you through the next holiday, and in it’s afterglow, look back again.

If you can remember its’ beginning, you either did very well, or very poorly. Whichever you did, rejoice, because in the end, what matters is not your wealth, nor your happiness. It is enough to have had a complete year, One Full Turn around the sun, and in that turn, to be able to say, “I lived it”.

Breakfast Symphony

It isn’t much, this writing I do in the early morning.  I sit in a small, hometown restaurant, sometimes filled with locals and truckers.  They tell local stories that don’t mean to say much, but in the end, says everything that needs saying.  Other times, like today, I’m in before the regulars, to say my good mornings the the cook, who has my order memorized but politely asks me anyway.  With a click of her pen and a swoosh I find myself in muted solitude, as the waitress doesn’t come in for another half hour.  The morning itself sees a break, and strikes up a conversation.

This morning begins with a low, soft song of the reefers, an exhaust fan over the griddle, and eggs, potatoes, and meat frying and crackling in the grill.
Like every good song, it is also a story.  I hear the punctuation with the metallic scrape of the spatula across the griddle, the staccato rapping of its hard edge chopping, another long scrap, and the sudden flourish of freshly sizzling food.
The coffee pot begins its morning crescendo, a light but powerful chatter of drops.  At first there is nothing more than the thin tinkling of drops against the naked glass, and I find myself leaning in just a little, to catch the delicate trill.  slowly though with the patience and timing of a Master, it broadens and deepens into a torrent of hot liquid pools.  The humble Pyrex is transformed, as I sit across from it, to a full throated percussion piece, and I close my eyes as the movement pulls together in powerful finale.
And there, in time with the sweeping crest of my own emotions, the music quiets, and allows my imaginations a space to be, to reflect, and to allow my joy at its beauty bask, and cure in its own light for a moment.
 The plate’s gentle clunk onto my table, and the swirl of coffee into my cup bring me to the next movement of this extraordinary symphony: The Aromas.