March, as everybody knows, is a changeable time of the year, chock full of surprises. Of all months, March seems the most volatile. Each day brings something unexpected, now raising one's yearnings for spring, now dashing one's hopes in a sleet storm. But those who make records of things have found through the years that many events are in fact predictable during March. Reading Janine Benyus's 'Northwoods Wildlife', I discovered that much of what happens in March is upbeat and life affirming. According to Benyus, the reason for March's notorious snowstorms is rooted in rising temperatures.
Browsing through some yellowed clippings in a notebook the other day I came upon something by my old mentor, the late journalist Sydney Harris. Titled "How to Understand What's Going On," it offers a 10-question guide toward making sense of what's happening to the world today. 1. Start by taking a long, hard look at yourself to determine whether you have significantly altered your views or stance in the last 20 years, or even in the last decade. 2.
All good gardens start in February. Fortunately, this aspect of horticulture is not only the cheapest and least strenuous, but also the grandest, in that one's dreams may grow toward greatness unfettered by such paltry things as crabgrass or an insufficiency of fertilizer. This is the Walter Mitty phase of gardening, a wonderland of bumper crops and blue ribbons, a utopia unmarred by any blemish. In the garden of one's February dreams, the cabbages grow green as dollar bills and round as basketballs, undefiled by moth or worm.
Like many guys of my vintage, I grew up believing that a woman's place was in the home, keeping things tidy, cooking the meals, washing the clothes, supporting the husband and always being there for the kids. True, there were a handful of exceptions in our little town. My friend Pete's mom commuted to work full time as a proofreader for the World Book encyclopedia company.
It started with a question from grandson Jack, age 7. "Grandpa, did you ever have a model train?" "An electric one?" "Yeah. The kind that goes round and round on a little track." "I did. But that was a long time ago." "Do you still have it?" "If I do, it's upstairs in the garage. But I haven't seen it in years and years." And then another fateful question: "Can we look?" The train, it turned out, was pretty much junk.
It happens every year, just before Christmas. Having put off the search for gifts until the number of remaining shopping days dips into the single digits, I find myself standing in line surrounded by hundreds of fellow procrastinators. Yuletide Muzak bleats forth from the stores' loudspeakers. The temperature hovers around 90. Trapped in winter clothing, Sorel boots awash with sweat, I clutch the handle of the shopping cart like a castaway clinging to flotsam. Excellent, whimpers my fevered brain. Way to go. Way to plan. Way to execute. Way to suffer.
Over the eons a lot has been written about learning, almost all of it positive. Were it not for our ability to learn, life would probably seem colorless and boring. And as the famous futurist Buckminster Fuller often observed, we can't learn less. This simple fact serves to cheer us on in the aftermath of our various mistakes and misunderstandings. If we are willing to remain reasonably humble, we can view our failures and shortcomings as simple opportunities for learning.
In one of his lesser-known novels, "The Wild Palms," William Faulkner observed that all humans fitted into one of two groups. Some folks go around making messes, he said, while other folks clean them up. While no doubt an oversimplification, Faulkner's observation contains some insight. We all know people who have made (and sometimes continue to make) significant messes in their lives.
Do you ever wonder why we say some of the things we do, or where they came from? This week, smack in the middle of deer season, seems the perfect time to explore the origins of phrases related to our four-legged neighbors. Why, for instance, do we call a dollar a "buck?" Doug Lennox, the Canadian author of "The Little Book of Answers," claims it came as a result of early trade between European immigrants and Indians.
"Everything's changing too fast." "Nothing stays put." "Things are out of control." "I wish I'd been born 100 years ago. Life was better then." How many times have you heard laments like these? How many times have you made them? A hundred? A thousand? More? Ours is an age of uneasiness. We feel assaulted by change, kept off balance by a constant barrage of newness. Given the pace of life today, it's no wonder we dream of calmer, less frenetic times. Sweet yesterday, where even the weather was more predictable.