It's Wednesday and we've not had power since Monday. They say it may be a few more days. So, I'm cooking—or rather warming things up and boiling water for tea—on our little backpacking stove; running a generator for the refrigerator, freezer, and one lamp; keeping the wood stove going for heat; and visiting my friend in town for showers and buckets of water—she has power. I can access wifi through my personal hotspot on my iPhone, so I'm connected. I can keep up with the news, get updates on the power outage, and get some work done. But, it's not too bad. I'm warm and fed and comfortable.
This situation makes me think back to the last time we lost power for several days; it was during the ice storm in January 1998, before I owned a generator and an iphone. We had had a lot of rain at a time when the temperature was around 20. The upper atmosphere was so warm that the precipitation was falling as pure rain, but the lower atmosphere was well below freezing. So, all that rain froze as soon as it hit a surface, be it a tree branch, a power line, or the ground. I awoke Thursday morning to find we had no power, looked out the window and realized we were in big trouble. Everything was coated with a good half inch of ice, and the rain was still falling. I found a radio in a drawer of stuff we didn't use much, and learned that, indeed, the situation was serious. Trees down, wires down, power out, transformers blowing up, trees falling on houses and cars, people stranded on streets that suddenly were littered with branches and wires while they were trying to get someplace else . . . someplace safer, perhaps. I sat near a window all day to get light, and I listened to the news on the radio and to the sound of limbs and sometimes entire trees falling in the woods. A slow creaking noise and then a muffled crash. Something fell about every ten minutes, it seemed. I would hear a sound and look out the window just in case I could see what was falling, but often it was down the hill or a ways off. The ground was an ice rink and the trees looked like pure glass . . . like Chihuly creations. When the rain eventually stopped, the trees, as far as I could see, seemed to be lit up and glistening. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. At a time when there was so much danger and tons of debris lying around, the world in some ways was incredibly beautiful.
I remember watching one tree fall at the far edge of my lawn. It was a medium-sized maple. I heard the familiar creaking noise and jumped up to look out. The tree had cracked off about eight feet above the ground and was slowly falling to the ground. It seemed to take forever . . . like slow motion. But then there was the crash. Lots of other trees fell, both on my property and in the woods around the neighborhood. But that one maple was somehow special to me because I watched it fall.
In the spring we cleared out all the debris, and the changes in the woods were very noticeable. A birch was bent over almost to the ground, making a circle; it never again stood tall and straight. A big oak lost lots of limbs and looked very tall but not at all wide. Some trees split or tore and fell, leaving ragged stumps of varying heights. The effects of the ice storm were apparent for several years, but eventually the birch tree that made a circle died. The big oak recovered its breadth and looks perfectly normal to this day. Some trees made it, others did not.The eight-foot stump from the maple that fell at the edge of the lawn stayed there after we cleared away the rest of tree. I would often look at it and remember that I watched it fall to its death. The stump slowly rotted, and I pushed it over just last summer. After seventeen years, it was so rotten I could push it over with one hand and little effort. It went on to pass its nutrients back to the earth.
This week's storm was rain and strong wind, so trees and limbs fell, not from the weight of ice, but from the force of wind. We lost one big tree, a poplar I think. It broke off about 15 feet above the ground. At the break point, there's a big hollow area, which was probably begun by a busy woodpecker and eventually became home to mice or squirrels. But they're gone now, and soon we'll cut up the tree in hopes that some of it at least will make good firewood.
That's how it works. The rhythm of life. Creation and destruction. Rotting and recovery. We long remember the events that are bigger than the norm. We use them to mark time. Eventually, though, they too fall away as our memories fade and we are one day laid onto the ground. And in that spot there will one day be a beautiful maple or perhaps an oak, standing tall and broad.
I'm reading the interpretation of the daodejing by David Breeden, Wally Swist, and Steven Schroeder. These three lines caught my attention today. Reaching, we find edges. Without reaching, We find essence. Artists--visual artists, literary artists, performing artists--seek essence, crave essence. That's the nature of art; it's a pathway to essence, a window looking out on essence, an encounter with essence. No reaching involved. When artists make art, everything drops away and essence presents itself. Bliss.
January...time to recover from the holidays, clean the house, watch the days get longer, play in the snow, and watch playoff football. I love football! What's not to love? It's all about trying to reach the goal, overcoming obstacles, sometimes getting pushed back, changing strategy, and, with practice, skill, and a bit of luck, sometimes bursting ahead with everyone cheering you on. It's life. It's who we are. Moving forward. Never giving up.
Let me be very clear; I'm a Packers fan. I was born in Milwaukee, German and Polish heritage, third generation, I believe. I didn't live there long—we moved to California when I was six—but it stayed with me nonetheless. Gimbals department store, Quality Candy Easter cream eggs, Pabst beer (the only kind my father drank), a family bar on every corner, Friday fish fries, cheese, sausage, cold weather, piles of snow...and the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, and Paul Hornung. I grew up hearing those names over and over. My father watched the games in his "man cave," which was also our garage. He'd sit there in front of his tiny black-and-white TV set with his Pabst; our boxer, Heidi, by his side, occasionally licking his empty beer glass; and I'd be running in and out, riding my bike, playing hopscotch or four-square with my friends. My father would call out, "they ran it in for a touchdown," "only two minutes left," "come, watch!"
Once I left home, I didn't think much about football, but when life settled down to an easy, comfortable rhythm, I started watching games again. By that time, Brett Favre was the quarterback. You had to love him; he made it look so easy and always looked like he was having so much fun. This Mississippi boy was known for never losing when the temperature was below 32 degrees, and when isn't it below 32 in Green Bay? Fog pouring out of the players' mouths; snow falling; fans bundled up in parkas and scarves and mittens, hunks of fake cheese on their heads; players standing on the sideline wearing those enormous football-player capes to stay warm. It all hit a very tender spot inside me, the part of me that is still so much about Milwaukee, and I was hooked. I live in Maine now, and when the Packers game is televised here, it's a great day. My husband makes a great big pizza with lots of onions and sausage, chills the beer glasses, and we settle in to enjoy a cozy afternoon.
These days it's Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb, Mike McCarthy. Sunday's game against the Cowboys couldn't have been better. Packers took a big lead early in the game, the Cowboys fought back to tie the score (twice) in the last few minutes, and Rodgers, always looking cool and calm as if he just got up off the massage table, drove the Packers down the field in the last thirty seconds, Jared Cook made the catch of his life, and Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal (twice because the Cowboys decided to ice him at the last second) to win it. Utter perfection!
We like the tough games better, the wins that require some hard work. The same is true of life. We're told to set lofty goals, have big dreams, be prepared to work hard. You don't know what you're made of unless you reach for the stars. You'll get pushed back. You'll begin to think it'll never happen. But, with lots of practice, skill, and a bit of luck, we really can find the end zone. It's who we are. Moving forward. Never giving up. That's what we celebrate when we watch football...our resilience, our persistence, our willingness to fight in the face of so much opposition. Thanks Aaron and all the guys. It means so much.