March 14, 2009

Last Days of Winter and Nation's Dark Season

Pretty much everyone stopping in the corner EZ Mart for coffee, the village post office for mail, the IGA grocery, agrees it's high time for winter to get out of town. Winter unleashed salvos so early this year, barely letting Halloween close-up shop before it started landing left-right combinations of below-freezing temperatures and truckloads of snow. Big snow – more so far than in the last 13 years and it isn't over yet – and frostbite cold have stuck around almost without interruption for close on five months now. Everyone but the diehard skiers has joined the chorus shouting or muttering darkly, “Enough! Get away with you!”

The dire local, state and national socio-economic situation this winter further assaulted our spirits and fingersmithed our wallets. Investment bank and stock firm CEOs stole American homes, pensions and savings to buy themselves lavish lifestyles, and then walked away rich from the financial conflagration they ignited. When you're unemployed, or working reduced hours for a diminished paycheck, or agonizing over family members who can't scare up a decent job no matter how hard they search, or making choices between buying schoolbooks and supplies or buying food, getting smacked in the face with a sleety open palm of -5 wind and chill when you step outside starts to wear resilience to a pretty thin edge.

But the responsible grown-ups who make up 99% of the apples in our national bushel basket are a scrappy, determined, decent, can-do, inventive, street- and farmyard-smart bunch. Whether because spring hovers just down the road a stretch, or from the wise guidance of the elders among us who've weathered such national storm seasons before, or because American grit is founded in a credo of never give up, change for the better of all is en route. Led by the smartest, hardest-working and honorable president the country has enjoyed in decades, we are calling the corporate criminals to account, taking away their luxury penthouses and seizing back the stolen assets (and really, may Bernard Madoff, Arthur Nadel, John Thain and their ilk rot in hell).

We're figuring out creative methods to clean and green our industry and energy production, planting rooftop gardens on big box stores and assembly plants, and swapping out incandescent lightbulbs for long-lasting, low-energy fluorescents. We're rejuvenating our frugal, mend and make-do and grow your own and shop local, native know-how, reducing waste, recycling, lending a hand to neighbors and the needy, putting up windmills and taking down financial and environmental predators.

Progress is being made again. The country is emerging from its long, sharp, bone-shaking winter more savvy, leaner, more self-sufficient and healthier, more cognizant of and set on shoring up the common good than ever in recent memory. Baseball spring training is in full, oaken swing. Yesterday an honest-to-goodness, fat and fluffy robin redbreast – first one sighted this year -- alighted atop the crab apple tree in the back yard. The sap is running in the sugar maples, ready for tapping.

Counting down these final few frigid weeks until the song of the turtle is heard in the land, the simple, thrifty, cheering and succoring pleasures are what see north country denizens through. When the wind howls and tugs at the windowpanes, the snow cracks whips across the dune hills, the walkways and trails are too icy to maneuver, the gardener has recourse to the following list of true comforts with which to wait out winter's last gasps. If you have others, dear reader, please fire up the computer and send them along to share:

More time to spend reading newspapers, magazines, and in the entertaining, instructive companionship of treasured writers and fictional characters. Best books read since 2009 opened its eyes – “When Will There Be Good News?” by Kate Atkinson, “City of Thieves” by David Benioff, “The Brass Verdict” by Michael Connelly, “The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death” by Charlie Huston, "Green Thoughts," by Eleanor Perenyi, “Child 44” by Tom Rob Smith, and “Flower Confidential” by Amy Stewart.

Herds (yes, herds) of hungry, beautiful deer, their coats the color of driftwood, strolling down the main streets of the village, leaping snowbanks, pausing in long, still moments just yards away.

Oil paintings of landscapes and interiors, see especially the American wing at the Detroit Institute of Arts and anything by Frederick Edwin Church or Albert Bierstadt. Or Ruth Conklin and Kristin Hurlin in Glen Arbor, Mimi Nieman in Leland, paintings you can enter and inhabit.

Rediscovering the satisfaction of home-cooking and rich, hearty meals of homemade soup, stew, chili, pot roast and noodles, chicken and dumplings. This week it will be corned beef, redskin potatoes and cabbage, naturally.

Hot cocoa. Scarlet geraniums blooming on the windowsills.

Two for the price of one burgers, Monday nights, Art's Tavern, as in the sublime mushroom/swiss burger. Eagles and Lions pancake breakfasts and fish fry suppers at the village town halls, up and down the Leelanau Peninsula.

The musical stylings of Leonard Cohen, Sarah McLachlan, Joni Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen. While this selection might lead others to want to jump in the shower and open a vein, it makes me sing.

Glimmering snow paint strokes across the burnished gold muscles of the sand dunes.

Sheltering in bookstores and coffee shops, boning up on the new crops in literature, indulging in the occasional thick, black and homicidal espresso concoction. Walking the aisles at the Ben Franklin five-and-dime and marveling at the cornucopia of inexpensive, useful household goods and chattels on offer.

Paint-up, fix-up, sort, clean-up, recycle time with the homefront, its closets, dressers and cedar chests. Getting down to business with needlework projects that tend to languish when the weather's fine, knitting, quilting, sewing nice, cozy flannel curtains for the north-facing windows.

Weeknight evenings, watching Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert on Comedy Central, and the brilliant Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, and thus getting schooled on the truth versus palaver in politics, government, current events, and getting to laugh out loud at the deft exposure of blowhards, scapegraces, blackguards and knuckleheads.

Down comforters and 9 p.m. bedtime, totally guilt-free. Goodnight, dear reader.


cheri s said...

Even more enjoyable on a second reading. Your writing is transcendant. Thank you so much. As a gardener but not a writer, I seem to muse about so many of the same ideas as you do. It is nice to see these thoughts and experiences shared so eloquently. We seem to share other sources of inspiration in addition to our gardens. I also love the Lelanau peninsula, Leonard Cohen, reading and art. I will be a regular reader this year. Thanks again. Cheryl

Michigan Garden Muse said...

Dear Cheri: Thank you very much for your kind words. Writing about gardening is very enjoyable to me, so I hope to keep posting once every week to ten days, as long as inspiration holds out! I expect to have lots of new ideas once the weather warms enough to really get gardening again -- just can't wait! I keep reading the backs of my new seed packets to make sure they REALLY say wait, wait, not yet. Whereabouts do you live and garden? Thank you again -- Em.