Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1923, © 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, Inc., renewed 1951, by Robert Frost. Reprinted with the permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
Now What? by Rich Paschall
What do you do when friends come to visit? Do you plan a nice dinner? Do you stay in and cook or do you go out? Do you plan some activities or do you go for spontaneity? Do you bring out old photo albums or run pictures on a computer or even on your television? There are a lot of things you can do if it is just for a day.
What if friends and family are coming for more than a day? A few days of guests may take a little more planning. Maybe you want to both eat at home and go out. Maybe you want to take your visitors around to meet other family and friends. Maybe this is the opportunity for a lot of conversation that has been missing in your friendship in recent years. But what if they come for a few weeks? Yes, weeks!
When I was small, perhaps 6 years old, I recall visiting Tennessee with my grandparents or other family members. My grandparents were from Tennessee but they spent the late 1940’s to mid 1960s in Chicago. There were plenty of relatives in the small town and rural areas for us to visit, so we made the rounds whenever we arrived, staying here and there. Since I was the little kid from the north, these friends and relatives of my grandparents enjoyed entertaining me when I first arrived. That probably wore off quickly.
We stayed with people I do not recall and, since I was little, the details are a bit sketchy. I had no idea that decades later I would be interested in these vague memories. I do recall that sitting around the living room, or front porch if the weather was nice, and telling old stories was a popular pastime.
“Well, how ya’ll doin? I guess it’s downright cold from where you come from.”
“No, it is hot there too. It’s July!”
“I swear you are the spittin’ image of Robert Lee at that age.”
My father’s middle name was Lee. I guess I heard plenty of stories of my father when he was my age, although “my age” seemed to take in his entire childhood.
Most of these visits included my grandfather or some other relative telling how my father got that scar on his chin. It seems that he was not much more than a toddler when he ran into a barbed wire fence chasing after my grandfather.
“He was told to stay put there at the house but he wanted to help out in the field like everyone else.” I could not see my father as a farmer, at any age.
Sitting around telling stories is a trait of a lot of families. It is a happy thing to do when family and friends get together. In a rural area, it might just pass as the most exciting thing you could do anyway.
I do recall that I must have been the entertainment sometimes as the southern folks took the city boy around the house or farm. One time some adults had finally convinced me that I should walk across a field to pet a cow. Never mind the fact that I was just a tot and the cow was, well…, a cow.
I headed out across the field, a bit scared I am sure, but determined to pet the cow. When I got near the cow, he took off in another direction. I guess he was just as afraid of the little city boy as I was of him. Anyway, he wanted nothing to do with me. There are some more amusing farm animal stories but, fortunately, I can not think of anyone still alive to tell them.
After my grandparents retired I was old enough to get put on the train in Chicago and collected from the train in Fulton, Kentucky. It was the nearest stop to my grandparents in Tennessee. Yes, we went around and visited relatives and friends. I could now participate in some story telling. I was still told I looked like Robert Lee, which I was always to take as a complement. In my grandparents’ retirement years, there was not much more to do.
“You can walk right down there to the Dairy Queen and get yourself an ice cream cone. If you go down there after dark, you can hear that bug zapper getting something every minute or two.” Now that’s entertainment!
When my grandmother passed away at some point in her 90s, we returned to Tennessee for another round of family visits. My father and I attended some family reunions in other years. One time it was at a Baptist church, the next time it was at the John Deere dealer. It seems the John Deere dealer had the largest room in the area, bigger than the church. We didn’t need any farm equipment, but it was interesting to see.
Even decades later, our visiting routine was to travel around and see relatives, mostly without advance warning. We were always welcome, however. Once my father and his brother, my uncle, tried to remember how to get to someone’s house using landmarks from when they were kids. The amazing thing is there was little movement of families and we always found our way around.
On one trip my father wondered if old Aunt Ella was still alive. She would have to be in her 90s and we were not confident we would find the small town well off any highway, much less Aunt Ella. When we spotted a mailbox with our last name, we went up to the house where an old woman sat on the porch. My aging father had not seen her in decades.
“Well, I guess you don’t know who I am,” my father started out.
“Why, you’re Yancy’s boy, Robert Lee,” she declared without missing a beat. “And you must be Robert Lee’s boy,” she said to me. I must have been in my 40s by then. We sat around and talked, as was the custom.
What do you do when relatives come calling? Do you ever go to visit old family and friends? Go to restaurants? Visit museums, famous landmarks, local hot spots? Have actual conversations?
It certainly is winter here and today, it was actually cold. The earlier parts of the month were springlike, sometimes downright summery. Today, cold. Tomorrow? Snow? Sleet? Rain? Cold? Warm? All of the preceding?
NOW you’re talking. our precipitous winter days have mostly been a bit of everything, usually in about 12-hours. Although we have rapidly changing weather, it doesn’t usually all happen in a single day between dawn and the late news.
This week’s question is taken from Melanie’s “Share Your World” for the week. And my answer is an expansion of what I wrote on that post.
The world is on fire and we will all burn. No need to wait for hell to engulf us. We merely need to wait for the overcooked earth to dry up and burn. I read a post today from NASA and another couple of agencies whose logos I’ve forgotten. It was beyond dismal.
Basically, it said that we have failed to do anything about climate change for far too long and now, only very drastic action will accomplish anything. 2019 was the hottest year on record. Ever. Two entire countries — Switzerland and Khazakstan — have both exceeded the 2-degree-Celsius danger point. Fires swept through much of America’s west and last year was truly terrible, but almost nothing compared to the horror of what has occurred in Australia. Only two entire countries have exceeded the 2-degree-Celsius danger point, but most American cities have reached or exceeded it as have their suburbs.
The ice is melting faster than anyone expected and the sea is rising. The burning of the Amazon rain forest is a manmade tragedy that will help climate change develop faster. The entire world is hotter and where it hasn’t flooded, there are droughts. Flowers are blooming in Switzerland in January and last Friday, it was 74 degrees Fahrenheit. Today it is 50, which is a kind of weather we normally get in late spring. Certainly not in January.
Oh, sure, we might get snow, but we got almost none last year and there has been very little this season. We are getting tick warnings from our local government. I had to put collars on the dogs because ticks and fleas are out there having a great time, bouncing around, injecting diseases in humans and animals.
Forty years ago, I was the English-language editor at the University of Jerusalem’s Environmental Health Laboratory. I worked there for almost five years during which we addressed issues of wastewater, air and soil management. The country was still quite small. I think we had fewer than 7 million people then.
The scientific staff traveled from kibbutz to kibbutz, then to any other area that was under cultivation. The goal was trying to explain why it was so critical we stop using nitrogen-enriched fertilizer and start managing wastewater and figure out safe ways to use it. No one listened. My boss predicted we’d lose our aquifer by 1985. He was wrong. It was dead by 1983.
The point is not that I knew something important about our climate before most people were up to speed. It is that we have known about the danger to our environment for 100 years and for at least the past 50 have had top-quality scientists warning us again and again while we just went ahead, worrying about whether to buy the bigger SUV or maybe go for something smaller.
Since the 1970s when we officially declared “Earth Day,” many of us have tried to “do the right thing,” when we could figure out what that was. Most of us recycle, even when we know they aren’t doing anything with the trash, just moving it around. We lowered car emissions. We closed down coal-fired plants. We did something, but it wasn’t enough and it wasn’t done everywhere it needed to be done. Many countries have done absolutely nothing, either because they are too poor or in denial. Australia was one of the countries that did nothing much, not because people didn’t want change, but because the government wouldn’t budge.
Nor was enough done anywhere else on earth. The worst part? Even in places where they have been extremely careful, their neighbors are killing them. Like Switzerland.
To expect the nations of the world to get together and repair the planet so our children and grandchildren can live here is one of those great ideas in which I don’t believe. Humans don’t work together. We can’t get a Congress that agrees on anything, much less a planet. We fight, we kill, we destroy collectively, but repair things? Make things better? When has that ever occurred?
We improved car emissions. We knocked out the smog in some major cities. We cleaned up some polluted rivers. Some of us did our best to manage recyclables. Some places did better than others. We didn’t build enough plants to deal with the plastic and paper and we charged extra for products made from recycled materials — which was not what people expected. Reality notwithstanding, we didn’t expect to be charged a premium for recycled goods. A lot of places — like where we live — do not have any recycling plants and we know they just take the recycling and dump it in landfills. Or worse.
WE DID NOT DO ENOUGH.
We are not doing enough now, then, nor are there plans to do what needs doing. We have no firm plans to do much of anything going forward. It’s a lack of interest. It’s a lack of solid plans killing us. We talk about it, but long before Trump got into office and has been doing his utmost to make a dire situation direr, we were busy making minor changes with vague plans for the future. We’ve been permanently at the discussion stage and never at the implementation stage.
Meanwhile, our planet is burning. If the fire hasn’t come to you yet, wait a while. It will come. First the heat, then the drought, then the fire.
The world’s population has grown exponentially everywhere. For every little green area we plow so we can build a condo or mall we don’t need, birds and other small animals die, often forever. In poor countries, you can’t blame them for trying to create farms to feed their people. Large mammals — like elephants — are antithetical to local farming.
I spent five years surrounded by nothing but environmental scientists. I edited their material, sent it to magazines for publication. I read the papers. I understood how important it was. For all of that, I couldn’t imagine it could happen here. That my reality would change. That my birds would die and insects would arrive bringing diseases to kill us. Meanwhile, our way of stopping the insects — which are the direct result of the climate change we’ve been ignoring — is poisoning everything else. We seem to be helping the disaster, not stopping it.
For all I know, we are beyond help. Maybe we can ameliorate the process. Maybe we can stop building on every piece of ground we find. Maybe we can do something to create food for more people with less destruction to the earth. I don’t have answers.
Meanwhile, I have nightmares of the fires and the death of all the things I love.
If this doesn’t terrify you, what does? I too worry about freedom in this country, healthcare, and all that stuff — but if we can’t breathe, have no water, and the air is full of smoke while the sea rises and sea life dies — how much will freedom matter?