As Another Ozarks Winter Approaches, Three Verses on the Changing Landscape
This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills - In days like these, reeling from another superstorm on another coast and with one of the most contentious elections in history finally over -- with so many lives tossed on the angry tides of a beleaguered planet and a battered electorate, it is easy to get lost in the weight of all the suffering, the hand-wringing, the waves of anxiety when confronting an uncomfortable as well as inconvenient truth.The sheer magnitude of in-our-face Changes defies our ability to care in ways that might be significant to the problems. We can haunt the television for weather news and one last election analysis.
We can donate to the Red Cross, or to our favorite political party. But even the mathematicians are at a loss to figure out how to calculate the number of drops it might take to fill this vast ocean of troubles.
Historically, countries and even whole civilizations have fallen in the wake of such events. But here, we employ FEMA and donate to the Red Cross, and then go vote -- and accept the outcome with grace and good humor for the most part, and get on with the work of our lives and our time. Pretty cheeky of us, wouldn't you say?
I'd like to say that means we're wonderfully resilient and self reliant, that we wake up each morning just like Little Orphan Annie, blank-eyed and tweeting tunes in which "Tomorrow" is featured prominently. But that description falls far short of the mark.
I prefer to compare our reaction here at home to circumstances that test us, to the way we respond to the natural world, a world that we Ozarkers tend to lean on or toward regularly. In that natural world, great change is also underway in the Ozarks highlands right now. The equinox is past, as is Hallowmas, the cross-quarter holiday that goes here by the name of Halloween. The season is shifting inexorably toward winter, and as it does, there is a mad scramble as every northern migratory species rushes south, as fast and as far as possible, the flying species guided by a tiny chip of magnetite that the magic of God or evolution has placed at the base of their little beaks.
In my woods, unfamiliar songs compose an ever changing concerto these days as the migratory song birds zoom, flap and flutter southward, while raptors with unusual shapes and markings, and even more unusual names like sharp shin, shorttail and sparrow lurk overhead, looking for a quick snack to pick up before the next leg of the journey. Above them, the ducks, the snow geese, the canadas, the coots, point the way in high, far off Vees that clearly say Go this way. This is the way. Follow.
Whether out in the duck or deer blind, or safely indoors, we Ozarkers are more apt in these changing times to wax philosophical, to quote the sayings of our elders, or those of favorite poets, whether Wordsworth, Longfellow, Wendell Berry or Mary Oliver, to help us comb the layers of meaning and mystery in this life, and latch onto some verse or phrase that will make the changes understandable, comfortable, less terrifying. Here in the Ozarks woods, at the edge of a golden, windswept field, the seasons, the weather, and the landscape both real and political are still being tossed on those unsettling winds of change. In response I offer three of my favorite poems, in hopes that if they do not quiet the winds, they at least offer the possibility that the changes will prove positive.
The first, by Wendell Berry, goes thus:
Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.
With the ongoing havoc
the wood this morning is
almost unnaturally still.
Through stalled air, unshadowed
light, a few leaves fall
of their own weight.
is gray. It begins in mist
almost at the ground
and rises forever. The trees
rise in silence almost
natural, but not quite,
almost eternal, but
What more did I
think I wanted? Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
be. Even in me,
the Maker of all this
returns in rest, even
to the slightest of His works,
a yellow leaf slowly
falling, and is pleased.
And here, the fall song, by Mary Oliver
Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,
the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back
from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere
except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle
of unobservable mysteries - roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This
I try to remember when time's measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn
flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay - how everything lives, shifting
from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.
And one last small one, going back to the classic verse by Emily Dickenson:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all
Seasons change, and lives, and hopes, all a part of the tapestry that holds together our world, our nation, and all the hardy souls who inhabit these blessed Ozarks Hills.