Spring daffodils in the dooryard
This human life is not now, and has never been, what Thomas Hobbes claimed was the life of early men: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” We are the only creatures who can choose the life we lead. We can even choose to behave like beasts. But that’s our choice, not our destiny. Human life is not, finally, a tragedy. It is, as the Italian poet Dante saw so clearly, a (Divine) Comedy, even if this is not always apparent here below.
Our coming here was a blessing. Often in the city I would come in the door from the University in the evening just as my wife was going out the door to a meeting. There was never enough time to talk over the various problems that arose. Here we all had to work together and everyone had real jobs to do and jobs that had to be done daily, whether it was mucking out the barn or feeding the pigs or picking up eggs or helping in the hayfield or the garden or milking the cow or getting in the firewood for the winter.
Even the austerity of living, for the first few years, in a house with no bathroom, no hot water beyond the kitchen sink, no heat but what could be supplied by several wood stoves, no storm windows, no insulation - even that was a blessing. It was a blessing because it allowed us, willy-nilly, to be closer to the great world around us, to experience it directly, and to know its rhythms in a way that no amount of book-learning could have supplied.
Over and over, Spring follows Winter, morning milking follows evening milking. Autumn's "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness," poignantly brief this far north, gives way to October's flash and fire, to be succeeded in turn by the more subtle splendour of November's dark palette.
Even in the sky above us the constellations wheel and change and return again. Glittering Orion, winter's hero, mentioned in the Book of Job, slowly processes into the west, followed by his faithful dogs, Sirius and Procyon, while Leo, the lion, waking from a winter hibernation, stalks behind them, to be followed in turn by bright Arcturus, the ‘watcher of the bear,’ in the constellation Boötes. And with the turning of the stars the seasons come and go with apparent monotonous regularity, as they have ever done, and yet they are never the same.
Within the apparent change is the stillness which comes from that source "with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." There is, indeed, no new thing under the sun. In spite of our age's proud insistence upon being constantly titillated with "some new thing" (already an old habit in the time of St Paul), in the country it is still possible to realise that what is to be discovered is presented over and over. The veils are very thin. Through them a voice speaks softly but emphatically: "There. Did you see the point that time?"
In the course of a life that has increasingly seemed to be sailing against the wind of the world’s wisdom we have struggled to see as clearly as possible what was before our eyes. Most of the time we found ourselves standing in our own light. Perhaps, once or twice, we did catch glimpses.
In what I have written I have said very little about the family of children, home-made and adopted, who clustered around our table when small and now are grown and on their own. To all of them, but especially to my wife, I owe most of the stability and sense of order that my own orienteering, in search of a truth beyond any of the images the modern world likes to dress it in, would have cast recklessly away. But for her and her calm grounding in the very soil of being, this often stressful putting forth of tendrils toward the unseen would have been rootless indeed.
Here then will we begin the story: only adding thus much to that which hath been said, that it is a foolish thing to make a long prologue, and to be short in the story itself. II Maccabees, 2:32