Walks. Sometimes on walks I take the view before me and make frames. I look at the corners: squirrel nests and sometimes mistletoe in tall oak trees, overcast skies and moving clouds, the brown of winter grass, trash along the roadside. Then I focus on specifics of something as I pass: the patterns of rust on a railing, the smooth bark of the crepe myrtle tree, the white parchment of tenacious beech leaves. I repeat with each block or each change in direction. Such observations help clear my mind.
Lent. I once heard a minister bewail that the most beautiful time of the year, the coming of spring, is marked by spiritual discipline in preparation for the miracle of Easter. Recently, I have come to disagree. What better time to align our spirits with the present and coming beauty that the renewal of spring promises: fulfillment, joy, new life.
Reading and Teaching. From 1971-1974, I taught in some of my classes Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven (1932). It’s a collection of related stories, each chapter focusing on a resident or residents of a beautiful valley near Monterey, California. Until this week I had not re-read the work. As I looked through it, I remembered well three of the ten stories, vaguely remembered four of them, and did not remember three. They are wonderful stories. Steinbeck’s facile writing and warm, objective tone enable the reader to realize the humor, the irony, the tragedies of the people of the valley. And the stories provide us situations for contemplation: Are some people caught in a tragic series of events? How do we use fantasy to cope with reality? How does our society treat those who are different? What is the use of the past in our lives, and how do we overcome the past? What is a good life? What gives us an aversion to cruelty? What do we do when our plans do not work out? Since I read and taught the book, I have read most of Steinbeck, and re-reading I see the the beginnings of other works: Of Mice and Men, Cannery Row, East of Eden, and the magnificent short story, “The Chrysantemums.”
My lesson plans, study guides, assignment sheets are long gone, and I hardly remember how I taught the book. I do remember working hard in preparation and feeling good about the teaching. I made writing assignments, both in short and longer forms, on each chapter and on the book as a whole. I remember good discussions and good writings from classes. But I have no remembrance of specifics. I am sure that the pedagogy was secure, that the content of the assignments was academically challenging, that the presentations were interesting. And, of course, now, it doesn’t matter. I hope that some student somewhere might remember from time to time something of the book, and the remembrance might be positive. Perhaps someone has re-read the book or continued to read other novels by Steinbeck. Part of the challenge of teaching is that often we do not know. As teachers, we do the best we can and then let go.
Winter. Now we have about five more weeks of winter. A friend in Denver told me once that he never complained about summer there because it was so brief. I feel the same about winter here; it’s short and generally mild. As I take walks, I note a subtle change happening in this last month of winter. There is more light in the sky, and after rains grass looks richer in green. New blades are already coming through the brown grass. A mourning dove, grey-white, sits beneath the tiny white flowers of the blooming winter honeysuckle in the back yard. I anticipate more blooming things soon. Lent will not be for me a time of repentance, remorse; it will be a time of aligning my spirit with Nature for the upcoming new life of spring. And so I will enjoy the remaining weeks of winter: the grey skies, the cold weather, the damp, the rain, perhaps more snow and ice. And I’ll not complain, for the season in the South is all too short.
Thank you for reading. Feel free to leave comments. Enjoy the week!