I hope the New Year will give us some rain, enough to bring the rivers back to some kind of normalcy. But if it is true that you reap what you sow, extreme weather might be something we have to learn to live with. I’m not smart enough to know what has caused the changes in the earth, but some really terrible things have happened over the past few years.
The suffering isn’t confined to large metropolitan areas. Six years ago in February, we endured one of the awfullest nights I could imagine. . I remember that night when in the dark stillness created by the absence of electricity; I listened to a pouring rain outside, and the crashing of tree limbs, laden with ice. The temperature at the time was 29 degrees and falling, and the rain was just pelting down. I kept the fireplace roaring, but slept little as the cracking and crashing continued through the night.
The next morning at first light, I awakened and looked out upon what seemed to be unbelievable devastation. There was a coating of ice that looked to be an inch thick, limbs broken everywhere, small shrubs, trees and bushes just flattened. More limbs were continuing to crash down, and I prayed that my Labradors were still alive in their kennels. It was 17 degrees outside that morning and only 50 degrees inside. I bundled up, built up the fire again and tried to make some coffee on a propane camp stove.
The sun was trying to come up, and the world was a dazzling white and silver. Birds flitted here and there, cardinals and titmice grouped around my feeders, trying to figure out how to get to the food. I started broadcasting birdseed across the ice on my front and back porch, and out into the lawn. In days to come, hundreds of birds fed there. I saw four old turkeys easing up along the fringes of timber behind my house, all humped over and bedraggled and about as depressed looking as I was.
I went out to my kennels to get my Labs some fresh water, and a falling limb, heavy with ice, narrowly missed me. I had to use hot water just to melt open the frozen gate latches. My wooded ridge top looked like some kind of winter war-zone. Right then, with my face stiff with cold and my fingers numb, I looked up and promised God that I would never again complain about a hot summer.
For another two weeks, my family struggled against cold, ice-covered, difficult conditions. There was no electricity for about 10 days, and I kept the fireplace going just to keep the temperature in the 50’s at night, sleeping under piles of blankets, rising before dawn to get things done. I felt a kinship with our early ancestors. I was a little tougher, and a little closer to the earth than I have been for a while.
Amazingly, when the summer came, things were back to normal here on Lightnin’ Ridge. But even today there are a few broken branches hanging down from some of the trees. This winter has been mild, and most of the trees show little resemblance of what they looked like back then. This winter there are rabbits running around my lawn, and birds everywhere. Those turkeys look much happier when they amble past.
Remembering what I was thinking back then, looking at what seemed to be irreparable devastation, I have difficulty believing how things look today. Nature heals things remarkably well, though slowly perhaps. It seems as if a miracle has taken place when you stand on this ridge top and look around you. I have heard it said that God gives and God takes away, but there is evidence that He also takes away, and then gives back. The Creator has not stopped His work; He heals and continues to create. I don’t believe that he sends awful natural tragedies to punish us, I think maybe they happen because we forget to be the stewards of the earth he meant us to be.
What 2013 brings us will be much the result of how we do things. If you ask people what they would like to have in the coming year, too many of them say they’d like to have ‘more’…prosperity and more money. You constantly hear people talking about change. What I would like to see is some peace on earth, and slowing change a little, unless we can change backwards, to be more like we were in this country when our grandfathers were young. But such cannot be. The limb we are climbing out on is very long. Who knows how far we can go before we reach the end of it.
It seems sad to me that we have arrived at a time when the men who truly understood and knew the ways of the wild are old, old men or long passed away. Most of what they knew, we are losing. But this much is true; there are more self-proclaimed experts in the outdoors today than you can shake a stick at…more pros and champions and authorities than fish in the sea.
For an outdoor partner, give me someone who will slowly walk the ridge tops and the valleys from dawn to dusk and be sorry the day has ended. Give me someone who loves it so much he can’t tire of the songs of birds, nor experience enough the sound and smell of rain coming across a still valley…someone who notices the scent post of a fox as a passes, who finds the pellets beneath an owl roost. Put me in a boat with someone who can paddle so slowly and quietly even the beaver and the mink and the wood ducks are unaware of his presence. Give me a man who leaves nothing but his tracks, and takes only what he uses and wastes nothing. Give me an outdoorsman who has learned more from experiences beneath a hardwood canopy or along a flowing stream than from books. Such a man needs no trophies or acclaim. He seeks the treasures which God bestows on those who walk in wild places men have not yet ruined.
When we come to the end of 2013, may there still be such places and such men. May the values and convictions of our ancestors still be strong with us.