Thursday, December 31, 2009

Jack Blizzard Kicks Some Prairie Butt

Jack Blizzard was feeling petulant, so like a naughty teenager, he had a spiteful tantrum. Starting just before Christmas Eve, Jack dumped enough snow on us to effectively postpone Christmas. We’re hearty prairie people, and 20” of snow usually wouldn’t even slow us down, but Jack enlisted his peeps the North Wind and Bare Fields, so it wasn’t just one surly teen—it was a nasty weather gang, and there IS power in numbers.

We ended up snowed in for four days. At one point, Ray got out the Big Blower, and as Jack snickered from behind a spired drift, Ray carved a wee path round about the farmyard. So the dogs could get a run, and I could trek to the loafing shed to feed the peacocks, who were huddled in the rafters near the brooder lamp. But even the Big Blower cowered at the folly of trying to dig out our driveway, buried under one long 7’ drift. Our power blinked out a couple of times but stayed on, although our Internet was kaput for five days. I-29, which we can see from our back yard, was closed down for two days, and with no traffic and a hefty cushion of snow as far as the eye could see, it was eerily quiet, as well.

This was my first ever—I’m talking over 50 years—quiet Christmas, sans the chaos of a houseful of family & friends. It was like Little House on the Prairie, if the Ing
alls had Dish network, an electric stove, and hot running water. Days one and two were delightfully peaceful; after the stress of a brutal semester and the crunch of getting grades calculated and submitted on time, the down time was a little slice of heaven. Santa came in spite of Jack, bringing Ray a make-it-yourself djembe drum kit, and dropping off a make-it-yourself winemaking kit for me—things to keep us busy, to keep us from strangling each other. Smart Santa.

Moving into day three I discovered there are only so many B movies you can watch (Fido, Tremors III, A Plumm Summer, etc.), only so many empty carbs you can eat, only so much knitting you can do, before you devolve into a whiny puffball of self-pity. I spent most of day four pasted to the greenhouse windows, feeling for vibrations that would
signal a county plow, and praying for mercy, because once the road was clear, Mini Pearl, our trusty minivan, still wouldn’t make it through the 100’-long snow sculpture Jack left in our driveway.

The county plow came finally on Sunday, and that night a kindly neighbor showed up with a tractor to dig us out. We literally ran to his tractor with all the cash in the house plus two jars of homemade jam. We finally made it to Mom’s on Monday to have Christmas with Mom and the two kids who could get there. Tonight
we have overnight guests coming and three parties to drop in on, and Ray’s band is playing in Little Town, so there will be dancing & merriment galore in celebration of the New Year. Ray and I will also be celebrating the gift of our first Christmas alone together, the lesson in just how much togetherness we can stand, and the amazing generosity of our little rural community.

All snow from here on out will be mere pittance. I will scoff when relatives talk about their 5” dusting of snow. And as tough as I think we plains folk are, I gotta give props to Jack: his Christmas blizzard of ought-nine kicked our hearty prairie arses. But only momentarily.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Proper Perspective

Until recently, I had been obsessing over things that seemed, at the time, vitally important to me...

-- Like why a painter boldly asks $4000 for a painting, while a poet, whose book may represent months or years of sweat, struggle and precision, for whom each poem is a carefully-constructed word painting, feels sheepish asking $10.
-- Like whether the inventor of “Chia Obama” truly considers her/his creation a “tribute to America” as the commercial suggests.
-- Like where I’ll find the time to grade 3 stacks of papers, write 2 exams, conduct 2 productive revision workshops, and evaluate 16 research projects.
-- Like whether to paint my living room/dining room buttercup or sandstone.
-- Like the perfect proportions of French onion soup and glazed apricots in which to stew a pot roast.

Then, something miraculous happened. As is her wont, the Universe gave me two swift kicks in the arse (because one is never quite enough) to realign my priorities.

First, She delivered mo
st of our two families safely to South Dakota for Thanksgiving. Ray and I got together at his oldest sister’s with both of his sisters, their spouses, his nephew, niece, and niece’s spouse equivalent for a lovely, warm, evening of stories, laughter, amazing food, and excellent company. Then the next night, Ray, Mom, all three of my brothers, two of our four children, various spouse-equivalents, nieces and nephews, friends, and a pack of doggie cousins, all converged at the Row for a potluck that would have made Martha Stewart prison-green with envy. I was especially thankful my brother and nephew hadn't brought the Nerf rifles (we're still finding Nerf darts in unexpected places, from last year). And the next night, both families gathered at the bar in Little Town for a night of joyous music provided by Ray’s band, and some incredible interpretive dance (including my little brother’s agile PeeWee Stomp).

Next (and this was the BIG kick), the Universe let me witness the birth of my daughter’s first baby. She gently walked my daughter through a brief, routine, drug-free labor & delivery—not quite like going off into the trees to drop the baby out, but pert near. She gave my daughter a patient man as in love with the baby as she is. New babies are always miraculous…nay, stupefying. But I was right there for this one, mere inches away, when the new little human literally popped out. And Mom was there, too--we had four generations of sturdy determination at work in the room. In the face of that feat of human endurance, that sheer will to life, that instant of pure radiant love when my daughter first held her son, everything else fell away in utter insignificance. There IS nothing else.

So, thanks to the Universe and Her perfect order, I am calm and grateful again. I have put things back in their proper perspective, at least for now. I will sit this evening and finish knitting a baby sweater without so much as a twinge of paper-grading remorse. I will stare out the greenhouse windows at the eight spring peachicks who, despite the odds, are now full-grown. I will buy a Chia Obama. I will keep toiling over poems because poetry is beautiful and graceful and because, as Native Americans once believed, words have the power to make things happen. I will leave my walls ecru. And, when I start to slip back into my obsessions with trivia, I will pause and recall the perfect wisdom of the human body, the unstoppable creative power of love, and the jaw-dropping, indescribable spectacle of a brand new human being emerging into the world.