I am in West Virginia, on a sudden but modest hill surrounded by two mountain ranges. To get to this cabin you drive west on Route 70, meander a ways, turn off the paved road by the large house forever in the process of construction, rising from the growing graveyard of contrivances that once carried people but now rely on people to carry them, drive a while on dirt and stones until you arrive at the “driveway.” If any regulatory agency set standards for driveways here, this would not be a driveway. But in the wilds of WV, almost anything goes. Still, as citified folk approach, our first thoughts are: Please Gd, let that not be the “driveway.” Then we think: Shouldn’t this thing have a chain-belt to pull me up, kind of like a roller-coaster? The trick is to get a running start so you have enough momentum when the traction gets a little light.
To the east of the house is mountain; to the west of the house is mountain. Sunlight comes here later and leaves earlier than it does for our neighbors on the heights. The view is not much. The house is surrounded by trees, a bit thin in the winter but just the right density in the summer. Still and all, if you want a view, this is not the place to go. It reminds me of the Midwestern quip: An easterner was visiting a stark prairie town, with not a tree in sight. Engaged in conversation with a native plainsman, the easterner, clearly unsettled by the unbroken vastness of the prairie, finally asked: “Don’t you miss trees?” The plainsman snorted: “Trees? Who wants trees? They block the view.”
You either like this cabin or you don’t, depending on whether you think the trees are the view or are blocking the view.
But the real reason I am writing this is to share a quote I read here. I recently bumped into the nature writings of Susan Fenimore Cooper, the daughter of novelist James Fenimore Cooper. She was gentle, easy writer with a love of the out of doors. Her book, Rural Hours, is an accessible naturalist’s diary of the seasons of the year in Cooperstown, NY. She occasionally culls lessons from physical nature to human nature, and sometimes the other way around. The following is an observation that works well in both worlds:
“How pleasant it is to meet the same flowers year after year! If the blossoms were liable to change – if they were to become capricious and irregular – they might excite more surprise, more curiosity, but we should love them less… Whatever your roving fancies may say, there is a virtue in constancy which has a reward above all that fickle change can bestow…” (p. 29)
We love the extraordinary in nature. We travel to see the majesty of Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon, the stunning beauty of the orchid. But it is the irises that bloom in our garden every spring; the snowfall that cheers us in the midst of winter; the luscious smell of warm summer rains; the knowledge that the seasons will once again come around so that we can plant vegetables and harvest them in due time; watch the flowers bloom and be greeted by the bees and butterflies lured by their fragrance, that calm our restless spirits.
And it is with people as it is with nature. We love the exotic, the glamorous, the new, the extraordinary. But we thrive on the constancy of a mother’s hug, the familiar repertoire of family recipes, the recognition of who sits where, and the anticipation of family traditions. Even as we need change, we need reliability, both in the seasons of nature and the seasons of our lives. But what was once a given is now in jeopardy. There is displacement and disruption in both these realms. The hope is that our work and awareness and skills in one arena will spill over to our work and awareness and skills in the other. Not too far-fetched a hope. And not beyond our the tasks of our daily lives.