Changing seasons

Autumn-leaves 2

Suddenly, summer seems a long time ago. The days are getting shorter and colder, and the leaves are starting to acquire a coppery sheen. No more sitting outside in the sunshine—now I sit at my desk, wondering what to do next.

Because there is such a lot to do. Work on freelance projects. Work on French. Exercise. Menu plan. Meet writing goals, reading goals. Maybe apply for winter term courses?

All these in addition to the normal things I have to do. Work at my current, full-time job. Do my chores. Spend time with family and friends. Keep up my prayer life.

This last item comes at the end of the list not because it’s the least important. Quite the contrary—it’s the foundation for everything else that comes before it. Without praying daily, I would really be running around like a headless chicken.

I’m starting to appreciate the value of investing time in some worthwhile activities that serve to multiply time and energy in the long run. Prayer first: because it helps make clear what’s truly important. Exercise: without it, I get tired and cranky more easily. Menu-planning—haul out those dusty cookbooks and spice up your life! With a menu plan in hand, you’ll be in and out of the grocery store in no time. Best of all, there’ll be no more standing in front of the fridge, waiting for it to tell you what to cook; no more dinner surveys that go nowhere: “What do you want to eat?”  “I don’t know; what do you want to eat?”

In this I’ve been partly inspired by two articles I read recently: “The World Belongs to Those Who Hustle” and  “Bookend Your Day: The Power of Morning and Evening Routines.” They’re from a website called The Art of Manliness but don’t be fooled by the title; I think women can benefit a lot from it too.

***

The change of seasons makes me think of the change in climate as well. This month’s National Geographic cover intrigued me instantly, and I read the feature, “Rising Seas,” with interest and some alarm. According to the writer, “By the next century, if not sooner, large numbers of people will have to abandon coastal areas in Florida and other parts of the world.” Researchers predict “a flood tide of climate-change refugees…civil unrest, war.” In the meantime, coastal cities like St. Petersburg and Rotterdam and New Orleans erect barriers against the most immediate threat—the sea itself.

Serendipitously, the week after I read the National Graphic story, I came across an essay in Creative Nonfiction that presented another perspective. The particular issue I was reading had “immortality” as its theme, and the essay was written by Eric Hagerman and entitled “Just a minute: our time on earth.” Hagerman muses on sustainability—whether our efforts will really amount to much, and what it’s really all for. Towards the end of the essay, he writes:

“We’re predisposed to interpreting Earth through our own experience, and we superimpose our lives on the land to lend it meaning. But considering that the whole of human existence is too brief to appear on standard geological timetables, we inevitably run into the dilemma presented by deep time—when the difference in scale becomes so great that it runs beyond the quantitative and takes on a qualitative character. This…is one reason that ‘science needs metaphor.’ Without it, science can only get us so far. So here’s a metaphor, from John McPhee’s 1981 book, ‘Basin and Range,’ to help explain deep time:

Consider the Earth’s history as the old measure of the English yard, the distance from the King’s nose to the tip of his outstretched hand. One stroke of a nail file on his middle finger erases human history.

“McPhee’s comparison captures why it has been so difficult for us human beings to wrap our minds around the terrific notion that we could possibly do anything to indelibly mark the planet. It’s hard to make sense of the contradictions. On the one hand, the scale of things suggests we’re insignificant specks in time and space…on the other, we’re told that driving to the grocery store to stock up the fridge is ruining the planet.”

***

It’s curiously comforting to know that science doesn’t actually have all the answers, that good old-fashioned common sense is still the solution to many of life’s challenges and contradictions. As my great-grandmother so wisely said, “Don’t waste what you’ve got.” Faced with the relentless turn of the seasons, and the passage of time, we can only do what we can today, at this moment, even if it simply means not wasting the time and the gifts we’ve been given.

 

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