Today turned out to be all the weather geek said it would be – and more. The rime of frost on the edge of the garage roof – white on brown – lends a nice touch to daybreak. Then – gone – a filmy coil of rising vapor – like a morning prayer.
Spring warmth spreads sweetly – like puppy love – on a sweeping south wind. I sit in the sun, enjoying a bottle of porter and the last of the cashews. In my wooded Minnesota subdivision, where the smallest lots measure a quarter acre, our houses sit far apart among the oaks, elms, and honeysuckles. No sidewalks connect us – each house is an island – and we are an archipelago of suburbanites on a cul de sac. Friendly – we know each other – but private.
Some neighbors migrate south for the winter and the rest of us simply ‘hibernate,’ denning up in our houses, going and coming through the garage. Now and then, we meet each other after a humongous snowfall when we join to push a stuck car off the street or happen to shovel our driveways at the same time. We are winter introverts and this is enough neighborliness in the cold.
The neighbor across the road is loading firewood into the bed of his pick-up. I walk down the drive, get the mail from the box, and stop to talk. He tells me about his shoulder replacements. We are both over 65 and commiserate on our respective aches and pains. Neither of us is ‘what we were cracked up to be’ even a few years ago.
Then I return to the lawn chair and sit in the soft lap of late afternoon with a book in my lap. I’m not reading but sitting as content as a sunning turtle, looking at a piece of the world that’s temporarily mine.
The season’s first flies buzz about in the sun, the wind soughs through the top of a neighbor’s cottonwoods, and the rattle last year’s leaves on my oaks. Green shoots poke through the thatch of lawn, now four shades greener than yesterday, thanks to a half-inch of rain. Pubescent leaf buds pop along the twigs on the chokeberry bush, ready to unfold like young adults in a day or two with a show of green. But that flash belongs to the morrow and is not yet a reality.
A mole, just out of hibernation, tunnels along the edge of the concrete walk, and leaves a long, low mound like a glacial esker. I don’t resent his presence today but I will in a couple weeks when I mow the lawn. I see no point in starting resentments early.
A gray tree frog utters a sharp, almost percussive, creak from a hidden place in the lawn. I can’t see him but I know his general location. Down the street, in the marsh by the blind curve, northern leopard frogs croak with Falstaffian glee – like men packed into a sports bars on game day. They croak the same phrases over and over – hoping to ‘score’ a mate.
Sitting quietly in the lawn is a respite from a writers’ conference. I’m humbled and a little intimidated after three days in the company of novelists and memoirists, poets and essayists far more eloquent than I am. Writing is a generous act, one of them said in a presentation. I believe it’s true. Does it take talent to be generous?
Six weeks from now – in a future not yet mine – I will reunite with the Macalester College class of 1965. No! This can’t be the 50th reunion already! It is true but I want to stay in denial. I feel an urge to slim down and tone up. Why bother? We all know we are half-a-century older. Slimming and toning can’t change anything, much less reverse the years. Besides, I’m wiser now than before. I guess that is something of being more than ‘I was cracked up to be’ back then.
This class is an unusually earnest cohort. We entered college as John Kennedy began his presidency. JFK’s idealism formed us while his assassination matured us. Most of us are still pushing new frontiers. When reunion day comes, we will sit at tables to discuss weighty questions about whether ‘we had it all,’ whatever it was. Said another way, we will consider whether life is ‘all it was cracked up to be.’ We will talk urgently about the things we still need to accomplish until prostrated by seriousness.
I remember graduation day, the high-minded the commencement speaker, his exhortation to pursue our dreams, and a rush to change the world. Along my way, did I pause often enough to appreciate the grass in its growing or listen to the tree frogs in courtship? Did I stop to let the moment take me by the hand and reveal itself to me?
The future offers no guarantees but no one told me. Experience taught me the future doesn’t belong to me in advance of its arrival. The future is a dream, a possibility and – sometimes – a nightmare because the future has no reality. For a long time, I lived for the future and completely missed the present. I know better now. Only the present moment is real. It is all I have. The past is lost to memory and can’t be changed. The future is a possibility beyond my control. Moment by moment, I live into the future – moving as blindly as the mole tunneling my lawn – feeling my way forward, seeking the right path. The present moment is ‘all it’s cracked up to be.’