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Time will tell (10/16/2005)
By Janet Lewis Burns

October is just beginning and already autumn is having its way with me. My gaze is directed heavenward to fleeting geese in formation. Flesh tingles with a brisker flutter of leaves on the verge of letting go.

Scents of field soil and chimney smoke cut chilly air in gusts.

Once upon a time...human beings had ample opportunity for lackadaisical, lollygagging duff time, or to meditate if one had a mind to.

Back in never-never land there was never a distressing telemarketer's interruption. Grannies wore flowered aprons, hairnets, support hose, and shiny, black high-tops. Riding lawn mowers were for the rich and famous.

Children wore diapers and cotton briefs - not the pants in the family. Baby Boomers once rolled their own (Harleys and cigarettes).

A shortage of farm jargon? Country imbiber and rural dweller, Verlyn Klinkenborg penned a poetically descriptive novel entitled "The Rural Life." Extremely quotable, he points out, for instance, "there are 12 synonyms for rapid transmission of data and none for spring thaw."

Declaring that "the farmers have measured the day out in chores," the Iowa native muses, "One day last spring the fire in the kitchen wood stove went out and was never relit. I didn't record the date, because some endings are lost in a crowd of beginnings, passing unnoticed until months later, when the oversight seems almost melancholy." A sentiment after my own heart!

With no journal entries and historical records carried down, passages of time would be robbed of their virtue. There remain many uninhabited areas apart from our bustling, and noisy and cluttered cities. Documented encounters pave the way. The world needs lonely places.

Through another's explorations and writings, the picturesque volume "The American Wilderness," photography and text by Stephen Gorman, carries the reader to areas which have remained unconquerable and impenetrable to this day.

A passage from Gorman's chapter "River of Ghosts," speaking from the Missouri River, Montana area, ushers one back in time:

"In 1919, the Homestead Act was enlarged, allowing people to file on 320 acres, double the original allotment. The expanded act touched off Montana's homestead boom, and in the years just prior to World War II and continuing through the 1920s, thousands who had never handled a plow or seen hind quarters of a horse flocked to Montana in search of their agrarian dreams."

"They envisioned Montana's high plains as a Garden of Eden, a breadbasket waiting for the plow to unleash its riches. Today all that remains are the weathered and worn cabins. Poor soils, brutal cold, extreme heat, hail, hoppers, and drought sent the homesteaders reeling in defeat. At the end of the 20th century, the river is lonelier than it has been since Lewis and Clark passed through."

Calendar dates label unending moments of experience. Sometimes, in some things, it's obvious where the time has gone. Time weigh heavily on our larger, more rotund bodies, our smaller clothes given over to charity. Activity has become subdued and measured.

Time has reaped impish grandchildren, cherished for the surprising joy they bring, and envied for their vim and vigor. As these steadily maturing youth grow away from us, we sigh, "life is so short."

The late Mel Ellis, environmentalist and renowned nature writer, shares heartwarming family stories in "The Land, Always The Land," c. 1997. He speaks of life and death in nature's terms, remarking, "Heaven? After this earth, who needs a bonus?"

He writes with a nostalgic flair. "October. A certain sadness. The beginning of the end. A sharp reminder that no one lives forever, that no minute of any summer may be reclaimed."

"Perhaps this need to meet and overcome obstacles when winter comes is still present in humans," he speaks from waning years.

"It is strange, but I am almost eager for winter. It is sharp and real. Biting and bitter. Reviving memories of how now is the time to fight," Ellis concluded.

Singer Paul Simon sings it this way. "The nearer your destination, the more you're slip-slidin' away."

Winter steadily moves in...all the time in the world for a clock watcher to prepare for spring. 


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