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Beneath the surface (02/22/2009)
By Janet Lewis Burns

Though winter inflicts a great deal of stress and inconvenience on those who must endure and traverse in it, there is an immense awe and tranquility in its magnificence for those whose winters are experienced from warm and sheltered places.

Beneath winter snow, new life is germinating toward its birth in springtime. If you were to sink to the ground through thawing, waist-deep snow in early spring you could make a delightful discovery of crocus reaching for air, or a patch of hepatica blossoms, their flower buds and emerald green leaves encased in ice from an early snowfall.

Avid gardeners hungrily anticipate rich blackness of wet ground in a garden plot and swoon with a ripe scent emitted from the compost pile through dispersed noonday sunshine. Thoughts of earthworms poking through their hiatus nudge the fair weather angler to inspect his fishing gear for another season of duff time on the pristine lake.

What mysteries take place beneath our fields, yards, and forests? I remember the bottomless cesspool in the backyard of my childhood home. It was that foreboding, putrid smelling hole, instigator of many nightmares, where our folks disposed of food scraps. Dad kept a cement block on top of its metal cover. When he was there to supervise, we kids laid on our bellies, swiftly dropping our heads into the dizzying abyss in heart- pounding curiosity.

Archaeological curators exhume, inspect, and document trash found in deserted cesspools and well fills. The contents reveal a great deal about past generations. Lack of oxygen preserves artifacts that make their way into such pits. Archaeologists have found dishes and bottles intact, along with identifiable food remains and even shrub trimmings still green.

It was deduced that during the 18th century people were largely concerned about status in the community, taking great pride in their possessions, even throwing away items that were still usable if they were not currently in fashion.

This is not what someone would normally believe about our frugal ancestors, recalling our granny’s habit of setting out chipped and cracked dishes, oilcloth on the bulky, wood kitchen table instead of linen, a banged-up, white speckled metal coffeepot catawampus on the wood stove in the summer kitchen, and “making do” with what was on hand.

Beneath relentless storms of winter and yearnings for the first taste of spring, north country dwellers hunker down with early darkness, a little more defeated, wearier, and lethargic as age surpasses the enthusiasm to stay on the farm or to struggle against all odds to keep the business going one more year.

The wrath of man and human suffering that people inflict on one another is a cruelty beyond any blow a harsh winter imposes. Weather bears no conscience, and is beyond blame and responsibility. Just as Nature, the human race exhibits traits of chaos and bedlam as well as harmony and calm.

Beneath the surface of lies and slander that gossip spreads, those betrayed individuals suffer grave injustice. The subject of such mean-spirited ridicule may undergo emotional harm and widespread loss of respect and trust from others, and all needlessly. The continuous butt of jokes, the victim may be laughing along with the crowd, but what lies beneath his or her congenial mask?

I know of a local man who, in his mid-thirties, ended his life because of haunting memories of cruelty inflicted as he brought to mind the taunting, hurtful remarks and each person who uttered them. The troubled man lived a lonely existence, tormenting himself with sad recollections he wasn’t to overcome.

“Man did not weave the web of life;” Chief Seattle once said, “he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

Step lightly, love deeply, forgive bravely, and ponder wisely.

Janet Burns lives in Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com.



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