Gimbling in the Wabe – Of Music and Spring and Damnable Hope

It seems like lately I simply cannot wash the dishes without first plugging into my iPod.  (Yes, I Clematisstill hand wash my dishes.  I know, call me a Philistine, I don’t mind.)  This is true with other housework to a lesser extent, but especially when washing the dishes, I must be listening to my iPod.  I honestly don’t know why this is.  Perhaps washing dishes is such a mindless, stationary task that it allows me to focus on the music while still being productive.  (That damned Protestant work ethic: you aren’t a good person unless you’re being productive!)  So when I wash dishes, I’m really treating myself to some wanton sensory enjoyment.  I don’t know if that’s the case here – but it sounds good.

My iPod is an ancient model, given to me by my former employer as an anniversary gift for 25 years of service (ironically, I got the device a few months before they laid me off).  I love that iPod!  I love setting it on shuffle so I don’t know what the next song is going to be.  I love putting the really nice quality earbuds in and playing the music loud enough so I can retreat into a word of poetry set to music.  Sometimes I sing along but it’s embarrassing when I forget that there’s someone else in the house besides the dog.  The dog doesn’t care.

So this afternoon I was listening to my iPod and washing the dishes.  The shuffle was outdoing itself today, giving me an eclectic mix of old favorites as well as new infatuations.  Every song put me in a different mood, a delightful carousel ride within the confines of my own head (and my kitchen).

Then a song I hadn’t heard in a long time came on, and the long forgotten and often half listened to words zeroed in on me like a heat seeking missile.    The artist was Joe Pug and the song was his “Hymn #101”.  The entire song is captivating, but what truly struck me were the lines:

And I’ve come to meet the legendary takers
I’ve only come to ask them for a lot
Oh they say I come with less
than I should rightfully possess
I say the more I buy the more I’m bought
And the more I’m bought the less I cost

These words spoke directly to something I’ve been struggling with lately.  You see, the last few days here in Minnesota, we’ve experienced temperatures that finally have shown a true promise of spring.  The entrenched snow banks that have lingered through longer than expected frigid days are finally starting to disappear.  The birds are finally singing with joy, and the geese are already returning.  Hats and mittens are no longer mandatory. Opening Day of baseball season is just around the corner.  And today I finally started seeing grass – dirty and brown still, but grass nonetheless – poking up from the retreating snow cover.  It’s been wonderful.

But this time of year can also hold a hint of depression under the blue skies and warming sunshine.  All the trash that has accumulated in the layers of ice on the edges of my urban world are reasserting themselves.  The universal grit and grime that has cloaked our sorry old car through the long winter months feels abhorrent and yet inevitable as all the grit and grime that accompanies the snow melt makes attempts at cleanliness irrelevant.  The dreadful cycle of melting and freezing leaves sidewalks and porch steps treacherous in all but the mid-day hours.

And then there’s the fickle grain of hope that rekindles with the hint of returning spring.  The hope that maybe this year I can finally find my way clear to do more than simply patch my poor, wasted front lawn and actually get it to grow green and lush.  The desire to bring a former glory to my little urban world with new lilac bushes replacing those lost to time and neglect of years earlier, to hang blooming baskets along the porch, and to make an attempt at restarting a precious line of clematis that will voraciously creep and spread its lush, greedy tendrils along the side trellis that has languished vacantly these past few years.  Oh, to plant rows of hardy and lovely impatiens along the unfurling hostas and reinvest in pansies and petunias with their deep and delicate violet to purple hues along the porch railings, to try a new strain of wild roses to replace the ones that have succumbed to mishap and disease next to the front steps! Perhaps this year we can finally level the back yard and put in a vegetable garden, even though that would mean bringing in a load of soil and trimming back the trees so it could get adequate sunlight.  To finally scrape and repaint the white trim along the porch, and oh, yes, to add the purple and green flower stenciling that use to adorn the frieze before it peeled and flaked away, that delicate trim which made our house so very special, the gem of our block!  And maybe, just maybe, this will be the year that we can put in a new front sidewalk, to replace the dirt walkway that has been there for many years, when the old sidewalk fell apart and we found ourselves unable to….

….unable to afford replacing it.  Oh, yeah, how could I forget?  These things cost money.  An aerator and broadcast seeder along with quality grass seed; replacement bushes and starter plants; flats of flowers, fertilizer, seed, soil; paint and brushes and scrapers, and the help to get it all done; cement, frames, molds, mixers – none of this is do-able on our budget.  Not when there are mouths to feed and bills to pay and medicines to buy and old things to replace when they fall apart.  Damn you, hope!

But then, the words of Joe Pug come back to me.  ” I say the more I buy the more I’m bought; And the more I’m bought the less I cost.”

It’s hard, in our society, to divest ourselves of the notion that we really have to have all that stuff we want.  Not that there’s anything wrong with having a nice house, a lovely yard, a fancy car (even a clean one!).  What’s “wrong” is expecting to have more than your means, and believing that you deserve what you expect.  With equating what you have with what you’re worth.  To getting caught up in the chase after perfection and losing track of value.  To not realizing that the “all” in “all or nothing” doesn’t pertain to stuff, but pertains to accomplishing that which you set out to do.  To accept that embracing reality does not mean you embrace mediocrity.  To seeing the perfection in the detail.

I may not be able to afford flats of flowers and hanging baskets for every hook on my porch, but I should be able to spring for a few containers of impatiens – enough so that they can accent the porch railing; the hostas are beautiful without embellishment, and they may have even gotten to the point where I can divide and spread them further along the base of the house. Perhaps there will be no vegetable garden again this year, but I can wash off some old containers and try making a go at the spice garden that didn’t do so well last year, now that I have more knowledge with what I did wrong.  I may not be able to replace the lilacs, but I bet I can swing one clematis starter that with care and patience will bring that empty trellis back to its former glory, maybe not so much this year but in the years to come – and how lovely that would be!

And once the snows melt forever (or at least this season’s forever!) I can take the Mighty Belle out for a second romp of the day, this time not at the dog park but down the street where I live, armed with a leftover plastic bag, to greet whatever neighbors happen to be out and about and to pick up the trash that has accumulated along the sidewalks and curbs of our urban block.  It won’t matter whether the trash got blown in from the alley or the store fronts the next street over, or tossed from uncaring motorists, dropped by reckless pedestrians or scattered by scavenging squirrels.  Because after all, there is nothing that says “I take pride in where I live” than keeping our neighborhoods clean and cared for, and nothing that gives more satisfaction that gaining friends and acquaintances.  And you know what?  These efforts will cost nothing, yet they will add so very much to the richness of my life.

But I’ll promise you one more thing – I’ll never wear my iPod when I go out into my world, even if it is just for a jaunt around the block.  Shutting everything out is fine for washing dishes, but not for greeting neighbors.  I think Joe Pug would approve.

~ Sharon Browning

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