March 31, 2020

Shelter from the Storm

• By John F. Chisholm •

Outside, snow blows horizontally.  The spaces between the windows and screens are filling in, even on the second floor.  The accumulating snow stratifies against the glass, crystalline layers that actually warm the house by insulating it.  “32 degrees is an improvement over 9 degrees,” I remind myself.  Never mind.  It doesn’t matter how I rationalize it.  It still looks cold.  I shiver and peer out above the top layer.  Through all that swirling snow, I doubt I can see across Tay Road, never mind making out the outlines of the trees way down across our fields.

It would be easy to mope, to crawl back into bed and worry about the gale from under the covers.   That’s what I feel like doing.  But our animals have to be fed and watered.  The dogs have to be let out.  Woodstoves need stoking.  It would be smart to store some water, too, while we still have electric power.  Sure, we have a handpump outside but it’s easier hauling from the bathtubs.  I dress and rush around.

I bustle about completing everything that might be prudent (not mentioning a lot that likely isn’t).  Finally, all that done, I bundle against the cold and gale and hurry out to the barn.

The snow stings as it hits my face.  These storms aren’t called nor’easters for nothing.  They howl out of that corner.  Tree limbs rattle and shake.  The barn creaks and groans.  Our cows huddle inside, crowding for space behind the north wall.  The barn cat has burrowed down between stacked hay bales.  I see her peering out but don’t call her from her den.

I muck out, feed and water the cows, the chickens and the cat ― although she doesn’t venture out from the hay.

Back in the house, the dogs have to be fed, breakfast cooked, coffee brewed and toast made.

Afterwards I clean the kitchen and do the dishes.  The woodstoves need tending once more.

Later still, there are essays for Garden Maine to complete and correspondence to answer.  That’s before the omnipresent bills are paid and all those envelopes are addressed and stamped.

It’s hours later when I sit back and gaze at our windows again.  I can’t see the storm.  Not any longer.  The windows are completely blocked by snow.  I’m well insulated from the fury outside.  The weather’s still raging though.  I can hear it.

I think about that.

I haven’t been moping under covers.

I’ve been busy.  Absolutely, it’s work that’s saved me.   Again.  It’s not just the specific tasks I’m referring to, either.  It’s the work itself.  How very strange.  I rarely think about it this way while I bustle about.  Perhaps that’s because I don’t have time.  Still, you have to admit that it’s odd.  Because there are other ramifications, too.  It means that all those preparations save me but not necessarily by what they accomplish.  I laugh at that.  But it’s true.  While I’m involved, I’m not worrying about the storm.  I’m focused on its possible consequences and what has to be done, instead.

That makes inescapable another conclusion:

Work is more than what it accomplishes. Or perhaps I should say that it accomplishes more than you set out to do.

Either way.  You chose.

I push back from my desk and smile at the snow.