Oniontown Pastoral: Mud Season
In most places spring begins in March, but in this ornery part of the country April finds us still bogged down in limbo. When crocuses are out in Cambridge, we may still have a blizzard. Extreme weather brings a certain exhilaration with it; what is harder to bear is the long wait in a soggy gray world (May Sarton, Plant Dreaming Deep).
After church yesterday, as Kathy and I drove from Oniontown to Erie, we passed through a few minutes of snow, some if it coming down with a wintry attitude. This morning two cowbirds, one pigeon and a mourning dove are bobbing and pecking beneath the feeders and sipping from the birdbath. My thermometer reads 39 degrees and the Coleman’s backyard is soggy, neither of which discourages the flying menagerie out my windows. Mottled robin “Whitey” has stopped for mealworms. The usual grackles, sparrows, red-winged black birds and starlings come and go. Just now a cardinal and blue jay favored writing hut mate Sherlock Holmes and me with a splash of color. Although I’m content with overcast skies, I never turn away heaven-sent red and blue.
My foxhound pal’s health is chronically iffy, and his poor eyes are pink, crusty, goopy and droopy. He rests on the couch, pitiful but stoic as animals are when under the weather. Allergies are the culprit, we believe, but who knows?
Mud season—a.k.a. spring—in northwestern Pennsylvania is nothing compared to that of New Hampshire, where May Sarton lived in the village of Nelson in the 1960s. Neither is it an annual scourge, despite all of our kvetching about the erratic change of seasons here in 2023. But this April has been distinctive in this pastor’s imagination, if nowhere else. Sun has broken through here and there, even for a full day, but sodden earth and chill have been the victors.
The family’s technologically savvy mini-van has warned us constantly of potentially icy conditions, which means it’s 39 degrees or below. Meanwhile, my old man black sneakers with elastic at the instep keep getting wet at the toes when I fill the feeders. This is because my hut occupies a low spot at the corner of our property. Schlepping seed cakes and cups full of black sunflower seeds, cracked corn and millet to the birds’ buffet, I hear the lawn squish beneath my feet and grumble that my wallet gets lighter step by step. Still, call these weeks “mud season” or whatever you wish, I wouldn’t trade our Great Lakes climate for any other.
I’m lucky. The Weather Channel can prophesy as it pleases; this husband, father, grandfather and reverend, who looks out upon an enchanted yard, is comforted by much love and warmth and enjoys the company of a dog so satisfied that he sighs in his sleep.
I must also be candid, though. There are stretches of days when damp and gray describe my soul as well as landscape. “This too shall pass,” Persian wisdom reminds me, but you know what? The house has been messy of late. Our kitchen sheds dishes, silverware, pans, and Tupperware just as Sherlock sheds his seasonal tumbleweed into every hardwood crevice.
Consider with me the equation, then. What is the indoor equivalent of mud? Plates and pet hair, right? Oh yes, and the cat’s litter box. How can an elderly, willowy feline be so prolific, if you get my meaning? Thank the Lord Kathy handles the laundry. As a part-time pastor and writer, I’m glad to put shoulder to chores. I must make myself useful as something more than my darling’s arm-candy. But gosh, I pause occasionally and wonder how three adults—son Micah is still at home—a lanky dog and a neurotic cat can create such a storm of household debris without end.
Permit one more slice of candor, please. Mud can be blissful for children who stomp in it and shape it into pies, but for grownups it connotes laundry detergent and melancholy. This spring has weighed down hearts more than usual. One friend was expecting a grand-daughter soon. He did get to hold her, but not for long. “She was beautiful,” he told me, “and she always will be.” One sweet boy I would give my life for has begun a dance with panic disorder way too young. As always, the newspapers report what seem like dirty bar fights the world over. There’s more, but you get the idea.
And that’s the way it is. If every Oniontown Pastoral ends like a romantic comedy, then this correspondent is being deceitful. Sometimes—in mud season, for example—you must accept the “soggy gray world,” just as it is. Even so, I take it as a promise of longstanding that clouds lift eventually, and lawns and pastures will glow again in sunlight.
like “dirty bar fights”–this describes the daily news, here and everywhere, perfectly. that’s what they are. those of us who have “enjoyed” being news junkies aren’t having any fun at all–it’s simply too depressing, all of it, the news cycle works its way into individual psyches now in ways i don’t remember its ever having done in my lifetime thus far. just reading these accurate words for it helps. .
You know, in the year leading up to the 2016 presidential election and throughout the Trump presidency I felt duty-bound to follow the news closely and read editorials–to witness our national travail. Now, as you say, “it’s simply too depressing,” and for no good purpose. My knowing the daily details of cruelty and stupidity won’t change a thing. I feel more sure than ever that the American experiment is essentially over. We’ll keep lurching along, but our inability to find common ground (i.e. agree as to facts) will continue to paralyze government. I continue to hope I’m wrong, but have shifted into grieving mode. P.S. Trump will pick Tucker Carlson or MTG as his running mate. What say ye?