At some point in my schooling - I forget exactly when - I had to memorize Pippa Passes, by Robert Browning. Or more precisely, I had to memorize the most famous section of the poem. The chances are, you did too.
"The year's in the spring, The day's at the morn, Morning's at seven, The hillside's dew-pearled. The lark's on the wing, The snail's on the thorn, God's in His heaven, All's right with the world!"
Today, with apologies to Robert Browning, I present Pax Passes - Pax, of course, being the name bestowed upon our latest winter storm by the great minds at the Weather Channel.
My dogwood is icy,
My Edgeworthia's frost-bit.
My hollies are twerking,
The acuba leaf's curled.
My banana shrub's dicey,
The pine trees have split.
The power's still working -
All's right with the world!
Today, as the South gets ready for Winter Storm Leon and the Raleigh area cancellations start rolling in (prediction for my area: 2 to 4 inches), I ask: When did they start naming winter storms, and what on earth for? Are they trying to scare us? Do they want to cause a run on milk in the supermarket?
Sure, we are wimpy about snow in the South. We cancel school for a week when we get two inches. But denizens of colder climates have nothing to snicker about. I know all about Winter Storm Janus.
Ron and I were in New York last week when Janus, which dropped about 12 inches of snow, breezed through, and I can assure you that we saw plenty of Southern-style panic. Yes, a foot of snow is a lot, but come on. It's not the End of Days. From what I observed, though, many people - even tough Northerners - now think it is.
Maybe my memory is deceiving me, but I could swear we were all tougher before snowstorms had names and blizzards were dumbed down. I blame a spate of mild winters, decades of slip-and-fall lawsuits, and lives increasingly lived in technology Never Never Land for our new-found wimpiness. A few measly snowflakes, and officials warn us to hunker down and not venture out unless we absolutely have to. Airlines cancel every flight from here to eternity, and the federal government tells all non-essential workers to stay home. If they wrote PANIC in skywriting, they couldn't be more clear. No wonder people are freaking out.
I say all this not as tough ex-New Yorker who is afraid of nothing. On the contrary, I am the biggest chicken there is. I am unabashedly pro caution, especially when it comes to personal safety. I don't like driving at night. I don't like driving in rain or snow. I don't like flying in any weather. But it's gotten so that I just roll my eyes when I hear dire weather forecasts, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.
Unfortunately, one of these days the forecast is bound to be right. And when it is, all of us cynics, having rolled our eyes one time too many, will be in deep trouble: no milk, no snow shovel, and not a bag of sand in sight.
Unusual weather we're having, ain't it?
In North Carolina, spring has been unusually late in arriving, as winter temperatures stuck around a lot longer than usual. March was unusually cold. Last winter, though, was unusually warm. And last summer was unusually hot.
Today I was planning to write about daffodils. Then the Northeast shut down in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy, and suddenly the topic seemed a little frivolous. I'm lucky - the monster storm will skip Central North Carolina. That's why I have the luxury of thinking about my garden instead of power outages or flooding.
Self-absorption in the face of Other People's Problems is not new. W.H. Auden's best known poem, Musee des Beaux Arts, is about just this phenomenon:
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.
Or while someone is thinking about planting daffodils.
I'll skip ruminating on daffodils for now. Instead, I'll comment on another particularly human phenomenon evoked by Hurricane Sandy: overconfidence in the face of Nature - the idea that, in a battle between Man and Nature, Man will win. The feeling is understandable enough. We have vaccines. We have air conditioning. We have decaffeinated coffee. Really, when you think about all the ways in which we have tricked Nature and gotten around her (think plastic surgery and Prozac), is it any wonder we feel invincible?
Which brings me to gardening. Gardening is about many things - the love of beauty, the thrill of creation, the joy of accomplishment - but at its core, it is about control. It's about subjecting nature to your personal vision - not that there's anything wrong with that. We prune. We stake. We fertilize. We plant agaves in North Carolina clay. Gardening is about trying to influence nature, albeit in a benign way.
I have a neighbor who never waters her plants. She is not much of a gardener, but she enjoys having flowers around her. She buys what she likes, and then, she tells me, she "gives them to God." Obviously she and I have different philosophies - I like to garden, so I put up a fight - but fundamentally, she is on to something. When it comes to Nature, we might win a battle or two, but we'll never win the war, so a little humility is in order. Today, Hurricane Sandy shut down the New York Stock Exchange. I rest my case.
The Galloping Horse Gardener is a native New Yorker who packed it in in 2005 to live under the radar in Cary, North Carolina. In 2014, she removed to a new secure location somewhere in Raleigh.
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