Ghosts of America’s Past: Part 2

In his book Water Bears No Scars, David Reynolds writes:

Anyone who has spent years working in a garden or in the fields knows impermanence intimately. We see the cycle of seasons, the coming and going of insects, droughts, freezes, rot, the seeds that sprout or die, the life cycles of plants, the bountiful harvests and the lean. It is all change. There’s nothing that can be counted on with certainty to be exactly as it was last year.

Living in a rural area, I know the kind of change Reynolds speaks of—it is simply more palpable here than in the city. In January, I begin to notice the more direct rays of the sun; by August, the first hints of fall are seen in the forest. Unencumbered by city lights, the cycles of the moon are visible out my window. On the nights of a full moon, so bright is the light that you can almost take a hike safely in the forest. There is no escaping the fact that we control very little in life; in the city, there are in-training many “masters of the universe” who think otherwise.

It was in the summer of 2003 that we took our first hike to Bridal Veil Falls in the White Mountains of New Hampshire:

The forest was at the peak of its vibrancy, but already the days were getting shorter.

The forest was at the peak of its vibrancy, but already the days were getting shorter.

A week ago we returned for a snowshoe hike to the Falls. My children are now almost six years older—so many memories have come with those years—and although the forest has gone through seasonal cycles, in geological time, less than a second has passed.

Bridal Veil Falls in mid-winter.

Bridal Veil Falls in mid-winter.

It is too difficult in winter to approach Coppermine Brook and find the plaque that actress Bette Davis had placed on a rock in memory of her second husband. The story behind the plaque is that she deliberately got lost on the trail so that a local man, Arthur Farnsworth, would be sent to find her—already she was smitten by him. I remember it was a fun treasure hunt to find the plaque that summer:

“A Grateful One” is Bette Davis; “The Keeper of Stray Ladies” is her second husband; Peckett’s was a local resort.

“A Grateful One” is Bette Davis; “The Keeper of Stray Ladies” is her second husband; Peckett’s was a local resort.

Davis loved the local life in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire, and felt comfortable in a community without the pretense of Hollywood. The happiness that she found seemingly ended abruptly as Arthur died three-years after they were married.

All of us have known loss, some more than others. But most Americans alive today have known decades of uninterrupted, increasing prosperity. The normal cycles of economic life have been unknown to us; like a society that has somehow lengthened summer beyond its normal time, we have forgotten that winter is a normal part of life.

For decades it was as though giant grow-lights were placed on America’s gardens. Many thought that winter had been abolished by omniscient policy makers. Yet, the signs of change, the signs of rot, were there to see amidst the artificial boom.  Among those who were blind then, are those who still cannot see today. They think the answer is to get stronger bulbs on the grow-lights; as they do just that, they burn the incipient seeds of spring.

Part 1 of this series

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