Work We Must Do
Southerners are known to scoff at the calendar page of June. With long-held authority it trumpets the twenty-first of this month as the beginning of summer, but of course we know better. Already the heat lies heavy on the magnolia blooms; they burst open under its weight in a storm of lemon fragrance and a scattering of sticky stamens that shower the the newly mown ground. Already the fan whirls. Already the girls are wearing white. For any Southerner worth her salt knows full well that, here, summer arrives with Memorial Day, no matter what the calendar may say. Memorial Day was this past Monday. This, therefore, is summer.
Though it has certain pleasures to be sure, summer is not the favourite season of anyone residing at The House of Edward. None of us, be they fair-skinned or furry, finds particular joy in humidity, or mosquitos, or heat. But one of us in particular is especially disapproving of this season now upon us for it brings forth that most despicable creature known to dog, the heinous chipmunk. Edward has always been too dignified to overly concern himself with these insignificant trifles of den and burrow. He barely raises an eye when they chance to dart across the garden. But Apple. Oh, Apple hates chipmunks.
We were setting the table for breakfast when we noticed Apple wasn’t inside. A quick glance out the window revealed her to be in her usual summer morning post, sitting on the stones of the courtyard staring into the cool shade of the back garden. She will sit like this, still as stone, for hours - waiting, waiting, for that one errant chipmunk who would dare cross her path. This morning, however, The Songwriter followed the line of her rapier-straight stare - out past the bird feeder, on under the poplar tree- till he saw…. a large… a formidable… raccoon. He grabbed a yellow dustmop from the mudroom and headed outside at a clip.
Unaware of the danger she was actually in, Apple stared at the long-clawed raccoon with complete and utter focus. She didn’t hear when The Songwriter called her. She didn’t notice him heading her way. Dog and raccoon were locked in a confrontational stance and any sudden move would make Apple bolt towards a fight she was in no way prepared for. Then The Songwriter placed the yellow mop in front of her face and, pop!, her attention snapped. Just for a second, but long enough for him to hoist her up and lug her inside. Disaster averted.
Like Apple, it is, I think, difficult for some of us these days to recognize, or perhaps admit, the danger we just might be in. There seem to be threatening creatures on every newspaper page, every television channel. Each day brings something new to set our souls reeling. It’s hard, almost impossible, to look away. And should we? As Margaret Atwood wrote in her horrifying book, The Handmaid’s Tale, “Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance. You have to work at it.” But is it work we should, on occasion, endeavour to do?
Even in the face of escalating and frequently overwhelming concern about the state of things in my country, I have found there is a necessity to periodically look away, if only to gain the strength required to adequately, in my own small way, address these concerns with any sense or decorum. It does not denote irresponsibility, rather it is essential for the nourishment of a healthy equilibrium. I recently journeyed to London to lose myself in gardens, museums and the occasional custard tart. It was as therapeutic as it was fun. We took Edward and Apple to the mountains for a long walk in green shade. I listened to the soundtrack of The Sound of Music the other day. I read Beverley Nichols. Tomorrow night, The Songwriter and I are going dancing.
None of the activities I’ve just mentioned are mere distractions. Instead, I believe they function like that bright yellow dust mop waved in front of Apple to break her focus, a focus that could have only done her harm. We need to turn away and lock eyes with Beauty as much as possible these days, for Beauty heals as much as It enlightens. It is an oasis in this desert, one that stays with you even when you must trudge back out in the heat and sand to once again write your representative in Congress. It is work we must do.