'Tis the Season of Activity in Maine
"Most of the world's work," said Winston Churchill, "is done by people who don't feel very well." Which suggests, by logical extension, that much of Maine's work must be getting done right now, in these early weeks of not-quite-winter, when viruses in their trillions swirl like macro-molecular clouds through stuffy offices and classrooms.
The poet T.S. Eliot, Churchill's adoptive compatriot, is said to have preferred writing with a head cold. Diane Ackerman explains: "The rustling of his head, as if full of petticoats, shattered the usual logical links between things and allowed his mind to roam." Jolly good for the old cat-lover; but Maine colds induce a dull implosive ringing, accompanied by dizziness, as though a high explosive has gone off nearby. Had Eliot gotten one of these, "The Waste Land" would have been a haiku:
April is unreal.
I will show you fear in the
brown fog of winter.
All of which, dear reader, is by way of declaring I have the worst Maine cold on record, and therefore this will be the most workmanlike and poetical blog post evah.
Somewhere along our rocky shoreline, I expect, is a 10,000-year-old proto-Indian petroglyph bearing a symbol for November followed by two injunctions: Wear Orange, and Stock Up On Tissues. Neither is wholly effective though in the first instance one may place some hope in human good will. Someday viruses may evolve into willful creatures but I doubt much good will come of it. It seems as likely that humans will devolve into loutish beings capable only of procreation and trouble-making. I'm not thinking only of the election.
There's a fool in the woods here in Lincolnville who likes to shoot off his semiautomatic rifle. He does this all year long, at seemingly random hours, but it seems especially foolish at dawn during hunting season. People take hunting seriously here, as well we ought to, hunters and non-hunters alike. We don't creep around in the woods pretending to be heroic defenders of liberty. That's every bit as unseemly as firing off millions of political mailers attacking decent Mainers under the pretense of defending traditional marriage. The deer have enough problems without this, and so do the Democrats.
Thursday was Veterans Day. It was well-timed in a couple of respects: first as a personal reminder how lucky I am to have access to excellent health care (taxpayer-funded and government-run) at the VA Medical Center at Togus; secondly as an adjunct to the book we're reading in my senior English class at Watershed School: Sebastian Junger's War, a tough and mind-bending account of the combat experience of an Airborne platoon in Afghanistan.
I recommend this book to yellow-ribbon bearers and pacifists alike. It is educational in the highest sense; it informs us, deeply and often uncomfortably, of a part of human experience that few of us will ever know first-hand. It reminds us of the importance of certain things that we'd generally prefer, out of one sort of bias or another, not to think about.
"I really hate this book," one of my students said, "but it's great — I can't stop reading it." Readers of assorted political stripes will probably feel that way.
Veterans Day also coincides with the DVD release of an excellent HBO series called "The Pacific," produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, among others. It follows the WWII Pacific campaign in the same way Band of Brothers followed the war in Europe, through the eyes of a small group of American fighting men. In common with Junger's War, it serves up historic truth without political seasoning. Thus it veers without warning from the affirmative to the horrific — a suitable juxtaposition for Veterans Day, from my point of view.
Meanwhile the various wars-in-progress rage on: in the Middle East, in my immune system, and in the woods around me, where whitetails armed only with evolutionary instinct face a skilled and determined assault from Mainers in orange hunting clothes. Toward all these conflicts I feel like a puzzled observer, conflicted at every level. My brother used to make a spicy, delicious venison stew. The brother of one of my students just shipped out for Afghanistan. The VA Medical Center is an hour away — if I'm sick enough to drive there, is it really safe for me to drive?
No question worth asking has a simple answer, I think. Though maybe that's just the virus talking.