It’s the End of Getting Ready

by Willem Lange

EAST MONTPELIER – The end of October has always seemed to me the end of everything before that and the start of our annual winter’s sleep. During my contracting days, it was time to start covering piles of lumber with tarps or risk having to pry them apart in the morning. The cloudiest month of the year is upon us – what Frost calls “bare November days before the coming of the snow” – and it sometimes requires some conscious effort to keep the gloom from affecting us.

Halloween is a time for having your winter’s wood under cover and your snow tires on the car. The summer car – gas tank full-to-brimming to prevent condensation, tires pumped up to sixty pounds to prevent flat spots, rodent deterrents scattered throughout, battery disconnected, and radio antenna stowed in the trunk – will be under cover within the week, unless a spell of Indian summer should grant us a little respite from the cold. The furnace oil came on Halloween, after which I didn’t need any more scares; the wood boiler is going to be getting a workout this winter. Also on this holiday, I remember, none too fondly, my bachelor life, which ended on this day 63 years ago.

In short, it’s pretty much the end of getting ready and the beginning of turning toward the time of year we’ve been getting ready for. The good news for us older folks who aren’t going anywhere is that winters nowadays can’t hold a candle to those we (accurately) remember. Still, the image of New England in November is one of being buttoned up, zipped up, and battened down against whatever the next four or five months have in store for us. I’ve got a shovel and broom on the porch by the back door; I’ve swapped the full-length screens in the outside doors for storm sash; I’ve got a sharp-pointed hiking pole at each end of the hundred feet between the house and the barn; and my stud-sole boots and ice creepers are ready just inside the back door. The emergency generator is full of gas. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, to judge from what passes for news these days, lots can, and probably will, go wrong. The climax of another election cycle is upon us, and it’s hard to find anywhere a source of information that’s not predicting, variously, the Apocalypse, the end of civilization as we know it, the creation of a police state, or the rug being pulled from our oldest and neediest citizens. We see videos of armed goons in battle gear “monitoring” polling stations where voters are most likely to be intimidated. We’re warned that our Social Security benefits (about to go up a good bit – yippee!) will be ending; that the cost of insulin will rebound to its former levels; that a federal ban on abortion will be enacted. We hear that the current campaign is the most expensive mid-term contest ever, and can’t help but wonder how the results possibly could be worth all the millions spent to achieve them. Obviously, however, they are.

All the fear-mongering, name-calling, and conspiracy theories, more common now than, possibly, 1824 and 1860, seem especially stupid in a country bisected by the “mighty” Mississippi, whose channel is currently insufficiently deep for navigation; in a developed nation where one town will soon be transporting water to homes whose faucets have run dry; in a land irrigated by the once-robust Colorado, which no longer reaches the sea. In schools and shopping centers and theaters where we can no longer feel safe from delusive madmen carrying weapons designed primarily to kill human beings. Even in homes no longer safe from creatures from the black lagoon of the Internet armed with (in this most recent case) hammers, anger, and ignorance. We seem far more certain what we’re against than what we’re for. Our thirst for dominance and control affirms Henry Kissinger’s famous description of power as “the ultimate aphrodisiac.” And while we bicker over trivialities in an effort to gain votes, somebody’s out in the garage stealing our car.

Neither you nor I know how the approaching election will come out. Nor do we know if the losers will be sore losers. We’ve had a spate of that, and it’s turned out to be dangerous to not only our republic, but to our health. Remember the Stones singing, “You can’t always get what you want”? It should be the theme song of representative government.

Meanwhile, here at the center of the civilized world, we get our wood in and, depending on our situations in life, gather a pile of books in an easy chair by the wood stove, or wax our skis and pray for the warming to be less pronounced this year. There’s an immutable aura, a permanence, suggested by a woodpile near the door of a house with smoke in the chimney, a light in the window, and people inside who voted weeks ago. They will meet the results of the raging battle elsewhere in the country with the ironic humor and caution born of centuries of ingrained habits in a never-ending battle with unpredictable Nature.