Happy New Years! By the time you read this it will be another year. 2011 will be gone, a new thing in its place. We’re just collecting holidays these celebratory days, aren’t we? One holiday greeting after another—but now there won’t be another ‘till Groundhog’s Day.
Chris and I decided to spend the night at home, doing what we normally do on a Saturday, which is listening to Prairie Home Companion and eating Chinese and then puttering around the house afterward, listening to music and dancing. The main differences are that I’ve got a bottle of ginger ale for toasting at midnight, and that today, for the first time, the Chinese was not take-out. I made chicken and cashews, which is Chris’ favorite, from a recipe I made up as I went along and he LIKED it! I am so pleased with myself. Boiled [organic, free-range, I had the store owner call and question the grower] chicken, soaked with cashews in chicken broth, garlic, honey, soy sauce, and ginger, then pan-fried with onion, carrots, and broccoli. Aren’t I clever? I mean, as long as I’m showing off, I might as well be honest about it.
But it put Chris in a good mood and he put on his Kenny Loggins DVD while I cleaned up the kitchen. I’m not a huge fan of Kenny Loggins (I just had to ask Chris to remind me of the name) but I know this DVD and some of its songs—principally, “Convictions of the Heart,” which is the unofficial anthem of the Park Service. I’ve seen a video of it involving rows of rangers clapping in time. It is stirring, a cheering, rousing song;
"One with the Earth, with the Sky
One with everything in life
I Believe it will start
With conviction of the heart."
I like the song…but somehow it arouses the cynic in me. I find myself questioning the singer’s sincerity, his dedication, wondering how much he’s really doing for the planet he’s supposedly one with. It’s too easy, I guess, to be roused by music, to feel dedication or conviction without actually doing anything about it. The song makes me fear that easiness, fear a nation of avidly green consumerist polluters, makes me fear complacency. But I understand a certain cynicism is typical of my generation, that a lot of us confused suspicion for sophistication early on. We are the “ones who won’t be taken,” to quote a completely different song. I don’t know if the issue is really generational or not, but my reluctance to accept Mr. Loggins’ encouragement may be hard-hearted of me.
And generational or not, Chris has no such cynicism. The song makes him cry every time. My Chris can do and say things that would seem cheesy in anyone else, but in him the sweetness is completely genuine. He doesn’t protect himself with suspicion. It is a kind of generosity, a deliberate innocence, a giving of himself to the world. It makes him a husband to be grateful for, and it has made him an excellent park ranger—he’s been a ranger for over thirty years.
The ranger part ends tomorrow as he retires. Thirty years of teaching and explaining and giving tourists directions ends tomorrow, New Year's Day, with a walk on the shore of the ocean. I can’t imagine what that’s like. Maybe it’s because I’m younger, maybe it’s because I’ve had to struggle so long to find something I can even hope to do well professionally, but I can’t imagine feeling done with a career. A new adventure will start, as Chris says, but I can’t help wondering if the past is weighing on his mind tonight, if he’s thinking particularly of the things this song has meant to him.
But it’s not like I don’t cry to music. It’s not like I never allow myself to be moved by a song. I’m not that hard-hearted. Indigo Girls’ “Hammer and a Nail,” for example;
“Gotta get out of bed, get a hammer and a nail
Learn how to use my hands,
Not just my head, I’ll think myself into jail
Now I know a refuge never grows
From a chin in a hand and thoughtful pose,
Gotta tend the Earth if you want a rose.”
That’s why I went to Antioch, to learn how to use my hands, to learn to be useful. The song would be the unofficial anthem of the Environmental Science department, if I could make it so. Or, “Back to Pooh Corner,” another song on the Kenny Loggins DVD;
“Christopher Robin and I walked along
Under branches lit up by the moon
Posing our questions to Owl and Eeyore
As our days disappeared all too soon
But I've wandered much further today than I should
And I can't seem to find my way back to the Wood
So help me if you can
I've got to get back
To the House at Pooh Corner by one
You'd be surprised
There's so much to be done
Count all the bees in the hive
Chase all the clouds from the sky
Back to the days of Christopher Robin and Pooh”
That song…is fully capable of making me sob. It did tonight. Growing up…somehow carries such loss. I don’t know why—I’m certainly happier as an adult than I was as a child. And as Kenny Loggins himself relates, if Pooh Corner is a place, it’s a place adults also have passport to; he got back to there by becoming a parent. And it doesn’t escape my notice that most of the things he says he has to do at Pooh Corner sound like field trips for some really cool graduate-level science course—walking under moonlit trees, consulting owls, counting bees, attending to clouds. There are ways to find Pooh Corner as an adult.
Once, I told you that I am like Tigger, wondering what tiggers have for breakfast. All the other animals in the Forest know what their type of animal eats, even though all of them seem to be unique. They all know who and what they are and what that means. Only Tigger does not know what being what he is means. Like him, I know who and what I am, but not what that means. I don’t naturally know what I’m doing here, how to be useful, how to get my hands on a hammer and a nail. I was very sad that day, and you knew it. I think you felt a bit helpless in the face of my sadness, but you said the right thing. You said that perhaps we should all abandon other forms of comfort, other forms of making sense of things, and just go live in the Hundred Acre Wood.
The Pooh stories were also the occasion of the only time I have seen my father cry. He was reading the last Pooh Story in the second book, the story where Christopher Robin, beginning to grow up, says goodbye to all of his toy animals. And when the animals have all said their goodbyes and left, all of them except Pooh, Boy and Bear go up to Galleon’s Lap, that magical part of the forest where no one can ever count exactly how many trees there are, not even if you tie a string around each trunk as you go around. What a wonderful place for a couple of ecology geeks, yes? A forest where counting gets you so far—and then finally fails at last, so that you can count again and again and so learn the limits of counting, walking the topography of that shore where laps the ocean of Being that cannot be counted.
And as he read that most familiar story to me and my sister—I think we were thirteen and nine, and the past must have been weighing very heavy on our father’s mind—his voice broke and my Dad began to cry.
“It’s so sad,” he managed to say, but he offered no other explanation. He never finished the story, and he has never gone back to Pooh with us. But I remember the words; I’d heard the words of those stories from him too many times to ever forget the last line my Dad couldn’t say;
“there, a Boy and his Bear will always be playing.”
-Happy New Year,