Out Divine Corners Way: December 2020

Out Divine Corners Way
by Jonathan Shimkin
December 2020

A small tree at the turn of the drive held the last of our autumn leaves. Its branches were bright red on one side and bare on the other until one night in mid-November when a big wind stripped it completely and we woke to the dun-colored world of late autumn. Leaves and color weren’t the only things missing; we noted the conspicuous absence of the deer that had frequented our lawn through spring and summer. Maybe they’ve withdrawn to winter quarters. Gone was the young, near-domesticated stag who was so unfazed by our comings and goings that he’d cross the porch and peer through the kitchen window, looking for the scraps of apple we’d occasionally toss his way. Good tidings, young stag! I hope you survive hunting season and we meet again next year.

If history were pictured as a garden, we’d be in the Era of Mulch, a time to cover down and do what’s needed to protect what we value. The prospect of crossing the finish line of 2020 with a hint of renewal in sight is moral fuel sufficient to power us to year’s end. This mulching time, this interregnum between the passing of the old and the birth of the new, may present some morbid symptoms indeed, but they’ll pass. It’s taken us a very long time, this year, to arrive at this transition point. 2019’s “Holiday in Hurleyville” feels like ancient history, the stuff of legend: “Come gather around, good people, and hear tell of Seasonal Celebrations back in the olden days…”

So we keep our eyes out for any sign of hopeful prospects. One evening there was a spectacular sunset behind our cottage; the profuse flush of it, breaking through the clouds, drew us out front to watch the light play across the distant hills, gilding their crests while their bulk lay in deepening shadow. The peaks looked ready to detach and float off on their own. Then night fell so quickly it was like a curtain dropped. These types of signs don’t linger, but they’re not withheld.

I’m glad the year is approaching its end. I hope not to see another one like it. Yet it would be out of the nature of nature if so much havoc didn’t open to possibility. Even this year’s forest fires might well lead to the sprouting of those fire-activated seeds (from aptly-named pyrophile plants) that wait for the occasion that allows them to rise like verdant phoenixes.

In 2016 a wildfire broke out at Sam’s Point Preserve, up the Shawangunks. A tract of blackened trees traces the course of it: black stumps on one side of the road, green dwarf pines on the other. The road acted as a firebreak and helped contain it. Now, four years later, there are signs of green among the blackened trunks, new spindly trees whose maturation I won’t live to see, and, astonishingly, green sprouts emerging from the trunks and branches of what appears to be cindered wood. Repair is always a possibility. Approaching the new season, a new year, a new map of our civic landscape, we wait and watch. Approaching Thanksgiving, we plan to “gather together / to ask the Lord’s blessing” in a scaled-down fashion (a meal for two, plus Zooms) and we hope our hymn will make up in urgency what it lacks in sonority.

Jonathan Shimkin, writer and editor, may be contacted at jonathanshimkin@gmail.com or via his website: jonathanshimkin.weebly.com.]