What’s real: quiet woods, world’s turmoil?

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange, working in his yard, often wonders which is real — the quiet of the woods of Etna or the excitement and turmoil of the world beyond.

(LANGE) A late November day, but clear, with a light breeze, and warm on the sunny side of the house. The whole day is a golden apple stolen from the gods, and I’m making the best of it. Because, if I remember my high school Greek myths aright, nobody who gets gold from the gods, whether as a gift or as booty, ends up happily. I know we’re going to pay for this down the road.

Winter, like death, is inevitable and unavoidable, is able to come at any time, and invariably finds us unprepared. This year there were garden hoses still to be drained and put away; a small pile of firewood to bring up the hill; outside work on the house. For a while it looked as though it had caught me this time for sure. I was not looking forward to the surprise of seeing bits of garden hose flying from the exhaust chute of the snow blower.

If I stop for a few moments, I can hear sounds of other activity. There’s a hearty banging from the south, on the far side of the swamp; that’s Bob. Behind me, beyond the hemlocks, more hammering; Rick’s doing something over there. Off to the west, a more tentative tapping; Eric’s doing a little outside finish work. And up beyond Eric’s place, somebody running a chain saw. Everybody’s turned out to make the best of this last chance.

Somewhere out of our hearing, young people are playing soccer and football and running cross-country as if their lives depended upon it. Down in Washington, older people are running, too: running a war. Nailing up a clapboard, I wish they could spend some time actually building things. They might be less inclined to tear things apart. Carpenters, you know, never slam doors.

The excitement of the rest of the country doesn’t reach up here into the swamp. Our song birds have deserted us, and the geese and ducks have pretty much gone by. Mother startled a heron the other day in the little pool right in the dooryard. Its wingspread was bigger than hers.

The newspaper begins with international affairs — speeches, bombings, genocide trials, earthquakes — and proceeds through national and local news, movie reviews, travel features, classified ads. We’ve become so habituated to these juxtapositions they hardly seem bizarre anymore. It’s hard to tell what’s real, when to pay attention. It’s impossible to know how to feel when events so beyond our control occur all around us.

History will record what happens this weekend: what natural or unnatural acts of violence occurred; who won football games. Nobody will ever record the events here in our yard: an old guy clapboarding in the sun, his wife putting her garden to bed.

It’s so peaceful here, in spite of the hammering coming from every quarter of the woods, it almost seems a Shangri-la. It’s probably how the world started out, and probably as it ought to be.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work!

(HOST) Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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