In Like A Lion

Mar 3, 2017

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills. Well, as the folks in Perry County can tell you, there’s no question that March in the Ozarks came in like the proverbial lion. In ordinary times we would be confident in assuming that It will likewise go out as a lamb. But as nearly everyone can tell you, these are not in any way normal times. And about that, there’s either too very much to say, or nothing at all.

So the next thing to do might be to look to the signs of the seasons, and see what they might tell us. But no luck there, either, because except for a few days of January in February, the rest of February was just April, and what are we to do with that.

I found myself heading to the garden, trowel in hand, just the other day, intent on finding space for a few early spuds. Then I paused to check the weather forecast and discovered that sometime overnight the temp was supposed to go to low 20s. It was 70 at the time. I just sat down in a lawn chair and enjoyed an hour of April before heading back in and attempting to decide between chili and stew for my long winter evening meal.

But thankfully, the windstorm of a few nights ago and a conversation yesterday with my landlord put it all into perspective. While I was out standing in the back yard staring up at the house in the 50-degree wind, I called him to tell him that as usual, we’d lost a few shingles in the windstorm. But when I did, he laughed and said, “Well, I can’t do anything about that right now. I’m in Florida.” 

“Ok”, I said. “So what’s the temperature there?”

“87,” he said. “I just turned on the air.”

“ Oh, well, then,” I said. “Just shut up. I mean, have a good time.” And I hung up on him. He was still laughing.

It all reminded me of a story I read one day long ago in the Los Angeles paper. I was living there at the time,  on a hilltop in an area that was on the dividing line between South Pasadena and Highland Park, at the end of a street whose name was pronounced by some residents it Ruthafam and the other half Ruth-up um. It was a sweet place and I’d never have been able to afford it but it was tied up in a disputed estate when rent control came in, so it was three bedrooms, a sun room, a side porch, two acres of lawn and gardens, and a rich neighbor who kept the grounds tended and insisted I drive his Porsche to keep the battery charged while he was vacationing in Jamaica. I know. California - just like everywhere, right.

Anyway, one day while I sat in another lawn chair watching invisible gophers harvest tufts of grass by pulling them down into their holes, l read this story in the Times that literally changed my life, and changed my perspective on all my life to come. I found peace right there in that space on that day. Really.  And actually it was two stories.

The first involved the eruption of a volcano in Mexico. a volcano with such a totally unpronounceable name that I had to practice it for months before I could tell the story. It was called Popocatepetl. Really. And when it erupted that time it shot not only clouds of steam and ash, but a number of rocks large and small thousands of feet into the air. I’d heard of this volcano originallyyears ago as a child in school. My father was a union electrician who traveled from job to job so I can’t tell you what school in what town or even in what state. I think it was probably somewhere in California, though. The thing was, it wasn’t an ancient volcano. It was in the news that first time because a little plume of steam started spewing out of a little hole in a farmer’s field, and just kept getting bigger and hotter and turned into a volcano. I think the name must have meant something like What the heck is going on here. What is this thing? That’s certainly what I’d have called it. Popocatepetl. Anyway. This long time later I was sitting in my lawn chair contemplating the state of politics because President Richard Nixon had just flashed his victory sign fingers and flew off into disgrace and nobody knew what was going to happen to the country and all that, and here was this story about the volcano erupting.

And this second story that was related to it. In this story, a couple of days after the eruption, a man in Bakersfield went and got a haircut, walked out of the barber shop, turned right to go back to his office, and a rock from that volcano fell out of the sky, hit him in the head and struck him dead. Now is that spectacularly unusual or what. And it was right at that moment that I lost all fear of what might happen to my life, my future, or my country. Because, really, if you can just walk out the door, turn right, and God can go to those lengths to pop you with a rock, then here’s the truth of it. Anything can happen. Anything. At any moment. And it that’s the truth, then what the bejeezus is the point of spending a single second worrying about your fate, or what’s to come or what might happen. We have the answer. Anything, that’s what.

That was more than 40 years ago, and it has been my guiding principle ever since. So when I get all stirred up about something that’s gotten my goat, that’s unpredictable, or unstable or downright wierd, I remember that Anything can happen. Anything. And that’s how it’s supposed to work. And even all these years after I traded the streets of L.A. for these oldest hills, it is that positive faith that guides me, and I’m happy to share it with you. In days like these, In these chilly hours and minutes of uncertainty, when it feels like life on earth is beyond your control, you might as well just put your worries aside, pull up a lawn chair and sit down to watch the show.