Solstice rumblings

December 21, 1997|By Peter A. Jay

HAVRE DE GRACE -- ''I have finished another year,'' said God, as reported in a published interview with Thomas Hardy, ''In grey, green, white, and brown . . .''

Well, He has almost finished it, anyway. The end's in sight. When the sun goes down this evening, it will have slipped southward on the western horizon almost to Bel Air. That's where it bottoms out, at least from this perspective. Then, in a few more days, it'll begin scrabbling its arc northward again until, six months later, it'll be setting in the direction of Pylesville.

The sun is down

''I have strewn the leaf upon the sod, Sealed up the worm within the clod, And let the last sun down.''

So the Great Groundskeeper described for his interviewer another round of his eternal and evidently rather tedious duties.

I guess I know how he feels. Busy people doing the same demanding job over and over again sometimes suffer burnout pains when there's a break in the work, and busy celestial beings probably do, too, especially after putting together another eventful year.

On a farm, and I guess other places, there's great satisfaction in getting ready for winter. The hay's in, the cows are grazing the stubble where the corn used to be, there's antifreeze in the tractors and mulch on the asparagus. This year's foals have been weaned and last year's have been broken. The leaves are raked and the gutters clean. A great comfortable sigh of relief at the season of the winter solstice is not inappropriate.

But if a farmer peers too far ahead, doubts may arise, and even depression. The work stretches off into the future's haze, season after season, year after year. Why do it at all? If we didn't have the cows, we realize, we wouldn't need the hay, and then in the summer when it's hot, we could be at the beach sipping daiquiris instead of on the tractor or in the hayloft.

Especially when the days are short and the nights long and cold, it's tempting to consider just crawling under the bed, or going to Bimini. It's even more tempting when others ask why you keep on doing this stuff, anyway. Even Creators apparently find that grating. Hardy, the sophisticated interviewer, baited his subject a little, probing for signs of what the shrinks call seasonal psychosis, and hit pay dirt.

''And what's the good of it?'' I said, ''What reasons made you call From formless void this earth we tread, When nine-and-ninety can be read Why nought should be at all?''

The Groundskeeper was irritated, but he wasn't going to be drawn into one of those endless human discussions about Reasons -- or Values, or Feelings, or the Politics of Meaning. He was a little astounded at the way some of the odd beings he had rather casually invented to populate his new Ecosystem persist in demanding explanations.

''My labours -- logicless -- You may explain, not I: Sense-sealed I have wrought, without a guess That I evolved a Consciousness To ask for reasons why. Strange that ephemeral creatures who By my own ordering are, Should see the shortness of my view, Use ethic tests I never knew, Or made provision for!''

He was almost as testy in his response to Hardy as state Sen. Larry Young is to the nosy reporters who want to know who paid for that nice car he drives.

It's really none of your business, He implied, why I do what I do. If you enjoy what I produce, that's fine. Just don't bother me about it.

Hardy took this advice to heart. ''Let me enjoy the earth no less,'' he resolved on another occasion, ''Because the all-enacting Might/ That fashioned forth its loveliness/Had other aims than my delight.''

In a time of enormous human self-absorption, that's a difficult concept to grasp. You mean all this good stuff which surrounds us at every magical season of the year wasn't custom-designed to meet our special needs? Come on!

The Groundskeeper paid no further attention to his interviewer.

He sank to raptness as of yore,

And opening New Year's Day

Wove it by rote as theretofore,

And went on working evermore

In his [sic] unweeting way.

He probably didn't even take the time to check his press clippings to see what Hardy had written about him.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

Pub Date: 12/21/97

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