I didn’t get back up into the hills again for several months. The repeated storms of January and February had dumped so much snow over the land that the woodland paths and fields were impassable. By late March, however, the lengthening days had done their slow and steady work. The low-lying trails around the pond were still muddy and the stones of the old farm road still wet with run-off, but if you wore your Wellingtons and didn’t mind a bit of muck, you had no problem getting through.
The grass above the road in the former Lovdal field, however, remained brown and matted, stiff from the weight of the winter drifts. You trudged between these mounds or tripped over them as you walked, lifting your head to cast your eyes over the horizon of trees that was still devoid of color and leaves.
The world had turned over since I last walked this way. Angry crowds in Viking horns and MAGA caps had stormed the United States capital and turned what was supposed to be a peaceful transfer of power deadly. There were mutterings of a fourth corona wave as people got tired of or careless with their masks and hand-washing. Nightly news shows were once again interviewing exhausted emergency room doctors and juxtaposing these interviews with pictures of maskless people crowding beaches and bars.
The hawks, unaware of these events, rode the thermals in the skies above me. The wild birds called to one another across the fields and the bees were starting to emerge from their winter hibernations to see if there was anything worth buzzing over.
Higher up, there were no longer any hand-painted stones on the boulder in the field. No pleas to hang on or to keep on going. There was only a pile of lichen-encrusted rocks someone had built into a makeshift cairn back before the snows fell. It was a bit tumbled now, not as tidy as it had once been, but it was still there, persevering, attempting to show the way.
I met a few other walkers. People, like me, who had seized upon the chilly sunshine of the day to get out of their homes and up into the fresh air. We exchanged muted pleasantries as we passed or overtook one another. Lovely day. Finally. Enjoy the rest of your afternoon.
Walkers are usually quiet folk, quieter than the norm, but there did seem to be something even quieter and calmer about my fellow walkers that day as if after the long winter and only a few months of a more sedate administration, everyone’s blood pressure and anxiety was a little bit lower.
Biden had assumed the office of the presidency surrounded by barricades, National Guardsmen and a relieved-looking gallery of former presidents, Democrat and Republican. Not the one who wouldn’t leave, of course, he didn’t come. He had gone to Florida where he was no doubt already busy plotting.
They all knew that on inauguration day, everyone who was there. We know it, too. No one can any longer pretend not to understand. But for the moment, we are in reprieve. Dare I say remission? For the next four years, the volume will be low, the drumbeats muted, the disbelief and disgust pushed aside to make way for a fragile sense of hope. No tweeting. No nastiness. Just a quiet, grandfatherly man saying things that sound remarkably decent and kind.
When I got up to the highest field, the one with a view out over the valley and the hills on the other side, I found the bench where I sat on January 1st and the tree above it whose branches had been weighed down by the dead limb. I could see already from the parting of the old stone walls that the branches of the tree were no longer burdened. The winds I had prayed for must have come, dislodged the dead limb and set the living branch beneath it free.
This offending limb was now lying on the ground near the bench amongst the winter detritus of fallen leaves and broken bark. It lay partly in sun and partly in the lengthening shadows of the trees. There was nothing special about it anymore, nothing noteworthy. Just another piece of dead wood that as the seasons turned would slowly decompose and be absorbed into the soil of the field.
I sat down and looked up. The sky was a brilliant blue, cloudless, and the delicate lacework of branches above me rose and fell gently in the breeze. At the tips of the slenderest branches small catkins waited like tiny springs ready to expand in the spring warmth.
Enjoy the rest of the administration.