I am sitting in front of my MacBook Air wondering what to write. My eye is drawn to a beautiful, nearly perfectly shaped pumpkin a few feet away. Surrounding it is a wreath of maple leaves ranging in color from a deep purple-brown to brilliant yellow with hues of red and tan. It stands there like an altar to Autumn. Outside it is a rather typical fall day in Northern Germany with a low sky and daylight fading much faster than I wish.
My wife and I picked several pumpkins and other squash from a small farm about a kilometer and a half from here. Some are decorating our house and some have been cooked and turned into pumpkin muffins and pumpkin flan. The one I am looking at found a prominent place in our dining room. At some point it will probably make a great soup.
The farm sits beside a main road leading to the center of our village. The pumpkins come from a field past the pick yourself flower patches. Payment for the pumpkins is on the honor system. Measuring sticks are attached to a table to judge the size and cost of your choice and there is a very sturdy locked money container to put your euros into.
In the summer we often stop at the farm to pick flowers. It is on a five kilometer (3 mile) walking route we take that starts at our apartment and goes out into fields of grain, rape seed, potatoes, corn or hay depending on the time of year. Our circuit is like having an agrarian calendar that tells us the season by what crops are being planted or harvested. There is something very satisfying about watching a field go from planting to harvest.
Before the pandemic we would usually go somewhere in Europe once or twice a month on a weekend. While we love living in our little village, it was more a place to travel from and return to. But now, with Covid and new lockdown and travel restrictions, we are hermetically sealed in our Stadt.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, we have been living an accordion life with expansions followed by contractions. First there was the nearly complete shutdown of Europe. The virus subsided, summer came, we could travel, though with some restrictions. Restaurants and bars reopened. Then came the dreaded resurgence of cases in spite of Mr.Trump’s rosy assurances and his denigration of scientists. The accordion which first contracted with a note of alarm, opened up with a whoosh of relief and compressed again in a whimper of fatigue.
This is where we are now. Living a smaller life in terms of freedom of movement and choice of activity. The focus of life has turned the telescope around and we are forced to live life in the confines of whatever we consider our safety bubble. What my wife and I are discovering are more details in the landscape of our daily lives. It is not a new experience but one that has lain dormant since childhood. We find ourselves seeing things in our environment with fresh eyes. We are quick to note the new plantings in the village flower beds, the daily change in the amount of leaves left on the trees outside our windows, how the frost of the past two nights has completely blackened the flower patch where we have cut flowers almost every week. We are a bit like children exploring a new world. Children do not need a whole continent to evoke wonder. Children can find joy and mystery in their backyard or neighborhood playground. We are trying to do the the same. We are discovering more in less.
In my last essay, “The Virus that Ate the Future- part II”, I asked readers to respond to how they are currently managing during this pandemic. I received some very poignant responses. Julie, who lives on a small farm in the hills of West Virginia, said she finds great solace in remembering that regardless of what is happening in “the people world”, the rain still falls and finds it way to the the creeks, rivers and sea. The sun and moon still come up on time and nature perseveres, with or without us. Tricia, who lives in Slovenia, carved multiple pumpkins and lined the railing on her back deck to compensate for the lack of trick-or-treaters.
What I got from these and other responses was that many of us were finding or trying to find more in less. This seems like a good strategy, at least for now. I remember my high school biology teacher saying there was a whole universe in a drop of pond water, which I imagine is true if the microscope you are using is powerful enough to probe the depths of that riparian world.
Paradoxically, as our lives became compressed again by Covid, there was the “big” event of a national election in America that pulled me out of my restrained life. Unless you completely turned your back on it and closed off all media, it was unavoidable. It was probably the reason I didn’t write an essay last week. I just couldn’t get the election out of my brain enough to find the bandwidth to be creative. It swallowed my pond water world for a couple of weeks.
This brings me back to the image of an accordion. Life has perhaps always been a dance between expanded outward life and compressed inward life and the breath coming in and going out that makes the music of life possible. If we live too much in the “big” world we miss the details, the nuances of life. We lose sight of the fundamentals, the things swimming in our personal pond.
If we live exclusively in the “small” world, we can forget that there are important things that transcend our individual importance. This past week I was adjusting to a new Covid lockdown with the rapid shortening of days and a desire to see more in my shrinking world to compensate for what I felt I was losing. It took some time to rebound, to remember that the accordion of life is about expansion and contraction. As George Harrison* wrote,” Life goes on within you and without you”.
The election is over now, more or less. I can return to my micro-life and continue to be awed by what surrounds me. I can find a child’s joy in discovery of the small things that make up the foundation of life: the leaves swirling about, the sprouting winter wheat in the fields, the frosts that start plants on their winter slumber, the amber sun that tilts at a low angle and makes the afternoon glow like a fire in the hearth on a winter night. All these things help me remember that the accordion of life, when the time is right, will expand and I can leave my village with an increased appreciation of my part in the cycle of life within and without me.
*George Harrison, 1943-2001 Within You and Without You, from the album,“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band”, 1967
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I welcome your feedback and emails about your experiences. We are all in this together. The Corona Virus does not discriminate. Love the ones you are with, even those who are hard to love. Life is short even without a pandemic. Be safe. Be well.