Breathe In and Out

October 20, 2008 by Ellen Stimson in Vermont. New England, Worries

There is panic in the air these days. I cannot comprehend how trillions of dollars appear and disappear in days, even hours, nothing tangible yet affecting so many people in so many ways. I don’t recall how we chose to live in quite this way. We have a global financial crisis that has rocked the world and gotten every one’s attention focused in a meaningful way on the upcoming election and their own home economics. The silly stuff about how many houses one guy has or who sat in what congregation has finally become irrelevant and folks are actually paying attention to the things that matter. How are we going to pay our bills? Where will the next jobs come from? And what do we do about this wretched war? The early retirees are scared to death. Although with so much accumulated wealth in this country folks have been opting out earlier and earlier. What happened was that the brightest and best entrepreneurial minds left the game and now maybe they will have to get back in. That can’t be all bad. At kid’s soccer games people are talking about the Dow and trying to figure out what it all means. The commentators are waiting for somebody to explain it to them too, and so we are all getting the picture that no one really understands any of it. So everybody defaults to form. The optimists in the crowd say it will come back, the plans are in place and the money just has to wend its way back into the system so that credit gets freed up once more. And the pessimists say this will be minimally a four quarter problem and then we an call it a depression instead of all this recession nonsense. Then the Dow climbs 1000 points in one day and those guys get quiet until it drops 700 again the next day. The only sure thing seems to be that anyone who tells you they know what is going to happen next is lying.

But there is something else in the air up here in Vermont besides worry and panic. It’s the geese. The temperatures are dipping into the thirties now at night and the geese are all headed south for the winter. Every day the pond in covered with hundreds of them as they land and hang out for a day or two before proceeding on their way. This morning as I drank my coffee and let the chickens out to play in the leaves several formations flew over offering what sounded like a salute, maybe a “see you in a few months”, which the chickens did their best to return. So somebody does still know something after all. These birds know that winter is coming and sunshine is calling them to their other home. Their presence in the skies is a reliable reminder that the important things are still working. The sun is coming up, the leaves are falling down, and there is a sense of expectation in the air as the animals scurry around getting ready.

The market is fickle. And if we tune our lives only to it the uncertainty is almost too much to bear. Real life is the reassuring sound of the old boiler chugging back to life for one more year. It is a basement full of wood promising plenty of cheerful fires and movie nights ahead. It is frost on the pumpkins in the mornings and shafts of golden autumn sunlight filling the house in the afternoons.

There are people who are losing their houses this year. Luckily we are not among them. But even they must hang onto the simple truths and free beauty that can carry us through if we can just slow down and pay some quiet attention. There is a line in an old American historical novel that goes, “In america we get up in the morning, we go to work, and we solve our problems” I love those short thoughts. They have often held me in good stead. I think of them as a map. Because mostly they are true. I would add to that list that we must remember to look up and keep our hearts and minds focused out instead of in. I think we are all being challenged to think differently about life and be less wasteful. Can we spend less, conserve more and endeavor to live more simply in a more elemental way like all the other animals?

Keep your eyes on those geese. They keep it simple and they always know which way to go…..


  • drew

    ah the tao of the geese…lovely e…lovely

  • jamie

    I think I could probably keep it simpler than I do, but I have a weakness for a good dress! 🙂

    I ate at Shaw’s yesterday. Blackened talapia with mashed sweet potatoes and red beans and rice. Simply amazing. Good choice! 🙂

  • Kate

    My life got exponentially simpler when I got sober and got a lower paying job. It is what it is anymore. The hype can do all it wants.

  • library lady

    I would have been the first one to comment, but I was so depressed, that I started working instead! I think my depression stems from the fact that I’m not really losing anything in the market because I don’t have anything to lose! On the other hand, I do like the geese. I think that the Canada geese around here don’t really all migrate to the south, but they fly around at sunset and make a joyful noise.

  • Mighty Morphin' Mama

    We have been simplifying this year. It is about choice, do we want to spend our lives chasing the ‘Joneses’ or do we want to spend time together and enjoy our family and our surroundings. Your life is just full of the blessings of that choice! I love reading about them.

  • Kellan

    I love that quote, “”In america we get up in the morning, we go to work, and we solve our problems” – it is how my husband and I have always lived our lives!

    Great post, E! Have a good evening – Kellan

  • TheCynicalOptimist

    Great post and timely. I have vowed to quit checking my 401K. I am too young to worry about it anyway! I do feel for my parents who have both been planning retirements in the next 1-3 years. But they have good enough sense to know that a happy, healthy family is still the most important thing- and that we are!!

  • starrlife

    Geese make a lovely sound going by! I don’t think I’ll be retiring early…

  • Abigail Mae Hudson

    I didn’t think this was depressing. I agree that we are being called to something bigger and older. I was a depression baby. I grew up hearing never ever borrow just because you want something that you cannot afford. That has been lost and we have a forty year odd bill coming due.
    I think the calling we are hearing is changing this election. Another near tie would spell disaster and I don’t think we are going there for the first time in many years.
    Maybe I am one of those natural optimists you talk about, but I thought this was a hopeful essay full of promise and poetry.
    You are a wonderful writer. I have been reading here for a while but I type slowly and seldom comment. I love the way you tie everything up in these little vignettes. I often do not know where I am being led but I always enjoy the trip and usually agree with the sometimes unexpected destinations. Thanks for writing

  • laurwilk

    My greatest disappointment in this whole debacle has been all of the pointing fingers. I think rather than looking at everyone else to fix the problem, we should look to ourselves to fix our OWN problems. After all, wanting things we can’t afford is how we got here in the first place.

    I have been shocked to learn how many of my parents friends don’t own nearly anything in their life. And yet, they continue to drive fancy cars, purchase large lake homes and have more ‘toys’ in the garage than anyone would ever need.

    Great post! This is the season for simplicity.

  • Nellie

    It isn’t the essay so much that’s depressing as the world. My 401K is down 40% and I borrowed against it last year. Now I owe about as much as it is worth.
    I have no cushion and I would have been retiring in two years. It is hard not to look at it obsessively and it is hard to feel like anything is going right in this country. China will be the next superpower not us. Our moment in history has faded away with this administration.
    I am one of the pessimists I guess. It has been raining for days and I have a cold so maybe that isn’t helping my mood.
    I will look for some damn geese or something to think is beautiful and I will report

  • Natalie

    I’m with you. I think the geese are always incredibly hopeful and beautiful. They are reminders, aren’t they?
    I live in a pattern and they start flying over me in late August. They make one of my favorite sounds. Library Lady is right it is a joyful noise
    Laurawik said it too. “It is a season for simplicity”
    Oh to remember that and keep it real and close

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