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Luminous Jewel, Blake Walton


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Posted By Luminous Jewel, Blake Walton

Of Potholes and Sugarshacks: Spring in New England

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
--T.S. Elliot, The Wasteland



I don’t know if T.S. Elliot ever visited New England, but he certainly describes April in New England in The Wasteland.  Or December through March, for that matter.  Actually, MARCH is the cruelest month here for me. It is the culmination of New England’s SAD season, whose cold steel-gray days and interminable nights gave rise in me this year to an almost overwhelming urge to run screaming and barefoot into the night until I could collapse unconscious into a snow bank and be out of my misery. Honest to god, ask my old camp friend Kreepy Kris in California who endured my weekly tele-moan sessions and was under strict injunctions to not even mention the warm sunny California weather lest I never speak to her again.  I can’t help it—I was raised in Texas where March is the most glorious month. Ok, maybe the only glorious month in Texas! (See footnote below for a chuckle.)

Enough ranting—on to the self-professed theme of this blog, the Buddhist perspective!  Here in March/April, the very same freeze (night)/thaw (day) cycles that give hideous birth to the bone-jarring New England potholes also give rise (or flow) to some of the sweetest phenomena this side of nirvana— sugar shacks and maple syrup-- a study in contrasts quite worthy of the Buddhist teachings on aversion and desire being the root of all suffering (the third root being ignorance, ‘nuff said!).  We had a bumper crop of both potholes and maple syrup this season, providing plenty of opportunity for reflection/deflection/inspection and introspection (referencing Arlo Guthrie in Alice’s Restaurant) on my daily commute to work.  Mostly I had to SLOW DOWN and CONCENTRATE on the challenge at hand—avoiding the tricky minefield of potholes ranging from annoying to axle-breaking. This is good advice for many life circumstances but one that I quickly found myself trying to circumvent because of impatience (a classic form of avoidance quite common to North Americans). Instead of just accepting the vagaries of pothole season, I found myself trying to bend the reality of “what is” by attempting to avoid the potholes altogether, weaving crazily onto the shoulder and even into the opposite lane, risking head on collisions in my mad avoidance. Of course, every other New Englander was doing the same thing making the roadways positively treacherous, not because of the potholes but because of our collective avoidance techniques. Road rage was rampant, making it risky to employ the only sane driving solution (remember? SLOW DOWN and CONCENTRATE ) lest I become the target of invectives and New England road mudras.

But just in time, as is so often the case with the nature of impermanence being what it is, the flow returned—in this case the maple sap flow—and the heartening sight of rustic sugar shacks engulfed in billowing clouds of steam announced the sweet relief of sugar shack season. (To be continued. . . )

Footnote: An old saying oft repeated in Texas goes that God spent 6 days creating the world but wasn’t quite finished with Texas at the end of the 6th day. After resting on the seventh day, God decided rather than spend all the effort to fix Texas, he’d do the simpler thing and just create people to live there that didn’t know any different!