For me, country living provides an alternative to the manufactured stresses of daily life--the global disasters that leap to the surface of all our screens at the tap or slide of a finger. Or push of a button. Something new to fear or deplore every few minutes.
Even fun comes with its jolt of adrenaline. Pop concerts ramp up the bass, fire off lasers and smoke bombs. Apocalyptic movies compete with each other in the race to scare us silly. Visiting Houston, we see the immediate daily result in the rage that simmers on traffic-snarled streets.
People are not meant to live in conditions of sustained alert. When constantly elevated, the major stress hormone, cortisol, harms every process of the human body.
In the country, though, I can tune it all out.
I can measure a day by the passage of the sun across my yard.
Outside the window where I write, I see close-up the bark of a tree, and a nuthatch inching down, headfirst. I see the russet leaves of the loropetalum bush I should have pruned last spring. An atole steals across the window sill; a wasp bumps the pane, wanting cooler air. The slope of sun-cast shadows on the grass tells me it’s fall. Abundant life--and occasional death--are never far away.
They require no reporter, no headline. No artificially induced fear.
In the country, I find pleasure in small things: The seed head of that old farmer’s bane, Johnson grass, beautifully fringed in the spotlight of an autumn afternoon; the loud silence of a Sunday morning torn by a hawk’s cry; the six white petals on an unknown flower sprouting leafless in the center of our gravel driveway.
Walking the dog, I’m surprised by the rustle of leaves nearby, then a sudden whoosh…whoosh and the hawk’s big dark shadow passes close overhead. In the woods a distance away, a commotion of fussing birds expresses palpable distress. Is it a snake that threatens them, or perhaps that hawk, again? These small occurrences are scarcely noticeable in the middle of our busy routines unless we look. But not one of them is trivial.
So I think of it like this.
I can look outward from myself, at the uncontrollable world, at unimaginable space where even geologic time loses all meaning. I can live from shock to shock on the screen of my computer, smartphone, television and tablet.
(Under a different title, this column appeared today in the Fayette County Record.)