TWO-LANE LIFE - Good Boots and Winter's Last Blast - By Lisa Hayes-Minney

I have come to learn that Spring in central West Virginia always comes with one last blast from Winter. Yesterday, I harvested the first asparagus of the season. Today, I’ve seen rain, sleet, snow, drizzle, and sunshine--and it’s not yet five o’clock. At least, for the day, my spring allergies have let up.

There are days when I love, truly love, West Virginia. And then there are days when I can’t avoid the mud and the pollen leaves me wanting to scratch my eyes out. Sometimes I have to look up at the crisp night stars or catch the sunset as it falls below the hillsides to the west to remind myself that I live amongst beauty. We had an osprey visit the lake out back last week, and I need to chase a wild goose out of the chicken pen on a pretty regular basis. Sometimes, the peeper frogs sing so loud they keep me awake. Sometimes I forget what blessings these are.

It’s been a long year, hasn’t it? More than a year now of Covid, of division, of surreal situations. I can’t imagine how many times in the last year I have said, “unbelievable,” “ridiculous,” “that’s insane,” and/or, “It is what it is.” I can’t imagine how many times I rolled my eyes, held my tongue, or sighed in wordless disbelief. (Am I the only one who sees the irony in expecting a state whose motto is, “always free,” to achieve a “herd” community?) It feels like the last year has been a rollercoaster of flawed logic. A year ago, our governor was speaking like a comforting father, now he’s chastising us for being who we are. I suppose he’s as disappointed with the last legislative session as he is with us. I must say, I’ve been a bit disappointed in our leadership lately. Thank goodness for spring, at least the birds are singing.

And that makes sense. Spring birdsong and blossoming cherry, apple, and pear trees make sense in a world that seems to have gone completely insane. The smell of daffodils is the scent of new beginnings. And a spring day of sun, rain, sideways snow, and drizzle makes sense to me as well. Winter’s last blast – she just can’t leave without having the last word.

It’s up to us to find the beauty in the ugly days. It’s up to me to be grateful for the flowering Kwanza Cherry tree in the center of the library’s patio where I work. It’s up to me to be thankful I’m toasty and warm when fat snowflakes fly sideways past the nine-pane window of our front porch door. It’s up to me, when my back pains me, to be thankful for the health I do have. Some days, I’m just grateful to retain a minuscule sense of humor. Many days, I’m just grateful I’ve kept my mouth shut. Some days, I lose my sense of humor and run my mouth. That’s when I say things like, “unbelievable,” “ridiculous,” (among other things) and make people think I’m the one who has gone insane.

Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I wonder what Einstein would think about West Virginia. With all the change we have faced in the last year, some things just never seem to change. And when we are unsuccessful in making change, we shrug and say, “it is what it is.” It’s the adult version of that annoying teen shrug, “whatever.” It’s the resigned human existential question -- “What’s the point?”

The point, simplified, is the beauty of that cherry tree if I take the time to appreciate it. It’s the sweetness of the Autumn Olive blossoms, even though they are an invasive shrub spreading across the hillsides and hanging over the creek banks. It’s learning to play in the mud instead of wallowing in it, even though every time we muddy the waters for change, we just make more mud.

I don’t know why it took me so long after moving here to invest in a good pair of mud boots. Cute, flimsy rubber boots with umbrellas or raindrops all over then won’t cut it around here. They’ll last about one season around a farm before you spring a leak that leaves your feet wet. Those boots are for clear puddles of water walking along a paved or grassy path, for a tamer environment--not for tromping through squishy oozing muck holes mixed with animal excrement, or for wading through political or physical floodwaters.

How many pairs of cute little rain boots did I buy before finally breaking down and spending more than I wanted on a serious pair of muck boots? Too many, but I’ve got a good pair of muck boots now, and that has made all the difference.

“Muckrakers” were reform-minded journalists in the Progressive Era in the United States who exposed established institutions and leaders as corrupt. They typically had large audiences, and took on corporate monopolies and political machines, trying to raise public awareness and anger at urban poverty, unsafe working conditions, and child labor. The muckrakers provided detailed, accurate journalistic accounts of the political and economic corruption and social hardships caused by the power of big business in a rapidly industrializing United States. They were the first true investigative reporters, referred to as “muckrakers” because they “stirred up the mud.”

A good pair of boots lets you walk upon snow with warm feet, slip through slush without sliding, walk through the wet and the muck without a care in the world, knowing your foundation is protected. A good pair of muck boots makes it possible to stand at the very edge of the water to focus on the song of the peeper frogs and watch the salamanders swimming. A good pair of muck boots allows you to cross creeks and streams to get to the best mushrooms or to see where the hawks are nesting. A good pair of boots lets you walk through a wet, plowed garden to place frost cloth over the peas; allows you to walk with confidence through swamps and marshes to find where the ducklings hide and climb to the top of the ridge to watch the eagles fly. With a good pair of boots, the mud doesn’t matter.

Spring has sprung, but mud season continues and some of us just can’t help but stir it. We’ve been cooped up, masked, and lived with Covid too long. It’s time to start the garden, time to clean up the yard and mow. Time to dismiss the mud, to be grateful for the sunshine, and the flowers, and the new life that spring brings. Have ya got your boots on?

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