You can pretty much tell where your heart lies by reading through the checkbook or looking at what’s in the recycling bin, can’t you? Are the checks written to a church or to a non-profit organization which helps others, or to a package store? Are those ketchup bottles in the recycling bin, or liquor bottles? Do the vegetable and soup cans outnumber the beer cans, or vice versa?
Kind of revealing, isn’t it?
In the early days of World War II in the Pacific Theatre, it was common practice for American naval vessels to throw trash overboard. With the revelation that Japanese submarines were retrieving the trash and reading through the material, some of which was classified, it became standard practice for trash to be weighted before being discarded to ensure that it would sink.
One man’s trash truly proved to be another man’s treasure.
Every once in a while — remembering that lesson — I read through my entries in the checkbook, and spend some time looking through the recycling bin as if I’d just discovered it. These simple observations show me, clearly, where I’ve been and where I am. And in the harsh light of reality, what I see helps me make occasional adjustments as to where I’m heading.
Sometimes the compass gets out of whack, you see. And any old Boy Scout can tell you that it’s tough to find the way if your compass is pointing in the wrong direction.
The very strange weather that visited our neck of the woods last week gave me opportunity to take stock of things in a different, almost forgotten way. I didn’t have to read the checkbook or peruse the recycling bin.
All I had to do was shovel a little mud.
It had been a long, long time since I last heard that slurping, sucking sound a shovelful of Georgia mud makes as it breaks free from the ground. And it brought back memories from 45 years ago, when as a high school student I worked summers for a construction company, digging foundations. Occasionally, evening rainstorms would fill in the ditches with red clay mud, and the morning afterward my task was to shovel that gooey mess out and square up those foundation trenches.
The minimum wage then was $1.65 an hour.
Those memories returned last Saturday when some serious rain fell here. My wife, having looked out back, called for me to come view our new pond. Curious, with coffee cup in hand, I was amazed to find that debris which had accumulated in the yard from three years of drought had washed down to the low corner of the yard and formed a dam against the fence. A small pond had backed up, and the water level was only a half-inch below the bottom of the basement window!
I spent a moment envisioning the spectacular sight — a red clay waterfall spilling into my mother’s cozy basement apartment.
I threw on some old clothes, grabbed the shovel, and ran to ever so gently breech what was now Hoover Dam at the fence.
Tallulah Gorge! The Colorado River! Niagara Falls! The new pond’s escape created the best of all possible worlds for this old geography teacher! Sand bars were deposited around rocks and roots, tiny waterfalls and tributaries proliferated, and as the rush of water slowed little oxbow lakes formed a miniature Mississippi River watershed – right in my own back yard!
Having averted disaster, and by now thoroughly soaked, I looked at my neighbor’s yards. A few drains had clogged with debris, so I shoveled them out and traced the water’s egress, all the while wishing a National Geographic film crew was on hand for the spectacle.
Finally, happy as a lark, I romped and stomped my way back home, zigzagging to hit all the biggest puddles on the street.
Just like a kid again.
The next day, amazingly, heavy snow came cascading down. My schoolteacher bride began a dedicated news vigil, furtively watching for school closings. With milk and bread on hand, we didn’t have to make the mad dash to the grocery store to survive the blizzard. So for hours she was riveted in front of the television, until at last word came that our local schools would have a "snow day" last Monday.
And I thought I was the only kid at heart in our house!
The unusual weather events constituted the gift of rare, unscheduled time just for us. We were free to sit by the fire, read, snuggle or just be lazy. It was, to our generation, "a Kodak moment," or, as MasterCard says: priceless.
But best of all for me, perhaps, was the opportunity afforded for reflection, without having to read the checkbook or peruse the recycling bin. I realized there’s nothing like shoveling a little mud and stomping through a few puddles to help clear things up when this old boy’s compass gets a little out of whack.
And for a moment, it was great to feel like a kid, again.
Nat Harwell is a resident of Newton County. His column appears in The Covington News on Sundays.