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Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Spring Turned Upside-Down

We had a full moon over the high desert and mountains last night, and it was lovely. Days are longer now than nights here in the northern hemisphere. As I think about that, and about how it is autumn, not spring, in the southern hemisphere (which always seems so strange to me), and as I hope every morning to have word from dear friends “down under,” I can’t help reflecting that the world has been turned upside-down for all of us this spring, life in both of earth’s hemispheres topsy-turvy and unfamiliar in ways we’ve never known before.

I read that domestic abuse rates in general are up, with all this mandated staying at home and sheltering in place. Young families must be feeling a lot of stress: that time of life is stressful enough in ordinary times, and many marriages founder on rocky shoals. Bless them all, keep them safe, and give them strength! 

For this particular old couple, the Artist and me, sheltering in place in a small rental cabin in an Arizona ghost town far from our beloved old northern Michigan farmhouse, somewhat surprisingly our tolerance levels for annoyance with each other have risen rather than plummeting. Little things we might have found maddening in each other a month ago we shrug off now with a smile. Door slammed? --Who cares? Crumbs on the counter? --What does it matter? Sometimes one of us reaches for the other’s hand — not for any special big reason — and then tears come to my eyes, because, whatever happens, we are together now.

The desert is greening up. The first few flowering plants are blossoming, while others — ocotillo higher in the mountains, a cactus in front of a neighbor’s house, penstemon in the wash — are, thrillingly, right on the verge. Early yesterday morning I saw a lithe red fox running across another neighbor’s fenced yard. Every day brings gifts. But every day also I wonder about the days and weeks to come. 

Once in the kitchen, with a blanket wrapped about her waist, Mma Ramotswe switched on Radio Botswana in time for the opening chorus of the national anthem and the recording of cattle bells with which the radio started the day. This was a constant in her life, something that she remembered from her childhood, listening to the radio from her sleeping mat while the woman who looked after her started the fire that would cook breakfast for Precious and her father, Obed Ramotswe. It was one of the cherished things of her childhood, that memory, as as the mental picture that she had of Mochudi as it then was, of the view from the National School up on the hill, of the paths that would through the bush this way and that but which had a destination known only to the small, scurrying animals that used them. These were things that would stay with her forever, she thought, and which would always be there, no matter how bustling and thriving Gaborone might become. This was the soul of her country, somewhere there, in that land of red earth of green acacia, of cattle bells, was the soul of her country. 
- Alexander McCall Smith, The Good Husband of Zebra Drive

Where will we be, the Artist and I, on May 7th, when the moon comes round and full again? For now we are here, in what has become a second home to me, and it is a good place. But I had been, I admit, mourning the absence of any of Smith’s Botswana novels on my shelves. I needed Mma Ramotswe. Then I found The Good Husband of Zebra Drive in my book corner! What a comfort! Dear Mma Ramotswe and her loving reflections always calm my own soul. That fictional character is a gift in my life today.

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