written originally in early March 2007
We are all waiting for winter to be finished with us. Instead it is snowing and blowing, ruining our dreams of spring and reminding us once again we have no control over the elements. Cars were upside down in the ditches yesterday morning following a night of snow and freezing rain, and trying to accelerate up hill after a red stop light turned green was an exercise in futility. I could have made it to work faster by hiking.
Not only the blustery out of doors has us in a strangle hold. There are the winter viruses controlling everything inside our skin. Workload at my clinic has doubled during influenza season, so I’m relegated to seeing patients in 10 minute slots to try to see everyone who is triaged. There is little opportunity to provide much more than very basic assessment and advice and a moment of eye contact, a hand on the shoulder and reassurance that “this too will pass”. After all, there is not much else a physician can do for the influenza patients who drag themselves out of bed finally on the third day of their illness, wondering what hit them like a truck. We can only commiserate and advocate for signing up for next season’s flu vaccine 9 months from now. Am I really doing much of value? Some days I’m not so sure. Yet I return each day to my work because I am needed by others, whether I make a difference that day or not. It is what I am called to do– this caritas of the spirit.
When work load off the farm is this heavy, there is little that happens at home except basic daily maintenance. The kitchen floor gets mopped less frequently, the laundry pile grows higher and the vacuum stays idle, but the barn chores continue unchanged. It is my cherished routine to head to the barn in the dark of a winter’s morning and turn on the lights, and 7 pairs of Haflinger eyes blink and 7 Haflinger voices rumble greetings. I am truly anticipated and appreciated and I have a clear task that I do that will make a difference. Last summer’s hay bales are broken open and the fragrance of the clover and timothy fields is as grand as my morning cup of coffee. I cradle the hay flakes to each expectant horse and they nod and bow in gratitude when I open their door. Their buckets are filled with fresh clean water and they drink gratefully and deeply. I share with each horse a moment of eye contact, a scratch on the wither and the reassurance that I will return at the end of the day to repeat our ritual and prepare their beds for the night. And then I am gone, leaving the radio to play “oldies” to them while the weather rages outside. I am needed and it is what I am called to do–this horse keeping.
Remarkably, the crocuses are up through the snow, the snowdrops are flourishing and the orchard trees are beginning to swell their buds. Bird song is plentiful in the frozen mornings, with far more variety than a month ago. There will be a spring coming soon, despite how things feel to me now. This exhaustion will be replaced by renewal and the fresh air will be filled soon with the sweetness of cherry and apple blossoms. The fields will grow lush and soft and the sun will be warm on my horses’ withers once again. And I will celebrate the defeat of winter once again.