Sunday, June 14, 2009

A cool early June

Two weeks of June have gone by and the weather still hasn't turned warm. When it rains--as it has for much of this period--temps are in the 50s during the day and when it doesn't, they go up to the low 60s. Soil still too cool and damp to plant dry beans. Last weekend I had a window of warmth and planted edamame soybean seeds and stuck the tomato transplants into the ground. Potatoes are enjoying this weather; lettuce and cabbage as well as onions too. The only clear period occurred from Friday afternoon through Saturday night; otherwise it has been foggy with off and on rain since Tuesday.

I was reminded of the cool, rainy June about ten years ago when John Wallhausser and some of his family including a relative from Germany were touring in this area. John, retired now from the department of philosophy and religion at Berea College in Kentucky, was enormously helpful to me when I taught there as a visiting professor. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, he was one of the few non-Applachians at Berea to truly appreciate the way of life of the Old Regular Baptists, whose music I am very much drawn to. We made our pilgrimages to the churches in southeastern Kentucky nearly every weekend that I was there, sitting and listening to the deeply affecting music, and the musical sermons that are characteristic of this small group.

After John retired from Berea he went in two other directions: with some of his family he bought land in Italy and restored a house overlooking a river, which the family will share the use of; and he turned with great passion to painting watercolors. He had always been a fine poet, though not an ambitious one in the sense of wanting or needing to have it published and recognized. I'm sure that everyone nurtures desires to express themselves in certain ways but delays and delays; for John, retirement was an opening. I have a colleague who retired this year from my university; some years ago she confessed that she had always had a desire to play the banjo. I encouraged her and I wonder if, at some odd moment, she won't borrow a banjo and get started. I hope she does.

These serious, passionate pursuits of old age are not easily understood, but the symptoms are easy enough to spot. Friends often think the oldsters are behaving oddly, or they think that what they are doing is some kind of a hobby, a leisure time activity chiefly for pleasure. But there is not much leisure in these pursuits and although there is pleasure there is also much serious, sometimes painful, effort; and much that is creative. Something deeper than a hobby is getting expressed here after all these years. John's painting -- well, he is as serious and relentless about his painting as he was about his scholarship on Schliermacher.

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