There is nothing linear about life, history or society. Nope, it’s all push and pull, fits and starts, up and down, step forward and step back. Former President Obama used to quote Martin Luther King Jr. to the effect that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But to me, there’s less of an arc to life than a series of very wavy lines, and those lines are likely to be trending, if they have any discernible trend, in different directions.
Nowhere is this reality more apparent than on the farm. It was refreshing this week to finally arrive at true meteorological winter. A few inches of light fluffy snow ended Friday morning, easily shoveled off the driveway, followed Saturday by bright blue sunshine and a zero wind chill this morning. It seemed like this kind of crisp, unmistakable winter would never get here. That it was so pretty and was so easy to manage made it delightful, after what seemed like weeks of warmish gray days punctuated by dismal drizzle.
But it always struck me as odd that as the arc of temperature bends toward winter in January, statistically our coldest month, it is precisely then that the arc of daylight begins to bend towards spring. Since the winter solstice we’ve been adding close to a minute of daylight each day, so that now the days (9 hours, 14 minutes) are about eleven minutes longer, and the nights (11 hours, 24 minutes) are about eleven minutes shorter than they were just before Christmas. The remaining two and a half hours are accounted for by varying degrees of twilight.
This may seem like a small change, but it makes a discernible difference. Around Christmas my daily egg collections averaged three to four eggs. This week the average has doubled, to seven to eight eggs a day, and one day I collected eleven. We’re back to where we were, in both daylight and egg production, on December 3. Egg producers are generally advised that chickens need fourteen hours of light a day to produce eggs, and that they produce best when the daylight lasts 16 hours, which can be simulated with artificial lighting that I eschew. But it seems to me that twilight counts for this purpose, and that even at 12 1/2 hours of combined daylight and twilight there is enough to stimulate a significant minority of the chickens. In my mind, the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) has always announced the coming spring egg avalanche.
Of course January 6 has taken on other significance as well.
As on the farm, the greater world is moving into cold and darkness, by fits and starts, even as it moves into the light. The dark trend was all too apparent this week as we marked the anniversary of the attempted coup against the duly elected American government by a sitting president a year ago, and found that even the Republican party leaders who condemned the coup attempt a year ago were through silence or acquiescence endorsing it now. The Center for Systemic Peace, which monitors the risk of political instability in every country in the world with more than 500,000 people, had already, based on executive actions by the Trump Administration such as purges of perceived disloyal government employees and undermining trust in the electoral process, moved the United States from the category of democracies to anocracies (a mix of authoritarian rule and democracy) in 2020. According to the Center’s ranking, Switzerland is now the longest continuously practiced democracy in the world. Although Biden’s executive actions reversing some Trump era practices moved us back into the category of democracies in 2021, the January 6 coup attempt, together with other disturbing trends, put us in a category of high risk for political instability.
One expert on civil wars, quoted in this week’s New Yorker, Barbara Walter of the University of California, San Diego, finds us to be at high risk of such a war here. She bases her opinion in part on how far we’ve moved down the scale from true democracy (including restrictions being enacting in many places on voting rights) and in part on burgeoning militias and the growing acceptance in polling among Republicans of political violence as a means of achieving goals — in general an endorsement of maintaining power by non-democratic means. “Is a Civil War Ahead?”( David Remnick, Jan. 5, The New Yorker)
At the same time, as the trend line for American political stability bumps its way downhill, it seems to me there’s a bumpy line in an upward direction that we have much cause to celebrate. The surging number of COVID cases could be a sign of the last hurrah of that awful pandemic. Here I believe my personal experience reflects well what is being reported in the news. COVID infection is rampant among the people in my world and the people in their worlds. In my case, in the last 10 days, I got reports of COVID infection from Peter’s son Perry and his family, and among my friends: Susie’s husband John, Michael’s boyfriend, Bob, Steve’s friends John and Will, Elisabeth’s daughter, Eric’s friends Jean Michel and his husband and kids, and George’s niece and great niece. All were vaccinated. In most cases there were household members not infected, and in all cases the symptoms were mild or transitory. (One ran a high fever for a day — but he had not been boosted. ) Omicron seems to be the variant that had long been predicted, more infectious but less virulent, that marks the progression of COVID from pandemic to endemic and carrying a degree of risk we can deal with. Especially, of course, when the new antiviral pills are available for those who are at risk for significant symptoms, COVID will have been defanged.
Of course, tragically, the unvaccinated will not fare so well in this surge, and the way they fill the hospitals will affect all of us. But perhaps the stark differences in outcomes so apparent to everyone as the virus sweeps so broadly will finally convince the doubters to roll up their sleeves. I’ll withhold my usual anti-anti-vaxxing rant and let the virus do the talking.
Since March, 2020, the farm has been my COVID refuge. Even as that threat recedes, I sense the continuing need for a refuge, this time from the civil strife that may be coming. My friend Éric, rounding the corner walking last week, photographed the house backlit with dusk’s glow and captioned the picture “Light is everything”. This place is certainly is one of my lights in the darkness, and that’s not a trend line, it’s a constant.
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK:
WANT TO DISPOSE OF YOUR UNTREATED CHRISTMAS TREE? THE SHEEP WOULD LOVE TO MUNCH ON IT. BRING IT BY.
EGGS: $5/doz Limited supplies, which will increase as the hours of daylight do
FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO WANT LAMB: There’s a backup of bookings at the slaughterhouse, almost impossible to get a slot, so it’s not imminent. I’ll let you know.
Email us your order at email@example.com, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.