Commentary: ‘Tis the season not to be political

It’s important to keep perspective on what’s really important. Between October and the end of December, we have a crush of holidays with an attendant sense of urgency, just not enough time to get everything done.

For some of us with memories of autumn and a real change of season, living in California evokes memories of years past in another place where leaves exploded in colors. If you’ve never seen a New England Sugar Maple in a full Autumn red and orange, you haven’t really experienced the season. I used to think we had a pretty good display of autumn leaves in the Midwest until I was stationed in New England. It isn’t hard to imagine why some of our best poets hail from that region of the country.

Of course, Autumn is immediately followed by Winter which keeps the holiday card companies thoroughly inspired with picture perfect Christmas cards with snow-covered landscapes that seem almost too perfect to be real. New England excels at imagery that evokes nostalgia and inspires the likes of Norman Rockwell or Robert Frost.

A New England winter is really great for lovers of snow; our first snow occurred on Oct. 31 as my kids experienced their first New England Halloween. We received just under 3 feet of snow in that storm. That year it was never less than three feet deep until the end of April. Being in the Army at the time with 10th Special Forces, deep snow and low temperatures mean only one thing; we get to live in it for a month or so. It is said that the Army always takes the locations that no self-respecting real estate agent would ever consider and puts a military post on it; Fort Devens was no exception. It was a pretty place as Army posts go but getting around in the snow was a challenge.

We lived on a hill, appropriately named Oak Hill which generated enormous piles of leaves that were promptly shed with the first Autumn rains and wind, in turn earning the wrath of the post commanding general who hated leaves on the ground (all Army generals hate leaves on the ground) they also hate grass and demand that it always looks perfect as in a Lawn and Garden magazine. No military mission was too important to interfere with every general’s quest to have picture-perfect landscaping at all times, thus leaves must be raked and snow shoveled: in the case of snow, around the clock if necessary.

The leaf piles in my yard averaged 12 feet in length and 6 inches in height, a delight to four young children whose mission was to scatter them faster than I could rake them. In the case of snow, we didn’t have garages for our cars (Congress felt having garages built into military housing was extravagant) so my first mission was to dig out the car. Imagine shoveling furiously for 10 minutes only to realize the mound of snow you just cleared didn’t have your car under it. When I finally located my car and cleared a path to the driveway, I then had to overcome a frozen mound blocking my driveway from the street, a ten feet long, four foot high, and equally wide miniature mountain of heavy, wet snow, the result of a middle of the night snowplow clearing our street. An hour later a path was cleared to the street and our car was again something other than a work of winter art. I went inside to warm up before departing for the days’ duty when a rumbling sound outside set off an alarm. A large, 5-ton dump truck with a plow on front circled our street, piling up a massive mountain of snow across my driveway again as it cleared the street. The good news in all of this is that the Army demands a high standard of physical fitness so I didn’t die of a heart attack re-clearing my driveway but the notion was given careful consideration.

I mentioned that when it snows the Army’s first inclination is to schedule a military exercise and that winter was no exception. The problem was Fort Devens didn’t have any mountains close enough and it wasn’t cold enough, so we went up to New Hampshire, near Norwich University. The snow was deeper, the temperature colder (minus 32 degrees below zero at night, without wind) thus it was more suitable. We spent a couple of weeks snowshoeing with rucksacks I could probably hide in, skiing cross-country in endurance land navigation exercises (by night under moonlight) and the best part of all, living in snow caves and proving that it’s possible not to freeze to death in a snow cave.

I started this by saying it’s important to keep perspective on what’s important. Politics has its place but not at this time of year. This week we will say goodbye to a decent man who kept life in perspective. When he left the Presidency, he said his new job was to be a full-time grandfather. Family is important. Military families know this as so much of their time is spent (when not raking leaves or shoveling snow) away from family. Enjoy yours, I will be enjoying mine.


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