Sunday, January 29, 2023

Aunt Julia's Pudding Tale

Wilford Cameron Ross and Julia Lewis Ross on their wedding day, 25 Oct. 1911.
She was 18, he was 20.

Aunt Julia's Pudding Story

1905; Hague, NY

Julia plunged down the back pasture slope, treading underfoot the purple violets and yellow disks of dandelions that studded the fresh spring grass with color. The empty bucket in her right hand rasped against her starched calico skirt with every hasty step, her round face was pink with heat and distress.
She came to an abrupt halt at the pasture gate, wiped her face with her apron before sliding through the narrow space by the gatepost. Walking slowly now she crossed the dooryard to the back porch, let herself in to the dimness of the entry hall and through to the kitchen.
The kitchen smelled of scalded milk, burned sugar, boiled potatoes. Crossing to the dry sink under the east window, Julia clattered the pail alongside an enameled kettle caked with a sticky residue. 
Pudding. She had intended making pudding as a surprise for supper, but the project had gone wrong.

The day began in an ordinary way, Andrew coming in with two pails of still foamy milk, Mac in from tending the team of work horses. Julia had the table set by the time Mother had breakfast ready, pancakes with maple syrup, bacon, oatmeal porridge. The family ate quickly, quietly, as the early sunlight slanted across the worn boards of the kitchen floor. Father and the boys had jobs at the Graphite works, Father as a foreman, Andrew assigned through the summer to work in the stables, Mac using the team of Belgians to haul timber.
Rising from her place at the table, Mother announced, “ I need to drive over the mountain road to brother Squire's; Betsy sprained her ankle several days ago and I expect she could use some help. Mac, harness Sal and hitch her to the buggy for me; I'll be ready to go as soon as I scald the milk dishes.”

With the men of the family off to work, Julia hurried to clear the table. She was concerned for Aunt Betsy. “How did she sprain her ankle?” Mother, dipping hot water from the reservoir of the wood stove, answered from behind a cloud of steam, “She tripped on the back steps heading to the clothesline with a basket of wet sheets. Knowing Betsy she'll be struggling to tend the house and do the ironing when she should be staying off that ankle for a day or two. If I spend the day there I can keep her off her feet while I do up the ironing. Hurry now, with the chamber work while I wash the dishes and put away the milk.”

Early June and school closed for the summer. Julia wondered if she would be accompanying Mother to help Aunt Betsy, but wasted no time in questions.  She quickly made her bed, smoothing the patchwork quilt, fluffing the pillows, did the same for the towering oak bed that was shared by her brothers in the room across the hall.. She bundled the rag rugs downstairs, shook them over the back porch rail, trotted upstairs to align them neatly alongside the beds. 
Mother was packing items into a basket, a loaf of bread, a tin of molasses cookies, a jar of pickled beets. Before Julia could ask her question, Mother stated briskly, “ I've made up the fire and while its going good I'd like you to bring up a dozen or so potatoes, scrub them and put them on to boil. Don't bother to peel them; when they're done, drain them and set them on the broad shelf in the pantry to cool. We'll have them sliced and warmed up with fried ham for supper. Don't try to keep the fire going. 
When you've tended the hens and washed the eggs, take a dishpan and that old bone-handled knife and dig a mess of dandelion greens. They'll taste good tonight.” 

With that, Mother swept out the door, starched skirt rustling, basket over her arm. Julia watched until the buggy was out of sight round the bend in the lane, then turned to her tasks. The chickens, released from the nightly protection of the chicken house, clustered about Julia's feet as she flung cracked corn into the shallow wooden trough, brought fresh water from the backyard pump. She collected eggs, carrying them gently in a fold of her apron to be wiped clean at the kitchen sink, then stashed in a shallow brown bowl on the pantry broadshelf. 

The dirt-floored cellar smelled of  potatoes, apples and onions wintered there in wooden bins. There were only a few potatoes left, wrinkled, slightly shriveled. Mac had already planted those that had been allowed to sprout.  Julia picked out a dozen, took them up to the kitchen, scrubbed them with cool water from the pump. Fetching a kettle from the big pantry she lingered to appreciate the neat rows of glass canisters that lined the wooden shelves. Her eyes rested on the container of pearl tapioca and a plan sprang instantly to mind. With the potatoes put on to boil, while the stove was hot, she would make pudding for supper—a sweet surprise to go with plain fare.

Julia was three months past her 12th birthday. She had been helping Mother in the kitchen since she was big enough to stand on a stool and carefully dry silverware as it came steaming from the rinse pan. She had never made pudding. Mother cooked from long habit and experience rather than written recipes, but Julia had watched and pudding couldn't be that difficult.
Settling the potatoes toward the back of the stove where they would stay at a comfortable simmer, Julia returned to the pantry for a large saucepan, the jar of tapioca. Sugar was in a canister on the hutch Mother used as a work station. Julia remembered that the tapioca needed to soak in the milk for a few minutes before being set over the heat of the stove. She fetched a quart of yesterday's milk from the ice house outside the back door, dumped it into the saucepan and after a moment's thoughtful hesitation added a heaping cupful of tapioca, a generous cup of sugar. She knew the mixture needed eggs added at some point, so broke four into a bowl and set them aside. Placing the saucepan on the edge of the stove, she skipped upstairs to open bedroom windows to the fresh early summer air and whisk a feather duster over the old dressers and chairs.

Fifteen minutes later Julia prodded with a wooden spoon at the glutinous mess in the pudding pan. The mixture was already so thickened that cooking it would be difficult. Pondering, she decided that the ratio of milk to tapioca wasn't quite correct, so in went more milk and the eggs. Pulling the kettle to the hottest part of the stove Julia settled herself to stir. As the mixture grew hotter it swelled, bulging toward the top of the pan. Julia stirred frantically, scraping as the too thick stodge began to scorch on the bottom of the pan. The eggs instead of blending nicely with the milk had formed unappetizing yellow streaks. The ever thickening pudding boiled with a plopping sound, bubbling, spattering hotly onto Julia's hands as she yanked the kettle away from the heat. Her face was hot, sweat prickled along the parting of her hair. Tears of frustration blurred her vision. She let go of the spoon which stood   stiffly in the hotly thick, scorched mess.
This was not pudding. It was never going to become pudding. 

Fetching potholders, Julia dragged the saucepan onto a trivet. The potatoes were done, and she carried them to the sink, carefully poured off the water, left them cooling in the kettle on the drainboard. Avoiding the stove she replaced the canister of sugar in its place on the hutch, took the depleted jar of tapioca into the pantry and shoved it behind a big tin of cornmeal—out of sight.

Julia stood on the back porch, hands twisted in her apron. The sun was sailing through a clear blue sky, a light breeze cooled her hot cheeks and brought the scent of lilacs from the twisted old bush at the corner of the house. A robin flew down from one of the dooryard maples, bounced across the grass searching for worms. Julia sighed, turned to go inside and deal with the mess.

In the entry her gaze lit on the battered galvanized pail she had used earlier to carry water to the chickens. Snatching the pail she marched to the kitchen stove, remembered in the nick of time to protect her hands with potholders as she heaved the pudding pan off the stove and attempted to dump the contents into the pail. It took some doing. Already the sticky mess had turned to glue in the bottom of the pan. There seemed to be a great deal of it. Wrinkling her nose at the smell of scorched milk and sugar, Julia scraped with the wooden spoon, digging at the last bits. Clattering the kettle into the sink she filled it with water from the teakettle, grabbed up the pail of ruined pudding, stomped out of the house, letting the screen door of the porch swing wide with a protesting screech of hinges.

Julia strode the pasture hillside with frustration-fueled energy.  At the top of the slope an out-cropping of granite rimmed the edge of the woods. Julia made for a large boulder and behind its rough grey shelter upended the bucket and tunked it against the ground until the solidly congealing mass of pudding landed in the short grass. 
Back in the kitchen Julia gulped cool water from a tin cup, opened the windows, tackled the sticky saucepan. It took considerable time and elbow grease to loosen the cooked on residue of pudding. Again and again Julia brought a dipper of hot water from the stove reservoir, rinsed until there was no hint of the pan's recent misuse. Drying it carefully she returned it to the accustomed low shelf in the orderly pantry. Surveying the kitchen, alert for anything out of place, Julia was astonished to hear the chime of the steeple clock in the sitting room announcing the noon hour.  Taking a half loaf of bread from the breadbox she cut a careful slice, smeared it with butter and blackberry jam. She ate it slowly, sitting on the edge of the back porch, feet barely touching the ground. 

Julia was at the back yard pump rinsing a full dishpan of dandelion greens when she heard the brisk clop of Sal's hooves on the lane that turned off from the main road. Mother wheeled the buggy to a graceful stop alongside the horse barn, climbed down with a sprightliness surprising in a plump woman of middle age. Setting aside her empty basket she dropped the buggy traces, led Sal to the pasture gate, peeled off the harness with the ease of long practice. Mother watched for a moment as Sal slurped water from the spring-fed tub before ambling toward the shade of a newly leafed elm.
Hanging the harness across pegs just inside the barn door, picking up her basket, Mother joined her daughter on the short walk along the grassy path to the back door, glancing with approval at the pan full of greens.

Did Julia imagine that Mother paused in the kitchen doorway puzzled by the lingering odor of scorched pudding?  Was this the time to blurt the details of the morning's failed cookery, to endure the well-deserved lecture about the sinful waste of food or ingredients?  While Julia dithered, Mother hooked the handle of her basket over the peg rail, directed Julia to set the pan of dandelion greens in the sink. 
“We'll give them one more rinse before we set them on to cook.”  Julia plonked down the greens, gave one more anxious glance around the tidy kitchen, then followed Mother to the sitting room.

Mother sank into her familiar cushioned rocker with a contented sigh, pulling forward the mending basket that lived under the small table. Selecting a blue work shirt with a three-cornered tear in the elbow, she threaded a needle and began to darn the rip with small neat stitches. Julia took the rocker on the other side of the table, rummaged out a pair of her brother's socks, found a length of woolen yarn and the darning egg before venturing a question.
“Is Aunt Betsy feeling better?”
Mother launched happily into the details of her visit, the ironing she had finished while Betsy rested in the rocker by the kitchen stove, the supper she had laid ready to be heated up when her brother Squire came in from the field, noting wryly, “I doubt Squire could fix a meal for himself, Betsy has spoiled him.”  
An hour passed quietly, the little pile of darned stockings and neatly mended garments growing on the table. Several times Julia was almost ready to speak up, confess the morning's mess, but always the right moment passed until the old clock let them know it was time to stoke the kitchen fire and have supper hot and ready to put on the table when the men returned from the labors of the day.

1955; Orwell, VT
Early October brought a week of golden blue-sky days. After school each afternoon I hurried into jeans and scuffed sneakers and trotted down the dirt road the short distance to Grampa Mac's farm. A leaf-strewn path cut between the hen houses and the tangle of Cinnamon Roses that had taken over the edge of the west lawn. The inner door of the back porch stood half open and enticing cooking smells leached into the back yard. Bounding inside, letting the wide screen door slap behind me, I crossed to the kitchen. 
Great Aunt Julia  straightened from the black cook stove oven, placed a baking dish on the warming shelf. Aunt Julia came most years for a week in autumn to visit her brother, my Grampa Mac. Uncle Wilford delivered her on a Sunday afternoon after church and an ample dinner; their older daughter, Mildred, released from her teaching job on the weekend would fetch her home tomorrow.
Aunt Julia would have left her own farmhouse immaculate, the season's canning done, fall house-cleaning finished.
During the week of her stay with her long-widowed brother, my Uncle Bill was released from the tasks of meal preparation that had fallen to him after the too early death of his mother and later the great grandmother who had raised him and my mother.
Aunt Julia, now in her early 60's, seemed to glory in the work of homemaking. She greeted me with a smile, then turned back to the stove to prod with a black-handled fork at the contents of a stew pot. Her soft cheeks were pink, her brown hair only lightly threaded with grey was drawn into a neat flat coil at the back of her head. Everything about her spoke of cleanliness and efficiency—the tailored percale dress of her own making, the neat bibbed apron, her polished black lace-up shoes. 

Satisfied with the contents of the pot, Aunt Julia stepped away from the stove. “Mac will enjoy this supper: a cut of beef cooked with potatoes, onions and carrots from the garden, baked apples from that old tree across the road.” A quick glance at the dining room clock suggested there were a few minutes to spare before time to set the table and put the evening pot of tea to steep. I followed Aunt Julia into the sitting room, pulling forward the old hassock to sit near the platform rocker she had chosen.  She glanced around the room, frowned at the starched but threadbare white curtains at the window.
“I'd like to do more for Mac and Billy. I could hem up new curtains, send them over, but he won't have it. Men,” she sighed, “ can't do for a house what a woman will. It was a sad loss when Helen—your grandmother—died so young, and Mac never thinking to remarry.” 
Aunt Julia rocked, lost in thoughts of a time I didn't know.

“When did you learn to cook?” I queried. 
“Oh, mercy!” Her laugh was soft. “ I've always known how to cook.” She brought the rocking chair to a  squeaking halt. “I take that back; one of the first times I tried to make a meal on my own I made a terrible mess. I'm going to tell you a story.” 

The rocking chair resumed its gentle creaking; Aunt Julia's eyes were soft, fixed on a time 50 years earlier.  At the end she chuckled, “ No one has lived on the old farm for years. I married at 18 and moved along the road to the home of Wilford's parents—and it was more than 30 years before his mother died and I had the full running of that house. The place where Mac and Andrew and I were raised is long gone, the house and barns fallen in and anything usable carted off. The fields and pastures are grown up to weeds and brush.” 

The steeple clock alerted the half hour and Aunt Julia levered herself from the rocker; it was time to put supper on the table.
As I trailed her toward the kitchen she turned and smiled, her eyes warm. 'Do you know—I could still go back there and climb the hill, walk straight to that rock where I dumped the pudding.”


Friday, January 20, 2023

Variable Weather: Journal, 20th January

Wild daffodils, a clump rescued from beside the old shed.

Thursday morning, 19th January and the outside temp reading at 56 F. 
The sun was stabilized in a cloud-mottled blue sky by late morning, and I felt the pull of the outdoors.
With a great effort of self-discipline I stayed inside, whisking a dustmop around to collect cat hair before hauling out the vacuum cleaner. [Given the exorbitant price of vac bags, the preliminary collection of fluff is a frugal measure.]
The warmth of the sun on the south windows brought out a pestilence of Asian lady beetles. They can rest in semi-dormancy in the tiniest crevasses or cracks around windows, emerging to trundle up and down the windowpanes, across woodwork, even taking refuge in curtain folds. 
The most determined sweeps of the vacuum wand never get them all; glancing back into the sunroom and west sunporch between other cleaning efforts there were still more beetles to pursue.

As I cleaned I noted that a wind was rising, agitating the treetops in the depth of the ravine.

By the time I gave up cleaning, served the cats their 'tea,' the temperature had risen to 64 F. The wind had also risen in velocity; when I stepped away from the shelter of the house, headed for the west wall garden, clippers in hand, I was surprised to feel the strength of the gusts.

I began by cutting back the frost-browned tangle of red valerian [centranthus ruber] grasping the long stems, hacking them back to about 8 inches from the ground. Close to the cold soil there were a few small green leaves. 
Tending the foxgloves was a slower chore, tugging gently to remove dead stalks and mounds of blackened leaves. Only one clump appears to have been badly damaged by the December freeze. I left it in place, hoping there may be some tentative new growth later,  In late autumn most of the foxgloves set new growth  attached to the original crowns. Barring a long spell of cold and wet conditions those should be fine.

By now the wind had increased, booming through bare treetops, swooping down to stir up fallen leaves. My hair was whipping loose from its clip, an increasing chill was stabbing through my light velour jacket.
I moved up to the plantings beyond the wall, hastily shearing off stems of nepeta, poking warily at the sad looking sprawl of thyme. Fresh leaves of lemon catnip curled tightly at the base of those plants nearest the house wall. I pocketed a few sprigs to bring inside, wondering if the cats would discern between the standard variety and the lemon scented.
Off to tip the collection of dead plant material out of my bucket at the edge of the ravine, I watched as dried stems were whisked away before they touched the ground. 
The sky had darkened. I was feeling chilled but knew that if I went in for my down vest I wouldn't likely come back outside.

The east garden is ugly with dead-looking mats of nepeta along the wall, the Knock-Out roses cut back in October crouching like prickly sentinels over the wind-flayed heads of coneflower, the lank yellowed foliage of daylilies. 
The nepeta clumps endured a rough pruning; something in the dried stems immediately 'stuffs up' my head and sets my nose to running. 
Returning my empty bucket to the greenhouse I discovered Willis-cat still stretched on the back bench, lolling in the lingering warmth rather than accompanying me as supervisor. 
I considered walking to the mailbox at the head of the lane, but was tired of being pummeled by the wind, so gave up and clumped indoors.

Jim had come in from his workshop and was stirring up the woodfire which had been allowed to go out during the day. 
I raked a brush through my tangled hair, picked up a new book and headed out to the sunporch. 
I should have stopped in the kitchen for a restorative mug of hot tea. Instead I pulled a fleece throw from the back of the basket chair, wrapped it around my shoulders and opened my book, a lovely photographic collection of northern Vermont farms, the photos taken in the 1960's and 70's when so many such farm enterprises were succumbing to economic failure.

From my chair I could look into nearly the tops of the trees in the south ravine. The wind roared and moaned, branches swayed and flailed. The sun flashed through swiftly moving clouds as it scudded in a shallow arc toward its westerly setting place.
I must have dozed for a few moments; snatching at my book before it slid to the floor I realized  daylight was fading, the sun was now an orange glob behind the trees. 

I sliced bread for sandwiches, opened a tin of Campbells Tomato Soup. 
Jim retreated to his big chair in front of his TV after supper; I turned on the heat downstairs and assembled another quilt block. 

A restless night--my head stuffy from handling nepeta stems; the boom and snarl of the wind, as always, unsettling me.

Jim was off early this morning to help friend Ruben with a problem at his place. I consumed a bowl of oatmeal, sat down to deal with paying bills, immediately discovered a charge on the credit card which shouldn't have been posted to our account. 
I considered paying it without question, balking at the thought of being 'on hold' with raspy music assaulting my ears. 
The process was typical: 15 minutes on hold, then a human voice so distorted by a bad connection that we continually had to repeat questions and answers. Finally through the static the 'operator' announced that he was connecting me with another department. Ten minute hold this time, the same invasive 'music' interspersed with the recorded assurance that my business was important but that all the 'representatives' were currently with other customers. Arrgh!
The connection to the second customer service person was clear--but English was obviously not his first language!

Son Howard appeared with his dogs moments after I finished dealing with the credit card issue.
The dogs bounded in wagging greetings. H. shuttling between his current remodeling job and his own house, had stopped to talk with J. and decided to await his return.

I began chopping onions, celery, carrots to add to the lentils which had been quietly simmering.
Outside the day was grey and dark, but the wind not as deafening. 

I was glad of the company, glad of the fire smoldering away in the woodstove, comforted by the homely smell of soup.
Jim returned an hour later, bringing in a large box which proved to hold beautiful hothouse tomatoes and two net bags of small firm onions.
He announced that he had sorted an issue with the electrical breaker box at Ruben's place and since R. and family needed to be away unexpectedly for several days he was gifting us with the bounty of tomatoes.

Having divested himself of his heavy jacket and insulated 'bib's J. informed me that he had thus far had only a cup of coffee and an English muffin for sustenance.
I pointed smugly at the kettle of thick hot soup, speedily assembled a sandwich.

As usual a cold dreary day inspires me to create hearty sustaining food.
After briefly slumping in my desk chair I returned to the kitchen. We are now well provided for the weekend with, in addition to the lentil stew, roasted butternut squash, parmesan potato slices, a lemonade icebox pie, to be supplemented with the beautiful tomatoes.

The wind has subsided; the cats are indoors; the house is not dreadfully untidy.
I've practiced the music to provide accompaniment at church for Ruben's flute.
Tomorrow promises to be another day of clouds and chilly weather. 
So be it!
I intend to be in bed by 10 p.m. comforted with the sense that the most important tasks of the day are done. 

Daffodils unwisely in bud.

Blackberry lilies in the front raised bed.

Lauren's Grape poppies have self-sowed in profusion.

Michaelmas daisies.

Curried lentil stew.

Roasted butternut squash and parmesan potato slices.


Monday, January 16, 2023

Mid-January: Quiet Grey Days

Blue skies have been rare this month. A promising sunrise has often faded into a sulk of dour grey clouds, bringing rain, sometimes in desultory dribbles, at other times in brief pounding deluges accompanied by the rattle of thunder. 
Morning temperatures have not been far above freezing. When I take out cat litter each morning the ground underfoot alternates between soggy and frost-crisped depending on what the previous night has brought.
Sunny afternoons have been welcomed in spite of chilly winds.

J. diverting water in the lane after a night of hard rain.

The hard freeze and snow during the last days of December left the east meadow looking sere and dun-colored, yet the verges of the lane and random patches of the lawn show a vivid green.
Much of the green is not due to the grass seed hastily strewn in the spring of 2019, but more about mat-forming weeds that are hardy through the winter.

Often a flush of color appears in the western sky after a sunless day.

Sunday, 15 January and a welcome day of sunshine!
A sharpish wind had stilled by noon and I went out, feeling liberated from the long slow days of gloomy greyness.
The spell of cold and snow has done my gardens no favors. I cut back the foxgloves after their modest fall flowering; the leaves remaining are now a sodden rotting weight on the crowns of the plants. Surely the next few weeks will bring an afternoon when I can pull away the spoiled leaves. There are small rosettes of new growth at the base of the plants. Centranthus ruber which spills over the wall [out of sight to the right] is a brown drooping curtain. It will be weeks before I can know whether the buddleias have survived. In two previous Kentucky gardens a brutal freeze has killed them. 

Behind the timber wall monarda is spreading in a mat of purple-tinged green. 

Thyme planted at the base of the clematis trellis is a tangle of wiry blighted stems, only a few sprigs of green showing life. I'm remembering that clematis begins its spring rejuvenation way too early having to be swaddled in old sheets and blankets on frosty April nights.

I slogged twice around the perimeter of our open acreage, my feet shuffling in  cut-off wellies. I took this photo while standing at the edge of the south ravine, looking toward the small storage building that now occupies the spot where our camper trailers stood during the winter of house building.  

Fuzzy seedheads in the tangle of brush that edges the ravine.

I noticed two dandelions--hardy survivors. 

Winter brings appreciation of the 'bones' of the landscape; trees twisted by weather and by decades of crowded unruly growth along the edges of the steep ravines.
Jim, with four years of mowing, bush-hogging, clipping and trimming has expanded the width of open ground along this north hillside.

If I had the agility of youth I might want to climb up and sit on this curving branch.

I spent some time standing underneath the hickory and oak trees that mark our eastern boundary, then walked along a short path that runs into the woods along the north ravine.
Nuthatches were busily scuttling up and down tree trunks as comfortable trundling downward as in working their way heads up.
It has been heartening to see more birds in the past two weeks: a large flock of robins bouncing about in the west meadow, titmice chattering on a branch above the compost dump, juncos, sparrows, a few cardinals. Starlings [sigh] and large red-tailed hawks that perch on the power lines ever on the alert for some unwary small creature.

The nests of squirrels are on view in the treetops, untidy hovels of leaves and twigs that were invisible during the summer. In one of those 'just at the right moments' I saw a squirrel pop into a small round hollow in a tree trunk, then quickly poke its head out again.

Hobbit houses in the edge of the woods.

January--the longest month of winter with often a sameness of grey inclement weather.
I read until my vision blurs; some evenings I go downstairs to finish another block of the current quilt in progress. I plonk away at the piano seeking out pieces that I can still manage more or less gracefully when it is my turn to 'play' for church. 
I make soup, bread, cookies.

On rare sunny afternoons I brew a mug of tea and sit for a few minutes in the new porch/sunroom. 
Howard installed curtain rods above the triple section window on the south wall and I clambered about to put up the ticking stripe valances modified from curtain panels I made for our Amish-built farmhouse.  This small embellishment has pleased me. 

It is too easy in a long spell of dreary weather to consider that I am merely marking time--waiting for another season, wishing for the return of abundant energy [not likely to happen to any degree at this age!]
Cousin Pat and I turn to the further unraveling of our shared French Canadian ancestry; my feeble high school grasp of French struggles with unfamiliar names recorded in faded cramped handwriting. We try to recreate the lives and the stories of these ancestors, journaliers who came from Quebec in the late 1800's with their large families, willing to work menial jobs in the hope of better education, better living conditions for their children and grandchildren.

Even the grey days, the seeming 'do nothing' days are precious. There are the small things to cherish--the two foxes seen strolling on the western end of the meadow, the deer foraging in the winter-chilled grass; the thoughts and ideas which spark research; words, fabrics, colors, patterns; seed-heads scattered on snow, pawprints and hoof prints in thawing ground. 
Worries and concerns intrude--so many situations beyond our small spheres of influence or ability; 

I am comforted on some abiding level that the seasons continue, the moon waxes and wanes, where one plant withers another springs up and blooms.
It has to be enough.