Monday, February 15, 2010

Precedence Day

The only useful knowledge I retained from Miss Pauls's sixth grade class in 1959-1960 is the following litany we recited every morning after the pledge of allegiance. It was kind of fun, like skiers verbally moguling together downhill:

"Washington Adams Jefferson Madison Monroe [pause]...Adams Jackson Van Buren [pause]...Harrison Tyler POLK Taylor, Fillmore Pierce Buchanan Lincoln Johnson Grant [brief pause]...HAYES Garfield ARTHUR Cleveland HARRISON Cleveland...McKinley Roosevelt [big final descent:] TAFT Wilson Harding Coolidge Hoover Roosevelt Truman Eisenhower Kennedy Johnson." Actually, it ended with Eisenhower, but when I recite it nowadays I have to add at least two more names to bring it to a close.

So much for the presidents. Probably their names could have been 34 breeds of dogs or World Series MVPs, for all we cared. It was Miss Pauls's thing, like her idea to have us put on "The Mikado" as a class play because she was jealous of the play we had written, called "If Kids Ran the World," which was a huge hit, of course. But I digress.

I actually wanted to use this post to discuss precedence, not presidents. But since I'm riffing off Presidents' Day, I thought I'd give them precedence. Kind of an age before beauty thing. The point being that just because they come first, doesn't mean they're more important. In fact, sometimes it's good to start with the lesser and build to the greater.

For example, today I had this rare fillip of energy at the beginning of the day—holiday, free-square energy—and what did I apply it to first? Organizing my sock drawer. Finally, maybe the first time in two years! Balling up unballed ones. Throwing out several pairs purchased during the first Bush administration. Setting free a few widowers who were never going to be sock puppets. What gave this chore precedence? The fortuitous propinquity of a laundry bin. But just because Buchanan precedes Lincoln doesn't mean he was a more important president.

Next beneficiary of the fillip was what I call Archaeology: going up to the little room I call my office and sorting folders, papers, books, magazines, pads, photographs, envelopes, tchotchkes, pens, wires, clothes, and trash. A hateful, depressing task that probably was more important than sorting the socks, but if I'd started with Archaeology, those socks would have had to wait until Obama's younger daughter became president, by which time they'd be in some landfill. I put a few books in a shelf. I created a new pile and stacked it in a different box. I made the waste basket feel important. I promised to visit more often.

Where am I going with this? I'll tell you where I'm going with this. We don't really need a Presidents' Day, but we do need a Precedence Day. A day in which we get to putter, sputter, mutter, and clutter, all for the purpose of figuring out, and celebrating, what's important in our lives. Since we just had Valentine's Day to pledge our troth to loved ones, let this day be about occupations and pre-occupations. I'm not even going to make a list of what those might be lest I appear to an expert on the subject. But I will say that I'm glad I devoted the last hour and a half of the afternoon-evening to going meadowing, which is something I haven't done for a while.

My meadow of choice was Rock Meadow in Belmont, where I've been traipsing for the past, oh, 25 years. Where I used to see meadowlarks and still see bluebirds and sometimes falcons and rough-legged hawks, and once a surprising warbler, Brewster's or Lawrence's. I forget which. They've landscaped it recently, so a lot of old trees and stumps I'd befriended have gone. It's much more open now, which still gives me an uneasy, over-exposed feeling, and also made for a windy and chilly walk. The thing about meadowing is that you have to discover this interior point to it, a kind of harmonic with the meadow. This is not as mystical as it sounds. It comes down to being interested in what's going on. It's a bit like what Paul's grandfather in "A Hard Day's Night" recommended that Ringo do, rather than stick his nose in a book. Namely, go parading.

There was a map in the Rock Meadow parking lot indicating a "multi-trunked tree" in the far corner from where I was. So that became my nominal objective. I'm not sure I actually found it. But what did happen was the sun came out, turned the tawny grass into a soft fur underfoot, and gave a promising light to the edge of the boardwalk, which gave a pleasant percussive clonk underfoot, like a xylophone in monotone, as I made my way back to the parking lot.

And I'm glad I went there yesterday, because today the meadow is covered with snow, a good six inches from a storm nobody's scared of.

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