Crossing to Safety

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At last the snow has cleared! It’s been hanging around since Wednesday and lovely as it looks when it’s all fresh and white, the disruption it causes is annoying. I always try to really love it and get out and walk in it with my companion, Billy – who, being a dog – finds it enormous fun to toss it about and roll around in it! But, try as I might, it’s so blooming cold and it makes you wet, and it turns to slush and makes you slide and then it ices over and threatens to help you break you neck! No, if I am honest, I have to say I wouldn’t really miss it if it never snowed here again.

Today, though, we could stride out again on our walk – that is until we reached Honley Wood, where the thick covering of snow has left a legacy of sloppy mud – and there is still heaps of it all over the site of the old quarry – with sheets of ice too that can sneak up on you unawares. It’s always good to be out when the sky is so clear though. The dismay I felt when I saw it raining first thing soon lifted as the sky brightened. Isn’t it wonderful how your spirits lift as you walk and breathe clean air? After being more or less cooped up for a couple of days, I was suffering from a bit of cabin fever so it felt even more liberating to be out today. Even countering the mud and the last of the ice wasn’t so bad – a challenge well worth facing. At one point I was in a field so boggy, with whole areas of ice covering what could well have been pretty deep swampy bits, that I really had to switch my brain on to work out the best way of jumping from one tuft of marsh grass to the next. Of course, I ended up with a bit of water down the boots, but my feet managed to stay reasonably dry. Billy certainly didn’t stay dry!! He made up for the 2 days lost opportunities of mud-splashing!

The book I’m thinking of today resonates with this business of getting from one tricky bit to another – trying to make out way across boggy ground – or rocky places – or icy patches. “Crossing to Safety” is by Wallace Stegner; I read it early in 2014 and loved it. It tells the story of two couples (Larry and Sally; and Sid and Charity) who make their way across the challenges thrown at them by life – with its love and loyalties; its trials and tragedies – and how they somehow make sense of all of that through a lifelong and complex friendship. Larry is telling the story – backwards, from his stance as an aging man looking back over the times the friends have been together, sitting on a porch while his wife sleeps. What a different place they have come to now – yet they gather at the same house where the friendship was birthed: “There it was, there it is, the place where during the best time of our lives friendship had its home and happiness its headquarters”

Each of the friends go through some tough times. We are with them as they face illness and disability; redundancies, disappointments and death. I love how they all grapple and struggle with understanding their relationships with each other – how they keep holding on to each other – even when forced apart. You’re never really sure if they truly understand each other though – if they ‘get’ one another. What seems important is that they stay on the journey together. Relationships are not easy- they have to be worked at – and just when you think you’ve ‘got’ someone, they sometimes slip through your fingers and you feel like you’re back at the beginning again. Ain’t that the truth! I guess that’s what makes it all so interesting – this people thing.

There’s this wonderful bit in the story when the couples leave their children with Charity’s mother and nanny while they go off into the wilds of Vermont. The plan ( and as always it is Charity’s plan – she plans everything, including everyone’s lives) is to take a horse, backpacks and really rough it – using ‘Pritchard’s’ notes (Pritchard being a real intrepid explorer and camper). And she intends to follow it to the letter…..

“On this trip [canes] have been declared compulsory. Pritchard, whose book on the outdoors Charity has been reading in preparation for the trip, recommends walking sticks, blackthorns, alpenstocks, or some other support for rough terrain and as a protection against hostile dogs.”

The husbands make fun of Pritchard – but not when fearsome Charity is around of course. One of the things he definitely recommends is double-checking your list to ensure everything is packed. So, just as they are about to set out she has them unpack to try and locate the tea. She berates Larry for not packing it and this threatens the harmony of the whole endeavour until the lovely Sally goes to fetch tea from the house and they can finally set off. Sid is angry with the way Charity speaks to Larry, “she acts like his mother, not his wife” he says to Sally and is often irked that Larry doesn’t fight back. On this occasion, it would seem that Larry too is rattled. In an usual fit of anger, he throws his stick away to Larry’s astonishment, who ends up keeping is – “but then, nobody is making me carry it”. Later they are waiting for the wives to catch up:

“He is still sore from that scene at the loading, his nose is still bloody. But notice. When [Charity and Sally] are within a few hundred yards he stands up and goes along the wall picking late raspberries and ripe chokecherries, and when they chug up, pink with exercise, exaggeratedly puffing, he goes to them, Charity first, and holds out a handful of berries as if expiating something.

“‘ Why thank you! she says, extravagantly pleased. ‘oh, don’t they taste good, and natural? I love their pucker’

In a few minutes we start again, Charity now in front with Sid, Sally and I leading Wizard behind. But as we begin to move, Charity notices a lack. ‘Where’s your cane? Have you left it somewhere? Already? Oh, Sid!'”

So much for subversive behaviour! You have to admire that moment of revolt though – and even more so that gracious offering of tender fruit.

Some of the most unlikely people come together well in relationship when many of us would be thinking “that’ll never work”. And don’t you find yourself wondering “how does he/she put up with that?” Mostly, we just don’t know what’s going on – what hidden depths there are to be uncovered by someone who really cares. I bet there are more than a few who think I’m the boss in our marriage – they have no idea how much I depend on that most marvellous man and I doubt they could guess at just how much I adore him and he me. It matters really only to us. You see, in the end, he’s the one I head for – my own place of safety – and I’ve crossed a fair few bogs to get here.