The carcass was beside the highway. Due to its age and immensity, it looked like a boulder blasted from a mountain than a stump that had once seen a hundred years come and go.
The husband said that ten men could not move that trunk. Still of use, its branches were carted away. Before we pulled away, my last sight was of a few leaves littering the ground near the stump.
Yearends put to mind these leaves of mine, a mortal’s tale that pales to the stories from trees and mountains. Except that sometimes more than the tale, the telling is everything.
One of the things put to the test by the pandemic, running for nearly two years now, is our sense of time. In the naturalized order, we account for time. What have I planned today? Who will I be five years from now?
Until physical then social isolation disrupted the flow, the calendar paced our days. This Middle English word comes from the Old French “calendier,” which evolved from the Latin “calendarium,” meaning “account book”
“Turning a new leaf” does not just physically correspond to flipping the calendar to the next month. In the book of days, turning a leaf means reading a saint’s inspirational anecdote or a historical turning point intended to elevate the reader’s life of the mind.
I discovered recently on the Internet Hillman’s hyperlinked and searchable website of the 1869 classic, Robert Chambers’ “Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities in Connection with the Calendar, Including Anecdote, Biography, & History, Curiosities of Literature and Oddities of Human Life and Character.”
A Scottish gentleman whose inborn lameness prevented him from joining games, Robert swapped jam sandwiches for books. Later, he teamed up with his brother William to sell books for a living when poverty shut the doors to university and priesthood.
According to the bookofdays.com, a habit of scrupulously accounting for his days boosted the Chambers’ bookstall. Robert woke up early to read; this way, he also reduced his use of candles. By reading aloud to a neighbor and his son as they baked, Robert added freshly baked bread to his paltry meals.
In the Chambers’ “Book of Days,” saints, royalty, and historical figures fill every leaf with ideas that met Robert’s criterion of “improving the fireside wisdom of the present day.”
Since the pandemic began, the journals I keep each year harbor more ghosts than leaves of wisdom. These empty leaves are more redolent of the Irish singer Enya’s version of the “Book of Days”: “No day, no night, no moment,/ Can hold me back from trying./ I’ll flag, I’ll fall, I’ll falter,/ I’ll find my day may be/ Far and Away.”
With apologies to Robert Chambers, I’ll find my day.