PV Headshot Jean Shriver.JPG

It is late and I am reading a mystery book.

The story gets grimmer and grimmer, the people get more cruel and more violent.

I put the book down. Enough.

I pick up "Notes Nearing Ninety," a book of essays by poet Donald Hall, whose career I have followed for more than fifty years.

As a young man, he wrote a book I loved called "String too Short to be Saved," recalling summers on his grandparents’ New Hampshire farm.

He recently died, but in this last book, he writes cogently of the trials of old age.

I smile as I read his rueful confession of absentmindedly backing into his garage door over and over. After the death of his second wife, he says he shuffles to the microwave to heat up a “widower’s dinner” in a red Stouffer's box.

Hall writes about his grandchildren, about the old farm house where he lives and other things to which I can relate more than murders.

It’s a tough world out there.

There are too many newspaper stories that echo my unpleasant mystery story, reporting tales of crimes and cruelty, deaths and diseases and my personal worst fear: global warming.

I do recycle and am contemplating buying an electric car, but beyond that am not sure what I can do to change the world and save all those fish who are trying to survive in warming oceans.

Some of the ways I used to try to help are not happening any more.

I no longer introduce books to fourth and fifth graders at a San Pedro school, but for this holiday season, I have filled a shoebox with pencils, soap, toothbrushes and toys to be sent to a child somewhere in the world.

I’m not teaching Sunday school, but my grandchildren all get gifts out of the Heifer catalog at Christmas. Hopefully, they are thrilled to know that someone on the other side of the world will get a flock of geese or a share of a cow thanks to them.

I have never been a fan of the Pollyanna approach to life, chirping away like a manic cricket in the face of evidence that things are fast going down the drain. On the other hand, prophesying gloom and doom in a sepulchral voice won’t accomplish much either.

So as fall moseys along toward winter, I’ve decided I’m not going to read any more grisly books.

I’m going to reread all of Donald Hall and make a point of hanging around hopeful people.

But what actions can I take?

Well, when the first rains fall, I resolve to plant roses to replace a few of mine that have grown haggard with age.

Also, my son and I are debating where and when to put in fruit trees on a space he cleared behind the house.

I love planting trees. Twenty two years ago, the children gave us four pomegranate saplings to celebrate our fortieth anniversary. Today those four trees are tall and leafy, with branches loaded with ruby red fruit.

In my mind those gifts of love stand as a bulwark against the hatred and divisions of this world.

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