Roger Barbee: It’s not time to lay it down

While walking the hound one recent morning, I noticed that the sun had yet to clear Short Mountain which was shrouded in a soft apricot-like glow. A heavy frost lay on the grass and roofs. It was a chilly, but clear November morning with promises of a warm afternoon that would offer time for some late gardening chores before real cold arrived.

Waiting on the hound and beagles to finish their business, I thought of how, as I age, I identify more and more with the month of November.

Sitting at the table with a cup of coffee, I looked over the back acres watching the sun creep over Short Mountain as it heated the grass and roofs. Before long, a mist rose out of the warming frost and birds began feeding at the feeders.

The morning looked better from the warmth of the coffee at the breakfast table because it was still cold outside, but as I had observed earlier, the bright, clear sky promised. I resolved to make good on that promise, and I told Mary Ann that I hoped to dead-head the roses and other plants, mow the grass, and perhaps putter about in my shop.

The morning was not the first novel association with November that I have recently experienced. A few weeks ago I re-read Robert Ruark’s memoir, “The Old Man and the Boy,” in which he tells of growing up under the mentorship of his grandfather, the old man. Late in the book, the old man says to the boy: ” …I like November. November is a man past fifty who reckons he’ll live to be seventy or so, which is old enough for anybody — which means he’ll make it through November and December, with a better-than-average chance of seeing New Year’s…”

Way past 50 like Ruark’s grandfather, I have learned to take the days as they come. I have realized that, no matter how capable I think I am, some things such as a chilly November morning can’t be rushed. When I was younger and more foolish than now, I would have been out the door after the first coffee to make the day begin. I would have grabbed gardening implements and worked in the damp chill. Being uncomfortable would not have mattered because I was “getting it done.”

You see, for me during my younger years, getting something done or something accumulated was the measure of my life. It mattered that each day produced something tangible.

Drinking more coffee, waiting for the day’s warmth to arrive, I pulled down Ruark’s memoir and read more words of the old man: “A man don’t start to learn until he’s about forty; and when he hits fifty, he’s learned all he’s going to learn. After that he can sort of lay back and enjoy what he’s learned … His appetites have thinned down, and he’s done most of his suffering, and yet he’s still got plenty of time to pleasure himself before he peters out entirely.”

Finishing the last cup of coffee and eating some oatmeal, I held that observation as I prepared to go out into the warming day. There was no need to rush, for the chores were there, waiting to get done or not. The journey of the day was what mattered, not the deeds done.

Growing older here at Red Hill with Mary Ann is an interesting process that is sometimes quite easy, but at other times, such as when taking new medications, difficult. However, it does seem that the old man is right — somewhere along this path, I have learned to let go and enjoy what I have.

For me, life is not the struggle that it seemed to once be. Yes, I have problems and concerns, but they don’t seem to be as daunting as they were when I was 30.

Outside in the garden, I soon removed my jacket because of the day’s warming. As I pruned and dead-headed, I thought of these things and the day. There was no hurry and it mattered not if all was finished because the sun made its continuous arc across the sky, oblivious to my puttering. But that was OK, for it was nature’s rhythm.

In his book “Far Appalachia,” Noah Adams recounts his journey on the New River. Early on, in the mountains of North Carolina, he stops at the farm of an elderly couple to ask directions. He compliments the woman on the flowers she is carrying, and she waves her hand toward the field above the road, saying, “Used to be I had all that in flowers, too, but there comes a time when you have to lay it down.”

Moving from plant to plant in the November warmth, I thought how right that woman is — we will all come to “a time when you have to lay it down.”

But, I had this afternoon and the roses and the plants and the shop. It’s not yet time.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at

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