Peace in Simple Things

More peace lies in simple things than we know, and yet, you know, we should. Growing up, our home was heated by woodstoves, hard taskmasters until baseboard arrived mid-teens. Wood was cut each fall. My brother and I fed fires all winter. Funny thing is, preparing was satisfying, made us happy, does now.

For many years, I moved away, spent more time in our nation’s capital than back here, never worried about wood or heat, nothing on cold days to fear. Robert Frost was, even in my hand, like a foreign land.

Robert Frost wrote: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both, and be one traveler long I stood, and looked down one as far as I could, to where it bent in the undergrowth.”   

Just this season, people begin thinking about winter, chill in the air, maple, and oak leaves changing and falling, Thanksgiving coming, soon Christmas, New Year’s, then deep snow and lower temperatures.

In Maine, we put things away that need storing: boats, chairs, tools, maybe a hammock. Migrating plants come in, and food goes out for birds that don’t. We checked the road sand and put corn and Venison in the freezer.

We exchanged shorts and tees for long pants and johns, sweatshirts, sweaters, and jeans; out on the lake, loons circle in fours to fly south, woods fill with fox cries and owl hoots. We get out our Bean Boots.

All this is done without complaint, like making your bed in the morning, brushing your teeth, making sure the milk is still good, coffee fresh, trash emptied, clothes clean, dogs fed, and you’re ahead.

But this season is different – in places like Maine – because things get real in winter, stakes high, things freeze hard, blizzards and blackouts, wind and wires down, one home, a whole town.

When I went away, all this got murky. For a time, I lingered in Theodore Roosevelt’s “gray twilight,” no need to worry about winter, yet even then, aching for it, the anticipation. These days, I have returned to my roots, where tall pines creak all winter, birches bow to sudden ice, and the warmth within is nice.  

Robert Frost wrote: “Then took the other as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear; though as for the passing there, had worn them really about the same. And both that morning equally lay, in leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day, yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.”      

Like preparing for a long trip, getting out an old, well-worn game, or thinking about the future before it comes, knowing you are ready for events does bring a special peace and comfort and makes you content.

That happens up here, in Maine, this time of year. Just now, we take stock of what we have, what we need, things we like having “just in case.” Nothing is done fast, no hurry, no worry, no race.

Today, I got the last of my wood in, seasoned stuff that will burn warm and bright, the kind of fires that lift your spirits on a cold night. Now, I have baseboard heat, even a propane generator for when wires go down, and yet sometimes…I still feel this little house is like a town.

It is hard to explain why getting firewood in, piles high and straight and waiting makes a simple soul satisfied, at peace, ready for what may come, even happy – for no other reason but the preparation.

Having returned to where, in my growing up years, we split and handled a lot of wood, it feels good. Like Robert Frost, I think: “I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages, and ages hence: Two roads diverged in the wood and I – I took the one less traveled by – and that has made all the difference.”

Nowhere better to read the poets, especially Robert Frost, than beside a roaring fire, knowing your woodpile couldn’t be higher. More peace lies in simple things than we know, and yet, you know, we should. 

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.

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