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On wall calendars, young presidents, faded dreams - and some great memories!

Every year about this time when you stop at the feed mill for a sack of laying mash, a mineral block, or any other homestead need, you'll probably come away with a brand-new calendar.

Ours has always hung in the kitchen, near the telephone. By late December its pages are dog-earred and smudged, and filled with scribbled notes that chronicle, in one small way, the activities of the year now past. There are appointments, birth dates and weddings, and notes and reminders enough to give any future historian a pretty fair idea of what went on on the homestead in 1992.

But no historian will see it. When the new calendar arrives, the old one is just more waste paper... except for a few final moments.

I don't recall ever taking an old calendar off the wall without flipping through the pages, looking at the pictures, and considering cutting out one or two, just to pin to a wall somewhere. I've never actually saved any, but that doesn't prevent me from thinking about it.

At the same time, I can't help but notice the notes. Like a very abbreviated diary or journal, they chronicle some of the highlights of the year past. It seems strange to think that a dental appointment was something important enough to actually write on the calendar last April. The larger events--the family weddings and funerals and other major milestones--have no need to be recorded on the calendar. The calendar is for such cryptic messages as "Call Steve" (July 3), "7404" (Sept. 18) and "DOG FOOD!" But it's the little things, the seemingly insignificant details, that make a life, and the wall calendar with the pretty farm scene records just a few of the everyday hum-drum events in just one country home.

When the old calendar comes down, it's replaced by a brand-new spick-and-span one. Not a mark on it. A clean slate.

I can't help but wonder what messages this one will contain a year from now... and what events will be too monumental to even be recorded on the kitchen calendar...

A new calendar year is totally artificial. A real new year should start with the first planting, or the first chicks to hatch, or the first lambs, or maybe when the ice goes out on the lake. At the very least, for anyone who lives with the seasons and cycles, it should begin with the vernal equinox. It seems to me that starting a new year on the first day of january, in the dead of winter, is just another example of man's ludicrous attempt to control nature, another effort to be in charge of the universe. The universe laughs at our egotism, and at our kitchen calendars.

On the other hand, December 31 does have a certain magic. We could easily stop and look back, or ahead, on any day of the year, and no doubt most of us occasionally do. But New Year's Eve is different. Maybe it's cultural, or tradition, but both reflections and resolve seem easier then. And this year once again, it will be even more impossible for me to avoid. There have been too many monumental personal changes. You can't navigate the storms of life, and stay on course, without knowing where you've been and where you're headed, and New Year's Eve is a great time for taking a reading.

The calendar is a great aid, on a yearly basis. But this year something else came up that lends a longer perspective. While it's no longer an original idea--I'm sure every newspaper columnist in the nation has thought of it by now--it hit me shortly after November third.

I am going to be older than the president of the United States.

You might find this amusing or of no interest, but it's serious.

When I was a kid, the president was Mr. Roosevelt. Always was, always would be, no question about it.

Same thing with the pope. Both of those guys were ageless.

Now that's all changed. I was learning to raise chickens and rabbits, plant a garden, and ride a bike, before the fellow who is now the president was even born! That thought is much, much more jarring than switching kitchen wall calendars. It brings me face-to-face with the real meaning of the passing of time, and its end result.

There's nothing wrong with or surprising about getting old of course, especially for a homesteader. It's no more unexpected than watching the garden transform from lush and productive green to barren brown to the slimey black that comes after the first hard frost. It's natural, and inevitable.

Just seeing where you are in the cycle--whether by turning a page on the calendar, putting up a brand-new calendar, or realizing you're older than the president--isn't the worst part. The worst part is the realization that so much time has passed. It's gone, forever.

What have I done with it?

As a schoolboy I learned that anybody could become president. Never mind that the prospect didn't interest me in the least: it was possible. Now it's not. I blew it.

Of course, while that Clinton kid was doing whatever it is that future presidents do to prepare for the job, I was busy with other dreams. The troubling question then becomes, what happened to them?

Where is that herd of top-notch Nubian goats I was sure I'd have long before now? That ideal barn? Or the whole ideal homestead? Could it really be 40 years ago that I started reading Dairy Goat Journal? What happened to all that time?

It's never too late to start, but those 40 years are gone forever. There will be other opportunities, but they won't be the same.

If I were young again, I'd try to take this as a great lesson: If you want something, really want it, go after it! Pursue it with all your energy, with all your being, and now. You can't start anything sooner than today, but if you wait until tomorrow you have wasted time and opportunities that will be lost forever.

But the most important thing is to want it... whether it's the desk in the Oval Office or a herd of Grand Champions or anything else. The problem--if it is a problem--is that few of us know what we want... until it's too late.

Maybe that's what this year-end ruminating is all about. We look at our past and imagine the future. If we can reaffirm goals (or even change them) and make a course correction if necessary, we do. But if it's too late...

Well, then we have to take a different approach.

I'll never be president, but so what? That's not sour grapes: I really never was interested.

But then... could it be that I didn't really want that fine herd of goats either? I mean really want it, bad enough to plan and study and learn and work hard to achieve it?

Putting it another way, sure, it would have been nice. But there were other things I wanted too, and there were trade-offs. (Actually, I switched from Nubians to La Manchas in the 1960s... but I didn't follow through on that, either.) Not many people can point to any astounding successes or major achievements. But that's not important if we accomplished what we set out to do.

If I were young again, maybe I'd aim a little higher. Maybe I'd set a more ambitious goal, and work toward it. Or maybe I'd just concentrate on goats, or pigs, the farm or the magazine, or writing books, instead of dabbling in all of them and getting nowhere.

But since that's not where I am in the cycle, I can at least examine my past and see why I am where I am. It must be where I really, even if unwittingly, wanted to be. And if I got what I wanted out of life, isn't that great?

If you're young, set a goal. Make it a major, wonderful one, and dedicate yourself to reaching it.

And if you're not so young anymore, don't waste time fretting about lost opportunities. Just look at what you have accomplished. It might well be that, given the options and circumstances, it's exactly what you wanted. If so, good for you!

Pause and reflect on that old calendar before you toss it in the recycling bin, but avoid remorse. Then hang up the shiny new clean calendar, and face the new year with joy, anticipation, and resolve.

Have a happy new year, beyond the sidewalks.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Belanger, Jd
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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