Hope and spring

I’ve been reading Patrick O’Brian again. Or, more accurately, Simon Vance has been reading him, and I’ve been listening.

I read the Aubrey-Maturin books for the first time when I moved from San Francisco to New York, in 1995. They weren’t all written then, but I read what there was in just a couple of months. One good thing – and there really aren’t that many – about 20 years’ elapsing is that you can read all the good books again, almost new.

Even if my memory of them were better, it would still be worth every minute to hear Simon Vance’s version. His voices give life to the characters, and round them out in ways my imagination couldn’t have done. I have a fondness for the cadence, the expressions, and the niceties of the English of Victoria and her immediate predecessors – at least, as they’re rendered in literature, which provides my only experience of them – and O’Brian and Vance between them have me working “what joy” and “never in life” into conversation.

There was, apparently, a nautical taboo against discussing any success prematurely and throughout the series, often and often,  Jack Aubrey restrains himself. “There’s many a slip twixt cup and lip,” he reminds himself. And so there is. The specter of unfulfilled potential fills me with dread.

I’ve never attempted anything as difficult and dangerous as a naval action, but the maxim applies to all our endeavors, large and small. The injunction against counting your chickens, the agricultural equivalent, would probably be more appropriate here, but I like Aubrey’s version better. I shudder to think what you’d find if you were to excavate that vast chasm between potential and achievement. Just today, I tossed in some broccoli raab seedlings that got eaten by some mysterious insect within 48 hours of my planting them outdoors. Then there’s the five bee colonies, none of which survived even one winter. But you’d find them only if you manage to dig through the 60,000 or so baby oysters that died on us last year.

And yet, when I see new things taking shape, I’m not thinking about the slip. It’s all lip, all the time. It’s figs. And raspberries. Ramps will be a quiche. And that truckload of wood, a shed. What’s that they say about hope and spring?

I’m very much afraid that I’m counting my chickens, even though I know full well that it’s a lee shore.


11 people are having a conversation about “Hope and spring

  1. I so know what you mean. I have so many failures I’m almost afraid to breathe about any first time for this or first time for that for fear of what was once a healthy fruitlet now withering on the vine.

    At least I haven’t killed the chickens yet.

    The ramps look wonderful!! I wish I could find some here but I don’t even know if they grow on the west coast. Enjoy them for me!

  2. Tamar, as a fellow O’Brian fan, I chose to believe you wrote this post just for me. The Aubrey-Maturin series was one of the first things my husband and I bonded over when we met, and we’ve incorporated many a saying from the books into our regular vocabulary, too. You’ve got me curious about the audio versions now.

    I think, though, that Jack would probably be more likely to share his wisdom on the topic at hand with one of his patented broken metaphors, such as “Don’t count your chickens until they’re in the soup” (followed by a stifled giggle at his own wit).

  3. Without topping it the nob, I am sensible that gardeners must ken a cro’jack from a crosstree. For frustration, shiphandling ain’t in it.

  4. Paula — I think it’s pretty much par for the course, if you’re growing something. But we keep doing it, again and again.

    As for the ramps, they were a gift from a visitor from Vermont.

    PQ — I did write it just for you. Now go get the audio version!

    Rick — Ramps were from off-cape. We have a friend visiting from Vermont, and he brought them. A huge bag, too!

    Dad — Avast and belay!

  5. I like “It’s better to have tried and failed, then not tried at all”.

    Thats what I tell the kids anyway.

    When it’s me, I keep thinking about how much of a pain it’s going to be to replace this part/ingredient when I stuff it up.
    I spent weeks agonising over how to cut circular hole in a domed piece of steel cleanly (a proper circle with a 2mm error margin). So I finally cut it after months of research, talking to people. The first hole was dog’s breakfast … but the next two were perfect.

    • I don’t know which I value more — your anecdotes, or your colorful Australian expressions. “Dog’s breakfast” will enter our idiomatic lexicon.

      Congratulations on your perfect holes.

    • Henry, we’ve had that tree for four years now. We wrap it every winter, and it has done well so far. Last year, we got over 100 figs from it. But we never count our chickens, so we’ll just wait and see if it delivers again.

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