Volume 15, Issue 1 ~ January 4 - January 10, 2007

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

Why I Still Smoke My Pipe

The secret of resolutions you can keep

Daily dawns another day;

I must up, to make my way.

—Inscription for the Ceiling of a Bedroom: Dorothy Parker: 1893-1967

Whether it’s the last day of an old year, the first of a new year or any day in between, the above words of one of the greatest critics, poets and short story writers of my time still ring true. Daily dawns another day, and what choice do we have other than getting up?

Will you and I waste the day? Or will we divert its happenings to a bank from which to later draw interest?

It’s the first day of the rest of our lives. And that’s what counts. Too late; little or nothing can be done about the wasted days of the past.

To my way of figuring, 29,255 daily dawns have come my way since Dec. 15, 1926, when I entered this world about the time of the Jazz Age — and with the Great Depression not far down the line. The sight of a woman’s bare ankle would arouse a young buck; many a white handkerchief was purposely dropped so it could be picked up as a way of introduction. Bodies were just beginning to touch each other on the dance floors.

Pity the young gent who wasn’t prepared to pay the full tab on a date; pity him even more when, after he escorted the young lady to her door, he found the porch light lit and a stern Papa to guard against any shenanigans. Straight-laced Calvin Coolidge was president, and men young or old were expected to duplicate his moral examples.

Over the years came changes, but it takes 365 days for just one year to pass, so changes came painfully slow. Each new year renewed hopes for prosperity, health, fame, love, which bunched together were considered self-betterment.

As each new year dawned, there came New Year’s resolutions, self-promises to those seeking self-betterment whether it was to lose weight, save money, quit smoking, get more sleep, do homework promptly or arrive to work on time.

101 Broken Resolutions

Over my 80 years, I have probably made more than a hundred New Year’s Resolutions. All but one was forgotten in weeks, and that one exception came about a quarter of a century ago when I decided to quite smoking my beloved pipe. I didn’t take a puff for eight years. But after a surprise heart bypass and a diagnosis of diabetes at about the same time, I decided to rearrange priorities.

I began to feel like a wallflower at parties; martinis were out. So were most of the finger foods and much of the other table offerings. Second-hand smoke was nothing compared to that drawn through my own pipe. What was left to do?

I confronted my doctor. “I’m either going to smoke, eat or drink,” said I. “You decide which is less harmful.”

He did, and chose smoking in moderation — though we differ on the meaning of moderation. Gone was the only New Year’s Eve Resolution I had ever kept for more than a week or two.

The Trouble with Resolutions

Here I am at my 81st New Year’s Eve; wife Lois and five-year-old granddaughter Grumpy have retired after we watched Ice Age II on a DVD. Now I’m writing a column on facing yet another new year, and only a few minutes ago, a light bulb flashed within my thick skull. I suddenly realized why resolutions made for a new year don’t stick.

The typical resolution involves giving something up, usually something pleasurable and satisfying. It’s a negative promise to one’s self. Whose will and heart can really be in such promises? Not mine, and probably not yours.

A revision of New Year’s Resolutions is in order. Why not make resolutions that will be easy to keep, resolves that will weather the storms of temptation? Moreover, think of the personal satisfaction of keeping a resolution.

Resolved with Pleasure

I hereby resolve that in ’07 I will do things around the homestead up here in North County that will make things more interesting and satisfying not just next year, but years thereafter. Let’s see, hmmm. I’ll start in my own backyard. Something I’ve always wanted to do, but never got around to.

I resolve to create a backyard sanctuary for my resident birds. I will make a weed garden. At a nook at the south yard, I will let the weeds take over, to prosper and while doing so provide shelter, cover and food for birds and other small wildlife. I will leave the weed stalks standing in the fall and over the winter to create a natural bird feeder for small seedeaters. Birds will be able to find seeds above the white stuff. The lower bramble-like growth will offer cover and shelter from the weather, also from the hawks that sometimes move in.

The south side is ideal, for it gets more sun. As for the weeds, they’ll come naturally and in variety. No need for much digging, or tilling; just get rid of the grass. I won’t have to cut the weeds; the taller they get the better they will serve their purpose.

A tad of cow manure will ensure good weed growth; nothing else needed. Most weeds prosper in dry spells so there’s no watering. And because I’m raising a crop of weeds, there’s no need to do any weeding. It’s a resolution I can keep; to break it means more work in tidying up the intended weed garden, and the harvest for me is watching the wildlife.

Until recent Christmases, our discarded trees were left on their stand and placed upright near bird feeders, offering shelter and cover for our birds in bad weather. A birdwatchers delight, but no more.

We no longer have a real tree for Christmas, and not because of cost or the woes in finding one that doesn’t shed all its needles by Christmas Eve. We prefer its convenience and time saving. It has hundreds of built-in lights, so there’s no untangling of last year’s strings of lights, or trying to find the faulty ones.

For ’07, I resolve not to go back to a real tree but to save the popcorn and cranberries strung as garland and hang it out for the birds. No tree, but all the fixings.

There, I’ve resolved my resolutions woes; I’m looking to more interesting scenarios in my yard via resolutions I can keep. What about you?

Enough said.

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