Springtime in Ukraine

All night and all morning the air raid sirens howled. Shells blew up. We ate ice cream.”

Olha, a citizen of Ukraine

Displaced Ukrainians on a Poland bound train bid farewell. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

The seasons roll along. March slips into April. Winter melts away. Daffodils laugh a yellow laugh, their roots tickled by the warming earth.

Covid comes and goes and comes again. It lurks in our wish for the vague concept of a normal time. It finds opportunity in complacency. It breeds in our prejudice about vaccines and masks.

War, also, comes and goes and comes again. It lurks in the minds of power-hungry men. It creates opportunity with propaganda. It breeds in prejudice about cultures, behaviors, and borders.

Ukraine army Chaplain walks through debris, combing the wreckage for victims. (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

I was born in ’46. A time of post war peace, which did not last long. By the time I was four years old, we were back at it. The USA allied with others to fight an ugly war in Korea. It ended in a stalemate that exists to this day. All the dead on both sides gone to the purgatory of history.

Still, the seasons roll along. I putter in our humble yard. I prep the ground with tiller and rake. I ready pots for a mix of annuals and perennials. Soon, I will sow wildflowers. Everyday, I do a little something.

Ten years after the Korean War, I graduated high school into the throes of the Vietnam debacle. My life would change due to that confrontation. Many of my peers lost their lives. Some, an arm or a leg. Others, their sanity. The upheaval left numerous families permanently estranged. Presidents lied, soldiers died. I dropped out.

An unexploded rocket is pictured in the cemetery of Mykolaiv. (Photo by BULENT KILIC/AFP via Getty Images)

For five years I lived by myself in the Sierra Mountains. No phone, no car, no TV. I ran with an eclectic crowd of other ne’er do wells, in search of … something. Don’t know that I ever found what I was looking for. 

I read a lot: Thomas Merton, Lao Tzu, Rilke. I pretended to be a writer. I communed with bird life. Friends came, then left. I stayed, adrift in the leisure of under achievement. But, I found my balance in nature and peace in the changing seasons.

Currently, spring rolls along in central Europe. The recent unprovoked attack by Russia on Ukraine has brought about the death of thousands of soldiers on both sides. Grieving spouses and children abound. The bombing of large cities has killed civilians. Many remain trapped, scavenging in the ruins of their home towns, denied safe corridors to evacuate.

Worker smokes a cigarette while taking a break outside the crematorium in Kyiv, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Vladimir Putin is a sociopath. A dictator, a thug, a bully without empathy. He rules with violence and fear.

The mystery of his justification for this war baffles observers. Why has the Russian war machine mobilized to destroy a neighboring country? No good answers exist. Putin sacrifices his army for a rationale based on propaganda. Presidents lie, soldiers die. 

Sometimes, it seems we kill each other just because we can. Since I was born in ’46, three hundred or more wars have occurred. We torture, induce genocide, and make rubble of homelands. These are the dissonant horrors making music in the human subconscious. Daily tragedy is ambient noise muffled by the tympani of time.

A Ukrainian firefighter takes a break from extinguishing a fire. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

We bury our loved ones. We cry with outrage. We regret, we forget, and the seasons roll along.

I am 75. The Vietnam generation is passing away. Napalm, My Lai, and Agent Orange are mere smudges on the historical record. A bad war led me to discover a good life. I was lucky.

Here’s a song for then and now.


11 thoughts on “Springtime in Ukraine

  1. John, you could not have put the truth any more simply than, “Presidents lied. Soldiers died.” I love the image of you puttering in your garden. I think of the Zen answer to the question what should the monk do after satori. “Chop wood. Carry water.”
    I found only one false statement: “I pretended to be a writer.” You were, and are, one of the finest writers I know.

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    1. Thanks for commenting Gary. I am a big fan of the poet, David Budbill. Have you heard of him?

      What It Takes

      Enough
      of a house
      to keep
 the bugs and rain
 out in the summer, 

      stay warm
 in the winter.
      Books,
      a few
      musical instruments,
      a garden,
      silence,
      some mountains,
      maybe a cat.

      From Happy Life-Copper Canyon Press 2011

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This post I enjoyed immensely. You eloquently put together the pieces of this crazy world just as it is. It seems as if life is paralyzing at times but like everyone, as you say, has to do a little something and carry on. I’ve been listening to more Dylan than usual (which is still quite a bit), but his music is more fitting than ever… if God’s on our side, He’ll stop the next war. Wonderful cover, and as for what is happening in Ukraine, you say it well: “Daily tragedy is ambient noise muffled by the tympani of time…”

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment. The PNW is enjoying a lush wet spring. Don’t know if you are currently in the states but the snowpack and rainfall are normalish for the first time in a while. Grandkids are still skiing on Mt. Hood. Hope you are well. 😎

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  3. I just read this before the sun came up today. Your words match the murky sky and stale wind outside my window. I marvel at your peaceful power as you work in your garden, And your ability to create music. Humanity’s obsession with war and hate could make me a pessimist if it weren’t for writers like you. Merci beaucoup again.

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