MARTHA SEZ: ‘Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t’

They say that the thing you worry about most is not the thing that will get you.

It may be comforting to believe this, at first, because the very fact that you’re worried about your daily beer consumption or second-hand smoke or even COVID-19 means it isn’t your nemesis. You can rule it out.

But stop to think. You have to ask yourself, then what is going to get me? Interjecting the element of surprise is not reassuring. Another thing people say: Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

Nemesis, the inescapable agent of your downfall.

Spring has apparently come to the North Country–you never know for sure– and I have been out in the garden almost every day. Rain or shine, eventually Merry will appear, walking up or down the street. She must put in 20 miles a day. Sometimes she stops to talk while I weed.

How did we get on the subject of deer? I’m not sure, but around here if you talk to someone long enough the subject of deer is bound to come up at some point. This time the context was fate.

“One day,” Merry told me, “I was walking along the sidewalk, between here and Stewart’s, and a deer ran out in the road and got hit by a car. The deer went flying up in the air and almost hit me. It came down a couple of feet from where I was standing. I could have been killed.”

See? Of all the things Merry, or anybody, might worry about, getting taken out by a flying deer is not one of them. The devil you know: getting run over by a drunk driver. The devil you don’t know: getting struck down by an airborne whitetailed deer. It’s enough to make you believe in fate.

On a lesser scale, the same principle holds true for my gardening efforts. Every year, against all odds and in defiance of common sense, I buy flower seeds through the mail and try to grow them on my windowsills. Talk about ill-fated. There are so many ways the little seedlings can perish. They can grow weak and spindly from lack of sun or overcrowding, dry out or damp off from overwatering. A dog can sweep them off the sill with a wag of its tail. Every year I ask myself why I even try. I suppose it’s a kind of therapy, something to cheer myself on through the weeks of spring’s false starts, balmy days interspersed with hard frosts and blizzards.

This year my seedlings did well, especially the zinnias. They looked healthy and strong and green. Then the other day day my cat Jupiter went outside and jumped back in through the window with a half-grown vole in his mouth. He promptly let it loose in the kitchen.

The little creature ran madly around as I tried to trap it in order to put it back outside. No luck. After a while I saw Jupiter and Orangey, my other cat, lounging around at their leisure and I figured, well, if they aren’t stalking the vole anymore it must be gone. I hope eaten and not under the bed or the sideboard.

The next morning the tops of half the seedlings had been bitten off. I never did expect that. I can thank Jupiter for that fateful vole. A little while later I was watching “Morning Joe” on TV and I saw the vole snuffling around my Christmas cactus. I tried again to catch it, but no dice.

Had those seedlings grown to maturity and bloomed in the garden, they might well have produced exceptional, prize-winning zinnias. A vole is not like a wolf. A wolf culls the weak and sickly from the herd. No, a vole doesn’t have the sensibility. I can only imagine what might have been, what awards those zinnias might have taken in a flower show. Of course we won’t have a flower show this year because of the pandemic. Have we ever had a flower show here?

I was mulling these thoughts and pulling weeds in the garden when Merry happened by again.

“Put this in the paper,” she said. “When I can’t sleep, I think of all the people who have moved to town and then gotten divorced.”

“That takes your mind off your worries? Like counting sheep?”

“Yes!” she said, walking on. “Put it in the paper.”

Stay safe and have a good week.