THIS is the time of year when Honey and I go on our sorting-things-out jaunt. Honey is a Labrador retriever and we have been doing it together for l4 years now. Like many dogs, Honey is a good companion for this annual tramp when we try to think through what kind of a year the world has had, and what to expect in the year ahead. Honey doesn't interrupt, and manages to convey a general air of agreement.
There have, of course, been predecessors to Honey. Our first Labrador, Candy, was much-traveled in Africa, Asia, and the eastern United States, and thus was very wise in these annual stocktakings. Then there was Fury, who had the heart of a lion but a rather short attention-span. Honey is perhaps the most diplomatic of them all, conveying continuing interest in the discussion, even while making discreet diversions to particularly intriguing lumps of seaweed.
Here on Cape Cod, we leave the house and swish through the grass of the salt marsh, tawny in winter, and bristling this year with a frosting of snow. Once on the beach, we head along the shore, past the huge landmark rock two men tall, and the little cove where the shell-fishermen like to shuck clams and oysters.
We check on a couple of spars washed up, and some driftwood. We note the last high-tide mark. We head past the deserted boathouse, and the upturned boats of the summer people, and out to the little headland from which you can look out over our inlet, and the outer beach, to the heaving Atlantic and, mentally at least, to Europe 3,000 miles beyond.
And by the time you are there, with nothing but the sky, and the sharp, clean air, and the sea, all around you, everything that has happened in the past year is getting clearer and more understandable.
It has been a mixed year for humanity. A lot of people have gone hungry in Africa, but there has been an extraordinary mobilization of effort to help them.
In the United States, whose economy drives that of much of the world, many people are doing better financially, there has been a gain in jobs, there is a booming stock market. There is no way of gauging it, but I sense from news reports that there is somewhat more concern for the street people, the poor, the jobless. Said one man interviewed while delivering gifts to a Salvation Army center: ``We're doing better, so we can do a little better by those who don't have it so good.''
In society at large, drug use is up but use of alcohol seems on the decline, and we may at last be looking to a cigarette-free United States within the foreseeable future.
On a global scale, the United States and the Soviet Union are talking and listening to each other, but not necessarily agreeing. That, however, is progress. The danger of big-power confrontation is lessened. There may be some hope for nuclear arms reduction.
By contrast, the number of lesser wars that continue around the world is disheartening. In the land of Jesus, peace has seemed especially elusive. The bloodshed continues in Afghanistan, Kampuchea, Angola, Nicaragua, Northern Ireland. South Africa is a tinderbox, and the Philippines a question mark.
Yet democracy is making strides. The current issue of Newsweek carries a l975 map of Latin America, almost all of it colored red for dictatorships and military regimes. The same map in l985 is almost all green -- for democracies.
What to expect in l986?
More, serious talk between Washington and Moscow.
In the United States, probably a big mess in Congress on taxes and budget.
There will be skirmishing for the l988 presidential race. Senator Kennedy, who could get elected to anything from dogcatcher and up in his home state of Massachusetts, has apparently figured he cannot make it to the presidency. Though that leaves Gary Hart the Democrats' front-runner, front-runners sometimes fade and this may be the opportunity for fresh Democratic faces.
On the Republican side, we will see George Bush proclaiming he is Ronald Reagan's constitutional heir, and Jack Kemp asserting he is his ideological heir.
Does all this mean that President Reagan is a lame duck? My dog, who is an expert on ducks, doesn't seem to hear any quacking.