For the first time this summer, I enjoyed a day to myself, so I took a long, long walk -- even though it was over 90 degrees and overly humid -- and I appreciated what I heard: nothing but nature. Nary a car passed me as I walked up and down my dirt lane. A chipmunk stopped to say hello, and I saw fresh deer tracks. There were birds galore: grey catbirds singing their "mew mew" songs, tree swallows, warblers, and even a couple of red-tailed hawks circling near the tip-top of our mountain.
Because I didn't have to consider anyone else's needs or wants for lunch, I took myself out for some fantastic crabcakes -- food that no one else in my family enjoys. I shopped. I strolled. I read a book on a park bench until I became tired of sitting in the heat.
And then, I came home, filled a jug with water, and just sat on a rock at the end of my long gravel driveway, staring at my little red cottage in the woods. This place, it conjures up a lot of thoughts. What once was an affordable indulgence, a five-hour drive away from our former home in New Jersey, is now, at times, an albatross: a six-plus hour flight, plus a couple hour's drive in a rental car that is expensive to return when it's only one-way. Worse, we can't realistically just come for a weekend; the cost of flights is just way too high. And while we offset the expense of the place as best as we can through renting it out, we now have a way higher cost of living in California, and this cottage in the woods seems, at time, to be a weight on our shoulders that is a bit too heavy in an economy that isn't forgiving. It's a bind in which we're lucky to be, on one hand; it's a colossal mistake, on the other. To me, right now, it's three more weeks on the calendar, and I have to reflect on what to do: what projects, like the many fallen trees from recent storms, probably need attention; whether or not I should try to scrape and paint the flaking ski locker myself instead of the expense of hiring out the work; who to ask to look in on things during the long, cold winter which may be lucky enough to see some tenants -- or may not if the debt talks fail and the economy tanks again.
But despite the nonsensicalness of it all, as it's a place we should not have in a place we often cannot be, we return, every summer, for as long as we can. We return, and, when the kids are here, we hear their footsteps crashing through the forest. We see them build forts out of sticks and rocks, and we hand them fishing nets and a paint bucket in which to catch and store frogs. They fall asleep, some nights, to the glow of fireflies, caught and stored in a homemade lantern, waiting for parents can set them free again. We research every bug and beetle that crosses our path. We learn to identify birds by their song, trees by their leaves, and poison ivy by, unfortunately, walking past it one too many times. We witness magnificent thunderstorms that shake our physical and metaphysical foundations. We sleep hard, in the oxygen-rich air donated by the green trees that stretch on domed mountains as far as our eyes can see.
We do all sorts of things here in Vermont that we do not do in California.
And maybe for that reason, as I sit on my rock and gaze at my house, this place feels more like home, as it lacks the distractions that make life in California seem so much more difficult. Sadly, I have fewer friends here, blessedly less to do, and, frustratingly, little good produce to eat. And yet, I could sit on this rock for a spot of time each day for the rest of my days, inviting friends from California to come and sit with me, especially if they come bearing fruit, as I'm feeling scurvyish. We could take a kayak on the Ottaquechee and marvel at how still the river is and how the biggest, most beautiful weeping willow I've ever seen reflects so perfectly in the glass-like water. We can watch the fish swim around our boat, and we can listen to the sounds of nothing: no cell phones, no car horns, no airplanes overhead.
I can't even blog much, or e-mail much, because I can't stand the sound of the typing.
Gloria Swanson once said, "all creative people should be required to leave California for three months every year." I think she's right. Because it's not until I'm here, sitting on my rock, surrounded by still, quiet peace, that I realize how full my head gets of the noise of everyday life in Silicon Valley, and how much I need this reset button -- or reset rock, such as it is.
It's not easy to be here in so many ways, and, yet, it's the easiest thing I do, because I'm more at home here than I am anywhere else.
And thus, I remember why I'm here: it's to hear the call of "less is more." There are ways to take this noise out of my very happy, but very loud, life out West. I can't take a quiet hike right out of my door, but I can ride my bike to where I can. I can take the family with me and insist that cell phones stay behind. I can block off the time in the calendar and insist that we retreat to a place absent of distractions. For it's in those times when we realize -- more existentially -- why we're here: to be together, to love each other richly, and to appreciate the gifts both inside and around us that can't be bought in any store.
All that ... from sitting on a rock.