In Memoir, The Examined Life, Wisdom on May 14, 2013 at 6:00 am
My Maryland Woods
I spent some time over the weekend thinking about my best self as in, when have I realized my best self? I was in Maryland where I am selling some property, much of which consists of several acres of raw old woods, with trees bigger than I can get my arms around. I love these woods.
I do not use the word love lightly.
It was Mother’s Day evening and I was standing in a patch of woods where, four years ago, I scattered my mother’s ashes. The sun was setting. That’s when I started to reflect on those times when I experienced what I call my best self. My mother motivated me in a deep and profound way to seek such things of myself.
Also in these woods I roamed and meditated and worked with my beloved Maggie, a dog that meant more to me than I can talk about. Maggie died three years ago and walking the woods I could see her beautiful sleek athlete’s body fly like an arrow through the undergrowth. And over there, by the brook, is where I buried poor little Oscar, a rust-colored rescue cat that one night had a stroke. When I found him in the morning he did not resist my touch and his eyes no longer held life, though his heart was still beating.
These memories had the capacity to crush me as I walked my woods a last time. I was spared that, fortunately, though my heart was indeed heavy. Rather, I was grateful, a soaring and rare emotion. The animals of my life, my mother, the trees, the capacity for memory, these are things woven together by my aspiration for a better self, a best self. These are things loved and love will, by its very nature, guide a person to such heights.
In Life, Travel, Writing on August 14, 2012 at 6:00 am
It was hot today and the work suffered. I suffered. But not as much suffering as the small crew of men I’d hired to cut the fallen trees, strip the limbs, and carry it all into the woods, suffered. The temperature rose to over ninety and they brought no water. For a moment we considered going to get them water. Imagine: Going to get them water! Water was at the ready. Tap. How have we come to a place where one drives to a store to get water? Instead, Carole filled a pitcher and grabbed some cups and took it to them.
By mid-afternoon we were spent and finished. But they carried on.
Evening found me sitting and pondering the sky. The trees were filled with the sound of cicadas and the horizon was alive with tree swallows, darting there and there again. Above them, far above them, the silver fuselage of a jet traversed the sky. Listing rays of evening light reflected off it and I discerned it heading west. It was at altitude already and I could only image that it was from Europe and heading to maybe Chicago or even a direct flight, Paris to San Francisco. It was the middle of the night for the people at thirty-thousand feet. Would they land fully awake and excited and push off on an adventure, as I like to do? Or would they be irritable and tired and sleepless and wonder why do this, go places and spend time away from home and the comforts of home and the dog and the toothbrush at attention and waiting? Who’s to say? Regardless, this was my thought after a long day of labor and an evening contemplating the sky with a tall glass of Maker’s and a dog hungry for bed.
In Memoir, Nature, The Examined Life, Wisdom on August 9, 2012 at 6:00 am
My Maryland Woods
I am traveling to Maryland next week to work on the house and property I (still) own there. Suffice it to say I anticipate the real estate market will have returned enough by next spring to put it on the market. It is a nice house and sits on several acres of wooded land. It butts up against a state-owned watershed of several thousand acres and sits astride a thirty-acre preserve. It is remote, as property in the mid-atlantic goes, and afforded me a great deal of pleasure over many years.
The property is home to white-tailed deer, fox, box turtles, birds of prey, song birds, snakes and various other critters. During hunting season, the deer congregate in our woods. It is a place of refuge. It is a place I appreciate, an environment akin to my sensibilities. But eventually the congestion, the crowds, the traffic, and the weather, became too much to bear and we escaped north in pursuit of a simpler life.
Simple remains out of reach, however, while tethered to the property. Indeed, it became glaringly apparent after living there that the things we own eventually come to own us. This is a bit of wisdom I came late to realize. I am still owned by too many things and, like a snake, have been attempting to shed the skin of my slavery for some time.
I cannot explain properly how I came to this place. The metaphor of a slippery slope comes to mind, but I attempt to avoid cliché when possible. In sum, I lost the vision of my aesthetic for life. Regardless, it is an awkward position for a man who grew up chanting Thoreau’s admonition to “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” It is not too late (yet) to rectify. I have time, but not forever.
Thanks for reading.
In Books, Philosophy, Reading on June 1, 2010 at 4:38 pm
I moved to Maine from Maryland last year and my library is following me slowly, volume by volume, with every trip back and forth. I didn’t have to move all at once–tying to sell my Maryland house (wish me luck)– so I am taking pains to cull through my library. My plan has been to bring along with me only those books I wish to keep. Charles Sanders Peirce, the 19th Century American Philosopher, had two houses, one to live in, and one to store his books. That is not an option.
My library consists largely of books I’ve read. But there is a surprising number of books I purchased and shelved for a future reading. This reviewing and moving of my library has afforded me this knowledge: There is nothing so profound as an unread library. I don’t think many people understand that. Susan Sontag said that literature is the “creator of inwardness.” Imagine the potential for inward creation inherent in the unread library. It is, as I said, profound, and speaks to the suggestion that we might think better of ourselves than we’ve yet to realize.