When the peacocks honked, I awoke and turned on my side and went back to sleep. I dreamed, off and on, that we were embedding mosaic tiles and brooches and seashells into the wooden stairs of the Santa Fe house in which we are staying. But instead of making good on the beautiful designs of our fancies, we made holes in each stair. Our gift was too generous, our project was too ambitious, and the consequences told against our ideas. Our hostess Kitty wasn’t happy. ‘Those who act defeat their purpose,’ says Laozi. ‘The truth is paradoxical,’ he concludes.
I now have the warm socks, the woolen ones; they came in the mail yesterday. I’m told the wood is stacked up in the shed, ready in case the power goes out. We’re supposed to pick up an axe (the old one looked a shame, even to a novice such as myself) as well as a chainsaw for the place but we can’t do that until we get there. So that’s about that, I guess: it’s only a question of time–a few weeks; in god’s eyes, no time at all–before we head out for the mountains and snow. To the woods and the snowy mountains where we hope to be full-time cultivars of the spirit.
It already feels like we’re gone. I was restless yesterday, wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself, what to make of myself and my time. (More tea? The teabags hang, defeated and cigar-smoked, this morning.) I’ve been anticipating the days of quiet, of quiet thinking and writing, of conversations with far-off conversation partners, the seasons of change, the time without disturbance, but yet–and here I don’t mean to romanticize–we’ve also been preparing for the cold and the noiselessness, there where there will be no busyness, nothing but nature’s open stirrings. The neighbors have advised us to leave the car below the steep driveway so that the car won’t be snowed in. We have entrusted ourselves to fate, to fortitude, and to the pace of our living patience.
I believe I’m leaving the city with about as much as I arrived with. (Give or take.) The sports coats, once hung for academic interviews, were donated to Goodwill. The books are mostly sold or gifted save my copy of Plotinus. So, I’m leaving with less than I came with… well, no. I came without savings and have, elbow over elbow, season over season, paid off most of my debts and managed to make my modest fortune. Which is perhaps what coming to New York, for us wayward ones, is and has always been about. Making something of oneself, making oneself into something: making, self-fashioning anyway. I often hear: “If you make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.” Well, I don’t know. All the same, goodbye Upper East Side, you friendly friend, you sanctuary and bivouac.
At a certain season of our life we are accustomed to consider every spot as the possible site of a house. I have thus surveyed the country on every side within a dozen miles of where I live. In imagination I have bought all the farms in succession, for all were to be bought, and I knew the price. I walked over each farmer’s premises, tasted his wild apples, discoursed on husbandry with him, took his farm at his price, at any price, mortgaging it to him in my mind; even put a higher price on it,–took everything but a deed of it,–took his word for his deed, for I dearly love to talk,–cultivated it, and him too to some extent, I trust, and withdrew when I had enjoyed it long enough, leaving him to carry it on. This experience entitled me to be regarded as a sort of real-estate broker by my friends. Wherever I sat, there I might live, and the landscape radiated from me accordingly. What is a house but a sedes, a seat?–better if a country seat.
I discovered many a site for a house not likely to be soon improved, which some might have thought too far from the village, but to my eyes the village was too far from it. Well, there I might live, I said; and there I did live, for an hour, a summer and a winter life; saw how I could let the years run off, buffet the winter through, and see the spring come in. The future inhabitants of this region, wherever they may place their houses, may be sure that they have been anticipated.
An afternoon sufficed to lay out the land into orchard woodlot and pasture, and to decide what fine oaks or pines should be left to stand before the door, and whence each blasted tree could be seen to the best advantage; and then I let it lie, fallow perchance, for a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.
–Excerpt from Henry David Thoreau, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For,” Walden