DETAILS TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES

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The snow is melting in erratic stages on the terraced land that leads down to the lake. A plastic purple egg is poking out beneath the overgrown Bonsai tree. It’s a colorful reminder of the past year, one of the three missing Easter eggs from last year’s hunt.

I have been walking on crutches for six weeks and find myself only noticing small things that are close but always out of reach. Past the Bonsai on the other side of the lake a pup tent sits embedded into the ice. I’ve noticed the ice fishing in past years as an aside to life on the lake in the winter but this year, from my window seat, I watch the comings and goings of the pup tent owner like I’m watching a child play with a dollhouse. The tiny figurines of other distant fishermen dotted across my visible landscape conjure up ideas about everything in life I feel I must urgently attend to but cannot. Image

The torn square on a comforter that needs a few stitches, pine needles from Christmas still trapped beneath a radiator, a small strip of missing grout inside the shower and a thin layer of dust on the venetian blind. Suddenly all these seemingly little things need my immediate attention. I tell myself that when I can walk again I will take care of these items and more. No stone will be left unturned.

As I imagine the arrival of spring I picture the garden blooming as never before under my thumb. The house and decks are freshly painted. The dock that has been leaning on a broken piling since we moved in will be hoisted upright and repaired under the sheer strength of my arms built up from weeks of using crutches. New oars and bushings will be set into the rowboat that will cease to rest upside down, killing the same patch of grass over and over again. The kitchen cabinets and closets will all be sorted out and the basement that I have not stepped a foot into since the middle of January will have a place for everything and everything in its place.

It’s easy to imagine the care and maintenance of your life when you no longer have the mobility to move through it the way you have become accustomed to. I am not so naïve to believe that inventories that pile up while I am recovering will still be important when my attention shifts back to work, commuting, grocery shopping and laundry. What strikes me most now is the little things that go unnoticed in the average day but become magnified when you can’t even make dinner easily. I have cooked a few times these past two months but the effort always left me drained, like getting up the steps into the car has exhausted me before we even pull away from the curb. I stare up the steps leading down to my house and remember the effortless stride I had used each morning to get the newspaper in the driveway.  Now I lie in bed and think about the paper and how nice it might be to read it if someone was kind enough to bring it to me. Rob always does, along with a cup of hot tea.

The second year of our marriage we had moved into a railroad flat on the Hudson River that sat opposite from the Palisades. We had a neighbor named Mary who lived across the hall from us who was retired and didn’t drive. Each time the weather threatened snow she wailed, “Ohhh, I hope it don’t snow!”

Her lament of  the weather always surprised us because she had nowhere to go or drive to. It didn’t seem to impact her life to any degree. But now, housebound for the better part of this winter, I understand what Mary must have felt like each time it snowed. The snow prevents even the possibility of going somewhere, anywhere.

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In my time home, often alone, I have read eight novels. I also re-watched Anne of Green Gables. When Anne says “My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes,” I laugh about how silly she sounds. Even if you haven’t seen it or read it before, you know everything will turn out fine.  In my moments of despair, and I’m embarrassed to say I’ve had a few this winter, I have felt like Anne. My family smiles and reminds me of how silly I sound. They remind me that this is not a permanent condition, the weather is awful anyway and for heaven’s sake, take this time to relax and restore my health. Just as the snow and ice will eventually melt and my foot will eventually heal, all details take care of themselves. Image

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BORROWED LANDSCAPES

ImageI try to choose homes with a view. Our first apartment in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn was on the top floor of a third floor walkup. During the 1985 centennial celebration of the Statue of Liberty we hosted a roof-top party with a clear line view of New York Harbor. Our friends ate, drank and danced to fireworks but what they really talked about was the view. 

Then we moved out to the North Fork of Suffolk County and we had to walk around the corner to the view. The Long Island Sound stretched out endlessly from the tops of enormous beach boulders. The winter was cold and lonely for newlyweds who missed city life but the view of the Sound helped sustain us that entire year. I still miss it.

            Our next apartment was a dump in Yonkers in a crummy neighborhood where I made the mistake of staring at a neighbor’s Mohawk haircut a few seconds too long. The girl shouted out every time she saw me.

“Hey lady, what’re you staring at?”

It worsened when the girl stared calling out to Rob.

“Hey, man what is your wife staring at?”

“There really is no good answer to that question,” Rob said.

 For obvious reasons we only lived there a year as well but the backdoor faced out into an expansive valley with colorful houses that dotted the landscape. I could sit on the back staircase free to watch the sunset each night with no thought of seeing “the girl.”

We moved to Hastings-on Hudson and for nine years we gazed at the Palisades out two picture windows. I used to stand in a darkened kitchen in the middle of the night and watch the flashing green lights on the passing barges. It didn’t matter if it was a blizzard, you would find the slow, steady chug of the barges as a source of comfort.Image

In 1997 we moved to White Plains and lived on the top floor of a house that was built on the highest point of land in the entire city. From our veranda we had a line of site view of the World Trade Center Towers. We bought our lake house and moved away before they came down and I’m glad we weren’t there anymore to be constantly reminded. Because when you have something in your daily view you start to feel like it belongs to you. The Japanese refer to this as a “borrowed landscape.”

The best way to appreciate a borrowed landscape is to leave it. Once you return the relationship strengthens. We recently returned from a trip to Seattle to visit my brother and his wife. Their beautiful house rests on the top of Sixth Avenue in Edmonds, Washington with a partial view of the Puget Sound.

“Wow, what a great view, “ I noted.

“It is,” my bother agreed. “But if we could tear that house down it would be an even better view.”

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View from Chris and Sonia’s House

The point was hard to argue except everybody blocks someone, somewhere. But their view still boasted a daily surveillance of the Kingston Ferry traveling back and forth and the sun setting over the Puget Lowland, hard to beat. While I was there I found myself taking some ownership of their view and I started to miss my own so I knew it was time to leave. Traveling provides views of every variety and most of them aren’t meant to last, which is why we buy postcards and take photographs. Even stationary views are altered by light and shadow. Our most impressive view was of Mt. Rainier at sunset that Rob took from the airplane window as we began our descent into Seattle. It isn’t one anyone is likely to see again anytime soon. Image