It's cold out. Remnants of the night cling to the westward slope above the lake. I move about the kitchen mindlessly, putting away the dishes and utensils from yesterday's meal, making a pot of coffee, cutting into and eating a grapefruit, listening to the refrigerator hum. No news, I can't stand the news, those human interest stories that are neither human nor interesting. The skylight is still covered in snow. Sometime today I'll need to shovel a path to the firewood.
John came by yesterday and plowed. I gave him a check for the fall clean-up he'd done. "The roads aren't too bad this morning," he said. "But you guys got a couple of more inches up here than we did down in the valley." John and his wife just moved from Highland Lakes to the other side of Vernon Township, across the Wallkill River, near Pochuck Farms. They needed more room because they're expecting their first child in the spring. The plowing took him awhile because the gravel hadn't frozen yet, so he had to go back, dig it out of the snowbank, and re-spread it across the surface of the driveway. Unlike in the city, the snow up here stays white for days.
Despite my recent good fortune, I've been cranky for the last few weeks. I think it's the usual December light-deprivation blues coupled with having to adjust to a new schedule. I'd forgotten how painful it is to commute on a regular basis -- the anxiety of waiting at the bus stop or train station, the jostling for a seat, the stairs, the crowds, the damp closeness of all those working stiffs, just like yourself, pushing themselves despite illness and fatigue and worry so they don't fall by the way, unlamented, ignored, out of work. My friend Mike still calls it a "rat race." He's not wrong, and though the locution sounds quaint, the more I read of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, the more I'm forced to concede that we humans are indeed far more rat-like than we'd like to admit. Effin determinism. I think to myself, but in our heart of hearts -- assuming you can locate your heart of hearts! -- we can't stop believing otherwise: that there really is such a thing as free will, and we get to make choices about our own existence. Despite all the evidence to the contrary.
One of the singular joys of aging is having the belief in life choices eroded by the routine exigencies of survival, the various surprises the body has in store for you, and the dawning knowledge that you will not live to see the Promised Land. Drink your milk and eat your honey now, for this is all you're gonna get. I guess you can call that wisdom. Meantime, it's just another fourteen days till the winter solstice, the farthest tilt of our wobbly planet away from the sun, after which our days begin lengthening again, and we give ourselves over to elaborate metaphors of rebirth and revival, as naturally as we breathe, sleep, or eat. It's almost eight o'clock and the sun is fully visible. I'm on my second cup of coffee. It's hard to shake the melancholy when you think to yourself, no matter how long I live on this miraculous earth, it won't be long enough.