Somebody has been here before. The cupboards full of cans and jars, boxes of crackers, simple spices. Dry cleaner receipts clipped to the ice-box door. Ash in the fireplace. A faded Japanese watercolor, song sparrows on a mulberry branch. Brought here on a World War Two troop ship. Three oranges in a bowl on the kitchen table. Raw walking sticks stacked vertically by the front door, along with a snow shovel and a pair of old shoes. Some people walk through life semi-conscious.
Over by the woodpile, two squirrels gambol and spray, waiting for the cat to come creeping by, so they can rocket up the side of the white oak. Some trick -- bet you can't do that. Somebody was here, saw the blue sky and decided to leave the cottage behind to take a walk up on Cherry Ridge, despite the mud. A way of connecting to nature, a way of getting back into human nature. Footprints, hiking boots. Somebody favoring their right leg. A scene from childhood, the killer with a club foot. Hunting human nature in the North Jersey woods. Somebody is out on the trail, working up a sweat, carrying a rifle.
Somebody saw to it that the wood was chopped, the water was drained, the chimney was covered. Only on the north side of the house is there any ice left, holding fast to a plastic stool and garden hose. Somebody read Schopenhauer, marking the margins in the little red book. It was dedicated to somebody you once knew. To live alone...is to live alone. Yesterday's wind is today's breeze, carrying the scent of earth, and wood-fires. Somebody went down to the lake and heaved a rock onto the icy surface. A watery grave. Somebody smoked two cigarettes, tossed the yellow butts into the grass by the canoe rack. White pine, holly, rhododendrons along the driveway. Three, four days worth of newspapers lying there, soaked.
Somebody was up here and stored the screens in the attic, the garden tools in the crawl-space, and the wine in the hall closet. Books stacked by subject. On the mantel, a pair of binoculars, a copy of Sibley. Somebody hanging on to the self, their vague sense of a separate self, at one with nature, and yet apart. Some trick. On the other side of the ridge, footfalls and the occasional crack of a snapping branch. Now it comes back to you, the Prokofiev recording, the sleigh bells, the four-handed march. Love & Death, when Woody Allen was still funny, though starting to get pretentious. Somebody said, "The right way to approach life is to laugh." Somebody who hardly laughed at all.
Somebody didn't finish painting the trim in the living room, or the window frames above the shades. Spider-webs in the corner above the cabinetry and around the skylight. Nature always at work. The impression of tire treads in the mud. The tarp half blown off the lawn furniture. Even though somebody wrote this down already, you feel the need to do it again. And again.