It's a gray morning up here in the highlands of New Jersey. The lake looks like rippled lead. Goldeneyes bob just beyond the near island where Canadian geese yank at weeds. On Lakeside Drive, blue jays squawk at an old man walking his gray-muzzled lab. Arthritic, stiff, leaning forward, the only other ones out. A nutty squirrel digs in the front flower bed, sniffs at the hole, somersaults, raises its tail and marks the spot. I take great comfort in the commonality of our creaturehood, the gratuitousness of it all. In great matters I have no choice but to live out the story of my life: it comes as it comes. Titmice flit among the brambles down where the brook enters the lake. Wisdom says be thankful. Juncos flash white tails, bright on a gray day, as they lead me toward the woodpile. Wisdom says be thankful.
There is only happiness here amongst family and friends, in the zone beyond bickering and petty rivalries, the childish need to be always in the right, or to prove that one has out-done everyone else. In this kitchen everyone has a place, even Republicans, even evangelical Christians. There are those who prefer rutabaga to sweet potato, green beans to brussels sprouts. Let them eat together today -- we're cooking something for everyone -- and then let them sleep afterwards on the couch or the floor as grown men play football on the big TV. Some prefer riesling, some pinot noir -- let them all drink together today.
A flock of common dusky starlings descends on the lawn, chattering and pecking at the damp earth. These birds are not symbols. They lift in a great sheet at some unseen signal that curls upon an axis once and vanishes like smoke. I too have tried to empty my mind this morning, to revel in being, aware of the least little thing. To sit still and avoid thinking in clichés about sitting still.
Yesterday a family of wild turkeys flew in front of the car on Canistear Road about half a mile up from Route 23 in a great clatter of wings. I just missed hitting them. Further on, a dead raccoon and a murder of crows eyeing a smashed squirrel. I like walking in the woods around here, sixty-some-odd miles from midtown Manhattan, the air cleansed of its noxious urban funk, the only sound a private plane headed toward Sussex Airport. I stop being a bookman, a publisher, a sales person. I let myself run out of words until there is nothing on my lips except silent grace.
Wisdom says be thankful. I look around me at this wonderful life, the men and women whose love upends me daily. I think to myself, somewhere along the line I lost god but, oddly enough, that hasn't stopped the miracles from coming. My mother used to say, "Let miracles never cease." I know that she wasn't referring to day-to-day living but I like to think she would have, had she too taken a walk this morning in the gray woods of northwest New Jersey, this quiet corner of creation.