Quiet, not the quiet after trauma but the quiet of just waking. No planes, no cars, just cold water rushing in the brook. The sky, a pale rose-yellow, drawn tight above the dark woods. Silhouettes of crows, a heron standing on the dock, three mallards floating by. Last week, after the storm, W. saw a large male black bear -- wearing a radio collar -- go through our neighbors' yard down to the lake. Silent, the massive head swaying side to side. "You know, the way bears walk, you don't hear them coming, they just appear."
A city couple pace-walking around the lake heard us talking. "A bear?," they asked. "Which direction did it go?" W. said, "Seemed to head toward the lake. We only saw it for a couple of seconds. A big guy." The couple took off in their white shorts and new shoes, talking loudly and whistling. We could see that they were spooked. W. followed them with a contemptuous stare. "You come up here, you're gonna live with animals. What the hell were they expecting?"
He's old and a son-of-a-bitch, only keeps the house so his grandchildren can spend summers here. "It's great for the kids. They're outdoors all the time, swimming, hiking, sailing. They may even learn something. They're not like the ones who live here year round. Those kids behave like animals. Fresh. And their parents don't care."
W.'s got one of the biggest houses on the lake, his yard is professionally landscaped, he drives a Mercedes, he's been married for forty-some-odd years, goes to Our Lady of Fatima every Sunday, has three sons and two daughters and countless grandchildren, and yet there he was, working himself up into a full tirade about the shitty world he was living in. What was wrong with it? Christ, everything was wrong: the behavior of poor kids, schools, parents who don't care or aren't there, the mayor, the town council, the governor, the President, the media, taxes, computer games, lack of respect, the internet, drugs, cell phones, the gangs who come up from Paterson, judges, bankers, New York City, immigrants, the list went on and on. "The world has gone crazy," he spat.
I left him muttering to himself. I couldn't stand listening any more. Anger can be as contagious as a virus.
He's probably awake already, puttering around his designer kitchen, having made a pot of strong coffee. Even he is quiet at this hour, waiting for his wife to get up so he can turn on the radio. I imagine him walking out onto the deck with his mug. He takes a deep breath and smells the lake, surveys his little kingdom, the kayaks and Sunfish, the yellow-and-blue inflatable raft, the old rhododendrons, the birches and white pine, the stone wall, the swing set. The Adirondack furniture and blackened citronella torches. The heron and the ducks. He sees it all but he doesn't see it at all. He's too full of himself. He just stands there breathing.
Maybe he left his garage door open last night. Maybe there's a bear in there. He descends from the deck, walks around the side of the house to the front, and checks to see if the garage is secure. It is. I see him from my living room window. He is walking stiffly and talking to himself. There's no one else about. He bends down and pulls up a couple of weeds growing near the mailbox. Wild carrots. They're all over. Tough plants with deep roots, harder to pull than dandelions. He only gets the stems. He throws them into the street and walks back around the other side of the house. Still talking to himself, all alone.
I stand there in my own quiet house and watch him disappear from view. His life is like a warning. And mine? What have I made of mine?