Friday, June 30, 2006

Something Wild ...

For the last week or more it has been raining in the southern Catskill Mountains where His Holiness and I have been staying since mid June, in a modest cabin built during the summer of 1939 as the world was edging closer to war. When we were renovating the kitchen we found whole newspapers from that summer stuck between the studs as insulation and among the stories of Joe DiMaggio and high society dames run amuck where dispatches from Europe warning of the growing threat from Germany. Yet even then people in New York were building cabins in the woods, as far away from the life they new as they could manage. Sometimes I try to imagine those people and what they might have been thinking sixty-seven summers ago when they built the room I’m sitting in tonight. It’s a small cabin, just a living room, a front porch, a kitchen, two bedrooms, a big stone fireplace that dominates the place and lots of windows, windows that I keep open almost all the time because the air is so fresh here and there is seldom any noise outside only the music of the crickets and birds and maybe an owl or a coyote now and then. I expect the soundscape has remained fairly constant during the years and it’s one of the things I love about being here, the sounds so different from those I have been accustomed to all my life in the city.

Last night, at about 3:30AM I heard an explosion as loud as anything I have ever heard before. I jumped out of bed, literally jumped out of bed, my heart was pounding so hard I thought I was having a heart attack, and I ran into HH’s room to see if he was ok. In the back of my mind, a nanosecond after I heard the blast, I knew it was lighting that had exploded outside my window. There are massive sugar maples and beech and fir trees all around the cabin and I feared that one of them had been struck by the lightening and would at any moment come crashing through the ceiling. Last summer an old beech fell very near the house, another came down in a storm and severed the power lines and kept us in the dark for twelve hours. A few years back a big one fell into the kitchen and the roof had to be replaced. When I opened his door he was not sitting upright in his bed, clutching his bear with tear-filled eyes, but was sound asleep, curled up in a soft, warm ball and totally oblivious to what was going on around him. The storm was fast moving and quickly left our area but I was hard pressed to return to sleep and so lay in bed with my eyes open, watching the bursts of light outside and counting the seconds until the thunder came, wishing the storm away and counting it out of our night.

This morning the sun came out and stayed out most of the day, the rivers are still swollen and overflowing their banks, drinking water is still in limited supply, hundred-mile stretches of the New York State Thruway are still closed due to flooding, but people were mowing their lawns this afternoon in preparation for the long July 4th weekend and life is beginning to return to normal.

But all of this was of little consequence compared with the events of the late afternoon. As His Holiness and I were returning home from an errand we traveled down a stretch of road that passes a large farm and the volunteer fire department that serves our area. It’s a back road but I prefer it to the more heavily traveled and better-paved road just down the way. I always slow down when I turn onto this road because inevitably we come across a deer or two or three, particularly in the later part of the day. Today as I made the slow descent off the main road an onto the farm road I spotted a deer and slowed even more to point it out to HH and just as I did a black bear came bouncing across the road just in front of us. I shouted out loud to HH that there was a bear in the road and he nonchalantly looked at the bear and followed it with his eyes as the bear moved off into the woods on the other side of the road. I pulled the car onto the shoulder and stopped and watched as the bear made his way slowly through the woods; he didn’t appear to be the least concerned with us, nor was he in any great hurry. This is the first bear I have ever seen outside of captivity and I am still excited just thinking about it. I knew there were bears in the area, people had told me about spotting them, but hearing about them is one thing and seeing one within a half-mile of your house is quite another.

At the end of the day HH and I took a walk. He is at the point when he is about ready to leave the diaper stage of life, so now that we are here in the country I am giving him some breathing space so to speak. He was wearing his sandals and a t-shirt and nothing else and was as happy as he could be – going natural and free. As we were walking he was talking up a storm, commenting on the world around him, the pools of standing water and the big rocks and the two dead snakes and the one live snake and I was still thinking about the bear. I wasn’t really sure he had actually seen the bear or knew what he had seen so I asked him what color the bear was and he looked up at me and said, “schwarz”, which means black in German and then started running down the road toward a cat he had spotted. The house cat he could chase and possibly touch, was much more important to him than talking with Papa about the wild bear he had seen outside the car window. But to me the bear is very important, it is a manifestation of what it means to me to be here in this almost remote place in the woods, two hours from Manhattan and yet a world away from the life I’ve known for as long as I want to remember. I wonder if the man who built this cabin in 1939 saw bears in the late afternoon, or wondered about them and somewhere in the back of his mind hoped they might be there, just beyond the bend in the road, something wild very near.