This was written for Thanksgiving, November 2002, our first in the Berkshires after living for 34 years in one house on Long Island. It continues recent themes of November, and Home, and Thanksgiving. The accompanying photos lead off with a somber November sky, and end with a stunning image of —- something else?
Just yesterday, it seems, was Labor Day, the line of demarcation when living in a resort area. Who leaves? Who stays?
The first time I ever got a genuine, rather than a polite, smile from the teller at the bank was the day after Labor Day.
“You must be busy,” she said.
“Not especially, why?” I answered.
“Oh, getting your place closed and ready to leave.”
“We’re not going anywhere,” I said. “We’re staying.”
That’s when it came. The real smile.
So what is it like here after Labor Day? Well, smiles are more frequent. Conversations at the post office or the checkout counter or the library last a little longer. The roads are emptier. “Hot” restaurants have cooled down, and you can go at the last minute if you like.
NOT SO DIFFERENT AFTER ALL?
But there wasn’t as much difference after Labor Day as I’d expected. In fact, one of the biggest surprises about pulling up stakes on Long Island and starting what promised to be a whole new lifestyle in the Berkshires was how little of a change it was turning out to be. That was both reassuring and disappointing. After Labor Day, I thought, then would come the big change.
Andre Gide wrote: “One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” The shore had been in sight for a long time. It wasn’t until after Columbus Day, when everyone who’s going has finally gone, that I noticed how far I’d sailed into the sea.
We’d moved here in May. A constant stream of visitors since then continued until the last red and gold firestorm of fall foliage. Now the leaves were gone, so were the guests, and the painters had come upon us.
THE TREES WERE BARE, AND SO WAS THE HOUSE
We’d moved in “as is,” and by the sober light of November we could see how badly the house needed painting. It lasted over two weeks. Room after room came apart. Drop cloths, dust, smells, displacements. The stink of wallpaper stripper sent us to my sister’s for a few days.
When we returned, our walls glared white and empty. There were heaps and piles of stuff everywhere. It had been so much work to get things put away somewhere, ANYWHERE, and now chaos was come again.
Sofa gone to be recovered. Chairs standing around the dining table looking the same, but with their seats out for recovering, they didn’t function anymore. And I realized that it was the same for me. I wasn’t functioning the way I used to, although at a casual glance I looked the same.
IS THIS LOSING SIGHT OF THE SHORE?
I was irritable, snappish, uncomfortable, clumsy in conversation where I’d been easy before. What on earth was happening?
Driving along I discovered that with the leaves stripped away I glimpsed houses, buildings, even rivers that had been so concealed by summer’s lush foliage that I hadn’t even suspected their existence. Structure of all kinds was being revealed. Winter had stripped away the finery from the landscape and revealed, not new parts, but hidden parts, so hidden that simply spying them constituted glimpses of a new land.
AN OLD SELF DISSOLVING, A NEW SELF YET TO EMERGE
The summer had been busy and crowded, full of comings and goings in our condominium complex. After Columbus Day there was darkness and solitude. I, suburbanite, had to get used to them, to the blackness coming down the drive, to occasional stars or the full moon, but no other light. Was I frightened? Or did I enjoy the solitude? Who was the “I” who would provide the answer? Our rooms weren’t the only things being stripped, spackled, repainted. Here I am, well and truly out to sea, my old self dissolving and a new self yet to emerge.
The sun is out again. It’s been playing hide and seek. When the skies are gray and cloud-smeared, one needs new eyes to see the beauty. It’s a Wyeth landscape, all white, gray, brown, silver, spruce green. A sparse beauty, one that belongs with solitude and quiet and reverie.
Maybe, by the coming of spring, I’ll have been out at sea long enough. Maybe I’ll be returning to a new land with brand new eyes. Maybe. I hope so. (I’m a sucker for transformation.) Along with everything else to be thankful for, I can add the precious opportunity to sail away in search of new lands.
“Snow Fence”, Martin Greene Photography