When I was a freshman at The University Of Georgia the library had a video center on the 8th floor (it was a haven). You could choose a vintage (or new) VHS, a television of your own, and with earphones (the big kind) entertain yourself. It was here that I first saw the Cary Grant/Mynra Loy comedy Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) and was introduced to the novel predicament of the New Yorker. What starts as the dream of anonymity and possibility with the big city at some point is turned on it's ear and one is dreaming of escape: the country. In the movie Cary, his wife and two teen girls brush their teeth over one another and squeeze around their tiny Manhattan apartment until they have had it. As all roads point to a beautiful new suburban home in Connecticut, hilarity ensues (if not quite at screwball speed), and calm is restored. Now that I am grown up and have paced the 1919 wood floor of a studio in Queens myself for 10 years I too now find myself in Connecticut with my partner on the weekends. Some thoughts.
Racket. It all starts out so beautifully. I usually go to bed by 10 or 11pm on a Saturday night if we don't have plans. The condo bedroom faces dark green woods. Population here is sparse. In Spring and Summer a cool breath emanates from the trees. It is very very dark. The smallest noise makes an impression, yet invariably this will be a twig drifting to the ground. It is Mr. Blandings' dream : deafening silence and calm. I unwind from the honk honk siren salsa salsa cha cha cha of nighttime in Queens. I begin to settle in for a long 10 hour rest – hey, I average 7 in NY now. I drift away. And then it happens. I am awakened by the din of flocks and multitudes of undetermined species of birds twittering, squawking and socializing like maniacs. This is a meet and greet from hell. I don't think I have heard more noise at Tea Dance in Provincetown on Fridays at 6pm (look it up). It is the Colonial version of noise pollution. I now know how Betsy Ross felt and why Thoreau died young. I find myself wanting to scream shut up but it is pointless. The birds are having one hell of a good party. I know they are not working; I know that what they are doing is gossiping. Isn't this why I left the city? I roll over and try to find my sleep rhythm but I am robbed of at least an hour of good rest. Please Lord make it stop. There was less sonic boom in the Dolby theater version of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. I am in hell. Somehow I drift back off and poof by morning all is normal.
Ramble. My boyfriend is a hiking enthusiast and so I join the birds once again. There are (I am learning) hundreds of parks with trails to hike in Connecticut. We started doing this together five years ago and it is a nice workout. If we go to a famous one called Steep Rock the hike is up. The terrain is rocky and full of pines and gnarled roots underfoot. There are some beautiful things to see and experience here: amber light in the pine forest, soft needles underfoot, a small hush, and a deep earthy smell. Down below is a river with a rapid current and white spray. When I am hiking I find myself uncoiling from a city attitude. Instead of being present and watching the sidewalks for spaces to rush ahead of the rushing crowd I let my mind wander and eventually become completely thoughtless. I am only panting up a hill and quietly slipping over the rocks and roots. I am clumsy so I stumble from time to time but this becomes part of a greater rhythm. What happens is another kind of anonymity, a new kind of possibility. I just go blank for a little while and forget about myself. I have the benefit of the boyfriend ahead, sussing out the blue hash-marked trees to follow our trail (two hashes mean abrupt turn) and I just go with it. It is a peaceful thing. At the top we sit on a boulder that overlooks a wide vista and eat our sandwiches. All is quiet.
People tell me I have the best of both worlds and the truth is that I do. I have thought of abandoning NY for the country just like Cary did but the oddest thing happens when I pull into Grand Central on Monday mornings: I breathe a sigh of relief. Connecticut's woods aren't the only wilderness. There is another freedom in the city. It has it's own rapids but I know how to navigate them, and I don't think at this point I could choose. I just switch mental gears, grab my bag and head into the gorgeous human traffic. I bob, I weave, I look at the faces as they blur by and then stop for a freeze frame. I am anonymous here as I travel on foot. As my mind amps up and my spirit relaxes I accept that there are more ways than one to be yourself and I need them all.
But one day those birds are gonna get it.