19 May 2017

Willa Cather Time. Power Out. Darkness and Light. To Love Solitude

To love solitude and to seek it does not mean constantly traveling from one place to another, wrote Thomas Merton, and he should know. He was a Trappist Monk who often retreated to his Kentucky hermitage to be alone.

Today, I was reminded of the power of solitude, and its beauty and appeal for me. I am glad to be back, but grateful for the outage. I had no choice all day but to think, and a lot of sweet quiet time to do it. It is that quiet, that silence, that joy of being with oneself that seems to me is so often missing from our world now. We have no time to think, let alone to be.

A man becomes a solitary, wrote Merton, at the moment when, no matter when, no matter what, he is suddenly made aware of his own inalienable solitude and aloneness and he sees that he will never be anything but solitary.

It is his destiny, as it is, I think, also mine.

Maria and I were cut off from our world today, and was a beautiful day.

I married the most interesting person, she hauls buckets of water up steep hillsides for the animals and treks to India to help women make potholders and is a wizard in her student firing up her imagination to make her potholders, quilts, hanging pieces, videos and fiber works.

She is a born farm girl as well as an artist. It is a fortunate mix for me and the animals here.

Thursday, a brief but savage storm wreaked havoc in our area, knocking down hundreds of trees, chopping up power lines,and shattering the hillsides with lightning, we sat on our porch and watched until the screen door blew off and nearly took both of our heads off.

It was a sweltering and night. Lightning struck the Mansion generator (they were also without power) and they were about to evacuate the residents when a replacement generator arrived and they had light.

I was sitting down to blog when the lights went out and we were told all day they might not be on again until Saturday, Sunday or Monday. I couldn't work, so I devoted much of the day to mowing with Maria, one of our favorite weekend activities. Maria went out to have lunch with a friend, and I mowed some more.

It was still hot and the grass was tall and wet, so it was a physical day.

I kept looking for the lights to come, on, and it dawned on me that it would be awhile. I drove into town an saw all the buildings darkened, and I was told at the hardware store that a sub-station near Albany had been wrecked by the storm and it could be several days before the power came on.

I was back on the mountain, cut off from phones, messages, blogging, e-mail, and people on social media. It was eerie, almost like traveling back in time. It was so quiet in my head.

I saw the panicked hordes storming the hardware store trying to buy Generators, and briefly was swept up in the fever.  A day with no light, running water or refrigeration will do that. On Friday before the storm, I went out to do a massive food shop – about $200 and tomorrow we will take it to the dump.

A generator salesman and repairman came to the farm – a very nice man with a stellar reputation – and told me we need a big generator with enough power to keep the computers, water line, lights and refrigerator Going. He spent an hour here grilling me about the farm, and I guess making me nervous (no fault of his own) and suggested a system that could be purchased and installed for anywhere between $4,000 and $8,000.

I know nothing about these things and vulnerable to things that make the farmer safer and better. A few hours ago, I would have said sure, and reveled in my ignorance. I started calling friends and visiting with them, asking about their generators, if they had any. Vince Vecchione, an honest and capable man from New Jersey who moved her and who knows how every thing works, just bought two small generators for $400.

All that you need, he said, patting me on the shoulder. We Jersey guys stick together.

I gulped and was glad Maria wasn't home, and shook hands and I thanked the salesman and said we would be in touch. We will be, but it will not be to buy a big generator.  He can install the small one if we ever get one. The hardware store had a small one for about $690 but Maria and I talked about it, and we took a pass for now. I do not like to be wherever the mob is, good or bad.

I rushed my insulin and medicines over to our neighbor's Jack and Kim Macmillan, they graciously put in their refrigerator. They are sensible people, they have a generator and kept all their food cool. I have to throw much of mine away.

Up here, the power goes out every now and then, lots of wind and lots of trees with power lines. It's usually back on in a couple of hours, this was the longest outage I had ever seen up here.

If the weather gets any wackier, we will think about it, but we enjoyed our night reading by candles, talking to each other, sitting on the porch watching the lightning show, more beautiful than any fireworks display.

It would probably be wise to get a generator, and my friend Scott urged me to consider getting one,  and even offered to install it, but you know what? I think we'll pass. Perhaps another time. I missed writing on the blog. I loved the sense of solitude, illusive as it perhaps was.

Maria and I hauled buckets up from the stream by Lulu's crossing, we used it for the toilets and to fill the animal's water tank, which was nearly empty from the drinking they did in the heat wave. It was 92 degrees out when the power went out, it will be 34 degrees tonight. But the well is working.

My sense is that storms are nastier and more frequent now, and do a lot more damage. If this isn't climate change, God is a late-night comedian with a penchant for black humor.

But we got so much done. We both loved the opportunities the power outrage brought us.

There was not a wasted moment, really, not even the quiet ones. Maria did some gardening and began skirting her wool, cleaning it in preparation to go to Vermont to the knitting mill. We sat on chairs outside and rested, we put the bird bath back in place and got bitten by the outraged ants we displaced.

I finally caught the marauding kitchen mice in a trap he had defied for days by carefully eating the peanut butter and cheese without snapping the trap. I put sunflower seed butter on the back of the trap and found his body this morning. He was outfoxing me again and again. But I am wily, too, I don't ever give up.

I'm sorry, I told him, throwing him over the pasture house. But you got greedy.

We will finish it up together over the weekend. Between us, we moved the entire overgrown lawn.

I am sore, and my angina only acted up once, after about three hours in the heat, and it suggested I sit down and rest which I did. Fate came running up to snuggle with me, and we sat and watched Maria finish the last stretch of mowing.

I was grateful for the aloneness today, the physical work, for the time to be with Maria, for the sense of stepping out of our disconnected and fraught world. There was no news near me today, no warring panelists, no strange tweets capping off the morning, no frightened or angry or arguing people. The lawn is all done. Life happens here.

Actual solitude, I think, is not the mad pursuit of possibilities and ambitions,  it is the humble acquiescence on the one hand of the enormous realities we already possessed and on the other, the possibilities of life – they call it hope.


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