July 12, 2009
I lie in bed awake at first light, listening to the crisp calls of an ovenbird. We had another good old-fashioned thunderstorm last night with windy gusts and pouring rain. I got up to close the window by the bed and soon drifted off back to sleep to the sound of rain drumming on the roof. This morning a cool air stirs the leaves on the maples in our back yard. The air smells fresh, newly cleansed by the overnight storm.
I met Joan outside the post office yesterday morning. I know that you never had much good to say about the post office, but in our small town it’s a place where neighbors congregate to learn the latest news in the village. (I know you didn’t think much of the news, either. These days most of us get our news from the Internet, television or radio—but that’s another story.)
Anyway, Joan told me that she and John were heading down to the river for a canoe excursion. The watershed association was sponsoring a downstream paddle to teach participants about local Indian lore. I remembered the day you and your brother John took your students out on the river in the boat you built to the site of an old Indian camp; how you dug down to show them the charred remnants of an ancient fire, and then covered it back up again.
Last week I took a walk down by the river. The path was thick with brambles and mosquitoes; the river high and muddy from unrelenting recent rains.
I noticed the afternoon sunlight reflecting off the current, playing on the undersides of the big leathery heart-shaped leaves of a redbud tree by the water’s edge. I struck out along the path to the park, passing by stands of asters and daisies. The mosquitoes were out, making that infernal buzzing noise about the back of my head. I stumbled along the overgrown path, pausing every now and again to carefully lift a thorny briar shoot out of the way to pass by unscathed.
I chuckled to myself, recalling the time you introduced Nathaniel to a swamp. The mosquitoes were thick that day as well. While you waded out into the brackish water, keen to observe the life pulsating around you, Hawthorne, hands flailing about his face, emitted his desperate cry: “Henry—get me out of here!”
The pond in the park was choked full of green algae; numerous spotted turtles were sunning themselves on half-submerged logs. I stopped to investigate the foamy patches of spittle bugs on the plants by the bank, and scared up a black snake that promptly whipped its way back into the undergrowth. This little pond reminds me of Cat’s Pond in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery—the one that you designed—although ours is a bit more rustic. I think you would like it.
The other week we had severe thunderstorms in our area. After work I stopped at the post office to check the mail. As I opened the door on my way out, the sky suddenly lit up overhead and a loud clap of thunder resounded through the village. For a moment everything stood still. Then other doorways opened and people came out into the street to look up at the swirling grey clouds overhead. The lightning had splintered the sky just above us. Everything, it seemed, had come together in that one eternal moment. I thought that you, being a transcendentalist, would have reveled in it.
I didn’t make it up to Concord for the Thoreau Society annual gathering this year. I had too many irons in the fire and found that it was all I could do to tend them without taking time out for a three-day excursion to Massachusetts. It would have been nice to see Walden again; but we have our own ponds here, and the river too.
In any case I thought I’d drop you a line to wish you a happy birthday. Incidentally, the day of your birth is the same as my father’s. He’s 79 this year—a far cry from your 192 years—but then, when it comes to transcendental moments, who’s counting?
Now the sun is up, and once again life is stirring. As you once wrote, there is more day to dawn.
After the storm, goodness comes.