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As Winter Recedes

I was upstate for four days this past weekend and have just returned to the city. I finished reading two books, started another, wrote in my new observational journal, took notes for an essay I plan to begin this week, took three long hike-walks, played with the dog in the back garden, went out to eat twice, spent hours talking with my daughter, son-in-law and husband, swept the deck, cooked, ate leisurely breakfasts, cut up avocado and banana peels for the worm farm, read again, took naps, went back out onto the deck, watched an eagle soar, a red cardinal on a branch, sat on the deck in the warm sun and watched the ice recede and the nutrients from the thawing earth percolate up to the muddy surface. My son-in-law roamed his four-plus acres and did some tree culling, returned to report that the daffodils were coming up around the oak tree. My daughter roamed her four-plus acres and found a long-buried dog Frisbee. The dog wandered her four-plus acres and found long-buried sticks still saturated with winter’s moisture.

The days seemed unhurried, endless, spacious and capacious. I was at peace in minutes after my arrival and able to work and play with an ease I never feel in the city.

It’s not just that we all need a “getaway,” I’ve decided. It’s not just that a getaway “restores” city dwellers. It’s that city dwellers live in un-natural—literally “against” nature—environments, and that our bodies and spirits adapt to this environment in un-natural ways.

I have always thought of myself, happily, as a city dweller. I have persuaded myself that the buzz of the city is necessary to my work, that I cannot write well in quiet surroundings. I wonder if this is true or just another adaptation. I wonder what is best for me and for artists in general. Even stranger this morning, I wonder if cities should exist at all. I hear my students complain endlessly about the stresses of their lives in the city. Beyond making a living, stressful enough these days, they search for quiet spaces in which to work and struggle to find the time to become writers.

I will write another time about city life, its pleasure as well as its challenges. But right now, right here, as winter recedes and I sit in my atelier peering out at a brick wall, I wonder what on earth we have done to ourselves and our creative spirit.

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