I don't believe the sleepers in this house
Know where they are.
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth.
Except for summers when I was a child, and later when I was raising a child, I always lived in a city, either a large city such as Boston, London or New York, or a small city, such as Berkeley when I studied at the University of California. I never imagined that a consoling mountain landscape could be a year-round home. But in the spring of 2018, we moved out of the city permanently to a mid-Hudson valley small town, west of the Hudson River. Our apartment has three screened-in nearly always open windows looking out onto the Minnewaska Ridge. On any one day I might see a grazing deer, coyotes, a fox crossing my path, a black bear resting in a tree on the SUNY campus, rabbits, vultures, eagles and hawks, or groundhogs feasting in the apple orchard. The sensation of sharing an ecosystem is constant and profound. It deepened during lockdown and isolation as my commute to the city lessened and then ceased. I've had one trip in recent months to see the Basquiat show, my cousin, and some friends visiting from California, but I need a very good reason to navigate the crowded streets, and feel the pressure of concrete, metal, glass, foul air, and hustle, not to mention surges in Covid.
It's not that I've become a recluse, far from. I started writing occasional pieces for the local newspaper a few weeks ago which keeps me engaged with people, community, politics and life's seemingly constant exacerbations. But the solace of the landscape envelops me even as I work a story, write my blogs, edit books, or facilitate a Zoom writing workshop, and this makes deadline pressure not only bearable, but meaningless.
If I am so in sync with nature now, composting and recycling diligently, it's curious, my husband, says, that I check my weather app so frequently. Why do I do this, I wonder? Storms announce themselves in the sky, in the tumbling clouds, and in the moist or dry air on my skin. Seasons change, or retreat, or explode suddenly. The calendar on my desk or in my phone tell me where I am within a given year. And even if there are climate change surprises—droughts and floods, a fire, a tornado—I manage well, without fear, most of the time.
Every Sunday as Covid ripped the fabric of our lives, I walked and talked with my friend Helene. Both the walking and talking were grounding, an antidote to social isolation. And we've continued the practice more or less every Sunday since. We pass old stone houses, a farm, a field of hay, barns, burial grounds, a nature preserve, gardens, people walking their dogs, other walkers. We may stop to chat, widening the circle of connection, or not. As the walk proceeds, earth sky, flora, fauna, and human habitation feels in balance and we feel in balance. It's more than likely the illusion of proximity or wishful thinking; the Wallkill River is very polluted, algae bloom all summer. It's a reminder that repairing our degraded environment—even in this beautiful landscape—must be intentional and unrelenting into the next season, and beyond.