We all have our routines, private time, and if you are a morning person as I am, you know how special that early hour can be. Most mornings in the mountains, especially in winter, I padded barefoot from window to window looking out to see if there were any elk or moose strolling by before dawn. I would spot their tracks. After a cup of tea, I would walk outside, often say a few words to Mom, telling her how much I miss her, and then carry a couple of loads of firewood into the house. Build the fire and be ready for the day.
I know now how fortunate we were to have such a quiet, peaceful corner of the world, a valley that will forever be in my mind’s eye.
Though I grew up in a very small town, I didn’t appreciate the solitude of the surrounding farmland; the quiet only meant boredom to me, a teenager, longing for something more. As an adult working and raising children in New Jersey, I had that big city life, well, primarily suburban. The ex-burbs weren’t perfect, but we were less than two hours from the city; trips into Manhattan were a treat. After decades of work, moving to the mountains for retirement was a leap of faith. The contrast in our lifestyle was great. We took afternoon walks and often did not see a soul. I finally could see the beauty of the grasses, the Aspen and the mountains, the wildflowers. I didn’t know how white snow could be.
In My Antonia Willa Cather’s character Antonia speaks of her love of the country, knowing she would never be happy in the city, too lonely there. She says to Jim, her city friend, “I like to be where I know every stack and tree, and where all the ground is friendly.” I understand her and I have felt that, too. As an adult returning to Illinois for visits, I rode my bike on what I called the country mile. The land was finally home to me. I could appreciate the wheat fields and the wide vistas of flat-land crops.
Now I wonder: What will it be like to live in a neighborhood again. No elk, but lots of houses. A mountain range we can barely see through the pine trees. Carpenters hammering all afternoon, a noise that will continue for months as more new homes are built.
People! How will we know if we want to get to know them better? Will they look at us and think we are too old to bother with? Will their political views mesh with ours? What will they think of us? What will we think of them?
It’s a little scary. More frightening that meeting up with a moose on the road, where it was more likely to see a fox in the evening than another human being.
Last Saturday we had dinner with the kids and talked about how difficult it is today to feel a sense of community in a neighborhood. People stay to themselves, even before the pandemic. There is a wariness about letting people into your life. We all agreed that it was probably better in the old days.
After we returned home, Bob opened the front door to look at the starlit sky and spotted a note and a jar of marionberry jam on the welcome mat. A gift from a neighbor whose garden we can see clearly from our front windows.
Our country life is in the rearview mirror. I believe the image will never disappear. But today kids are on our street riding their skateboards and a jar of jam was left at our door. So it begins in our new home.