The other evening, about cocktail hour, I sat on the chaise in the backyard of our house near the village, looking at the tree swallows wheeling and chittering high up in the sky. It reminded me of when I lived in the woods not too long ago, and I was comforted to see these birds here, too. What else have I seen, I asked myself? Ospreys and egrets, since the river is so close. Catbirds, wrens, bluebirds, cardinals, house finches.And bald eagles. I have heard thrushes on those soft mornings they love so much. Plenty, to feel like I’m still surrounded by nature.
Living here has advantages to living in the woods. There’s the Tour de Crumb Cake, for instance. This is when I ride my bike down the river road until I get to Not Ken’s Coffeehouse, where I buy two crumb cakes and one coffee (one of the crumb cakes is for Richie, of course.) I arrange them all in the bag on my D.E.B. bike (intelligently designed and made by Kris Henry for just such a purpose) and pedal until I get to an entrance nearly obscured by large hedges, where I turn and coast past the gravestones to a bench overlooking the water. Here I sit and eat my crumb cake and drink whatever coffee hasn’t spilled out, and I am soothed.
One day, I was disheartened and annoyed to see a small group of people at the overlook near the bench where I always sat. Grumpily, I biked to a different bench and munched the crumb cake, but it was not the same. Obviously other people had discovered the peace and beauty of this place, and now it would be ruined forever; it would be a destination. I cast baleful glances at the group as I munched, until small details pierced through my irritation. I felt sheepish.
It was a funeral.
And so, the cemetery remains a safe destination for rest and peace,
and not just for me.
Every week I play whist with the Ladies. It started in February of the winter before last. The one where even hardy New Englanders nearly lost it. So much snow, such bitter cold. But an afternoon of whist, we discovered, soothes even the most weary of souls and so every week we met to play, forgetting, for a little time, that there was five feet of snow piled up and that the temperature would go down (again) to minus twenty that night.
Now it’s spring and the leaves are that fresh green that is not yet tired of being green, the birds are calling out their territory, and we play our weekly whist with the doors and windows open.
The Ladies are not young; they have middle-aged children and grown grandchildren and often the conversation as we eat our treat before the game begins is about doctor’s visits or who died. This is not as grim as it sounds, because the Ladies have a solid and sensible cognition of living: things happen, you deal with it, and look for the good.
Recently, I was talking on the phone to one of the Ladies and complaining about something that threw off my carefully prepared schedule. On I went about the list I had made—a list I was proud of—for each day’s activities that now had to be all changed because of this one thing. She listened, making the occasional sympathetic noise. Then she told me about her day. “I went to the funeral today of a friend of mine.”
“So things are not as bad as they could be.”
I couldn’t help it. I laughed. She laughed too. It was the perfect antidote to my vexation.
Vexing things are a part of life; death is a part of life. And really, the most important thing is to enjoy what you’ve got when you’ve got it, which in my case, most certainly includes whist with the Ladies.