Outside, fireworks cast echoes across the valley. Somewhere beneath them, a boy sits close to a girl, hands clasped, parents watchful but unobtrusive. Fireflies glitter.
There is so much to write. I despair of ever writing it. But tonight is sublime, and must be captured. So I will write now, and hang the hour.
Today is Friday. I arrived Wednesday after a leisurely two-day drive north across the continent, with a quick (literally - fewer than four hours) stop at my mother's for a visit and to add cargo to the rental truck. There is much to tell about that trip, the hours of solitude and thought, but that is for another time.
Wednesday night, I parked the truck on the lawn, invited the neighbors for a fire, and later slept. Thursday and today I have unpacked and unpacked and organized - and I am but halfway finished, and there is more to come, in storage at my mother's, or with Nina! So much stuff!! Who has need of it? For that matter, what is 'need'?
Tonight I sat quietly, listening to music and capturing the pulse of the world via this miracle we call the Internet (should someone saint Al Gore? ;-> ), paying scant attention to the occasional boom in the background earlier in the evening. (On the phone with my wife, I commented that 'they must be shooting a cannon, or some such' - my half-formed thinking being that, as there is a fair in town, perhaps the local National Guard garrison was an artillery unit or some such, and firing their cannon.)
We are a small town, occupying the level floor of a valley formed by the advance and subsequent retreat of the glaciers during the last ice age. Steep hills arise on either side, no more than a mile apart. The valley itself is quite long - containing as it does a lake in most of it, and we being situated on the southern portion of a banana-boat shaped valley, where, if you can imagine it, the water occupies but half its possible maximum.
We thus occupy the shore, as it were, a vast, vegetated, sloping mud flat with glacial silt hills and moraines providing substantial intermediate relief. Numerous tributaries (running south to north here, and ultimately part of the Lake Superior watershed, that vast weight depressing the crust to our north, the classical mechanics' equivalent of a gravity sink, drawing all towards it) drain the hills into the lake; the valley's ultimate fate will be much drier, but that is tens of centuries away.
So on the first night I had a fire and company. First up were my western neighbors, Carolynn and Susan and their friend Courtney, all artists, mid fifties to early sixties, earthy and bright and engaging. The evening continued with a visit from my eastern neighbors and the former owners of my house, Ed and Penny. We had met previously, so we merely caught up for a bit.
On the first day, I unpacked the house and made a trip to the land, to grab a couple of things from the Abode. I grabbed a bunch of poles I had cut last fall and saved, as I had spotted Susan gathering long branches from the neighbor's trimmings set out by the road. I inquired, and she reported pole beans in the backyard, so I offered to bring her a few, and she accepted.
On the second night I relaxed, listened to music, and and caught up on world events. But first, I walked down to the fair.
It's about a mile to the fairgrounds, which occupy about four acres or a little less to my eye, just inside the levee, on a stretch of flat ground. A long, shallow, barn-like structure houses several food-service stations, each of which served a different treat: pizza, tacos, beverages - you get the idea.
The proceeds benefit the local fire department - all of them in this region are volunteer departments, unpaid, and purchasing and maintaining equipment is a matter of community involvement.
I settled on tacos - $2 each or three for $5. I'm accustomed to southern and Mexican tacos, apparently. Finger Lakes tacos - at least the Moravian variety - are herculean constructions. First, a corn tortilla is fried on a griddle, without oil. This guarantees it will disintegrate immediately upon being subjected to even the gentlest of handling. It is then draped into a cardboard dish, such as french fries are often served in - rectangular, with scalloped sides. Next, approximately a third of a pound of ground beef, liberally seasoned with taco seasoning, is piled onto the toasted tortilla.
Atop the beef, a ladle full (perhaps half a cup) of diced tomato is added, followed by a generous portion of sliced lettuce, and topped with a thick - no joke - blanket of shredded cheese. I should have known, as the lady afore me bought the three-for-five deal as well, and the concessionaire offered special packaging to her as it was for 'just one' - and also commented that it should probably provide breakfast as well.
I topped it all with hottest salsa available, and wolfed it all unabashedly at a sun-beaten picnic table in the midst of a half-acre of riotous small-town festival seated with half a dozen folks who had no idea who I was, just that I was clearly hungry. It was, after all, my first meal that day.
Of course, there was no hope of eating it as an actual taco - it collapsed much too quickly for that. One rather has no choice but to use one's fingers as a shovel, and perhaps that is part of the allure. Certainly the infantryman in me doesn't mind.
I'm sure my tablemates surmised I was some wandering (possibly rude - I dunno, I did my best to eat politely) tourist come to check out the local scene, fresh from the state park down the road (Millard Fillmore, the 13th President of These United States, was born just down the road). For my part, I figured I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to observe my environment without my environment knowing anything about me at all. I was gloriously anonymous.
Today I unpacked as well, but also availed myself of an offer made by my neighbor Ruth - she is my southern neighbor, across the street - to transport me back from Ithaca when I dropped the rental truck off. The alternative was walking - which I was prepared to do - but preferred not to as it is 20 miles.
It's not so much the mileage, per se, as it is that I haven't really the time to spare just now.
Also, in case you are wondering, my northern neighbor is a wooded hillside which, if surmounted, gives way to a quarry. Its quite wild, with a population of deer, woodchucks, and various other critters. The hill continues up, forming the north wall of the valley. I live at the foot of the north valley wall.
So tonight is now my third night in town - and my second full day. I was again reflecting on the state of the world when the clear sound of fireworks manifested. The eureka moment arrived and departed (referring of course, to my earlier comments about cannon fire - the obvious now invaded my consciousness), and I grabbed a tee-shirt and wandered down the street.
Now then, this is what I mean by 'small town':
About a hundred yards down the street is a culvert that drains water from the road leading north and uphill to the trailer park. The culvert empties into a small ditch by means of a diversion sluice; the ditch then runs perhaps 300 meters across town to the nearest creek and empties therein. The culvert runs alongside a large field - the athletic field of the local school. The culvert has the standard concrete facing with a thick iron railing to forestall vehicle accidents. It was on this facing, my hands grasping the railing overhead, that I sat and watched the fireworks, a scant few-hundred meters away, at the town fairgrounds.
In the field before me were similar spectators, flashlights searching the trees between bursts; voices, half-heard, drifting across the grass. My neighbors, although not yet know to me, nor me to them. But by chance or by need, we are now kin. My fate is tied with theirs.
My choices have been made; I have taken the path less traveled. As has become my motto, and which coda increasingly describes my life, I am Against the Grain. I am deliberately so, believing the common path to be misguided and without genuine merit: it is an ersatz life, devoid of actual meaning, pretty and glittering, but lacking in real substance, sugary and sweet but without nutritional content.
The soul starves.
I can walk to anything I need here. At night it's quiet, and the guy at the pizza parlor remembers me from a few months ago, and asked if I was here for good. I forgot tomatoes the other day, and so spent a full hour walking first to the library for a card, then to the hardware store for a plug adapter (79 cents) and then to the grocery for the tomatoes.
So I have my tomatoes, and I know all my neighbors, something that never happened in Georgia in all my years in any neighborhood there, and today I got my library card, and I didn't have to prove I lived here, or even prove who I am. I just gave them my address, and they gave me a library card. They even gave me a tour of the library.
I'd write more, but I can't hold the tears back any longer.