And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
I’ve been on retreat this week, thanks to winning runner-up in the Zona Gale Short Fiction Award, and so I’ve been isolated in the middle of nowhere, which in and of itself is a moment(s) of happiness. I am a city girl at heart, and so hearing coyotes, a rooster which insists on crowing in the afternoon rather than the morning (I like him!), the gentle baaing of sheep and goats, and the clip-clop of horses pulling Amish carriages aren’t high on my list of must-haves. But they’ve been a balm this week.
At my home in downtown Waukesha, I’ve been surrounded for months by the sounds of interminable construction. Sewer pipes are going in, and the major streets to the left and right of our one-block street are being changed from one-way to two-way. The noise is non-stop. There are cranes everywhere, the trucks beep whenever they back up, and the construction workers shout to be heard over the noise. One morning last week, I was awakened way too early by the construction noise, by every truck that delivers something to Walgreens showing up (Walgreens is literally my back yard), and our garbage being picked up. Every one of my nerves has been standing on end for weeks now. I’ve had the a/c on even though I hate a/c, and even on days when a/c isn’t necessary, just to have the windows closed and to cover some of the noise.
Out here, in Valton, Wisconsin, an unincorporated village that has, by its own description, “no businesses and no amenities”, the quiet has been wonderful. Though at night, I run a sound machine, because I can no longer sleep in absolute quiet.
But the sounds in this silence! We all know I don’t like birds, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like birdsong. I’ve heard more unfamiliar birdcalls here than I’ve ever heard in my life, and the majority of them are pleasant. I laugh every day at 3:00 in the afternoon when the rooster crows. One afternoon, I was taking a break on the lovely front porch, and a man who lives in the house across the street, hidden by trees, was chopping wood. I read to the whack of the axe, and then the thock as the chopped limbs were tossed into a pile. The rhythm was irregular, I couldn’t tap my foot to it, but it was such a nice accompaniment to the reading of a wonderful book while drinking strong coffee and eating Orange Oreos. And every time one of the carriages goes by, I hear the clip clop of the horse long before I see the carriage, and I look up. Even if I’m in mid-sentence, I look up. It’s just such a joy to see. And hear.
Yesterday, I was on the front porch again, coffee, Orange Oreos and book in hand. It had been a rough day. At 3:00 in the morning (why is it always 3:00?), I needed to use the bathroom. The bedroom is in a loft here, and you have to walk down the stairs to the main floor to reach the bathroom. The stairs are steep and smooth, smooth wood, with no runner for a better grip. There is a banister, but just on one side. My head was full of words, the ones I’d just read (yes, I was still awake – I’m a night owl) and the ones I’d written that day and was excited about, and when I glanced down, I thought I was on the last step. I wasn’t. I was three up. And so I fell. The pain was phenomenal. I got up and leaned against the wall. I could not put weight on my left leg. I wasn’t sure what hurt worse, my foot or my knee. Eventually, I got as far as the couch. Then the bathroom. Then back upstairs, which was excruciating, and probably really stupid. All I knew was I wanted to be in bed. So I was in bed where I shivered and shook. I called Michael, we debated my attempting to go to the ER (no businesses or amenities, remember. Closest hospital was a 20-minute drive away in bright sunlight. This was middle of the night dark and we had a heavy fog, and the roads are twisty and curvy with steep drop-offs.), decided against it, and he stayed on the phone with me until I stopped shaking.
The next day brought more pain. But I pushed through, then brought myself out to the porch and drank my coffee, ate my Oreos, and read my book…and heard a meow. Looking up, there was a tuxedo cat, sitting at the end of the front walk. “Hi,” I said.
He meowed and blinked.
“How are you?” I asked.
He tilted his head.
“Me? I’m okay. Lots of pain. I should probably go home. But you know…I think I need the silence more. And the chance to work.”
I swear he nodded.
“Do you want to come here? For a visit?” I’d been missing the pets at home. Ursula’s concrete head on my thigh while I wrote. Edgar smiling at me from his chair. Muse getting in the way.
He stood, twitched his tail at me, bowed his head, and left, disappearing through the trees toward the home where the chopping man lives.
And so I finished my snack and went back in to continue writing.
On the way here this past Sunday, I drove by many Amish carriages. But at one point, on the side of the road, a group of maybe 30 Amish folks walked toward me. They walked singly or in groups of two. As I drove slowly by, every one, every single one, smiled and flashed the two-fingered peace sign at me.
Peace. It was exactly what I needed. And the tuxedo cat agreed with me.
This whole week has been a moment of happiness. I’ve written, starting a new book, and a book I finally recognize. I’ve read and admired the words of others. I’ve slept. And yes, I took a tumble down the stairs, which is likely going to have some consequences.
But sometimes, the peace-filled sounds of silence in the middle of nowhere trumps everything else.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.