Several years ago, or, as I’d say, a few years back, I had glanced upwards and saw a lone deer making its way down the steep half-wooded hill behind my house. It did so holding its broken left back leg up, the hoof never touching the ground. A pretty big animal, it slipped and skidded down the leaves and scattered snow there. Once I saw it had crossed my yard, I next saw it crossing the iced-over road, where it fell. It scrambled on the slippery asphalt before it rose. Lame, hobbled, damaged I watched it disappear into the forest on the other side. And I thought about this poor beast’s days being numbered. Despite pain, injury, and hopeless winter survival it did not give up. We of course do. And when we foresee coming despair, we sometimes do strange things. We have ourselves tied to ships’ masts lest singing voices carry us away. We have ourselves anesthetized lest we drive far off into the night and accuse our forsaken lovers of fistfuls of treacheries. We half-booze ourselves to death lest we feel the Earth’s own sorrow. But the will and pacing of this deer was something else. It was more than symbol, and more than sign. It was the very breath of life, whose only certain destiny was to one silent day stop somewhere in the woods alone.
There’s a mouse in the wall and it’s chewing at the wood. The mouse doesn’t mind if I bang there, get up out of bed, and pound around its whereabouts. It pauses between my banging sometimes then starts again, chewing. Other times, throughout my own noises, it keeps chewing on the wood. I’m not even sure if it’s joists or rafters it’s after, but after all, to a mouse I suppose it’s all the same. I want to kill this mouse and can’t so I get up; it’s long before five in the morning, long before even my dreams having finished dreaming for the night. They must have been somewhere between fretful and fitful to have been awakened so easily. I can’t even imagine why the mouse is chewing there. It’s only wood. And what good is that, even to a mouse? There are no seeds, no food, anywhere. I buried the sack of sunflower far away from even my house where neither bluebirds singing nor black bears sifting through the brown forest leaves will ever find them. I put them there despite my fondness for both. I had thought: maybe this once, maybe this one time out of an entire sack of seed a single stalk with a giant yellow bloom in summertime will grow, before the cut-worm gnaws the seedlings down in the dirt. I’d like to think it possible but rather doubt it. Still, this little creature working its little mind away for no apparent and no particular purpose, it would seem, has stirred a little poetic vice in me that I have known. And I’d prefer, though I am sleepy yet, to be knocked away by some interrupting stranger, a little beast of any kind will do, or a sheriff’s hand at worst, to be alone before all this gleaming blackness, than slipping off one day into the night.
The jar of walnuts was almost empty. And the cords of wood, they were stacked. Stovepipe clean. Winter was a-coming. The coffee beans, they were still ground each morning, an hour before the sunlight curled around the mountaintop, by hand. It would be wise to crawl beneath the house and wrap the wool again, or build a solid box, around the water heater tucked below the floorboards. It was going to be cold. Thank the dog of Egypt, there were a good half dozen blankets to keep a body warm. Thank the rows of cans stored in the cupboard. Thank the garden crop of summer, and fall, and all the good things of the earth grown for eating that will be stored. All it takes is the planet’s reaching a tilt of twenty-three degrees away from the Sun, life’s fiery provider, to pull a sweater over in the chill of evening or the early blackened morning. It takes nobody to realize these things, a steadfast cycle so easily missed in the great bustle of the world’s seething metropolises or the company of others.
She had wished him to find her a little nearby cottage in the woods. And she would send him a note with a little picture of this one and that one every now and then. And she trusted his judgment, and she trusted the people that he knew. For, after all, he had been a woodsman these many years already, and if he did not know it himself, he would certainly ask someone else who did. In this, she knew he would never fail her. She had never supposed, ever since they had long ago drifted apart—she in the city and he in the country—that they would ever again be together. Quite certainly not! In that regard, the cottages she sought were cottages for one person alone. And in this regard, too, so had his always been. She fancied that should he find her one, that, by her invitation, he would come to her table every now and then. And, too, that when a thing or two went wrong with her little cottage in the woods, that she could call on him. And in this, she would not have been entirely mistaken. But they were in touch with each other so very little that she could not possibly have known he was already looking quite faraway seaward, away from the woods themselves, where he would find himself someday a little cottage overlooking the rocks and waves crashing there.
The painted stone reliefs of Arcadia will already have been vanished. Whatever had looked upon these walls will have long disappeared. Still, the lichen will grow and exist as it did. And somewhere else, the horseshoe crab, with its strange bluish blood, will crawl upon the sea floor. And somewhere else, too, the louse. And somewhere a beetle. Adamantine reality will not call to us. Though another had once said that the stars are there because they needed us to see them. And still another yet because we had imagined them to be. But we can see today that these boldings are over. It is not very difficult to see that now. Whatever was our tenancy here, it was had briefly. At times it was most spectacular. And glorious. At others, not so much. From a leftover bluestone quarry that was completely abandoned 150 years ago, it is still important for the few passersby who come here to walk through last season’s fallen leaves along the footpath and pass by this silent, earthly beauty.
Warning against the virtues of the perceived authentic life in the country, Schiller—the wordsmith behind Beethoven’s ever popular, much loved Ode to Joy music in his 9th Symphony—directs people to “submit to all [the] evils of civilization with a free resignation.” This was in 1795. The worst thing one could do, in other words, was to dupe oneself into believing a life in the country could ever still amount to anything, and not to waste it there. So, the only thing to do was to take in the fullness that modern life in the city offered. Again, this was in 1795. Under completely dissimilar circumstances, actor Joseph C. Phillips condemns the now beleaguered American comic Bill Cosby in 2015 for his predatory philandering by urging him, in a publicly released article to “Please, go live a quiet country life.” In other words, to vanish, to disappear, to fritter away his days to nothing. Get out of the city! Get out of New York! Get out of LA! Get out of Berlin! Get out of Leipzig! Get out of Jakarta! Get out of Barcelona! Get out of the public eye! Get out of business! Get out of the world!
But with the hyperconnectivity of our Internet entwined globe, this trope of the Country Mouse and the Town Mouse—the quiet and the busy, the ignorant and the urbane—is not valid anymore. While the superfluities of Jonathan Franzen’s words litter columns of myriad subjects enmeshed within Wikipedia articles, he will likely be recalled by his own confession as dictum that in order to write, he has to turn off his Wi-Fi. This is completely the opposite of Susan Sontag’s fantastic declaration much earlier in time that she has a multiple-attention-to-everything disorder, or Camille Paglia’s hefty boast in the 80’s to having to have her Walkman playing music on loud while writing to write. Surely, as Steve Martin has amused us all, whether in a shack in the country, or a teensy-weensy studio in the city, or some shanty in obscurity, the women rule here.