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I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately

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((Note to my friends back in Texas: I am not trying to make you jealous, promise))

Yesterday evening I got in my car and instantly rolled the windows down. Not out of habit, yet, but out of an almost subconscious desire for fresh air. My lungs and my skin have become rather used to the evening breeze as I drive, just as I’ve become accustomed to hearing the sounds of the cicadas as I drift to sleep or the neighbors’ kids playing in the yard as I sit at my desk.

Right now I can hear an ice cream truck, a cruise ship in the bay, and a happy dog greeting his family. The windows are always open and the world is coming inside.

This rather commonplace behavior wasn’t my habit a few short weeks ago. My Dallas life moved at highway speed, and air is not a gentle breeze at 80 mph, it’s a wind tunnel. Most importantly, sweating like a pig the summer air in Texas is just not my favorite thing. When S would come to visit me in Dallas, he would instantly roll the window down as soon as he got in the car. My fresh, made-up self would promptly melt. Not his intention, and he never seemed to mind, but I didn’t really understand how he could possibly prefer the hot, syrupy air over the efficiently compressed and forcefully cool Air Conditioning. Actually he’d last about five minutes and succumb, but the instinct was there.

And now I’ve come to see things the same way. Even on the mornings where it’s a bit cool to have the windows down, it feels so isolating to drive around with them up. Like I’m in my own little bubble or something.

The underlying realization is that I feel more connected to my life than I have in a while. I feel connected to the weather, and the cicadas, and my neighbors, because I’m letting them in rather than shutting them out. I feel more connected to the food I eat, because on many occasions I bought my vegetables from the guy that grew them. And because I don’t have a microwave, dinner require me to actually think about cooking, rather than relying on frozen food experts to decide what spices this particular dish needed. As I wash my dishes by hand — yep, no dishwasher either — the evidence of the meal is right there, asking to be contemplated, admired, and improved upon.

And when you walk places, you meet more people. It’s a lot harder to ignore the guy whose dog is sniffing your shoe than the lady in three cars over. People greet each other; sometimes with just a nod, usually with a “how are you?”, or if you appear to be pondering a streetside cafe, you might even get a “their food is amazing – try the capellini.” Not that people aren’t friendly back in Texas, but the only strangers I spoke to on a regular basis asked me if I wanted paper or plastic, or an appetizer before dinner. Now I have a whole contingent of neighborhood faces that greet me with some regularity, and new ones join all the time.

My senses feel rather like new skin after a sunburn, alert to every touch. It’s as though this new environment is allowing layers of complacency caused by repetition to be peeled back, exposing that which is very real, and asking me to interact. Life seems to taste better, smell more pungent, be somehow richer.

And yes, I know I’m completely romanticizing the experience. Not having a microwave or dishwasher can be a complete hassle sometimes. Sometimes the dogs bark A LOT. But it’s the price I pay for getting to live here, for being connected to my community in a way I haven’t before. Dallas for me was always about the people: my family and friends that made my life brilliant with their laughter and love. California, at this beginning point, is at least as much about the place, and my experience of it, and perhaps my experience of myself in it.

Thoreau, one of my very favorites, wrote these words on his retreat to Walden Pond, on gorgeous land belonging then to my forefathers:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life… to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.” (emphasis mine)

How can it be that I am lucky enough to call paradise home? Mean or sublime, it is mine to discover.

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2 responses »

  1. Jenny — you are a terrific writer. I’m already inspired by you and can’t wait to read more. Keep it up, girl. You’re doing something very profound–not just for yourself, but for the rest of us, too. I can sense it will lead to great things. –LuAnn

  2. Thank you for your kind words! Sometimes it feels like I’m just stumbling around out here; it’s good to know that sometimes my thoughts resonate outside my head as well.

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