It snowed today in Seattle, and the world as we know it came to an end. Schools were closed. Freeways were in chaos. Families left the car at home and walked to stores, stocking up on supplies for the days of isolation that surely lay ahead. The snow total? Two inches where I live.
To be fair to all my neighbors, there is a lot of ice, and Seattle is known for its hills. And since snow is so rare here, we have little in the way of snow removal equipment. I stayed home from work today, and will likely head in to work quite late tomorrow in the hope that some of that ice will melt.
And what a nice day it was. Seattle is always a beautiful city, filled with trees and other greenery that takes hold in any speck of soil, even the cracks in major hiways. Most city lots offer plenty of trees, and they are well augmented by lush green lawns and even moss growing on the rooftops. In my own home I have to work to keep trees from growing in my hard to access gutters. And now with the snow offering a white blanket over it all, you couldn’t ask for a more picturesque scene, so long as you didn’t try to drive, that is.
For reasons I can’t quite fathom, I awoke at 3 and couldn’t get back to sleep. Finally, at about 3:30am I gave up on my attempts and climbed into my warm jetted tub. There I read from my new book, Payne Hollow by Harlan Hubbard. It’s the tale of his time spent at Payne Hollow, and the years that lead he and his wife, Anna, to move there.
His life-long goal was to eschew all the aspects of a civilized life that the rest of us seem to long for. He wanted nothing of the 9 to 5 world, had no use for cars.. even busses, and really had little use for prolonged exposure to people in general. He wanted solitude. For him a scenic outlook was, simply put, no longer scenic, if there was a trace of the modern world to be seen. If there was any sign of humanity that he enjoyed, it was the steamships and sternwheelers of the mighty ohio river, and there were precious few of those left during most of his lifetime.
There was no electricy, so all work was done by candle light or oil lamps, and the cycle of his day was built around the hours of daylight. Water was from a creek… food was from the river… and heat came from the firewood cut by hand from the forrests around him. There was human contact, to be sure, but he preferred it on his terms, and asked that all but a chosen few limit their visits to certain Sundays.
There are parts of his life at Payne Hollow that would appeal to even the most hardened New Yorker. Hubbard’s love of the earth, it’s seasons, and it’s non-human inhabitants couldn’t come through more eloquently or with greater passion. But I can’t help noticing a sense of anger and desperation in his loathing of the path the rest of us have taken. His is a take no prisoners approach to getting in tune with nature, a communion that spawns, for me at least, a sense of admiration, but also of pity, if not for Hubbard himself, than perhaps his wife. And so far at least, his wife is little more than a pleasant sound effect in the background of his always serious, always industrious world.
His world is filled with an enviable and uncommon interest in the nature that he has worked so hard to become a part of. He spends his days with oil painings in the forrest and fishing for catfish in “his” river, returning to a house hewn from the very landscape that surrounds him. He kills the meat he eats, then serves it in a bowl hewn from the stumps of the trees that fuel the fire, over which he cooks his dinner. There’s a joy in it all, but perhaps there’s also some desperation and a somewhat frantic quality to his efforts to forsake the norm, the lives the rest of us live.
It’s a wonderful book, one I highly recommend to anyone with a yearning to be free of the stress and pressures of the office or work world. Yet, I’m not sure I’ll finish it. My life lacks balance, balance between want and should, between natural and manufactured, between isolation and family, but so does Hubbard’s.
In Buddhism we talk of the middle path. The answers rarely lie in one extreme or the other. There is such as thing as too much of a good thing. The answer is balance…. the best of both world’s, in effect. Hubbard’s book is a glimpse into the opposite extreme of my life. Now to bring his world into mine… in balance.