I took a week off to finish a short story that's going into an anthology that will be published this month. Normally I go out to visit Dad in September but with COVID lockdown, as much as I love my Dad I'm not spending $2500 on airfare, rental care, and hotel, to wave at him outside a window when he doesn't want to talk more than 1 minute on the phone each day.
But now it's time to return to work, hours of travel, the groan and rumble of an airplane, the vibration felt from the yoke to my bones, the cadence and sorrow of air rushing past, left behind in the wake of strained metal. There are hotels in the city, waking to the staccato bursts of sound from the street, cars, shouted curses, and horns. Even where I used to live, in a subdivision with cookie-cutter homes with enough insulation to drown out the sound of brushing your teeth, there was no such thing as real quiet. There's the neighbors' lawnmower at 9 pm, dogs barking or a shouting match off in the distance between people caged too long, living eight feet at away from the next house.
You either adapt to it or you getaway. I voted for the getting away part of the reason I sold the original "Range". A four-lane addition to the road from a less than good part of the city to the north end of our little town brought with it gang graffiti and crime. Property values were crashing. We had our first rape. A woman was beaten to death with a claw hammer. There were a number of break-ins and smash and grab burglaries in my neighborhood, kids, the cops said, taking small electronics, cash, and booze, but it worried me. I realized that I was close enough in that if there was trouble, I wouldn't be able to defend the place too long even with back up. I wanted to be further out. If not full time, at least a place for the weekends and holidays. Not so far out that when I go walk along the creek I hear the sound of a banjo, but far enough to be away from the major roads and cities in the event of a disaster where the unprepared come to loot the prepared. So I made the decision to sell the place before prices dropped even more, and save for a chunk of land.
Someone said, "you're going to get your own Walden Pond?" I've read Thoreau, who chronicles his life off the grid in his writings. I found his words moving but found little in common with a middle-aged man who probably couldn't field dress a deer if he had to. But there was one thing he wrote of that I have always identified with. He talked of judging the cost of something but how much life you had to expend to get it. I left a relationship long ago for that reason because in terms of cost to my being for what I got from it, it violated my sense of thrift. It's the same reason I got rid of a huge house of space I didn't need any longer and unnecessary possessions. Things are precious when they are few and carefully selected. If you squander yourself on things that give you nothing back, someday, when you need that part of yourself to survive, you may find yourself bankrupt.
So I gave away to those in need or sold half my possessions, rooms of furniture, all the useless decorative clutter, keeping only the art that I truly liked, my books, the furniture that's handcrafted and comfortable and the tools of my life that I really need. Some said I was foolish, as a woman alone, there's safety in a busy town, a steady finality in the noise of a large neighborhood. So there is, as well, in the sound of the scrape of metal against a pine box. These are the people who also tell me that I shouldn't have a gun, the police will take care of me; those that speak imperiously and loudly, not hesitant of argument, simply impotent to conceive either.
I bought a "fixer upper" on the water on a couple of acres. It allowed me to save a bit of money and it was in a safer area, further from the city but close to where I can get into work. There would be my time alone, walks out, firearm on my hip, lest I encounter a mob of chipmunks. There would be my times to just sit, out on a felled log. Time to stop, without schedule as I watched the sky turn from the subtle grey of an unpainted church to the deep purple darkness of a priest's robe, the stars impenetrable and invisible, as if waiting for us before they showed themselves.
Barkley would be sitting by my side, hoping we're under a dog biscuit tree, soon to shed its fruit. We would wait, serene and still, the moon shining on nibbled shadow, content to just sit underneath the starry sigh of heaven. The only other lights were as far off and distant as memories of shame or pride or loss, barely remembered like the smell of decay, sensed only in the instant of its knowledge and then fading to dim memory as you move away from it. Dark and far away, as such things should remain for as long as possible.
From where we sat, an owl would call, the sound unintelligible amongst the vernal branches. As a satellite tracked the sky, the owl called again, a call to go home. And within, there would be an old Victrola, a ham radio, lots of books, and some board games for when I have those I love to stay with us. There would be my little computer to write and communicate. In much of the daily breath, I drew there would be noise, but it would be the sound of a blade striking wood, the sun shimmering off of the blade-like silver. It would be the crack of a rifle shooting on a range just a few miles away, the tool I would use for provision and protection. It would be the hum of machinery as the shop took shape, room for more tools, room for more freedom. There would be voices, but they would be those of reasoned discourse among friends, as though many of us lived in a time of rural living, we were not so naive to think it doesn't deeply impact us, our safety and our liberty, keeping us wary and watchful
It would be a life of still, dense sound; the sound of freedom. A life of remote quiet, the world outside spinning slowly into green smoke. It would be a life on my terms as best as is possible, walking the uncertain spaces that open before me in the deepening fields, walking out into the constant trees, alone when I need to be, but not forlorn, intractable and accountable. Walking on forward, rhythmic steps into the hushed, secret shade of life off the grid.
Now that I'm back in a big city, no regrets as it brought me to a life with my best friend, who has his dream job here, back to a quiet hushed bungalow that's as old as time on two lots in the city, full of 100-year old trees. Something happened between the night of my previous life and the dawn of my new one but I could not be happier, even if living in Mordor. I may have more laws, corrupt politicians, and burning cold, but I still have my freedom and love to keep me grounded.
When it's time for both of us to retire - we will leave this place, back to that Trinity of space that is earth, God, and nature. But until then, I'll savor the sound of a hundred-year-old home, the twitter of birds outside, and the sound of a reloading press in the shop, making our elements of freedom.