Which is exactly what is special about it.
It’s a little spot of green that hugs a creek and some train tracks under a commuter town filled with gently aging Victorians, massive and occasionally lethal oaks, and a class of generally enlightened, nice and attractive strivers. The train takes you into New York City in 25 minutes, and the town just happens to be the place where I’ve lived the past 25 years.
I’ve raised two children here, which means I’m at the stage of life when just about anywhere in the world suddenly is on the table as a potential place to move. In that sense, I’m just like my kids. They’re just starting their adult lives; they could wind up anywhere. Diplomas are like visas: invitations to cross borders, explore new lands. I don’t have a current visa myself — my last diploma was in 1983 — but that doesn’t mean I’m not daydreaming about where to go next. In fact, moving almost feels inevitable, eventually, if only because of the $17,000-a-year property taxes.
We recently visited some friends who moved to Maine, a curveball of a retirement, or pre-retirement, choice. I was smitten with Maine. The craggy coast, the cool nights, the music festivals and the lobster. But most of all the sense that I was in the verdant, pre-McDonald’s America I used to sing about in forth grade music class. In my fantasy, I was ready to forgive Maine its winters. Or better yet, why not spend summers in Maine and winters in Austin?
Meanwhile, though, I’m here.
It’s been a busy four-day weekend with my parents in town from Florida, with lots of eating and laughing and special t-shirts and re-telling of family lore. This morning, I took a respite from all the family togetherness to write in my backyard. I was trying, once again, to finish an essay I started in June about the year I was 24, living in a small town I hated in North Carolina. It was a good, sturdy little essay — but missing something. The problem is that it’s a little too sturdy, too constructed, to fix easily. So after a little while of picking at that knot, I decided to take a walk.
Among the things I thought about on the walk was how pretty my street was — maybe even as pretty as any I’d encountered in Maine.
Another thing I thought about was aging. It’s been all around me lately. In the mirror. And my knees. But especially when I look at my parents, mother-in-law, aunts and uncles dealing with the indignities of decrepitude and marching toward the ever-approaching horizon line of death. It seems unfair that the phrase we hear at the altar — “till death do we part”— will actually come true some day. No matter how wisely we choose our spouse or cultivate our marriage. No matter how careful our investments or terrific our luck.
But it suddenly occurred to me also, on this walk, that my parents had some great decades — their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s — full of vitality and friends. They’d managed to have fun, have parties, take trips, enjoy grandchildren. Maybe I would too.
So what I felt was this: The place I live is beautiful, and I might have a good couple of decades ahead of me.
Which suddenly seemed more important than explaining why I spent the 24th year of my life in a place I hated, and what that meant for me as a writer, a daughter and a parent.
I visited friends and walked home by way of the glen — The Glen, capital T, capital G, in this town, which takes its name from it — and visited the gazebo that was built about a decade ago through a series of fundraisers. The gazebo has never lived up to the vision of the gay couple who imagined it, raised the money for it, and moved to a neighboring town shortly afterward. It hasn’t become a center of village life, a place of concerts and picnics. Too bad, and a point for Maine too — where I sat in a gazebo strumming along with 11 other ukulele players on a Tuesday night in early July. A regular Tuesday night gathering, and boats in the background too.
Still, this gazebo was there, pretty and solid. There was graffiti, but nice graffiti, idealistic graffiti, quotes from Gandhi and the like.
And a breeze.
The breeze, I realized, was generated partly by the presence of the little creek, Toney’s Brook. It’s been there all along, just like my wrist. But nobody thinks much about it except during the annual rubber duck race in May. It’s an underwhelming trickle, this creek, but straddled by an outsized bridge, graceful, 19th century: a great circular arch built of rough-hewn sandstone.
It is altogether grander that it needs to be to get the job done. It’s a very small creek.
It’s not in any guidebooks: Toney’s Brook, the bridge, the gazebo. It’s not Maine. People don’t come from afar to see it — though there is a painting of it, I believe, in the library or Borough Hall. It’s not in any respect worth the $17,000 I pay in taxes for the privilege of living here.
In any conventional sense, it’s unremarkable. And yet how pretty it is. How nice to have noticed it again. To feel its breeze. How wonderful to be alive, to still be able to walk under my own power, and fairly swiftly too. And maybe, just maybe, to have a few good decades left.