‘A beautiful day in the Adirondacks’

On Independence Day, I usually reflect some on American history and patriotism. But this year — not so much. (Don’t get ahead of me here; it wasn’t for the reason you think.) This most recent Fourth of July was “a beautiful day in the Adirondacks.” I put that in quotation marks as it was a phrase someone I knew a long time ago endowed with special meaning. This man helped Ann and me find our way with renovation of the former Carmelite monastery. When we bought the old house, it needed a lot of work, and it was big. We had few DIY skills, and we knew nothing about living in such a cold part of the world. We were grateful for his help.

Nonetheless, he was a little dour. Someone told us he was known as “Old Grumpy.” But when we’d get a day as clear and bright as this year’s Fourth of July was, he would phone me and announce like an antiphon to whatever followed, “It’s a beautiful day in the Adirondacks.” He’d do this even if the temperature was below zero.

I started this Fourth the same way I start most warm days — sitting on the back porch, drinking coffee and looking out toward the rising sun through the Scotch pine and the maples down over Pine Ridge Cemetery, and following the Psalmist’s ancient injunction to “be still and know that I am God.” It’s an uplifting way to start any day in any weather, but the Fourth was so beautiful I could hear Old Grumpy’s words as if he were not as dead as the residents below.

The sun rose above a band of low-lying mist and fog, and the world hereabouts was transformed. Not just from dark to light, either, but from darkness with its greater possibility of perils and danger to glorious day with a sense of well-being so pervasive it extended even to the squirrels. On any other day, I would have seen those pests as just bushy-tailed rodents. But not on this day. As they scurried about in the trees, they seemed not to be going anywhere; they were playing. They leaped from one small limb to another small one and enjoyed a sudden drop on nature’s bungee cord, chattering and having a fine time.

One called time out, leaped over onto the garage roof, climbed down the wall of the outdoor shower and hopped across the lawn to the porch. Nothing much unusual in that. But then it came up the steps, climbed onto the chair nearest me, looking at me intently and without fear. After a bit, it stepped over onto my lap, and we stared into each other’s eyes for a moment or two. Perhaps it was just hoping I had peanuts, but I think something more was involved. In any case, it had said good morning, and it had reminded me of the ineffable nature of life.

Later, walking through the cemetery, I tried to find the graves of my friends Mel and Lilo and pay my respects. I knew they were in the Jewish section, and it’s not large, but I never did find them. I did, however, discover a memorial bearing the names of relatives of Saranac Lake citizens who had died in the Holocaust. And all around the cemetery were bodies of veterans of a number of wars. Walking there brought to mind more traditional Independence Day thoughts, of course. It costs a lot for us to be the free people we are.

On Moody Pond, I encountered a young boy on a bicycle. About the second or third time he passed me, I asked him how many loops he had made.

“This is five. I’m going for 10.”

He wasn’t working out, though. Like those squirrels riding flimsy branches, he was playing.

My friend Margaret was out walking her goldendoodle, Nora. We said hello and exchanged pleasantries. On many mornings, solitary, uninterrupted walking is called for, but not this day. Margaret and I had a nice chat that continued feeding my sense of being at home in the world.

A little farther on, more of the same came my way when I encountered an acquaintance named Kelli. She was sitting in an Adirondack chair with her back to the road, drinking coffee and looking out at the pond, the surface of which as was glassy-still as Kelli herself. Her standard poodle, Luna, and her cat, whose name I’ve forgotten, sat on either side. (I think Kelli used to have a cat named Six Toes, but this was a different one.) They, too, were studying the water, seemingly engaged in whatever prayer or meditation four-legged creatures enjoy.

Kelli and Luna interrupted their reverie and came up to the road. While we talked, Luna, who was showing signs of her 13 years, leaned against my leg and looked up at me now and then. The cat remained at the edge of the water, staring at a lone mallard as it paddled across to the other side.

“There was a loon earlier,” Kelli said.

In all, it was a good way to spend part of an Independence Day. It was good to have a little breather from thoughts about American history and politics. Later, I would return refreshed to a citizen’s duty to stay informed and contribute in whatever way I can to the common good.

It was a beautiful day in the Adirondacks.

Paul Willcott publishes somewhat longer essays about once a month on his national award-winning blog www.geezerblockhead.com.

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