On this day 52 years ago, my parents got married. Tonight, the bridge and groom along with two of their sons celebrate at the tony Blue Ginger restaurant in the center of Wellesley town. Brother Rob drives us in his SUV the short mile to the restaurant. We try to look formal and fashionable.
I have eaten at the Blue Ginger several times for previous family anniversaries like my father’s 80th birthday and my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. My parents enjoy the luminosity of star chef Ming Tsai, rarely seen anymore in the restaurant. We usually nosh on butterfish and drink expensive wine. The bill mounts staggeringly for our family of simple means.
I usually don’t care much for the Blue Ginger. Tonight, the meal worked. Our waitress was scintillating, patient, casual, and authoritative. Red wine for parents and me, beer for my brother, they loosened our severity. Dessert had a surprise cookie signed with “Happy Anniversary.”
At these signature meals, I want profundities that always are absent. A fantastical family “coming together” may not happen, yet for over an hour on a warm long summer evening at the same table in each others’ presence, we enjoyed a conversation. Pleasant, normal, fleeting. That is enough. That is life. We got home before darkness.
One spring morning, I visit Walden Pond. The park service recently built a replica of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin and installed a bronze statue of the transcendentalist. I sit in the little 10’ x 15’ cabin room and survey Thoreau’s small bed, table, chairs and fireplace. I contemplate two years of mostly outdoor solitude.
Thoreau was quite the crank in his day. He railed against acquisition and property as shackles not luxuries. I post a photo of the cabin on Facebook.
I break away from the families splashing at Walden’s pleasant beach to climb a path into the woods. I reach the meager remnants of Thoreau’s cabin: a fireplace hearthstone. A plaque touts Thoreau’s philosophy. A rope delineates the boundaries of the long-gone cabin. A few tourists poke into the rock pile next to the cabin site. Thoreau did have a good view of Walden Pond.
I brought along Thoreau’s writings on this hike to inscribe some thoughts by the cabin site, as I had done on my previous visit in 2006. Back then, I feared quitting my job and going on the road. Leaving seemed so scary and uncharted. A year after that 2006 visit to Walden, I quit work in Boston, bought a car, and drove west.
Eight years have past since my previous visit to Walden. I’m quite a different person: less anxious, less energetic, wiser, knowing less, more focused, more comfortable with uncertainty. I have been dating a man for almost three years. I don’t know where the two of us are heading, but I accept the happy present. I’m building art bigger than myself. I’m reconnecting with previous selves.
Much of me remains the same. On both visits, I am in the process of shedding a conventional career. Thoreau counsels simplicity. I want soon to throw out even more belongings. I need also to throw out the baggage of identity, wanting, and future. Personal conception and narrative may not be so important. Perhaps I will become an ascetic in the wood.
When I turned forty, I looked about my meager rented San Francisco apartment. I assessed, “this is not where I should be.” I had so little to show for my life. I was overlooked for promotions. I did not earn enough to buy property. Greg was not proving the perfect soul mate. So much has changed in my perspective since then. It is enough. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.
I finished reading the books I brought west with me, so I peruse the bookshelves in my bedroom. Here I find Dutch, French, and Spanish language textbooks, high school and college year books, Dungeon & Dragons rule books, cartoon anthologies like Calvin & Hobbes, authoritative gift books that I never opened, and kids classics.
I’m re-reading the young-adult stories prescribed by my middle school English teachers, or rather reading them for the first time as I don’t remember the narratives. I dove into Of Mice and Men, read Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea, and now tackle The Yearling.
I understand the stories better now, picking up more than just the plot. Thirty years ago, I probably found impenetrable The Yearling’s southern jargon. Most stories are sad. Teachers may find suffering and loss ennobling and instructive, a maturing warning of the world’s hardness.