The years pass with dizzying speed. It’s already time for the first hard frost again this morning.
We have been here in this one place for so long now that the moment becomes melded with the memories of the 4 or 5 or 6 first frosts before. I cannot keep all the years straight, and really there is no need to.
What I do know is that the subjects of my piddly photographs of frost – the allée, crystallized spider webs, the malva, the snail shells, the artichokes, les restes du jardin – are by now familiar turf. I have photographed every subject thoroughly before, all the usual inventory of this recurrent season in this particular place, in intimate detail.
The novelty is long gone. It’s a revisitation now, a pilgrimmage through cyclical time to pre-appointed stations (the riverview, the roses, the poke, the cedar…), more than any new discovery.
This is perhaps what it is like to grow old with a place, to grow real roots, and I welcome it.
A friend once said to me (at an age when I could not understand it, but oh how I do now), “Do not just do what makes you happy for a time. Do what makes you content after.”
She was right, I can now testify. Pervasive, lasting contentment is scads better than any momentary joy.
Contentment means enough. A stopping place, like the garden frozen after a long productive season. This is enough. Now we rest. Ecstasy comes and goes, but familiarity, intimacy, the patina of time – that is sedimentary bedrock.
Let the transitory dramas play out on the surface. Here we are below it, embedded.
All that parties is not gold
While I was photographing the yard this morning I was wearing a costume of coats, hats (yes, plural), and layered pants in which I was most grateful not to be seen by neighbors. Thick and frequent fog is such a blessing in this way.
My frumpy ensemble brought to mind the contrast of my current status (let’s call it an overly comfortable contentment) with an earlier life of hungry excitement and palpitating highs and lows, when I was also more vain and more successful at pulling off my vanity in public.
And that quickly gave way to the memories, leafing through the mental picturebook of conquests and victories, looking back to check that the tailfeathers are still there in the rearview mirror, as one does in middle age, of the many raucous parties that young men encounter, at least if they are lucky: Those pinnacular moments of a youth spent looking hard for happy without a care in the world for contentment.
I recalled a conflation of various high-drama events, listed here, in case any young readers need future party ideas: One lunch where colorful mystery “meal-enhancing” pills were served on empty white plates alongside each course; another party where the guests were stripped at the door, bathed in house paint, and rolled serially along the walls of a loft (not as good an idea for decorating as we thought, it turns out, neither for personal grooming); one Solstice when everyone had to dress as either a goat or a golden god, and we broadcast pornography onto enormous trees off the deck, the wind that night degrading the undulating bodies just enough to connote without fully denoting, which is always better; and another, which made a strong impression on me as a callow youth and set the entertainment bar very high, wherein a formal candlelit dinner was served by young men dressed only in undersized fezzes and heavily embroidered tailcoats, of the type those fez-wearing 18th-century tabletop monkey statues wear, and nothing else. I believe our host may have ended up on top of the table with the playful help, at the culmination of that one. Mon truc en plumes.
Those were the days, were they not?
In fact…. No. They were not. They were great excitement as far as Bacchanals go, sure: Roiling spectacular clouds over stormy seas, no bedrock, no moorings, no pilgrim’s progress – I do not say I regret them, and I was at times impeccably plumed, but I would not trade a split second of the provincial calmness of now for all those great heights and shimmy-shakedowns. Call me old, but I don’t miss them.
I was never as beautiful then as any of these frosty spider webs in the garden are this morning, nor as pleased to belong to any group as to this one village commune where we live today. Add to that, marriage. Add to that, age. Perspective, and, better, perspicacity. No, these are the days.
Sic transit gloria mundi, they constantly warn us. Live it up while you can, because the vanities are quickly spent. Boy, did I try.
But there are other worlds even better after that gloried and storied one passes away. This morning bears witness to that comforting truth.
(All apologies for the dated sexist-capitalist-pro-tabac sentiments in the axiom below, but the pith still holds true.)
Boys with their cigarettes and their sweethearts,
Those ambitious young men with their cigars and their whores,
It takes a great deal of experience to find contentment
in something so sensible as a pipe and a wife.