Friday, February 7, 2014

I guess you just stop blaming yourself after a certain point, or maybe the blame is transformed into something else, transformed by taking to a deeper standard.   You grow up in the country, every day exposed to nature, encountering it intimately on any scale you care to, always there, the backdrop, the place you are in.  The Irish or Greek boy comes from a country side, a farming life, comes to the New World, to The City, finds himself most at ease in a pub or a diner.  Maybe he's a cop.  I find a sympathy with a Shane MacGowan, a smart literary sensitive guy with a crazy streak, rooted in a rural life and farm people, who comes to the big city in a crucial time of transformation, and how he must take his rural inner life and maintain it in some form, out of a deep need, in his case to preserve the traditional countryside Irish music, but really to preserve something important to him within, such that life doesn't become completely inconsistent.  (Is that a luxury, or something fought for?)

I grew up around barns and cornfields, stretches of road along pastures and woods, large open spaces between towns, terrain, hills.  I grew up around farm houses with a line of trees in front of them, maples, a yard.  I grew up before the countryside had been subtly industrialized by the reach of cyberspace, when there still was a downtown Utica with thriving shops and a beautiful old movie theater and a Philip Johnson art museum, and still with restaurants, before the box store and the malls.  And still, near where I'm from, there are still farms and towns tucked away, a volunteer firehouse, a gas station, an old cemetery, up on the ridge Mennonite silos.  I'd ride my bike over the ridges, wary of farmhouse dogs doing their natural duty.  I remember the green of grass in summer, the color of dirt, the world blanketed by snow.  I remember the school bus driver with his tractor driver hat.  I used to keep a phrase to myself, that had to do with a local boy's sense of the world James Dean grew up in, rural farm boy Indiana, the roads connecting the stretches between the towns with town halls and the old bank buildings and a movie theater made of brick.  To understand the work of James Dean, its rootedness in humanity, it helped to know where he came from.

I take little credit for growing up positioned so and I feel lucky, though of course to be real costs something to maintain, maybe in a strange parallel to the way being materialistic costs something, but something different, something else, though I regard the costs for the former a good thing as far as character building.  I had sensitive parents and this was the luck of their draw during a period of change, when we left Amherst, even as my father had been a very accomplished professor there, but unrewarded for the academic rigor and the subsequent beauty of learning he imposed upon the students of the University there.  They built a house on acres of land up a farm road in a land dipping gently, a grove of elms, an old orchard taken back by nature, a swamp, a stream that ran clear hard water.  That was where I grew up, and there was, for me, some feelings when we left it, moving on.  There was a beauty and a grace to that too, as there was about all of it, to the trees, the cats, to the Irish Wolfhounds and the Corgi we had, the ducks we raised once in the bathtub, the fire pot, all of it.

It is nice to remember, and I take pride in it, that we lived with the land, that the three of us, my dad, my brother and I, would split the wood and shovel the snow and mow the lawn and paint the house and stain the decks.  We would hear at night the sound of the big orange painted snow plows, the sounds of their chains on the road, the scraping of the plow blades, the puff of engine reverberating as we lay in bed with blankets over us, the road becoming clear again, a visitation.

That was some of the stuff I've always felt obliged to bring along with me in the things I do.

The countryside instills a sense of humor in you.  It gives you a perspective you'll rely on your whole life, even in the city.  It gives you a pace of life.  It gives you a sensibility, broadly applied, not necessarily funneled into a particular craft, but in all things you do.

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