Maine to Pittsburgh, Beauty

Went to Maine for a lightning fast trip. It was great.   Part of it was re entering the northern New England Survival Gestalt. I got in at midnight at Manchester NH. It had been 87 (unseasonable thank God) in Pittsburgh the day before. In NH, it was 40 degrees,  very dark and pouring rain at the airport.

Wearing only a light jacket I trudged over in the rain also sans umbrella (I’ve become a very light packer) to the rental car company.  But, I thought, this is good. Good to be challenged when you’re older. Otherwise you fall into decrepitude.

I have always been quite courageous; I grew up in a very tough environment and I was forced to rely on myself. There are bad parts to this but also a lot of good.  In addition, in New England there is a suffering and redemption philosophy to the weather and life in general. So I was proud to endure an exhausting trip and push myself to pick  up the car as I had to in order to accomplish my work.

At the Thrifty counter I  had a nice chat with the lady who was about to close up. She was an immigrant and told me I was courageous.

The next day I drove 3+ hours to western  Maine to a meeting. It was beautiful. Clear and sunny, the rivers overflowing.  The hills looked like fall—all the colors. I would venture that Maine’s bloom is 2 weeks behind Pittsburgh. The lilacs, which I always associate with New England, are just out. (In PGH they and the azaleas—it’s all very lush—are long gone).

It was coldish in the north country, which was great.  Above the hills a fine mist floated.

I listened to classical music on the fine radio. It was entrancing and my pleasure evidenced a basic life truth: when you do not have something and then you have it you appreciate it more. This has been a truism my entire life, but especially since I left my nightmarish family at 18.  I have always appreciated my life although there has been a lot of suffering and in my younger years drama.

My car radio has not worked in some years so the SUV stereo—yowzah!–was a delight. I loved hearing classic rock and wonderful Chopin, Haydn, etc. All of which I have an enhanced interest in since leaving Maine nine months ago and beginning to go to concerts at Heinz Hall and the Benedum Center.

Heinz Hall , home of the Pittsburgh Symphony (one of the best in the country), is just a treasure.  Wonderful acoustics. I dress up and sit in nosebleed seats. Below are galleries and lounges and exquisite halls and grand staircases. It’s just lovely.  They are great musicians. The sense of civilization is entrancing—that all these people are there, intent on beauty, something seemingly worthless in this age of the utilitarian, but  priceless and true.

Again that sense of coming into an oasis in the desert. I know nothing really about music. I had no childhood lessons, my family had no interest in music or the arts except literature. That was only my mother, who read, but was too depressed to be active in the world. She was not much of a mother.

I’ve always liked classical music but to hear it in a lovely old hall…it’s magnificent. How I wish my mother could be with me. In this life she would not be deaf as she grew in older age, and she would be happy.  We would be happy sitting together and she would be a girl again, alight.

The opera, which I also attend, brings tears to my eyes, tears of joy.  Mostly I attend the Met broadcasts in movie theaters, but I went to the Pittsburgh opera once, for “Turandot”.  It was just lovely. Opera is so sumptuous.  More, it is elemental with its great storylines, deep emotion, eternal truths which we seem to be losing.  But maybe I’m just an old bag saying this, as older people say this in every generation.

Anyway, what a gift. I have such a sense of that about my whole life these days and it is because I was so brave in making this transition. In my old life in Maine–which has many gifts– I did not have much access to the greater world, the new, and I now realize its lack was difficult.

It is not that I now dislike nature, because I am much at tune with the natural world. I still notice a lot. At night I listen to the birds’ night chorus and look at the new leaves on the trees in amazement. Behind the seemingly omnipresent police helicopters I see the stars.

I do miss the sea, wildness. That New England landscape is absolutely my native country, I now know. In some ways I even miss spending much of my life on surviving, as I did in Maine—on maintenance, preparation against the elements, gathering wood, carting things back and forth.  Even the culture—when I heard those harsh New England voices barking on radio commercials–my heart sung.

However, to be in city that is so vibrant, diverse, full of energy and the new…God it’s wonderful. A city which is much kinder than many New England cities, like Providence, where I grew up, and Boston, where I lived in young adulthood.

Pittsburgh is not boring at all. While I frequently visit Maine, I’m also very happy here. Grateful for coming in courage 10 months ago. I came back to my apartment and opened Pittsburgh magazine. I bought tickets for a number of things, was in touch with friends. I’m delirious at 62, almost 63.

What We Have

-by Ruth Stone

On the mountain,

The neighbor’s dog, put out in the cold,

Comes to my house for the night.

He quivers with gratitude.

His short-haired small stout body

settles near the stove.

He snores.

Out there in the dark, snow falls.

The birch trees are wrapped in their white bandages.

Recently in the surgical theater,

I looked in the mirror at the doctors’ hands

As he repaired my ancient frescoes.

When I was ten

we lived in a bungalow in Indianapolis.

My sister and brother, my mother and father,

all living then.

We were like rabbits

In the breast fur of a soft lined nest.

I know now that we were desperately poor.

But it was spring:

The field, a botanist’s mirage of wild flowers.

The house centered between two railroad tracks.

The tracks split at the orchard end of the street

And spread in a dangerous angle down either side.

Long lines of freight for half an hour clicking by;

or a passenger train,

with a small balcony at the end of the last car

where someone always stood and waved to us.

At night the wrenching scream and Doppler whistle

of the two AM express.

From my window I could see a fireman stoking

The open fire, the red glow reflected in the black smoke

belching from the boiler.

Once I got up and went outside.

The trees-of-heaven along the track swam in white mist.

The sky arched with sickle pears.

Lilacs had just opened.

I pulled the heavy clusters to my face

and breathed them in,

suffused with a strange excitement

That I think, when looking back, was happiness.