My new favorite place

Well-intentioned local writer/musician finally goes completely mad

It doesn’t matter where I’ve lived, I’ve always had some sort of neighbor problem. I dream of a time when I can live in total isolation just to rid myself of those seemingly minor little stressors with neighbors that over time become headline material.

Well-intentioned local writer/musician finally goes completely mad

I know a guy to whom neighbors are cherished friends. He goes to concerts with them. When the power fails, they’ve got each other’s backs with generators, gasoline and bottled water. I wonder what that must be like.

We got a break from the heat today and got the windows open for the first time in what felt like weeks. It was refreshing for a few hours in the morning. But when you live in New Jersey, mostly on top of each other, open windows on a nice day almost always bring smoke or unnecessary noise eventually.

Smoke from fire pits, grills, drug paraphernalia and the like, particularly when the air is crisp and you most want to open your windows, has become nothing short of a phenomenon where I am. A surprising number of people have been drawn to me with the peculiar compulsion to enjoy fresh air by polluting it. I don’t think this happened before the HGTV culture, which I firmly believe over-evangelized the fire pit. They always show one as the backyard centerpiece in some remote area. Then some white people with an over-inflated budget opine that it will be “great for entertaining.”  Never fails. But when those shows make it to screens in New Jersey, suddenly everyone thinks they’re in the mountains of North Carolina instead of in the most densely populated state in the nation. It leads directly to unhappiness for Aquarians like myself for whom fresh air is a commodity.

There seems to be a large contingent of the populace for whom air quality and ambient noise don’t factor measurably in quality of life assessments. I’m simultaneously fascinated and exasperated by this.

This Guy-every day
Taken from my window, as I prayed for a full force gale.

Take this guy for example:

Every day, during every season, regardless of the need, this guy is out from 1pm to 5pm with some form of power tool. He lives across the street. He has a weed whacker, a power-washer, a lawn mower, a hedge trimmer and his very favorite, a gasoline powered leaf blower. With that, he blows leaves, garbage, dust, landscaping material, most anything at all. Sometimes he just blows debris out of the street and into the surrounding yards, all while propping himself up on a damn cane.

I find the sound of power tools with their obnoxious revving completely insufferable. I couldn’t despise the sound any more than the sound of puppies being ground into dust, and I don’t even know what that sounds like. Somehow any time of any day seems fine for this sort of activity. Note that this guy above, is wearing ear protection. He’s all taken care of, I guess. The rest of us can just deal with the noise, because, hey, it’s just a little noise. Now, if I dimed a couple of amplifiers in the front yard and spent every afternoon  ripping through guitar hits of the 70s, don’t think this octogenarian Adonis wouldn’t have the fuzz out there before he could collapse his telescope. (You can’t see it in the picture, but it’s in the window to the left of the front door.) But I don’t do that. I’m not inconsiderate. Still, it speaks volumes about how desensitized people can be.

The fire pit people? It’s just a little smoke. It floats away, right? People don’t think. They’ve learned to overlook certain things that just I can’t. Somehow a smoke complaint is unheard of. I just don’t get it. I wonder if how many of my neighbors noticed how clean the air was at the height of the lockdown. I wonder if they noticed how quiet it was at night. NO highway noise. You can’t swing an octogenarian in this town without hitting a major highway overpass. It’s New Jersey. During the lockdown, no one was going anywhere and things definitely changed. I’ll never forget it.

Cut to last weekend, when I found my new favorite place.

As Jimmy Webb once wrote, I went out to loosen up the car. Actually, I was breaking in a new set of tires. I haven’t been out much this year for obvious reasons, so I was looking for something notable. Something upon which to feast my eyes, albeit while enjoying an experience of maximum solitude. I drove north. Mega north. North-ity north. I just kept going until the traffic thinned out. When I felt I had gone far enough, I noticed a brown sign. It said something about a scenic overlook. I passed it. I regretted passing it. About a mile later, I saw another one just like it. I took the right.

I proceeded into a one-lane tunnel of dense tree cover. No sky. I followed the winds in the road, up and down the inclines with no sign of any other car, or any other human for miles. The were no straight stretches or level grades throughout my entire diversion. I had no idea where I was going. The woods were so thick that every bend was a blind one. I glanced at the dash display and discovered that there was no cell service.

My mind began to wander.

“This must be spooky at night.”

“This must be rough in the snow.”

“This must be spooky and rough at night in the snow.”

I had been brought to this road because I had been seeking something that afternoon, so I tried to quiet my mind and enjoy my surroundings.

A certain brightness seemed to be coming from around the next bend.

As I rolled into it, the trees lifted like the ceiling of the Lincoln Tunnel exit on the Jersey side. The sunlight felt like a beacon and I looked up at the restored blue sky. On my left was a vista that took my breath away. It extended as far ahead of me as I could see. The road had became straight, bounded only on one side by a high wooded embankment. It was narrow road, but I started looking for a place to stop. A half a mile up, I found a clearing. Here’s a very small part of what I saw.

There was just no way to capture it. But then again, I didn’t need to, because I was there.

When I got out of the car, I was shocked by the silence, the stillness. Even the breeze made no sound. It was like the silence between the words when someone is whispering in your ear. It was otherworldly. My ears became accustomed to that wonderful silence. It was almost like standing in an anechoic chamber, with nothing to reflect sound. Little sounds started to peek through, because there was nothing to drown them out. I heard a bumble bee bumbling from flower to flower at least 20 feet from me. He buzzed as he flew. The buzzing stopped when he rested on another flower. I heard a bird call, pillowy,  from an indiscernible distance. I heard my own heartbeat. A click from my sinus. Then another insect around my ear. A dragonfly.

I heard this guy before I saw him.

The dragonfly found a branch and rested, bearing all the significance that dragonflies do. There’s this thing about dragonflies. You can look into their eyes. This guy tilted his head back and looked at me. We did not speak. If we had, I wonder if there would have been any sound.

I went back to the car and just sat there with the windows open, enjoying the quiet, listening to my breathing, looking out across that great green distance. After a while, I read a bit from a book of poems I had with me. I never wanted to leave this place.

This completely unexpected, almost Narnian locale was exactly what I was seeking that day. I’ll never know how I took the right turns at the right times. It dawned on me that I had no idea where the place actually was. I still don’t really know. The road was paved, so it wasn’t as if I had discovered it, even though I had. I wish I could re-experience the moment when I first emerged from those woods. Certain things happen once, like hearing Pet Sounds for the first time or finally finding your own balance on a two-wheeler. You spend the rest of your life chasing that feeling, hoping. This will be one of those things. I’m certain of it.

Before I drove away, I marked my location on the GPS. It’s just coordinates, somewhere north of where I live, saved in my favorites.

I called it My New Favorite Place.



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