We drive slowly through the narrow lanes, past Newport’s piers and shops, and once again admire the old Rhode Island town’s historic sea captain’s houses and millionaire’s mansions, then head out onto the scenic road that skirts Narragansett Bay.
The bay is hardly visible, as fog has swallowed up familiar scenes. One of our young companions looks out and observes, “It’s like the Newport Bridge never even existed!”
And so I am preoccupied with thoughts of bridges lost and drifting in the fog, of sailing ships and whaling ships, of those who must go down to the sea, of bodies and souls both tempest-tossed, of swirling surf and wild waves, of cabbages and kings.
Just then a snowy egret takes wing before my very eyes, bright pure holy white against the churning dark sea.
This day near the ocean is harsh and howling, its energy chaotic and its strength overwhelming and its roaring message sounding like a warning…It is a lovely day.
She’s a waitress in a small cafe in a tiny New England town. Could she possibly know what a big difference she made this morning? Might she somehow sense that she quite possibly changed the course of history? That she might have made the universe tilt on its axis? That she quite possibly altered the trajectory of time? That she, at the very least, probably saved my day?
Let’s try to describe her. She was wearing a wedding ring. She was about…I don’t know how old she is…let’s say she looks young…or at least younger than her age…maybe she’ll read this…maybe that will make her feel good…she is not tall…she has a nice smile and displays it easily and often..she has short dark hair….she has nice eyes but I don’t even know the color…that is all I remember…I wasn’t focused on how she looked…
She smiled easily when she leaned across the table and took my order. She spoke with a gentle tone when she asked later if I wanted more coffee…she laughed a soft laugh when I replied “Not quite yet but pretty damned soon…It’s a two-cup morning…” She saw me looking at her one last time as I walked out the door…hoping to catch her eye so she would know that I had noticed her and had appreciated her kind way…and, indeed, her eyes followed me as I walked out the door…I think she knew we had made a human connection…transient, mutable, ephemeral and wispy as it might be…nothing to do with love or passion….she’s got a wedding ring and I’ve got a heart still laden and loaded with love…No, it was just that we had noticed each other…we had been nice to each other…she had poured me an extra cup of coffee…she had smiled goodbye as I walked out the door…she had made note of my departure…It feels good to be noticed…it means we exist…
It’s another cold night in New England…the wind yowls and howls..it shakes the windows and rattles the walls… I’m actually sitting in what might pass for a cold and bare and gloomy garrett just like the ones in melodramatic novels in which the characters have names like Heathcliff and Rochester…
I wish that waitress could read what I’ve just written…just so she could know that her gentle way…her oh-so-obvious inner peace…her aura…her vibe…that they’re important…they’re worthwhile…that they make a difference…you’re a waitress working hard in a small town cafe…but you’re able to make the world spin faster…or slower..scrambled eggs…English muffin…two cups of coffee…it must get so redundant and dull…but the world is at your command…
Another cold, chilly, gray song….Another winter song to fit the wintry mood…Another emotional weather report…
Joni Mitchell’s “Urge for Going” sung by New England’s own troubadour Tom Rush:
It echoed in my head as I drove alone on stark beautiful unpaved roads up into mountains and deep into valleys.
It reverberated in my head as I walked headlong into the howling wind along the dark quiet Main Street of a beloved Berkshires town, my path lit by the Christmas lights in the windows of houses and the ten thousand stars up above.
I heard its melancholy piano as I sat in my warm room and stared out through the frosted windows and listened to the whistle of December wind and drank red wine and tried but could not sleep.
And I heard the song’s words as I drove around a bend late Sunday morning after sitting in the rear pews and listening to hymns and prayers in a beautiful old whitewashed New England church…
I came upon a Christmas tree farm. Dozens of people were picking out trees and tying them to car roofs and I thought “it’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees,” and then I just kept driving, no tree on my roof, and just around the bend was a small river, and I heard the refrain of Joni Mitchell’s song…”I wish I had a river I could skate away on…”
I’ve spent a lot of time in New England this winter, but somehow I’ve managed to avoid serious snow.
Lately, though, snow’s been following me around.
I just got back from two weeks in Virginia, at a writers/artists retreat in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and my popularity skyrocketed when a fluke snowstorm hit and my fellow writers/artists learned I’d driven down there in my 4-wheel-drive Ford SUV.
Then I ended up leaving the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts one day early, spooked by weather forecasts of a freakish monster storm — good thing I fled, as the storm dumped upwards of 30 inches on the region.
And now I’m hunkered down in Central New Jersey as a blizzard or near-blizzard is barreling in, expected to leave behind as much as 18 inches of snow, which will be whipped around tomorrow by winds of 40 mph.
But I’ve got a warm place to stay, I’ve got food, I’ve got the two most recent issues of two issues of the New Yorker magazine, I’ve got my laptop, I’ve got my cellphone and I’ve got a view of the N.J. Turnpike.
And I’ve got three perfect songs. They’ve all got that stark, cold, lonely sound of winter.
New England’s own Tom Rush sings Joni Mitchell’s “Urge for Going”:
Lindisfarne performs the beautiful “Winter Song”:
But let’s not succumb to those Cabin Fever Blues…Albert Collins sings about being “Snowed In”:
Let it snow!