On the Green River, South Williamstown, Massachusetts (By John Lee Fitch, 1836-1895)
Like a wild mare, I bolted from the walls of Williams College and my stifled confusion to a free-running river partly shaded by greening willows, cottonwoods and maples. Clear water rolling over the stones hummed its own eternal gentle-lapping lullaby. What music could be sweeter? I loved it there at the Green River.
I found myself a slab of ridged gray schist in the sun and lay down my books. Then I sat cross-legged, my bottom warmed by the rock, with a book propped down center. I arched my narrow back and long neck to stare up into the blue on that glorious first day of a long-awaited spring, knowing that the cold and snow could return at any time.
The sun’s vitality coaxed me to strip off my vintage military green coat trimmed with epaulets. Still, I clung to my emerald sweater. I yearned someday soon to cast off all my winter clothing like a snake in the tropics shedding its skin. I dreaded winter, that quiet time of death. In my childhood, I thought the season unnatural. At Williams, I had learned to luxuriate in the valley’s lush gardens of snow and the mountains’ jagged skyline of purple majesty. A New Yorker via the Caribbean, I had grown accustomed to the alien beauty. Yet, it took no practice for me to relish that splendid day in May. The air smelled delicious of white, blue and yellow wildflowers dotting the landscape with whimsey, a miraculous gift of life after the incubation of snow. It was lovely in Williamstown.
If only there were no people.
The life of a hermit appealed to me. In Catholic school, I had been taught the lives of saints who had been recluses – people like St. Francis of Assisi who was so gentle that wild animals strained to be near him. These saints seemed to be the kindest and the most sensitive: too soft for the harshness of the world. Devoted to God through their fervent love, these men and women cloistered themselves in beauty and harmony. When I was younger, I had wondered about life as a religious. Not as a nun, but as a monk. I imagined that I would engage in conversation only at meals, which would be taken outdoors amidst gardens bursting with fruit and flowers. Although I would spend most of my time by myself, I would never be alone accompanied by Leadbelly’s taut blues and Mozart’s unstoppered joy.
Then, you kissed your way into my life, and I could not imagine a day without you. My lifelong friend and confidante. My lover. My dear.
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