Knowing when to stay

Jes’ set a spell…

Recently, I wrote about the relatively fine art of “knowing when to leave,” but soon felt it needed another view, as in knowing when not to leave. It’s going to be different for everybody, depending on how impulsive or itchy-footed they are or what their circumstances are, so the following is a personal account that won’t pretend to be the least bit instructive. But in my own case, edging ever onward toward elderliness, I have a good sense of it, and maybe you’ll agree.

In the lower right of the photo of our porch is “my chair.” It offers a clear view of our woodpile some fifteen feet away, home to a pair of mating chipmunks (I’ve seen them mate! It takes about two seconds!) who happily navigate the labyrinth of hollow spaces in the wood to build their nests and stash their food. Their names are King and Countess, and last fall they took the chance of exploring a child’s plastic wheelbarrow, overturned, with its rubber wheel poking up next to the woodpile. I can sit watching them cavort about, and even cross the grass to approach the porch, for many long minutes, as I sip on a glass of wine. There are other things to do in the house, emails to send or calls to return, but I stay. I want them, naturally, to “discover” the wheelbarrow’s wheel and run their little hearts out on it like hamsters in a cage. Irrelevant as chipmunks may be in the larger scheme of things, I think they’re worth staying for. Likewise our mating chickadees, Porgy and Bess, testing out their possible new residence.

Bess. I’m not sure she liked the decor…

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I’ve known many people who’ve been on the verge of leaving town, or leaving a job because of some intolerably stupid boss, but then decide to stay. They remember that other people are counting on them. They may also feel there’s more nobility in persisting through less than ideal conditions to be of service to others. To finish the job, get ‘er done, with just a small dose of sacrifice.

Staying – on the road.

 

On many of our road trips, we’ve stayed in single-story mom-and-pop motels, and in the morning we sit outside sipping coffee and watching others loading up their cars with luggage and kids. Invariably they seem pressed for time- “Gotta make Richmond tonight!” I stay seated in the chair, wanting to absorb the nuances of their motions, and the view past the parking lot to store signs and hills beyond in whatever state this may be. Ostensibly, it’s a waste of time. Fine, but it’s not, because hiding in these seemingly empty moments are fresh morsels of understanding.

There’s a short Maine story about a tourist passing a farmer who was holding a young pig in his arms, raising him up to the bottom branches of a fully loaded apple tree so the pig could happily dine at his leisure. The tourist stopped and asked, “Hey farmer, isn’t that a waste of time?” To which the farmer replied, “Time! What’s time to a pig?”

As we keep maturing (as in, aging), time seems more precious because each day there is less of it, and many of us feel driven to do as much as we can to fill the hours with something productive. I might suggest, as an alternative, that time is as difficult to define as space, and that to linger through something so illusory is as valuable as chewing it up into bits and pieces of productivity. Stay awhile. Linger.

Jack Snow “stayed awhile.”

Our dear late friend Jack Snow “stayed awhile” after losing his wife, Lyn Snow, to a tick bite in late 2013. I visited many times while he sat at his kitchen table doing crosswords or reading religious articles or just staring out the window across his large field toward Nabby Cove on the Weskeag. For him, it was internal time, his own “mind clock.” Time moved slowly for Jack, except for certain obligations like feeding a large flock of wild ducks that would swarm up into his yard where he kept his feed trough. He died, at age 92, collapsing at his porch door, his hands on the handles of buckets of grain destined for the ducks.

Our European strategy

When my wife and I went to Portugal for some 12 days, we stayed in one hotel in one town. A few years later, in Sicily for two weeks, we stayed in one hotel in one town. Staying gave us the opportunity to broaden our appreciation for where we were, to make a friend or two, speak their language (Italian far easier than Portuguese!) and explore the hidden opportunities for good photography. And the best food!

We ain’t goin’ nowhere

We have left many places in our two lives, and we are done with leaving. Maine is too good. Our house is too right for us. People we’ve met are too important. And lingering, moving slowly, watching small animals, listening for coyotes or fishers at night – all these have broad cultural support in this part of the world. Listen. Watch. It’s okay. There’s no rush.

See you next time.

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Please visit my novel website! Good reads here…

Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, humorist, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.