Finally the dirt road in Maine was leading home. The tire touched the first profanity of pavement, and subtly my vacation began slipping away.
By the first toll booth, my state of mind had shifted from neutral to first gear. By the time I had passed all my favorite landmarks -- the sign of Biddeford, the bridge labeled Cat Mousam Road -- I had slowly and reluctantly begun to relocate my sense of place, my sense of values.
I was going back, to lists and alarm clocks and stockings and school lunches and all the external pressures of the life known as civilization. I was going back to things I had to do.
This time even the skies divided these two halves of my life. Along Route 95, a curtain of almost impenetrable rain separated one world from the other. The day before, this rain on the roof of the house would have been a comforting boundary to the day, a prediction of reading and fires. Now, the rain on the windshield of the car was a hassle, a challenge to overcome.
I turned up the radio, so I could hear the final installment of "Jane Eyre" over the pelting rain, and thought about these different rhythms that mark my own life, many of our lives. Left behind was a world in which I simply lived . . . according to its patterns. Ahead of me was the world of agendas and problems that I was expected to encounter and resolve.
Was it country versus city? Leisure versus work? Nature versus human environment? Both and neither. Vacation is a state of mind as much as a state of the union.
For two and a half weeks in Maine I watched the sky, the cove, the cormorants and a sea gull with the gall to steal chicken off our barbacue. I am told that I became an accomplished mud watcher, sitting on the porch, watching the bottom of the cove at low tide for hours. I prided myself in Who's Who: I became a fine stick in the mud.
To me, an urban woman who lives much of her life according to other people's deadlines and demands, this was a chance to literally vacate the world of schedules and struggles.
I did not, do not, use my vacation to climb mountains, shoot rapids, or fulfill itineraries of some travel agent. I preferred to drift along my inclination down through the circle of goals to the mud of acceptance.
I was content with the harmony we call doing nothing. There was a sense of letting go, being at ease with time rather than at odds with it. I wallowed in the understanding that there was nothing that had to be done beyond watching the clothes dry and casting for mackerel.
But I was also returning. Returning to the energy, the structure, the demands, the pressure. I also chose engagement.
There are, I suppose, these two sides to all of us. The side that wallows like any other organism in the world, and the other side that seeks some purpose "above" that. The side that feels most content in nature, and the other side that feels more energized "on top of the world."
I am aware of this duality, the urge to watch the mud, the urge to build something out of it. Our peculiar human creativity doesn't come from harmony but from wrestling with chaos as well. Every poem and every building was wrestled out of raw material by people who refused to accept things as they were.
Too often we work by clocks instead of sunsets and become more attuned to air conditioning than the condition of the air. But there is also in all this the challenge and energy and pleasure of accomplishment.
At one time, I thought these worlds were at odds, that we had to choose engagement or disengagement, acceptance or accomplishment, watching the mud or building with it.
But traveling this kind of road again and again, I realize that they are just two destinations, points along a path of dirt and pavement. Now it is the tension that intrigues me. The search for a balance between comfort and purposefulness, between accepting things and struggling with them.
Driving home, I was reluctant to leave one world for the other, reluctant to put on my city clothes of purpose and structure and struggle. But I knew that I was lucky to be a commuter.