On that gray November day we settled into a small town on the west coast of Scotland. Most of the leaves were down and the colors resigned to brown, the red on the roadside you’d mistake for leaves was really the feathers of dead pheasants from China the Scots brought in to hunt but they’re not good around cars, so most you’ll see in ditches on the side of the road. I wanted to see what it felt like to be off the map, a Thanksgiving with just the four of us, a three-month road trip through the UK in a used German hatchback. The rental was called the chauffeur’s flat, adjoined to a Victorian-era castle with a long driveway lined with cypress trees. The clock outside our window in the courtyard was stuck on the wrong time: a time that was right until the moment it stopped working, the same feeling of timelessness I wanted, to see what would happen if I stopped working too.
On the last night the moon was full and though a storm kicked up and the winds were fierce I walked to the gardens by the loch to soak up what I could from the sound of the large swaying trees. And to be there beneath that foreign sky with the moon so cold, the flat so far away, I imagined my family inside and felt the distance between us, the need to give myself over to something I could not name or understand, a form of self-absorption so dense it allowed no light or perspective beyond itself. It led me into the dark under the guise of meaning but all it was was my reflection.
I was thinking my beard had retained its orange color despite the white but then I realized it was just dried egg yolk. A bit feebly I bent over the oven to steady the cooking rack like my dad did when he started getting old. Everyone was on their devices, the dog napping again. Blankets, the heater, a candle. Rain coming in. The sometimes roar of the oven like it was a living thing, the sound a deep gasp. Somehow the thought of time off is better than the act itself; anything’s possible before it starts. Without the routine of work I’d just fall into a different routine and wile away the time. Blow the leaves, take a bath, read, fix dinner, clean up, go to bed.
It’s the middle of November and the trees have lost most of their leaves, now resigned to brown with some red, though not much. I light a candle in the morning and walk to the lake, make sure the kids are up, fix breakfast. Refill the hummingbird feeders, that kind of thing. I take my time reading and will stop to watch a bird balance on a limb outside, or the pattern of the rain. I am out here again writing letters to myself and they take on the same singsong quality as the rain, another pattern. We operate under the ruse that time governs our lives but it’s how we spend our time more than time itself. And the same ruse, that our lives hold more meaning in the end. When we’re no different than any one of the leaves on the ground that lives its full season, and falls.
Image: Workshop of Giuseppe Arcimboldo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons