After a relaxed, delicious morning meal, Katsumi and Tadashi headed out to the market. I cleaned up the kitchen a bit – it was the least I could do, if I’d be boarding at their place for free all summer – and then grabbed my laptop and settled on one of the soft chairs in the living room. First I checked my email. There was one message from someone I didn’t know, asking me to write an article for some sort of private publication. I made a note on my to-do list to look them up later.
After emails, I settled into actual work. I was in the middle of writing about an interview I’d held of a pretty popular local musician. Like I’ve said, I’m pretty far removed from the world of music, so doing interviews with musicians or writing articles on music always made me nervous. But lately I’d been trying to get out of my comfort zone. I opened up the transcript of the interview on one side of the screen, and my work-in-progress article on the other side, and just got to it.
Time passed smoothly, silently, at a perfectly unhurried pace. Occasionally I would take a break and look around and stretch out my neck. Several times, I closed my eyes and listened to the birds chirping outside. I found the natural soundscape out here incredibly interesting. I knew there was silence everywhere, but it hadn’t really occurred to me that different places filled that silence in different ways. Here in the woods, in the middle of nowhere, the sound of the birds was layered on top of a silence that was in itself complete; the birds weren’t necessary for the auditory environment to be in balance, but they were still an integral, valued part of what kept the air at peace. Very different from the city, I thought.
I finished my article in a little over an hour, and saved it to be proofread and revised later. I’d learned that it generally wasn’t a good idea to spot check your work right after you’ve written it – you need to look at it at another time, with a pair of fresh eyes, and a clearer head. I figured I’d look at it tonight or tomorrow, and submit it to the magazine editor tomorrow afternoon.
With that assignment done, I checked my email again, studied my to-do list to see if there was anything important, and then closed my computer. There wasn’t much to do; I decided I’d go out for a walk. I went up to my room to put on a hat and sunscreen, slipped my Swiss-army knife and phone into my pants pocket, and ventured into the semi-wilderness.
Given that this was my first day, I didn’t feel brave enough to just go wandering in any particular direction, so I just followed the walking path down to the lake. Various little birds and insects fluttered in the air amidst the trees. I walked slowly, observing, drinking it all in. The path got a little steep in places, and there it had been buttressed by human hands, with planks and ropes tied taut between nearby tree trunks. I watched my footing, moving carefully, and held onto the ropes as I made my way down.
Several minutes later, the woods spit me out onto the sandy, pebbly lake shore. I exhaled in slight relief, glad to have reached my goal, and walked up to the water’s edge. The clear blue water lapped gently at my feet; I took off my shoes and stepped into it, relishing the sharp chill. I gazed out at the perfectly flat surface of the lake, and smiled at the woods on the opposite shore.
What a place to be…
Staring out into this seemingly untouched, perfect wilderness, I was overcome with a sudden urge to just throw myself into it, to flee the rest of the world, to flee human society and just go. Not a very unique or creative feeling – I’m sure anyone in my shoes would have felt the same, and certainly many people have done so throughout history. But it was a strange, surprising feeling for me. I’d been pretty content with my life back in the city. The same old, boring routines, the same environment, the same people – this kind of static existence suited me, and I hadn’t given it a second thought. So I was pretty unsettled that I suddenly wanted to run off and become a hermit. I stood there quietly, slowly adapting to the temperature of the lake, testing out this newfound urge inside me.
This is dangerous, I realized.
Don’t lose your head.
I blinked slowly, backed out of the water, and started heading up the path towards home. I wasn’t prepared to face nature like this. Not yet.
Once I was back in the house, I went to the bathroom, splashed water on my face, and crashed again onto the living room couch. Needing a distraction, I opened up my computer. After a couple minutes I found a pointless movie to watch and quickly pressed play. I didn’t actually care about the movie. It was one of those films that go in one eye and out the other, so to speak, just something you put on to waste time. I just needed some human connection again, so I put the movie on and stared at it until I heard Tadashi and Katsumi pull up in the driveway.
“We’re home,” Tadashi announced as he entered the front door. His arms were full with four cloth grocery bags. Katsumi came in right behind him, carrying an equal amount.
“Welcome back,” I said happily, standing up. “Need help?”
“That’s okay,” Tadashi replied.
They set the bags on the wide kitchen counter, and started stocking the fridge and freezer.
“What’ve you been up to?” Katsumi asked.
“Oh, nothing much. I got some work done, then I walked down to the lake for a bit.”
Tadashi flashed me a look. “Really? Alone?”
“Not the greatest idea,” Katsumi put in. “Especially on your first time.”
“Well, you had to do it eventually,” Tadashi said.
I nodded, glad that they both seemed to understand. “Anyway, how was the market?”
Katsumi grinned. “We had to wait a bit for them to open, but the upside was that we were the first customers in, so we got first dibs. Look at all this good fruit and stuff!”
Tadashi said to him solemnly, “If you don’t make us a good lunch, I’ll be mad.”
“I’ll make something disgusting,” Katsumi replied assuringly.
“Yeah, disgustingly salty. How about you teach Chas how to make something?”
“Oh no,” I cut in quickly, “I can’t cook for my life.”
Tadashi laughed. “Yeah, that’s why I told him to teach you.”
“I’m down,” Katsumi said. “I’ve got just the dish.”
“Whatever I make will actually be disgusting,” I warned them. “It’ll test the limits of disgusting. I’m serious!”
I kept insisting, and eventually the pair gave up, to my great relief.
Tadashi sighed. “One of these days, Chas, you’ll have to learn. But I guess for now it can wait.”
“Can it wait ‘till I die?”
He laughed at that. “What’s so scary about learning how to cook?”
“It’s not scary,” I replied, shaking my head. “I just can’t be bothered. I don’t want to deal with it.”
“Don’t want to deal with it,” he repeated with great interest.
“Weird,” Katsumi said.
“Right?” Tadashi replied.
They both grinned sympathetically at my embarrassed face. Having just about finished unloading the groceries, Tadashi closed the fridge, and Katsumi folded the cloth bags and went to put them back in the car. I looked at Tadashi, and he smiled gently at me.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “We won’t force you to learn how to cook.”
“Phew. And here I was thinking–”
“At least not yet.”
“Hey, wait!” I started.
He grinned mischievously and fled from me. “We’ve got all summer, Chas,” he sang as he ran up the stairs.