Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Unusual Morning

I receive an email at 5:35 a.m. from a physician informing me that he wants to move ahead with his book about health care reform. That’s good news. (And he has some good ideas, too.)

I send off a sell-sheet to Kinkos for a book event to be held later this week at the downtown Minneapolis Library. A hundred copies. I keep thinking there must be someplace that will do it cheaper.

Then I spot an article in the New York Times: “Morals without God?” by Frans de Waal. He seems to have hit exactly the right tone, the right stance, reiterating the position advanced by British moralists in the seventeenth century that people have an indwelling moral sense—and chimps probably do, too. Amid the appreciative comments I see a reference to Plato’s Euthyphro. Something new to explore.

It’s still dark at 6:05, when it occurs to me I ought to go out and see the Hartley comet, which should be somewhere in the vicinity of Capella right about now. I tiptoe into the bedroom to grab my pants and a heavy fisherman sweater in the dark, lift the binoculars from their hook in the kitchen closet, and step outside, picking up the morning paper and switching off the front lamp as I go.

The concrete driveway is cold on my bare feet. The air is cold, too, it’s still quite dark. Orion is spectacular but there’s a swath of haze across the Big Dipper. I lie down on the pavement, shielded by the shadow of a big spruce tree from the streetlight glare. There, well beyond the Gemini Twins, is Capella. But nothing fuzzy. Nothing green. Nothing sporting a tail.

At a certain point, as I lie on the pavement in the dark, it occurs to me that it's a good thing the paperboy has already been here. He drives a big Buick.

Hilary is off until noon today. She had a tough day yesterday—old men arguing conservative politics (or asking her to type a letter!) when she has plenty of more important things to do. My gift to her this morning will be a chunk of silence and solitude. Which is a rare thing if your husband happens to work at home.

I transfer a few files onto a flashdrive, locate my seldom-used laptop, gather up the hard copy of a book I’m editing, throw the headphones and a few CDs into a briefcase along with the latest New York Review and a book called Winter by Rick Bass. But as I’m putting on my socks I notice there are leaf fragments all over the bedroom floor. No doubt I picked them up while I was lying in the driveway. Out comes the vacuum. (Yes, a most unusual morning.)

Light has come to the sky by the time I emerge from the house once again. I hear a white-throated sparrow twardling feebly from the bushes across the street. The tone is weak and tentative, there’s a reedy flutter to it, unlike the sure strong delivery of a mature bird. And to top it all off, he hasn’t quite learned the tune. Yet nothing will hold him back. He sings out again and again like a happy drunk, enjoying his own wayward version.

As I leave the neighborhood a Bangra tune erupts from the CD player. That catchy (if repetitive) number gives way to a standard (don't know the name) from a gig Stan Getz and Chet Baker played in Stockholm circa 1984. Mist covers the marshes and valleys on the golf course, and a wisp of white-pink cloud drifts upward from the skyscrapers downtown like a scarf at a royal joust. People are out everywhere, running, walking the dog, headed for work.

I’m out, too, and it feels good.

There are only two cars in the lot in front of Rustica Bakery. I’ve met a client here a few times—I think the barrista might almost recognize me. Her face is framed by bangs and pig-tails, and as I place my order she looks at me as if she thinks I’m about to say something funny.

Finally, I’m settled into a pleasant corner near the window. The laptop is plugged in, the headphones are on, Albeniz’s Iberia is floating agreeably through my thoughts. Checking my emails, I see that my order at Kinko’s is done already.

People thumb through the papers, consult their electronic devices, sip coffee, converse. The parking lot is filling up. The flashdrive sits here on the table, but I don’t feel much like plugging it in right now. That comes from the world I already know. This is the world I don’t know.

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