After living alone for nearly two years in a house in the northern Vermont woods, I returned to the city alert in all the wrong ways. The timpani of the symphony playing in a Chinese restaurant struck me as a herd of deer soon to bound through the wall. At first glance, every street light seemed a full moon. I’d gone through a kind of inner climate change: my attention had dilated to take in the subtleties of the woods and weather; my memory had sharpened to navigate miles of drifted snow. Reacclimating to the city would have been challenge enough, but there was an extra challenge. It was the early aughts, screens were suddenly everywhere, and everyone else was going through inner climate change, too.
On my daily snowshoe treks through the trees, I’d begun to be able to see black-capped chickadees, no matter the camouflage of the snowy branches. My eyes gone soft, the space between the trees would flicker with movement. On rare phone calls with my friend Ray, I realized I was listening the same way—not hunting for what he wasn’t saying about his medical-school unease but just picturing everything he said and waiting for a flicker in the spaces between. My memory was opening, too. As I unloaded groceries from the village market, the songs that had been playing on the overhead speakers would follow like a souvenir map—without any effort, I could remember my progress, lyric by lyric, through the aisles. Read More