POEM: JUST AS THE CALENDAR BEGAN TO SAY SUMMER
by Mary Oliver
I went out of the schoolhouse fast
and through the gardens and to the weeds,
and spent all summer forgetting what I'd been taught -
two times two, and diligence, and so forth,
how to be modest and useful, and how to succeed and so forth,
machines and oil and plastic and money and so forth.
By fall I had healed somewhat, but was summoned back
to the chalky rooms and the desks, to sit and remember
the way the river kept rolling its pebbles,
the way the wild wrens sang though they hadn't a penny in the
the way the flowers were dressed in nothing but light.
So here I am. Down from the mountains, down from the blue lake, seated once again at my desk in my study of wood and dog-eared books, baskets and pottery and black and white photographs of wild and beautiful places. I am of the two places; and of two minds about where I belong. Needless to say the contrast between each place enhances the beauties of the other. They beckon when missed.
I learned much on my digital-free retreat. A cup of tea on the deck first thing in the morning as a gold sunrise steams mist off the lake is about as close to heaven as this girl can get. Or perhaps that last tumbler of scotch, underneath the maypole dance of twilight bats as stars debut in the indigo night. And how well one sleeps after fourteen days straight of mountain hikes and simple meals! How perfect to wile away an afternoon on the edge of the dock, legs dangling in cool water as the sun heats your back, a book open on your lap, gazing on distant islands.
I learned that disconnecting from all things digital is as jittery a process as breaking away from caffeine. Online business, friendships, news, happenings...these are real and important, and yet not and not at all. I was hungry to know, and out of the loop, feelings that sit like an itch in the brain. In my two weeks offline, the world spun neither better nor worse for my absence.The cohorts of the Today Show and CNN held up daytime civilization as always, as Atlas must have done, unthanked and unseen. Publishing seemed to bring out more good books and still bemoan the end of print. Celebrities had pictures become public that maybe shouldn't have been pictures to begin with and the rage goes on about "the cloud" and secrets and idiocy and ignorance and meanness. Democracy got beat up pretty bad in my absence however, especially the right to a free and open press. Weeds took over my back yard, but then that was always their master plan. It took two books (Provence 1970 by Luke Barr, and the incandescent All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr) and the poetry of Campbell McGrath to free myself from tech anxiety. This real-time feed we imbibe daily, all urgency and immediacy and shock packaged as "Breaking News,""Breaking Update." An endless media headline crawl of tragedy and scandal.
I learned that intending to be digital-free and being given NO CHOICE about it is a quite different power struggle for the ego. Near the Canadian border it was quite a hike out to find a bar of cell reception: wifi the random echo of a fishing lodge. Initially my frustration yielded to hard surrender, which finally softened to acceptance. A funny thing began to occur - conversation. In pleasant pockets around comfortable silences. Balance in the mind's inner ear. Conversation with strangers opened up as real news, big news, found its way into boat-side conversations and shared newspapers, headlines two days old. The world could be perceived with sense and clarity. Not only was unimportant hype and hyperbole scrubbed out of the day, but real nuggets of importance stood out and meant something. Information that could be taken in and thought about, perhaps resolved - truly absorbed.
I'm no idealist. We live in a wired world and that's a one-way avenue in our technological evolution. There is no "back to Eden" pulpit beside the backpack I left hanging in the garage. But I do feel stepping back gives needed perspective, and for me, that was useful. I could see at a glance after two weeks disconnected the ways in which I waste my time with social media and google tourism and Twitter chat. But I also sifted the real and important relationships from the chat, value the abundance of knowledge at my fingertips, have proof the paper book is not dead (and vastly more lake friendly than its electronic doppleganger), and yes, "Dots" on the iPad is no better or worse than a bus station hand of solitaire. We choose our ways to work, our ways to play, our connections, our solitude. What two weeks in the mountains taught me was the difference between habit and choice. And that, is a good thing.