LETTER TO CHEEKO OF COBTREE
You were quiet that day when we met at Conesus Cottage, but I was able to follow your lead. You took me outside and onto the front porch, and we sat in the blessed shade while the noonday sun put down its roots. Our view was straight east across Seneca Lake, and once again I wondered if I’d seen a sight more beautiful. I struggled to come up with a name to describe the color of the lake, and you took up your usual place at my feet. Soon I abandoned verbal challenges altogether and turned my full attention to you.
Neither of us is getting any younger, my dear, but perhaps this is not something you think about. I envy your being in the moment, for you seem content to watch the dandelions go to seed, the martins swoop, the grass grow. Do you remember how I followed you when you ambled off the porch and onto the grass, as you snuffled the scrub and rolled in the mow-off, thick threads of green stuck to your coat? I cleaned them off you, and we took up our places on the porch again. “I could spend a week simply sitting here, in your company, looking at the lake,” I thought, and then, an even better thought, “I could spend two weeks simply sitting here, in your company, looking at the lake.”
But does an American ever take a two-week vacation? And especially one where she stays in one place the entire time, as I imagine doing at Cobtree? What would I report when I returned home and people asked me what I did on my vacation? “I sat on the porch,” is what I’d like to be able to say. Could even I, known for somewhat eccentric, somewhat countercultural, conduct, give such a response? And if not, why not? There may in fact be nothing better to do than just that—sitting on a porch.
Cheeko, did you notice that when I arrived at the cottage I set down my handbag in the living room before you led me back out to the porch? That leave-taking of my worldly goods was a decisive moment for me, although I can’t reconstruct the decision itself. I think I just didn’t want to lug my bag around anymore, for it is like a small suitcase. Do you ever wonder why people carry so many things around with them?
The implications of my bag being inside and our being outside were profound that June day, Cheeko. If I’d had my bag with me on the porch, more specifically if I’d had my phone, I’d have fiddled with it, texting people, checking my email, doing foreign language exercises, processing photos, taking your photo, all in aid of I’m not sure what. I realized early during our visit that day that I had a decision to make: I could go back into the cottage and get my device, or I could abandon it to the back of my mind and enjoy to its fullest the short hour I had with you. Even when people ask me if I took photos of you that day, and I’ve had to admit that I did not (and it does make me a little sad not to have taken photos of you on that beautiful day), I have pictures of you in my head. Even at the end of our visit, when your ride came for you and you took your place as the beautiful dog you are in the middle of the back seat of the car, I could have renounced my decision and run for my camera phone. Yet I’d resolved to keep the visit for just you and me, and so you’ll remember me as the person who patted your back and tummy and rubbed your dear, warm ears, as perhaps you’ll keep me in mind as the one who talked to you a bit while you remained perfectly quiet. At least you won’t remember me as the human who sat and played with her phone or who talked to someone else while she was allegedly visiting you.
I’d like to be remembered that way—as a quiet presence in the calmness of an early summer day, on a porch overlooking the lake.