by Timothy Urban
can one take delight in the world unless one flees to it for refuge?”
Screech. Vroom. Clank. Sputter.
Boston is an orchestra with all of its instruments out of tune. It has a deranged
rhythm. Cars honk and hiss. Drivers curse and bellow in traffic. Their hands flail in exasperation when the light turns red.
Pedestrians on a sidewalk flock across the street when the white man says walk. Their feet pitter-patter on the pavement.
They move with downcast eyes, staring at their shoes and rushing nowhere.
A businessman laughs. A car honks. A hobo begs.
My alarm beeps. It’s 7AM. I sigh and look up at the ceiling for five minutes
before I roll out of bed and turn the damn thing off. Sunlight seeps in through the blinds and onto my desk. I open a window
for fresh air. Outside, vehicles speed past my building on Brookline Ave. It’s another day consisting of the same old
Sleep lingers. I’m in dire need of coffee. I grab a filter and fill it
up with coffee beans. I’m a crack addict waiting for a fix. The liquid trickles into the pot. Time crawls as I wait
for my morning jolt. The coffee maker hisses and ejects steam. The pot is full. I pour a cup and look at my planner. Work,
work, work. Papers, midterms, and readings: the whole shebang.
I feel burnt out. My brain has turned into ash. The faintest breeze could send
it in a thousand directions. I sip my coffee and look over a paper that is due in an hour and make some corrections before
printing it. I dress, grab my paper, and leave.
My class moves at a snail’s pace. Pulling out my own teeth seems more preferable
than sitting through another BIO lecture. The teacher stands in front of the class, reading from a PowerPoint, her voice is
monotone, and I feel my eyes getting heavier. When class ends I’m ready for bed again.
I walk outside. I leave campus. My head throbs. It’s time for a smoke.
My pack is empty. Across the street from campus there’s a gas station. I make my way over there. The gas station is
dead. Shelves are stocked with chips and candy. On the back wall a freezer is full of soda, juice, and water. I go straight
to the register. The cashier sighs when he sees me approaching, and stares at a TV while he asks me what I want. I tell him.
He gives me a pack of Camel’s and I pay him the $8.95.
Outside I light a cigarette. A slight sense of intoxication overtakes me as the
tobacco swirls through my lungs. The city air is polluted with harmful chemicals. Tobacco smoke is the icing on the cake.
People pass me as I walk back to school. There are so many objects moving. It’s
like watching a movie fast forward. Cars are everywhere. People smother the streets. Buildings loom over everything and cast
shadows on the concrete. I’m as small as a flea in this vacuum.
“Spare some change, sir?” a homeless man asks.
He’s sitting on a bench outside of campus, there are two trash bags by
his feet, and he’s wearing wool gloves with holes in them. His lips are cracked. I dig through my pockets and drop a
few quarters into his Dunkin Donuts cup. He nods his head and says thank you. I hear him asking other people for change as
I walk away.
I’m in the car with my mom and grandma. We’re driving to a wildlife
sanctuary operated by the Massachusetts Audubon Society in the Berkshire’s. It’s called Pleasant Valley. The drive
is a little over 3 hours long. I sleep through most of it.
When we arrive, my mom nudges me awake. I look up and see the sanctuary. We’re
parked in an old dirt lot. Only one building is visible, a small wooden hut with a red-shingled roof and papers posted out
front. The sanctuary is an amalgamation of trees, lakes, and mountains. It’s a little humid, but the air is clean and
fresh. The sun shines overhead and a slight breeze whistles through the trees. Mom grabs our lunches from the trunk and we
Past the small shack, the landscape is a kaleidoscope of chaos. It’s beautiful.
A groomed lawn gives way to weeds and undergrowth. There’s a dirt path down the middle of a meadow with grass that comes
up to my knees. Ahead of me lies a wall of trees. Winds carry the smell of flowers. I hear the slight buzz of insects. Just
before we’re beneath the canopy of trees the path forks and we stop.
“Which way do you want to go?” I ask.
“Let’s do something easy,” says grandma. “I don’t
know if I can take walking up anything too steep.”
“Yeah, nothing too hard. We’re here all day, and we don’t want
to kill your grandmother,” mom says.
I groan a little in disappointment. The child in me wants to conquer the mountain’s
hardest terrain. I want to climb up the steepest slope imaginable, feeling my legs burn and my heart swell.
“Okay, that’s fine with me. I might go off for a little bit sometimes,”
We take a left and make our way up the easier trail. It eases up a soft hill.
Inside the woods, the air is cooler. The path disappears in the woods and the ground is covered with leaves and broken branches.
At first, the woods seem foreign. Trees bar us from the outside world. Some of them are pine, others are oak, and some are
maple. Clusters of mushrooms protrude from the bases of trees. Random patches of grass sprout up here and there, waving through
the summer breeze. I walk at a leisurely pace and try to see if there are any animals about. Something small makes a noise.
A bush twitches. I step on a twig and a chipmunk bolts from a hollowed out log.
It runs past me, an acorn nestled in its cheeks, and goes deeper into the woods. The cute little bastard disappears. I share
my mother’s love for animals.
The woods cast a spell. It’s like walking in a trance. Modern society vanishes
in the forest’s cocoon. The machinery is gone along with the constant drone of engines. Trees are the only skyscrapers
here. Being here makes me feel like I’m five again, in awe of everything.
We walk upwards at a gradual pace for a few hours before my mom tells me grandma
needs a break. She says sorry. My mom says there’s no need to apologize, she’s here, trying, and that’s
what counts. Grandma sits on top of stump, takes off her glasses, and brushes the sweat from her forehead. She’s wearing
a white tennis visor and matching shirt and khakis shorts. In her bag she has her insulin for her Type 1 diabetes. She takes
her blood sugar to make sure everything is okay.
“Hey Tim, you know they have beavers at the lake, right? The map says they
come out near dusk. Do you want to try to see if we can see them later?” asks mom.
“Yeah! It’d be cool
to see them in person and just watch them in the lake till it gets too dark. Still though, I want to make it to the top first.”
She waves a hand, gesturing me to calm down.
“That’s fine,” she says, looks over at her mother, and asks,
“How are you holding up, mom?”
“Oh, I’m fine, I’m just a little tired that’s all. I’m
a lot older than you two, just give me a few more minutes,” she says.
After a few more minutes we start walking again. I hear water trickling somewhere
ahead. As we walk it get louder. Soon I see the flat face of a rock in the side of the mountain, a small stream of water is
moving down its surface and into a small pool below. It’s as close to a waterfall as we’re liable to see here.
“I love it out here. It would be nice if we could move out here. We could
live near a mountain somewhere up north if only your father would go for it. Maybe when we’re older, your father and
I could move to Vermont. We could go skiing and hiking whenever. I could have a nice garden and a big yard in the woods, oh,
that’d be the life,” mom says.
“You’ve been saying that every year for a long time. If it does happen
it won’t be for a while. Right now you couldn’t anyways ‘cause Jon and me are still students. Plus, I doubt
you’ll get dad to move,” I say.
“Hey, buddy, I can dream, can’t I? Don’t ruin it,” she
It’s lunchtime and we still haven’t made it to the top. There’s
a small clearing up ahead. We eat there, surrounded by trees all around and the clear blue sky above. My mom gives me my sandwich
and I look around at the woods while I eat. It’s so quiet here. There’s nobody in sight.
After eating, I lie down and stare at the sky. A bird flutters across my view.
The sun warms my face. My mom and grandma pack up the leftover food, and we continue the trek to the top. The top is so close
now. There’s maybe only one hundred feet left until we’ve reached the peak. I notice the trees thinning out.
When we reach the top, the sun beats down on us. It’s hot, but the picture
spread out before us is worth it. There’s an old crow’s nest, rotting and unkempt, at the peak. We put our packs
next to it and stand side-by-side looking down into a valley. Other mountains surround the valley in the distance. The houses
are so far down they look like miniature models for a film set. We’ve traveled into a Steinbeck novel. The valley has
a long, winding road that stretches into the distance and disappears in between two rolling hills. We all have a view of our
own. My grandma stares around her as if she’s lost. She is smiling.
“Oh, Pat, it’s beautiful,
so beautiful,” she says.
It’s 6AM. My alarm sounds–an obnoxious invention. It almost causes
me to have a heart attack. I squint. The sun shimmers through the open windows. I get up and look out the window before shutting
the blinds. There are a few people walking on the sidewalk along Brookline Ave. Down at the intersection cars honk at a red
I make my morning cup of coffee. The smell reminds me of quaint coffee shops
that always play jazz music on the overhead speakers. The shops inhabited by
artists. With this in mind I turn on Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. The mood is right. I listen to it while I get
dressed. It calms me, knowing I have another busy day ahead. I won’t let the days consume me.
Outside, people are all around me, riding my heels on my way to the D-line train.
The wind blows, nearly knocking my hat off. I’m calmer than I’ve been in a while. The people around me don’t
make me uneasy. While I wait to cross I look around at the little things, the trees in the courtyard across the street, the
way the sun feels on my face, and the vines growing up the side of a dormitory building. I look down at my feet as I cross
the street. Some weeds have pushed through the cracks in the concrete, reaching towards the sky and brighter days.