Autumn is here in this small town. I took a walk tonight and enjoyed maybe the last gasp of fall. Leaves blew around on the sidewalk in a warmish breeze. There was no moon in our clear sky. I breathed it in: the smell of early November when snow is around the corner, a hint of crispness tonight but one that is surely a promise in the weeks...maybe days...to come. Tonight felt like a turning point in the seasons, an evening ripe with waiting.
I was in Manhattan over the weekend and was asked no less than ten times if I enjoyed living here, if in fact I'd adjusted to a rural life. My answer, ten times, was yes, although I admit there are moments when I do miss an urban sensibility. The convenience to airports and movie theaters. The lively streets. The bagels. All in all, the scales tip toward rural now for me though there are certainly people and places I miss in New York City. I had a grand life there. Now that a page has turned, life here, too, is good.
On my walk tonight I thought these things as I passed the library, lighted and majestic in a quiet downtown. I am deeply moved by libraries, with their books and soft-soled attendants. A library evokes quiet nobility to all who enter, an enchanted spot where you need only sign your name to have a world of learning at your fingertips. I didn't give libraries much thought when I lived downstate. At my fingertips was the computer, a library in a can so to speak, sitting heavily on my desk. I couldn't even tell you where the library was in my town on Long Island. I didn't go, but I appreciated it from afar, knew the importance of these institutions without actually getting involved in that library's day-to-day.
Like so many other changes in my new life, I'm very involved with the library I passed tonight on my walk. In fact, I'm on the board of trustees. I was honored to be asked and am on a fast learning curve, absorbing information about budgets and renovations and, overall, the care and feeding of an enterprise that's been in my village for a hundred years. This is a task I don't take lightly, especially in an age of electronic readers and information now available on a lighted screen in my office. The truth is, my computer might crash at any moment, my only recourse in such a catastrophe being a clever nephew or a frantic call to The Geek Squad. The information in our library has more traditional caretakers, tended by delicate hands of humans who still appreciate the feel of bindings, the smell of ink, and the gentle voice of the storytime lady holding up a picture book to a room full of youngsters. In a way, when I look at the brick and roof and doors and the volumes, I see a huge computer there, contained behind safe walls filled with words on pages. The library, like the computer, is a font of knowledge. Unlike this humming box at my feet, however, it is also filled with texture and history, soft carpets and soft voices, distant laughter from the children's reading room. There are happy ghosts there, drifting through the stacks, spirits who remember a time when there was not computer nor television. There was only the library, a tranquil place of pages filled with history and love and drama and news and adventure, a place to learn.
I stood in front of the building for awhile tonight on my walk, a balmy night for November. The windows were alight with warmth now that darkness falls early and I could see people passing, busying themselves behind century-old walls. One day, maybe a hundred years from now, my spirit will be gliding through those rows of books, proud of my own part in caring for such a fine place. Next time I'm asked if I've adjusted to rural life, I'll say most certainly. In a small town, I'll say, it seems easier to make a difference. And those differences seem richer because they're blocks on top of building blocks, laid by people who were born here, and made a difference here, and died here, and who are now up on the hill past town, a hundred years under stone.
My Dell, while a fine tool, pales in comparison to that magnificent library downtown. Here, words are dots on a screen. There, words are life.