Saturday morning, I came downstairs to a house badly needing my attention. The end tables needed dusting, the kitchen needed cleaning, the floors were filthy and the cats had run amuck on the couches.
Every weekend, I clean house. Vacuum, mop, dust, clean the furniture, clean the bathrooms and wash the dishes and the clothes. As the week wears on, the condition of our home deteriorates as I grow ever unable to keep pace with the damage done by preparing and consuming meals, the toddler and – the greatest detriment of all – the three cats. Much of our home is badly in need of attention – the laundry room is a chaos of empty detergent jugs and scattered garments that each will require their own cycle through the wash to get clean and put back in the closet where they’ll never again be worn due to the particular attention they require, while the pantry runs over with hastily shelved groceries and the basement is a disorganized mountain of boxes.
The way I see it, it’s all I can do to keep the parts of the house that people see somewhat neat. The rest can wait.
Saturday morning, however, the first priority was cleaning the litter box. Nothing else in the house would seem clean until that horrible odor was dispensed with. The scent was so dense and so foul that I could not be in the same room with its source without ventilation. So, I hastily shoved open the laundry room window.
At once, I was no longer pinned to the bottom of a big pile of housework, with a 3-year-old hanging on to the strings of my apron (OK, I don’t really where an apron while I’m cleaning house) and the unpleasant chore of emptying a pan of cat shit before me.
I was somewhere else. I can’t say where precisely, but it was so crisp and beautiful that I had to look away. Cool, fresh air hit my face, and I saw green grass running to trees of golden brown leaves. I wore a light jacket, and in my pocket I felt the leather pipe pouch I carry. I pulled it out and opened it; the tobacco matched the hue of the leaves that moved so carefully on their fragile stems, their attachment to the trees so terribly tenuous. The sun was not rising, it was not morning: it was coming to rest on the horizon rather than emerging from it, the day’s labors being laid to rest rather than just beginning. I filled my lungs with the cool air, savored it, and exhaled. I closed my eyes, bowed my head and bid a gracious adieu to this foreign land, removing myself too soon back to the reality I knew awaited me.
I love the fall. I savor the nostalgia it stirs. It takes me back to all the old cars I drove, all the girls I dated, all the long nights I spent in my best friend’s driveway, sitting in a camping chair with my feet propped on the bumper and Miles Davis sweeping through the speakers, a steady stream of smoke rising and dissipating from my pipe.
When first we moved into our house, which sits ringed with woods, I made the most of our fall. I put the baby to bed, then sat out on the porch with my pipe, laptop and a baby monitor, catching up on my work, acquainting myself with social media and, more than anything, surveying the changing of the seasons. I watched the leaves turn brown and fall to earth. I listened to change in the wind, as it shifted from a shuffle to a howl blowing through the now-bare trees.
The subsequent years have not afforded me the luxury of enjoying my porch – which was one of my main reasons for building the house we did. Every night is a race to get the kid bathed, dinner cooked and consumed, toys scattered and collected and the disorder caused by the cats restored.
Still, as the breeze broke through the window and raptured me away, only for a second, it was enough to rejuvenate me. I shall recommit myself to the porch and the pipe.