I am sure you all know tales about the Country Mouse and the City Mouse. But I am sure you are not familiar with this one:
I am sitting at the riverside window on the late morning Amtrak train, on my way to Penn Station, moving once again between my two worlds. A country mouse ready to become a city mouse, at least for a day.
In my country mouse mode, I had gotten through morning farm chores by 9 a.m., not a pleasant task with the frigid temperatures, and a strong north wind so piercing that it even cancelled out the bright sunshine. After such a painful beginning to the day, this mouse is really looking forward to the city.
In particular, this country mouse anticipates the city mouse’s privilege of sleeping in and enjoying a late breakfast while perusing the Times or gazing at the new towers sprouting up outside my kitchen window. With great relief, I know I will not have to be up by seven sharp, cooking and gobbling down my breakfast so I have time to prepare the work sheets scheduling the day’s tasks for our farm helpers, as well as washing and boxing eggs, and getting myself into my winter carapace. All this by eight when help arrives.
As I write this, I look from my Amtrak seat out at the Hudson River as it flows at a glacial pace heading, like me, for Manhattan. At a similar pace, I am metamorphosing from country mouse back into city mouse. It comes to me that while the river is only three miles from the farm, I never seem to see it, trapped as I am in the daily routines of the farm. It is only on the occasional trips by train into the city that the river becomes a reality, a part of my expanding mousy reality.
It has been well over a month since this country mouse made this trip, so there is a high degree of anticipation. This is no routine commute.
One of the things I am anticipating is dinner with my partner, Mark (still more city than country mouse), at one of our favorite restaurants.
Food in the hands and imaginations of city mice becomes quite something else. As in, “…the butter bathed pumpkin-and-sage ravioli were fluffy, beautiful, and fleeting, an exercise in virtuosity, equivalent to a concert pianist running up and down a scale very fast.” How can our simple country mouse food ,as in : “delicious pumpkin pie made from organically raised pumpkins” compete with that? Or with: “…glazed squash wedges doused in a verdant oil made of anise hyssop, and topped with pepitas…”
This is country mouse food gone to heaven!
I must admit that we in country mouse country do rave about our “fresh eggs from cage free heritage chickens,” but in city mouse argot eggs are “..scrambled, luminous, golden, so fluffy they can barely stay grounded on the plate.” But enough of that.
Meanwhile, I am moving about the city in the crush of the subway. So many different varieties of city mice, dressed in so many original ways, with so many public ways of being. So many voices, so many accents, and with such varying and sometimes strange needs. A lot to take in for a country mouse accustomed to moving about in the private bubble of a Rav4, encountering nothing nearer a city mouse crowd than the gaggle of rather uniform looking shoppers at Otto’s, CVS, or Stop and Shop.
As this mouse scurries through the crowded sidewalks on Broadway there is, despite the buzz of almost manic energy, something missing, some void. Yes, that’s it—a kind of anonymity. A world that flows by that does not focus at all on this country mouse, who finds himself at this moment not the center of everything as at the farm, not needed as at the farm, not the focus of attention as at the farm. A mere cipher.
This country mouse, I dejectedly realize, is not needed here. But then this mouse brightens realizing that there is no one or thing waiting to be served, no one waiting to be fed, to be watered, to be sheltered, to be nursed. This country mouse, becoming moment by moment a city mouse, experiences more and more a kind of lightness of being.
But short-lived was the metamorphosis. The next morning, the train waits at track 6 ready to depart for Rhinecliff. As it pulls out of the station tunnel and begins to race along the river, its trajectory is mirrored by that of the river as the tide surges into the Hudson, causing the flow of the river to reverse. As the strange gods ruling these days have apparently determined, the country mouse and the river are in some way ordained to move slowly but inexorably northward together.