Eastside Road, November 7, 2011—A FEW DAYS AGO friends came to dinner and to discuss a little project we're working on together; I don't want to talk about it too much at the moment as it's in process.
At one point one of them asked, point-blank, What are your three basic values? Quick, answer, don't think!
And I said, quickly, Attentiveness, Reflection, Enjoyment.
And then the other said And what are the real Indispensables?
And I said Generosity and Gratitude.
These have always seemed to me to be the minimum and necessary qualities for good life, but I was a little surprised at how readily I was able to express them. I think it was because I was already thinking, had already been thinking, if subconsciously, about the attributes I associate with a friend and colleague who had invited us to a birthday party — a seventieth. At the back of my mind I was probably contemplating the likelihood of proposing a toast to her.
We'd already prepared a card for her, with this photograph of a line of trees in our beloved Low Countries. It stands between the villages of Leuth and Zwyllich, not far from Nijmegen, almost exactly halfway along the Pieterpad, the walking path that crosses Netherlands from north to south, about 400 kilometers. I've walked past those poplars three times (Lindsey only once, that's another story), and each time they, and the path, and the canal they border, which runs along the Rhine at that point, move me tremendously. I suppose they represent for me the wonderful collaboration of man and nature, and of course they're a midpoint; they also happen to mark the boundary at that point between two nations, Netherlands and Germany. But the trees I think know nothing of that.
The road offers the same length to everyone, though some choose to walk more or less of it than others do. It takes us where we want to go, and though we could very well turn round and take it back some distance few of us ever do, and then rarely for more than a little. The sky is open to all of us, to all of us equally; and the trees in their wisdom stand on the earth reaching into the sky, as far as they know to reach, that far and no farther, to nearly the same distance, all of them. They choose, I think, to know that much, finding it essential for some reason I don't know, and finding it inessential to know more.
It was a wonderful party, and we were pleased and a little honored to have been invited.