I came north last August, planning for the beauty of the fall, the frigid isolation of winter, the softness of spring and the joys of summer. Some of those things have happened. The rest won’t, at least not for me, but I’ll get to that by and by.
First, though, the last nine months in review. (No, there are no babies magically appearing in this narrative. Like Freud’s cigar, sometimes nine months is just nine months, not a hint of the human gestation period.)
Fall in Pittsburg is defined differently than autumn in the town in which I grew up. In Durham, summer runs until the beginning of October, making that first month of school torture. (Being in school makes the rest of the school year unbearable.) Here, though the trees were already turning beautiful colors in mid-August, and, despite some Indian-summer short-sleeve days, the earth locking of fall begins in October. The ground concretizes, and jackets are always within reach. Autumn here is brief but glorious, like life itself, and from its beginnings the death knell of winter sounds in the background.
I loved the Tiny White Box in autumn and was glad to have begun the journey of sitting still.
I’d assumed winter would make me crazier than the gods have already decreed, that I’d develop cabin fever and go mad. It didn’t, and I didn’t. I talked with my friend, Doc, yesterday about this past winter. Doc’s been up here a while, and said this past one was pretty typical, except for getting three northeasters in 10 days. Usually, there aren’t more than two. We had a week or 10 days in January when it didn’t get above 0 degrees, but we also had days above freezing. I wrote a lot, drank a lot of coffee and didn’t feel any crazier than usual. The Tiny White Box, thanks to the genius of my friend and its builder, Gavin Beland, stayed insulatedly warm enough that I kept a window open all season. Really.
I loved the Tiny White Box in winter and was glad to continue the journey of sitting still.
Spring began, I think, the day before yesterday. We’ve still got ice on the lakes and some snow on the ground, but I hike on mud instead of ice these days, and I write this in short sleeves sitting in the sun. While the winter was whites, blacks and browns broken by the clear blue of the sky, now we have infinite shades of green added to the palette. Tomorrow I may wear shorts, exposing the fish-belly whites of my legs for the first time since last summer. This, of course, is another advantage of living alone in the wilderness.
Which I’ll do for another three weeks.
I’ve written about my trip to New Orleans a few weeks ago. Although some readers guessed that was in connection with a job which was in connection to a column I wrote six weeks ago. That column, which I think of as an open letter to the universe, garnered a fair amount of traction. Think of Mary Poppins when Jane and Michael Banks’ letter describing the perfect nanny, which Mr. Banks tears up and throws in a fireplace in the second or third scene of the movie. Somehow, my letter traveled all over the country and was responded to by a number of nonprofits looking for quirky leadership with a skewed vision.
I visited New Orleans to talk with Roots of Renewal, a truly impressive organization. There, I interviewed for the position of executive director, ate a ton of good food, hung out with great people and learned all I could about Roots. It deserves your attention and support, and has worked miracles in many folks’ lives. Still.
Aphorisms aren’t usually reversible, but I’d like to talk about one that is. Voltaire is often quoted as saying, “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” by which is meant “focusing on achieving the transcendent can prevent us from enjoying immanence” or, “don’t let your desire for infinite wealth keep you from grabbing the 20-dollar bill on the floor.” Its near-opposite, though, is also true: “The good can be the enemy of the best.” The Roots of Renewal position demonstrates this. It is a good, even a great, position in an unreservedly great organization. Still, I withdrew my name as a candidate in favor of the best position for me at this time, a job even designed for who I am and what I stand for.
What job is that?
You’ll have to tune in later to find out.
I will continue to live in the Tiny White Box, and will sit with what I’ve learned on this journey to sit still.
Keith Howard used to be a homeless drunk veteran. Then he got sober and, eventually, became director of Liberty House in Manchester, a housing program for formerly homeless veterans. There, he had a number of well-publicized experiences – walking away from federal funds in order to keep Liberty House clean and sober, a contretemps with a presidential candidate and a $100,000 donation, a year spent living in a converted cargo trailer in Raymond. Today, he lives in a six-by 12-foot trailer in Pittsburg, NH, a few miles from the Canadian border with his dog, Sam. There, Howard maintains tinywhitebox.com, his website, works on a memoir, and a couple of novels while plotting the next phase of his improbable life.