Dispatches From Quarry Farm: I’m Looking Out The Window Again


Caretaker Steve Webb and his son are the only year-round residents of Quarry Farm. Steve provides us with occasional, not always altogether reliable, updates from the premises.

I’m looking out the window again. It’s one of the best windows in the house even though it doesn’t have the view of the Chemung River Valley that this place is famous for. It’s high, on the second floor, and looks off in into the forest in the direction of where Mark Twain’s study used to be. It’s my bedroom window and it’s what I wake up to every morning.

Whatever the opposite of crippling depression is I may just have it. Crippling beauty? I don’t want to get out of bed because it’s just too damn nice. But I must. There’s a child to feed and water, there are errands to run, and there’s caretaking to do. But I come back here every afternoon for an hour or so. I make myself write and stare out the window and either belittle myself for procrastinating and being the producer of pure garbage or I shower myself in praises for the inspired prose that I exude—certain that this golden bulls**t will pour from me infinitely.  Today’s results are yet to be determined.

A lot of people don’t know this but Twain didn’t start wearing his iconic white suit until very late in life—December 1906. He’d claimed—I’ll paraphrase here—that it looked really clean.  After hearing a story on some NPR program, I can’t remember which one, women who practice Hinduism are expected to wear all white after their husbands pass away. That got me to thinking. Just eighteen months after his wife Olivia died, Twain was first observed publicly, and from then on, in all white—who knows when he started privately?  Is it possible that the famous atheist, wild man of the west, and great observer of world culture was in fact…? I know what you’re thinking. Well the answer is no. Mark Twain was not a Hindu woman. But there is a pretty good chance that he wanted to wear that attention-grabbing white suit much earlier in life, but his wife, tasteful as she was, shut it down. That white suit seems formal to us now, but at the time it was the Adidas jumpsuit of suits. It screamed I don’t give a f#@k. Livy wasn’t havin’ that.

So, just for fun, let’s say that Twain was a Hindu woman. Since Quarry farm was one of his favorite places on earth.  He described it as “a foretaste of heaven.” Well, if he was a Hindu woman, I suppose he’d have called it “a foretaste of Swarga Loka.”  Maybe I can take it a step further, if he was going to be reincarnated—assuming he gets to choose— perhaps he could transmogrify into one of the sentient beings here on the farm?

I’ve considered the fox that I see almost daily from my bedroom window. He or she lives up by the original study site somewhere and is most active early in the morning and I’m assuming, by the terrifying screams that cut through the darkness, late at night. In fact, one scholar and his wife were convinced  that a woman was being murdered in the woods until they googled “woman screaming in the woods” and were relieved to find a cute little fox and not an unflattering picture of a certain caretaker. But there’s nothing really Twain about this fox except that he seems to dislike large school groups—he disappears the moment those big yellow busses pull up to the property for field trips.

I saw the fox just the other day in a standoff with my cat—we’ll call him Bob for the purpose of this story—and the wild little canine slunk off into the forest screaming over his shoulder while Bob stared at him with the classic cat look of belittling indifference. Cats were Twain’s favorite animals. Seems like they’d have been buddies.

The obvious next choice, if Twain were a reincarnated Hindu woman living here at Quarry Farm, is the cat, Bob. From what I gather, if Twain wasn’t writing, he was talking. Well when Bob isn’t writing–which is always–he’s talking too. The problem is that Bob has never said a funny thing ever in any one of his nine lives. Bob is like Twain only if he never had access to a thesaurus and bumped his head as a child. “Meow” over and over will never attain the status of great literature or even prosaic satire.

There are lots of animals around: tons of turkey, deer, the occasional opossum, a red squirrel or fifty, and the endless lurkers of the night that I never even see. None of these creatures jump out at me as Twainesque. This is a man that is still loved and talked about and dissected almost one hundred and twenty years after his death. Maybe reincarnation isn’t necessary.  

I’ll leave you now with a little thing I wrote one morning. It’s the closest example, in my experience, of reincarnation although it may be bigger and further reaching than any one man.

When a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to hear it does it make a sound? Yes. Yes, it does.

I was in my room sleeping this morning and it was just before dawn. Well, sleeping isn’t quite the right word, I was in that space between awake and asleep—you know it well, you love it there, I love it there too. If I were completely asleep I wouldn’t have noticed that the curtains in my room had just barely, the teeniest tiniest bit, had begun to show the rectangles of light behind them. They’re not so great at hiding something as big as a dawn. I can see right through those curtains.

The birds were not awake yet though—and they get up early. There’s probably only ten seconds time between the appearance of the faint rectangles behind the curtains and the birds starting to sing. It’s possible that the birds were all in the in-between sleep and awake state too, just willing their dreams to see each other. Maybe that’s why they wake up singing.

I heard then, in that ten seconds, an enormous crash through the silent forest outside my window. Branches cracked, more like lightning than thunder, and I could see, in my mind, the enormous being breaking through the arms of the others trying to hold it up and thudding to the earth. It had rained a lot lately. The ground was just too wet and unstable for something so large.

The thing about these trees, the healthy ones, is that when they fall it’s never some sort of sad ending for them. The trunk is now abroad base that, over time, will become anchored to the forest floor, fused by new roots that will appear all along the  brand-new underside. On the now topside, all those branches that didn’t break on the way down, as of today, are officially trees. They, ten or twenty or thirty of them, will reach for a lifetime toward the new opening in the forest canopy. The hole where the old roots used to live, before they were turned up, will become a home. A woodchuck or a chipmunk and then a hungry fox will all probably spend a little time there and let their babies start out sheltered by the ornate and mossy weave overhead. One tree is now practically a forest.

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