The ideal speed of life, I decided after a recent week along North Carolina’s New River, is about the speed of the river itself. The current near the little town of Jefferson, where we stayed in a rented house at the river bank, seemed to flow as casually as a jazz procession, although I didn’t gauge the river’s progress too closely.
I’d come to the New, after all, to escape time for a while — or at least the sense of time as a commodity measured in clocks, calendars and wristwatches.
For several years, in as many summers as we can manage it, my wife and I have met our North Carolina friends, Mig and Mike, for a few days of tubing, twilight suppers, board games, reading, doing nothing at all.
Plopping my rump into the innards of an old tire for another float down the New, I know that I look more ridiculous by the year, especially since middle age has already given me a spare tire around my midriff.
But what I really feel, as the water chills my fanny and my tube catches the current, isn’t weight, but buoyancy. It’s a lightness that stays with me, even after I’ve left the river, then trudged up the bank for another evening in a cabin where, blessedly, Internet service is spotty at best.
For a handful of days here, the planet’s problems pulse less urgently in our brains. While driving down the gravel road to our rental, I stop for a rabbit grazing on the strip of grass in the middle of the lane. Unflustered by the hum of my engine, he continues munching, not quite ready to yield the right of way for the sake of his salad.
A creature of the city, I reach for my horn, then remember that I’m in no particular hurry to go anywhere. The rabbit, brown like straw and hardly bigger than my fist, eventually has his fill, then hops into the brush.
While sipping coffee on our second-story deck, I spot the rabbit again the next day. He’s still eating, nibbling the yard square by square, as if stitching a quilt. I watch him, watch him, watch him, my morning somehow — oddly and miraculously — ordered by Rabbit Time.
Then comes our final day along the New, the sky soggy with rain, the air chilled by the first hint of autumn. It’s the first day of August, yet cold enough for us to light the fireplace. Beyond the window, on the opposite bank, we see the Fraser firs of a Christmas tree farm, each one as perfect as the greenery in a toy train village.
It’s like looking at the rest of the year laid out before us — the approach of fall, the coming of the holidays.
All good things, I know, but to grasp them, I’ll have to let summer go. So we say goodbye to the New, and make the long drive home. Just beyond our doorstep, a week’s worth of the world’s worries lie waiting in the newspapers still wrapped and unread on the dining-room table.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter @Danny_Heitman.