I went for a run today up the Farmington Canal trail. It’s a new thing, or rather an old thing given a new life, since I last lived in New Haven. The old Canal has been filled and paved for much of its length, and runs from New Haven’s harbor all the way to Northampton, Massachusetts, only 84 miles; I think about walking or biking it. It would be entirely doable, especially on a bike. Two easy days of riding, and I’d be up in Northampton; spend a few days, come back down on the trail, and that’d be a very pleasant week in late fall or early to late spring. Already I’m in settlement mode, imagining adventures to be had with this as my home base. But where is “this”?
I’ve been staying at the Yale Graduate Club, a shabby-genteel* place housing an interesting collection of international graduate school exchange students, visiting professors, and the occasional odd character like myself. My employer had set me up there, figuring that with the odd hours we worked in the Buddhist chaplaincy and the need to be close to campus, that was a good place. It was, for the brief time I was with that organization. I’ll move into the New Haven Zen Center at the end of September, however, overall a far better situation for me than the Graduate Club. Charming as it is, next to the campus and across from the city green, the Graduate Club is really for people with an official affiliation with the University; and I am no longer one of those types. I’ll miss, I suppose, being next to campus: waking up and rolling right down the back stairs of the Club to Blue State Coffee, which has claimed the status of Most Favored Coffee Shop with me. I’ll also miss the hum and buzz of an active and unusually high-powered student body. The peripheral energy highs that you can catch just standing too close to a bunch of undergraduates is pretty intoxicating…but, for the most part, I have little nostalgia and even less longing for that particular phase of my life. I was one of those undergraduates, ten years and more ago. And while I appreciate what these brilliant young adults are capable of, I don’t want to be one of them, anxious, smart but inexperienced, savvy but for all that still young, focused and driven but maybe too much so.
Moving from the Graduate Club to the Zen Center is a basic move that orients me, physically and spiritually, within the life I chose years ago, practicing in community. I’m looking forward it. The move will put me up on Mansfield Street, a veritable no-man’s land for the average undergraduate. It will also give me the distance I need from the campus. I’m neither student nor faculty, neither formal researcher nor employee. There’s no reason for the University to be the center of things for me. I’ll take advantage of what this place has to offer, including several editions of various Chinese canons, numerous academic works and translations of critical works that I’ve been aching to read for years (and can’t get in Asia without considerable cost), and secondary research. But I’ll also try to learn the city on its own terms, what it is beyond and in some ways before the University.
I took a run up State Street the other day, looking for the CrossFit gym someone had mentioned. My sister Molly got me into CrossFit out in Idaho, and I liked it. (A college friend who does CrossFit exclaimed, “CrossFitting nuns!” neatly summing everything up.) I’d never been that far out on State Street, jogging under the highway, East Rock to the left. Today, I ran past CityClimb, the new indoor climbing gym. It’s just down from Mansfield Street off the Farmington Canal trail; and not long after that I ran past a sign that read, “Hamden City Limit.” I felt a thrill: I’d left New Haven by a new route (and on foot no less). It reminded me in its own way of Hailey, Idaho, where my sister lives with her husband. On a bike, the entire valley and a fair number of the road-riddled east-west canyons, are open to you, and my brother-in-law John rides the 12 miles or so to and from his job in Ketchum, up-valley. On the Canal trail, it crossed my mind for the first time that with a bike and some commitment, all of Connecticut was open to me. Heck, everything from Boston to New York.
Today is beautiful. Connecticut is lush, even though the maples in the city are already turning to gold and fire. The sky’s that kind of thick blue that looks like it came straight from a tube of oil paint. Sunny and crisp, just beginning to get cold; I dreamed last night I found every bit of winter clothing I needed, in gray wool, in a second-hand shop, a very literal dream but one that made me think, yet again, of settling down. The Farmington Canal was a New Haven I’d never seen before, a Connecticut I’d only ever glimpsed from car windows. Now I’m without a car, don’t even have a valid license, and better, I have no need to get anywhere fast. The pedestrian life, maybe a two-wheeled life if I can find a decent used frame, but one without haste and under my own locomotion. I like that. It gives me a sense of being at home in the world, that I’ve begun walking and biking it, tasting its air, being out in its moods.
I think I’ll re-read Thoreau this fall.
One thing I promised myself was that I’d be more physically active for the duration of my sabbatical from Korea. The summer was a bust, too much Tibetan and a bad summer cold derailing my attempts. Running, while invigorating, compromises my already bad knees. Molly’s introduction to CrossFit in Idaho was fun. I like the intensity of it, as well as the emphasis on form. Once I’ve settled into the Center and have a better idea of how the weekly schedule will work I’ll probably give the CxFit gym a try for a couple of months. I’m haunting Craigslist and the local bike shop for a decent used frame, because (without a car or inclination to drive everywhere anyway) a bike gives me both mobility around the city (and state) and a way to get out and be active without ruining my poor knees. The first month here was unsettled and unsettling, and my focus now on physically and emotionally establishing a routine is a reaction to this. I think, though, being fair to myself, that it’s also a response: for ten years, I’ve had the chance to carefully consider what goes into creating a satisfying life for myself, what is needed to balance what out. Walking, running, sweating it out, the washed, clean feeling in my bones after a good workout, the delight in being out under the sky, breathing hard, lungs working…all of that has a place. And I’m ready to give those things a place again, now that I’m able to.
Place and home, both something we give and something we’re given, like a welcome. The corporeal home, a place in the world, an emotional being in the body (at home in it), a house and sometimes a physical community, too. Monastics are called “chul-ga-ja,” “those who have left home;” but I’ve heard this interpreted as meaning that we need to know how to make our home anywhere, and to find a way of being comfortable anywhere and everywhere. A joyful resilience and curiosity about presence and what it means to be any one place at any one time…or, at least, that’s how I’m looking at it on this September morning in Connecticut.
* I’ve borrowed this term from Charles Dickens; it’s very apt.