The landscape of peace

For twenty-five years our family has lived in a small house right on Manhasset Bay, a perfect vantage point for enjoying the marine activities of man and nature and for watching transitions of seasons and scene. Shoreward, we've observed the quiet busy-ness of the little factories, the small boatyards, and the sportsmen's club next door. Except for the occasional blast of the burglar alarm at the cabinet shop, the regular ding-a-ling of the coffee canteen and the whoop-de-do of the annual sportsmen's clam bake, it's probably quieter than most suburban streets. It has suited us to a T. When we were addicted to Cooke railroad records in the early days of hi-fi, no one was bothered by our decibels. Nor later by our son's trombone practicing, our daughter's noisy-car suitors, or our beagle's baying.

We built and ran the display manufacturing shop next door until retirement, then happily sold it and let someone else carry the tax burden - but like proper parents, we still feel a proprietary interest in the property. We didn't like the new owner's painting the front a strange blue, or the cavalier treatment of the bushes we'd nurtured so lovingly. But we were sorry to see them move out early this year, and to see the building sitting empty for months while aggressive neighbors started storing unsightly equipment among the weeds and trees. An occasional delegation of business types could be seen assessing the property, with no follow-up. Until a couple of weeks ago. . . .

A motley crew arrived with saws and a bulldozer and a mammoth garbage truck, and in a couple of hours had destroyed every living thing, leveled the property and hauled away the evidence. In another couple of days they had packed onto this small lot a fleet of the biggest, ugliest, though cleanest, garbage trucks you can imagine. And they started their daily schedule with motor-revving, gear-grinding, and general clanking noises. The first one goes out at 3:45 a.m. By 8 the lot is empty. The trucks return on their own initiative all afternoon, and from twilight on they quietly loom there together, awaiting dawn.

Just before this blight appeared, a sculptor friend had been seriously discussing buying the property to use as a combination home, studio and school. As we had talked, my hopes rose that she would move in. She would be an asset to the neighborhood, adding to the landscaping and certainly to the prestige and the neighborliness. . . . The contrast was devastating!

I felt myself being submerged in a whirlpool of self-pity and remorse for having lost control of our environment by selling the property. But I knew I couldn't be drowned if I made an effort to get control of my thoughts at least.

From years of experience I've found it best to start the therapy by savoring whatever shred of goodness there may be. First I thought of how convenient it was to have helpful, mechanically minded neighbors. They had pulled me through car battery trouble soon after arriving on the scene. Then I appreciated Private Enterprise, which stimulates young men to go into business for themselves, to invest huge sums in these monster trucks and to find those sturdy, self-reliant folks to run the behemoths which haul away the byproducts of industry. I rounded the circle with the inventors who devised such contraptions to save men's and horses' backs.

I was so psyched up on the merits of these huge green giants that they suddenly took on a personality of their own. I couldn't help comparing them with our ducks. . . .

In the spring someone had given our daughter six domestic white ducklings, which have now grown to full size. They swim in the bay and roost on our lawn, close to the water. They come and go noisily at all hours and leave a litter all over the yard like the aftermath of a pillow fight. They wake us up with their quacking, but since we enjoy them we just roll over and go back to sleep with no rancor. Although we worried about them during the hurricane, they haven't caused us any real loss of sleep, and have certainly enriched our awareness of life.

The big green beasts also come and go noisily. Moreover, they do valuable service like a herd of trained pachyderms. Then they rest quietly on the lot, awaiting the next day's chores. How could they disturb our peace, unless we let them? I'm sure that when there's a blizzard I'll be quite concerned until I see that they are all safely home. When the time comes for them to move to a larger place because the herd has outgrown this one, I'd like to feel that we'll miss our gentle giants - that the dawn is just a little too quiet.

What is peace, really, but a sense of coping with what life hands us . . . expanding our outlook to encompass the good and reject the bad. To have a view from ''the mountaintop'' is perhaps just to sit still and see through to the peace within.

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