In all of fiction there is no more perfect picture of contentment than that of Hans Castorp warmly wrapped in his rugs on a balcony in the Swiss Alps after luncheon - "limbless and cylindrical" on a reclining chair so well designed that "no more comfortable provision ... could be conceived."
Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain" is one of my favorite reads for many reasons, not the least of which is the delight of imagining myself relaxing in that chair like Castorp, with nothing but the next seven-course, staff-served meal on my agenda.
Over the years I worked in all kinds of weather as a dairy farmer, I had only to open "The Magic Mountain" for five or 10 minutes after a few chilly and rigorous hours in the milk room and glide into a slice of life at the Berghof. It always helped me warm up and wind down.
When I started to reread the book earlier this winter, I'd already begun to taste the kind of leisure (if not the meals and service) that Castorp and the Berghof residents enjoyed.
Life is decidedly less hectic and more comfortable now that the last load of milk has left the barn. My son is grown and on his own, too, and while I continue to keep busy as an editor, my work is now indoors and sedentary. With my desk and laptop computer tucked behind the wood stove, it is a downright decadent way to earn money. The few chores involved in caring for our small herd of cows (retired, like us) and in "feeding" that stove hardly bear mentioning.
To stay in any kind of shape, I take daily walks about the farm, visiting the cabin - the little hikers' hut tucked in the forest - and occasionally following the wooded stream valley all the way to the lake.
I often come across the eight cows as I wander these 80 acres. Today I found them stretched upon the tufted grass of our hummocky pasture under a strong March sun, striking poses of such tranquil abandon in their winter furs that Hans Castorp instantly leapt to mind.
Mann observed that the young man was "by nature and temperament passive, could sit without occupation for hours on end, and loved ... to see time spacious before him, and not to have the sense of its passage banished, wiped out or eaten up by prosaic activity."
He had to have written that with sunning cows somewhere at the back of his mind.
Thanks to Mann, I dream of vacationing in a place where there's endless leisure and I can be waited on constantly. Barring a trip to the Grisons region, I guess I could put bells on my bovines, wrap up in a thick blanket, open the chaise longue, and stretch in the still-weak sun on my own back porch.
I have the time now. If I close my eyes and let some of it pass by, uninterrupted by "prosaic activity," perhaps that mountain will come to me.