I snapped this pencam photo blindly over my shoulder last night as Beth and Ivy and I shared a cold drink at the Peterborough Diner. What was this fellow’s story as he ate a solitary meal and drank a solitary beer on a Sunday night in New Hampshire, the Toadstool Bookshop looming in the window over his shoulder as the sun went down on a glorious January day? Was he lonely? Did he wonder about the three women who sat chatting and laughing (loudly, probably) at the next table?

When I came home from bidding adieu to Beth and Ivy–when I came home from seeing Ivy’s delightful studio at the legendary MacDowell Colony–I was aglow from the fire of interaction, the thrill of Mortal Connections. (Beth and especially Ivy will know where that title came from!) After eating a quick and solitary supper (one not unlike, I suppose, that anonymous man’s), I sat down and wrote the following in my journal:

There’s something magical about meeting and talking with someone you feel you already know–the same thing happened when I met with Fred First–you do away with the usual getting-to-know-you chitchat and get straight down to the nitty-gritty of relating. You’ve already touched souls, in a sense, so you needn’t worry about the usual pleased-to-meet-you pleasantries, instead cutting straight to the chase to talk about one’s truest and deepest loves: poetry and place, the passage of time and practice, karma and honesty and the simple courage of looking, the following snow tracks in the dark of night.

Talking to Ivy and Beth felt like talking to someone I’ve known forever–I felt the same thing with Fred, and feel it time and again with Gary. Ahhh, here’s someone who’s seen and knows me–I needn’t either dig out or deny all the crap ’cause they’ve already seen it, already surveyed it–they’ve seen and know it yet inexplicably love and accept me anyway, either despite or because of it.

It’s like meeting a like-minded person–like realizing before you’ve met them that they’ll be like-minded because they share a certain vision or outlook or philosophy. A sense of wonder, Ivy called it–perhaps it’s the eye of a poet, an eye that is trained with long practice in stripping down life to its beautiful essentials. Here’s what you or I need–here’s what any human needs–to be perfectly content, and here we’ve thrown away the wrapper that conceals it.

It occurs to me that Ivy and Beth and I talked for several hours about any of a number of topics, and the conversation never lagged, nor did I ever think to check my watch and wonder what other uses I could make of the time. When’s the last time you talked for hours with anyone–much less a person you’d just met–without any need for griping or complaining or criticizing, three women talking nonstop with nary a speck of gossip? For it strikes me that in all that was said, Beth and Ivy never complained about anything–our talk was wholly centered on possibility and promise, the reality of being blessed in the mundane world…and never for a moment did this sparkling optimism seem put on or Pollyanna-ish. The gem of conversation sparkled without the need for superficial gilt or appearance-keeping.

It was, in short, a conversation that transcended mere looking and seeming–a conversation that cut straight to the marrow of the moment, a meeting of unguarded, glowing souls. A beautiful time with beautiful people, each of them doing simply that which they simply do.

That reference in the last paragraph to mere “looking and seeming” is an allusion to Mary Austin’s 1909 short story “The Walking Woman”, about another kind of Mortal Connection forged in the desert southwest. When you’ve traveled a long time–when you’ve let time and nature and, yes, solitude strip away the superficial hull that protects and conceals–sometimes you encounter an oasis of human contact. It’s a wonderful, magical thing. I’d drive again to Peterborough or Vermont or anywhere on the map to seek it, on a Sunday or any other heaven-blessed day.