“Everyone needs chicken sentries,” Boynton explained when I arrived at her studio, a red barn that sits behind a centuries-old farmhouse in western Connecticut’s Berkshires. With her publishing royalties, she has outfitted her real farm with the storybook trappings of her fictional ones. The barn’s two-and-a-half-story interior looks less like Boynton’s studio than Boynton’s Country Store. On display are books, cardboard stand-ups, records, hundreds of critter-emblazoned greeting cards, and stuffed animals (an enormous, fuzzy pig fills a rustic dining chair).
Noise is never just about sound; it is inseparable from issues of power and powerlessness. It is a violation we can’t control and to which, because of our anatomy, we cannot close ourselves off. “We have all thought of killing our neighbors at some point,” a soft-spoken scientist researching noise abatement told me.
As environmental hazards go, noise gets low billing. There is no Michael Pollan of sound; limiting your noise intake has none of the cachet of going paleo or doing a cleanse. When The New Yorker recently proposed noise pollution as the next public-health crisis, the internet scoffed. “Pollution pollution is the next big (and current) public health crisis,” chided one commenter. Noise is treated less as a health risk than an aesthetic nuisance—a cause for people who, in between rounds of golf and art openings, fuss over the leaf blowers outside their vacation homes. Complaining about noise elicits eye rolls. Nothing will get you labeled a crank faster.
What if they make a mistake and bury me when I’m just in a coma?
Okay, so to be clear, you don’t want to be buried alive, is that correct? Got it.
Lucky for you, you don’t live in Ye Olden Times! During Ye Olden Times (before the 20th century), doctors had a less-than-flawless track record when it came to declaring people dead. The tests they used to determine if someone was honest-to-God-really-dead were not just low-tech, they were horrifying.
If Tomorrowland really wants to make anyone optimistic about the future, it would figure out a way to make greywater reclamation as fun as rocketships. It would be covering the the Space Mountain queue in solar panels, or showing off carbon-fixing kelp forests in the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. What about getting Disney park visitors as excited for high-speed rail as we all were for Asimo in the year 2000?
Obviously, Disney has no incentive to do this; it’s more lucrative to let people relive the cantina scene from Star Wars than do anything difficult. It seems impossible to meld anticonsumerist sentiments with corporate sponsorship, but Disney’s done it before. At Disney World, Animal Kingdom is an entire park themed on conservation... with heavy sponsorship from McDonald’s. Every ride emphasizes our obligation to the planet, and to the McFlurry.
I like to imagine that the creator of Eggs à la Benedict was a woman, at a time when Delmonico’s was the first place to let them dine by themselves. (It was a women’s press club that had their first ladies’ supper there, another point in Mrs. Le Grand Benedict’s favor.) Plus, maybe she knew old Horace Vachell, as they were both writers. Maybe she knew Cornelia Bedford. Either way, she was definitely bold enough to ask for exactly what she wanted for brunch.
It was in Calcutta, 40 years ago, a steaming hot Friday monsoon morning, and I had come down from my newspaper’s office in Delhi to write about the industrial tea trade. I was at the headquarters of Macneill and Magor, a tea giant of the time, whose red brick godowns lined the banks of the Hooghly River. I had a breakfast-time appointment with the company spokesman, a genial Anglo-Indian named Pearson Surita, a man possessed of an accent so plummy that on the side he did cricket commentaries for All-India Radio.
The elevator creaked us up to the penthouse, with its fine view of the Maidan. Pearson sat me down by his desk, then promptly called the bearer and demanded two pink gins. But it wasn’t even 8 o’clock, I protested. “Don’t worry, old boy,” Pearson replied. “It’s Poets Day.” Puzzled, I sipped timidly at my gin while Pearson threw his down in one gulp, then called the departing bearer. Another two, he demanded. I yowled still more forcefully. It was early morning. Pink gin? “Don’t be silly,” he repeated. “It’s Poets Day.”
Ahern’s insights are a gift to readers as she outlines the steps that brought her closer to things that matter: writing, creativity, time with family and community, the cultivation of gratitude and spirituality — as well as all the ways these things are bound up in and amplified by great food. One of the big messages of the book is about the treasure of balance itself. Gradually, she comes to a richer sense of where and how life is best lived. In this way, she offers up the wisdom of contentment; the joy of embracing what is enough.