Richard Ma might find that the Nassau Weekly soon begets a fleeting and cathartic peace.

Walking in & out of monotony

“Mind-numbing,” I’ve heard it’s been called. In some ways, it’s pure monotony: a long seventy-mile gravel path off to New Brunswick in one direction and the little-known Frenchtown in the other, a handful of sleepy towns in between. With its recursive pattern of oak trees, one or two lonely pelicans perched elegantly in the still canal, this is life in a computer simulation. Even squirrels don’t often visit this kind of aesthetically pleasing purgatory.

This is a recurring dream I had as a child too. On an endless stretch of asphalt nothingness into the trees, I would naively pedal on, a lonesome little biker, fearing the sheer foreverness the path implied. How nightmarish it seemed that the path unfolded ceaselessly; its uniformity terrified me. In many ways, the Towpath is the same as this long-ago dream: eternal, dull, predictable.

But the Towpath, though weirdly enigmatic alone, is never quite the same with a companion or several. Each step on the sandy gravel crunching beneath beat-up runners waxes rhythmic, the perpetuity of the scenery allaying anxieties of a world in which we seldom stop to think. The inconsequential drone of friends’ voices ebbs in and out amicably, elevator music to the words of the speed-talking preceptor of that foreign land just opposite Lake Carnegie. Still a simulation, maybe, but more like an innocuous game of Minecraft.

Even alone, you’ll still find an eerie comfort, the kind of serenity unique to browsing grocery store aisles. Of this variety there’s the Sunday mornings spent simply on that wild old straight-track, when one desires nothing more than to pound away, with each step, the mindless jargon (or a particularly stubborn hangover) into happy oblivion. A mile down by a thicket of birch trees on “Towpath Left”, you might find one of many time-worn park benches. Sit by it alone one day at just the right hour and the sun will silhouette a distant bell-tower on Lake Carnegie’s shadow. When winter heaps deep layers of confectioners’ sugar on the narrow strip, walk awhile in the white void. You might find that the deafening continuity soon begets a fleeting and cathartic peace.

It’s here and now that you’re in the midst of the game.

Far enough down the Towpath in either direction, you’ll reach the fringe of the simulation. Canoes, once passing in lazy intervals to the steady beat of the clouds, taper away. Oak trees, no longer mute, lose their even trim and the path invariably assumes a new and rugged imprecision.

Here on the fringe, it’s The Truman Show, the cusp of oblivion. Or it’s Fortnite, and you’re at the precipice of the storm. The squirrels return, monotony ends, and if you step through the screen, you’ll reach reality.

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