One Window

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Fifteen years ago Eric and I went to Italy with our friends Alison and John.  The visual extravagance of Italy can not be overstated.  Everything was beautiful.  On one of our first days there, in Venice, John and I were standing together looking in the window of a glass shop.  There were blown glass jars, paperweights swirled with color, tiny glass animals, bottles, birds, butterflies.

“You could spend the rest of your life just looking in this window,” John said and I agreed.  “And yet there’s a whole city of these windows.  And then a whole country beyond that.”

Not to mention the country we live in, and the wonder that is NYC.  While not as astonishingly ornate and decorative as Venice, Manhattan is just as rich in visual variety, which is just one of the senses that pop into prominence when I’m there, as I was on Tuesday.

David and I had planned to go to MOMA, but MOMA is closed on Tuesdays, so we headed to the Metropolitan Museum.  Walking into the great hall that is the entrance to the American Wing is like walking into an enormous display case.  The western wall and ceiling are all glass, and there are two balconies of glass, full of glass cases, full of glass and pottery.  I felt like I was in Venice again.  I could spend a life time sitting in the great glass hall, or staring into one glass case.

But not really.  What I did was move from case to case, letting the views behind the views shift into a kaleidoscope of color and layers of glass.  And then there was all I’d seen earlier in the day.  David sat and sketched the head of a sculpture, and I finally sat beside him and let the saturation of color and form and texture sink into me, late afternoon light falling through the glass wall and ceiling, through bottles and pots and cases, into my rebounding memory.


Twisting Vines

David and I arrived at the unveiling for Eric’s Uncle Ben in East Haven, CT almost an hour early yesterday.  We drove down the dead end Brockett Place, past the tall iron spike fences on either side of the small road, tall headstones behind the black rails, turned in the circle at the end, and parked heading out. Then got out of the car to go for a walk.

We wanted to stretch our bodies after the drive, and we didn’t want to be present for any family drama that might show up early.  All summer I’ve been trying to stay clear of the discord that’s erupted in Eric’s family since Ben’s death.  It occurred to me that family disputes that arise after someone dies, centered around wills and inheritance and who got what, or didn’t get what they expected, may just be grief displaced.  Or maybe I’m being too nice.

We walked into the driveway of a school and sought the shade along the edges of the open field to each make calls to our families.  There were vines twisting up the trees, curling around themselves, circling into spirals that climbed up.  The twists looked like family to me, all the ways we love each other and wrap around each other and how some families forget how to make sense of their lives together without conflict and how the best of families support each other’s twisting, new vines growing on old wood towards the clear light at the top of the tree canopy.

“Retirement” Passages

When people ask me how retirement is going, I respond that I haven’t “retired.”  I left my job of 30 years, with every intention of continuing to work.  The difference is that my work is now going to be more self-directed — writing, editing what I’ve already written, doing consulting work.  That’s the plan anyway.

But three months into this new journey, I’m not at all sure what I should be doing with myself from day to day.  I’m getting my manuscript ready for the publisher, which includes formatting the book, putting together a mailing list for people to receive a promotional flyer, and getting blurbs from other poets.  I’m writing a lot of poems but mostly not working on them.  I’ve started a novel and am reading a lot of novels to see if I can figure out how to get more than six pages of the one in my head down on paper, or onto the computer’s screen and thus hard drive.  I’m training for a half marathon in November which means running more, I’m slowly putting my garden to bed, I’m visiting with lots of family and friends, and I’m working on three consulting jobs.

Is this the creative life I imagined?  The storage pod is finally out of the driveway and David’s studio is done and he’s mostly moved in.  Yesterday he created the first of his art to come out of the studio — beautiful cards for friends who came for a multi-birthday dinner last night.  His creative life seems to be cranking into action.

I had lunch two weeks ago with a friend who’s a few months in front of me on the retirement path, though her path is more truly retirement. In an email exchange after our lunch, when I talked again about the anxiety that dogs me some days, she wrote back, “the most important thing that I have learned in the last few months is that this thing called retirement is a process.  Be gentle with yourself.”

Last Saturday we hiked with a friend who’s several years ahead of David and me on the full-on professional life “retirement” exit into a creative life path.  He talked to both of us about finding a creative community to support us in our new life.  “You don’t get many kudos for pursuing your creative art,” he said.  “It’s not like being at a job every day when people tell you what a good job you’re doing.”

And it’s not like I have a calendar with appointments for writing poetry, or working on my novel, or editing The Island Journal, a memoir I finished over two years ago and have done nothing with but type into my computer since.

So what am I going to do right now, on this wet and still Saturday morning?  Go for a run, maybe then I’ll be able to sit at my computer for a while and catch a glimpse of my new path.

“Retirement” ADHD

Should I work on the poem I brought to YoPos last week?  Finish formatting my manuscript and get the list of people to mail the promotional flyer ready?  Oh, I’ll click this link in my Twitter feed and read a review of the de Kooning retrospective at MOMA. And here’s a new blog post in my Google Reader from that poet whose blog I found out wandering on the internet two nights ago, clicking on links in links in links until I had about 25 tabs open.  Wait, my computer is blipping at me.  Adrienne answered my g-chat about plans for next week.  I’ll g-chat with her while I get caught up on email.  I need to confirm three meetings and email the other panelists for the conference in November. And I need to start working on my presentations for the training in October.  Should I email Becky and Marie the awesome “blurb” I just got from Rosanna Warren for my book?  Did I ever get that check from Carol for the hotel room in DC?  And I need to sign the travel voucher for reimbursement for that Office on Violence Against Women meeting in August and FedEx it back.  Where’s the closest FedEx office?  Ah, the sun is fully out now, maybe I’ll go mow the law.  But wait, wasn’t I going to write this morning?  But first I’ll check FB and see if Adrienne has any new photos of Emilio posted.

Frost, Snow, River, Mountains

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We just got home after hiking to the summit of North Twin Mountain today.  The trees on the horizon are black against the last light in the sky, the sun long gone below the horizon.  And it’s only 7:33.  More darkness coming.

But it was glorious in the mountains today.  The Little River was running hard and clear over its bed of boulders, a color without color, the cleanest sheen of light green imaginable.  I’ve written about this river before (poem below), the last time I hiked North Twin, when I was bagging the 4,000 footers.  Today two of our friends on the hike bagged the peak for the first time.  Once you finish your own list, there are always friends to accompany as they work on theirs.

The views were perfect — the full Presidential Range strung out from a ledge on the northeast side of the ridge, then the Franconia Ridge stretching south from our lunch spot on the western facing ledge.  But the close views were beautiful too.

Last night was the first frost of the season, and once we got above 4,000 feet, we saw our first snow.  Clumps of ice were falling out of the spruce trees and collecting in heaps of white on the green moss, already speckled with snow.   But the sun was warm on the ledge, and on us, as we ate, and talked, trees across from us still holding glints of ice.

The Little River

There must be a story to a river
so wrongly named, so wildly big
in its crash of water and rock falling

from a fold of mountains, tricky
with its slick stones and ice needles thrust
over shallows like webs. We cross as if

stepping on the chest of a sleeping beast.
We find an old campsite, logs circling
a cold fire ring beside a green pool.

We listen as we make up stories, listen
to the confluence of gravity and water, wonder
how big is cruel enough not to be little.

We Did It Again!

Jill came over for dinner last night, and after she left, David and I went to look at the just-past-full moon coming up through the trees, a peachy orange that reflected the huge ray of sunset light that was streaming up into the sky from where the sun set behind the trees on the horizon.

“Let’s go kayaking,” David said, so we did.  Unlike the night before, it was a bit windy, and the moon cut a choppy path of light across the water slapping up against itself.  We sat for a few minutes, just looking at the moon, the water, the reflections.  Then the wind picked up and started pushing us, so we held our paddles across the two boats, one paddle face up to catch the wind on each side, and sailed back to the beach where we’d put in.  I used my rudder to direct us and we glided home, moonlight kayak sailing.  I’ve never done that before, and on a weeknight no less!

Full Moon Kayak

Photo by Anne Burnett

“We found you,” a voice called out, and the dark shapes of our boats circled around each other. These kayaks had boat lights mounted on their sterns and we asked about where they got the lights, how much, who made them. Then Deb asked, “Who did you think you found?” “Bill?” said the woman. “No, that’s not us, but there was another group kayaking at the other end of the lake. You can see their lights out there.”

Last night was the full moon, and Anne had told me she and a group of friends were meeting on Pleasant Lake to kayak. “Yes,” David and I said. “We’re there.” We arrived at 7:00, just as the moon was clearing the trees on the east side of the lake. We had headlamps on, and Anne had a blinking red biking light hanging from her back collar. We were meeting up with Cynthia and Leslie later, and as we racked together by crossing our paddles over our boats, chatting and sipping wine, we’d seen lights approaching us from the north end of the lake.

Now we all laughed at the mistaken lake meeting, and the voices and kayak lights moved off into the thickening darkness, towards the points of light in the distance. Eventually Cynthia and Leslie found us, and as we gathered in smaller groups the headlamps of those further off moved across the water like dancers. The other group of kayakers was a cluster of lights floating along the opposite shore.

We paddled and chatted, a small party in the middle of a lake, air soft and fresh settling around us, reflected and shadowed light holding us in the night. When David and I pulled our boats out of the water, the moon was high and there was a loon calling from the lake. Even miles away, I can hear the loon through my open windows this morning.

High on Water

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Yesterday after I finished the Pumpkinman Triathlon (as fun as every year and the only triathlon I got to do this summer, so doubly fun), since we were already in Maine, David and I headed to York Harbor to check out a show of ceramics by our friend Al Jaeger. We’d never been to the George Marshall Store Gallery and were delighted to find it housed in a historic building on the bank of the York River, overlooking York Harbor.

Yesterday was a brilliant day — clear, dry, cool, and blue as days can get in New England. York Harbor was exquisite, water shimmering with sunlight, sharp wind, hot sun, river banks green with tall oaks and stately white houses, a bright harbor full of fishing boats and sail boats and dingys and Boston Whalers.  We wanted to come back and kayak up river, into the expanses of marsh we’d glimpsed between houses as we drove towards the gallery and the harbor.

Today we got up and out early enough to be on the river an hour before high tide, so we could ride the current up, and then come back down river with the tide.  With another perfect day of clear light, hard sun and cool winds, we felt like we were kayaking into a gift.  As we passed the gallery and the Barrell Mill Pond Dam I wrote about when I was in York Harbor last March, we saw what looked like dozens of herons, egrets and ducks in the marsh to our right.  “Do you see all those herons?” a man in a dingy said to me. “There are at least 10 of them.”  “Is that unusual,” I asked.  “We haven’t kayaked here before.”  “Yes,” he said.  “You might see one or two, but never this many.”  We counted 11.

The river wound around corners, past marshy banks and the trim green of a golf course,  past bleached wooden walkways out to docks, and eventually under Rte. 1 and then Rte. 95, the Maine Turnpike.  I’d never kayaked under an interstate before.  It was loud and surreal to watch trucks and cars flying by on the long bridge, just above our sight line of the water.

Kayaking back downriver, we hugged the shorelines, staying out of the east wind that had come up, making us have to paddle in spite of the strong tide running in our favor.  Along one bank I found an arrangement of rocks on top of a stone wall.  Someone had made a bit of art on the riverbank, miles up river from the art that brought us here in the first place.

The New Life

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It’s still raining this morning, the third morning in a row I’ve sat on the porch with a veil of gray draping the yard, the pasture across the road, the tall maples and oaks around the cemetery that fills in the western horizon.  The horses don’t seem to care, and continue to forage in the field for whatever is left to eat among the yellow ragweed and purple thistle. The distant call of a loon hovers into the morning from the lake, across the busy state road hidden by trees, so the long wail cuts through the hum of wet tires on pavement.

I’m four days into figuring out this new life of mine, a life that isn’t tightly bound on all sides by time given over to a demanding job.  All the unexpected, and expected, events of this summer combined so that this is the first week I’ve had without appointments, plans, trips — all that’s kept me from seeing if I really can slow down and find a rhythm to my creative life.  I made pizza dough last night for dinner, and as I was kneading the ball of sticky, gooey flour and water threads into a stretchy mass that shone and rolled under the heels of my hands, the body memory of making bread and handling a yeast dough came back to me.  It’s been decades since I had time to make dough.

David’s boat, which he kept on Lake Winnepausauke when his children were young, was called The New Life.  When he moved into this house over two years ago, he hung the sign he’d made for the boat in the barn.  Now that his new studio in the barn is finished, with shelves and desk tops and a counter getting installed this week, the sign has moved.  It’s nailed onto the barn wall, over the wide double doors that face west.  It’s announcement of what is, every day, no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in, is so true.  This moment is always the new life, and in this life time is getting stretchy under my working hands and beginning to shine.