I Love Weddings!

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Now my children are tied for having the best wedding ever.  Adrienne and Matt were married almost four years ago in a perfect NH lakeside ceremony.  Sam and Marianna were married on Sunday in a perfect, East Tennessee farm ceremony.  The last week of wedding prep was very very busy, too busy to be writing about what I was doing, just doing it.  The culmination of all the months of planning and decision-making and preparations and lists was one of the things I love best — a wedding, the grandest kind of party.

The wedding was at Evereux Farm in Bean Station, a beautiful piece of land owned and stewarded by Rob and Lisa Ray.  Being long time friends of Marianna’s family, they graciously offered to host the wedding on the farm.  The sweetness of the land, an open slope under tall trees falling away to a pond with Cherokee Lake and tree covered hills on the horizon, was the perfect setting for a country wedding.  The biggest worry was the heat, but the day cooled off just enough by the time of the ceremony, and the sun had swung west far enough so the guests were sitting in shade.  By the time everyone was dancing under the tent no one cared anymore about sweat and fallen hairdos.

The rattlesnake who’d been living in the stone wall behind the tent was caught and captured on Thursday when we were out at the farm for the tent set up.  Luckily, “Alan,” as Sammy named him when he and Rob Ray drove him to a far off hill to relocate him, came out for a nap in the sun during the afternoon.   Rob raked him into a garbage can and off he went.  And lived on in name only at the Rattlesnake Bar.

The wedding included a continuation and expansion of the dress swap tradition.  At Adrienne’s wedding, my sister Meg and her daughter Amelia and I were all admiring each other’s dresses at the beginning of the reception.  So we decided to swap dresses throughout the reception, all being about the same size, and did a three-way swap, all of us wearing one of the three dresses at some point in the evening.  We promised we’d do it again at the next wedding, and we did.  Then Pam, Marianna’s mother, wanted in on the fun, so she joined the swap, and at one point I was wearing Pam’s dress and she was wearing mine.   Was this the first wedding ever when the bride’s and groom’s mothers swapped dresses during the reception?

Every wedding has its last-minute cancellations and guests who never RSVP and then show up.  And having an old college friend call you the night before the wedding to say he’s here, he’s coming, then show up with an uninvited and unannounced guest isn’t that unusual.  But having that friend show up with a woman wearing four-inch heels that get caught in the soft grass of the farm and a poofy net-skirted dress with a tiny strapped top that shows off the spider tatoo spanning her chest, and who turns out to be a porn star at ease discussing her current work (girl on girl only these days) like others were discussing their graduate degree programs or new jobs  is pretty unique.  Porn star wedding crasher — a new one for all of us.

Emilio was the ring bearer and was almost unbearably cute.  I’ll let the photo tell that story.

On Sunday morning I drove out to the farm with Adrienne and Emilio, so I could help put Emilio down for a nap and so Adrienne could help with “day of” task management and take her turn getting her make up and hair done.  I took the opportunity to go for a long swim in the pond.  As I walked down the slope to the water, a heron lifted up and flapped its long wing beats off across the open fields.  Eric comes to me in herons, as they were a favorite bird of his.  The moment was only one of many moments of Eric’s presence, noted and silent, throughout the whole weekend.

And finally, the highlight of all highlights, my son is married to a wonderful woman.  And my daughter is married to a wonderful man.  And I’m married to a wonderful man and his wonderful daughter Melia was part of the whole family wedding weekend and now there are sisters everywhere, because Marianna has three of them and we all have Melia too.  Lots of love.  Such blessings.

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Deluge

David and I are in Tennessee, helping Sam and Marianna with wedding prep.  Yesterday we felt on top of enough of the many many many details we’re all managing (putting on a party for almost 200 people takes a lot of detail management!) to go for another pre-England Coast to Coast training walk.  We headed for Haw Ridge Park, right outside of Knoxville, because “it’s full of trails,” as Sam said.

A bit too full.  We found our way to the water along the edge of the big peninsula that makes the park, and had a pleasant hike, eventually coming to a couple of picnic benches out on a spit of land.  By then it was raining lightly, but it was dry under the trees and I took out my iPhone to check my exercise app and see how far we’d walked, and looked at the map function to see where we were.  We decided to walk a bit further along the water, then look for a trail to cut back across the middle of the peninsula to the car.

Then it started to pour.  Really pour.  And one trail looked like another, and there were a lot, and they all seemed to curve and twist and soon it was impossible for us to figure out where we were going.  Occasionally we’d stop, I’d take my iPhone out of my new gore tex jacket it was folded into inside my pack, David would hold the pack over my head to block the rain so I could look at my phone without getting it wet, and we kept finding ourselves in the same circle.  Not once, or twice, but three times we went in the same circle.

By now we were drenched, it was getting late, and we realized we were really quite lost. In one spot where we stopped to check the phone, there was a painted turtle on the path.  After we looked at the phone, I looked back for the turtle, which had been a couple of feet behind us.  It wasn’t there.  I looked down at our feet and it was trying to burrow under David’s boot, it’s head butting up against the black sole.

David stepped back carefully from the turtle, I put on my gore tex jacket and put my iPhone in my pocket so I could pull it out and check where we were going on the exercise app more frequently, and eventually could tell by the moving blue ball on the map that we’d found a path under the power lines that would eventually lead us out of the woods.  We got back to Sam and Marianna’s house drenched, muddy and hungry and feeling ready for whatever kind of weather and twisting trails England might dish up.

Ridge Driving

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I pulled over into a small gravel turn off by a bridge, heading south on Rte. 340 in eastern Virginia.  David’s back needed a break after a good chunk of the day spent driving, and it was time to reconnoiter.  We’d gotten to the Shenandoah Valley later than we’d hoped (escaping the snare of traffic getting out of the NYC area to the southeast is never as easy or as fast as one hopes), and our plan to drive along the Shenandoah River at the head of the valley, then to go up on Skyline Drive for a leg of our trip before heading back to the interstate to spend the night, was looking tough to pull off.  We were hungry and it was going to start getting dark soon.

“Let’s just go up on the Skyline Drive for a bit to this point on the map,” I said, pointing to a dot marked Skyland.  “If we need to turn around, we can do it there.”  Driving through the entrance gate to Shenandoah National Park, which encompasses the Skyline Drive, we saw a posted sign naming the places to eat and sleep and camp along the road.  When we got to Skyland, we found a restaurant with a wall of windows looking out over the valley, the sun turning orange as it began to sink into the western ridge.  There was also a room available, with the same broad view of the  valley.  Rather than driving out of the mountains back to Interstate 81 to spend the night, we slept at Skyland Resort, at 3600 feet.

The next morning we woke to a view of mist hugging the snakes of the river below.  We did a short hike to the rocky summit of Stony Face Mountain, then continued to drive along Skyline Drive, almost all of which is above 3,000 feet.  The views were stunning.  In Waynesboro, Skyline Drive dips down into a gap and becomes the Blue Ridge Parkway, which we drove for the first 70 miles.  Again, stunning views, as the road swept back and forth and twirled around the ridge, views to the west, then views to the east.  Blooming mountain laurel made a pink hedge along some parts of the road, and at higher elevations there were trees of rhododendron of a deeper, almost fluorescent pink.  At one point we drove through a high meadow, with rolling fields and a view of a grand house sitting on a crest of land.

When we finally made our way back to the interstate to finish the drive to Knoxville, we agreed we want to finish driving all of Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway sometime in the next five years.  Driving a ridge is a treat we’ll give ourselves again.

Change of Status

I changed two things in my blog bio yesterday.  First, rather than saying The Truth About Death would be published in April 2012, it now says the book was published.  Hurrah!

Also, I removed “widow” as one of the many words to describe myself.  A widow is “a woman whose spouse has died and who has not remarried.”  I’m married, in fact, today is the first anniversary for David and me.  We didn’t tell anyone, other than Emilio (who so far is showing amazing skills at secret-keeping) for a long time, for a number of reasons.  We were planning to get married someday, in fact felt married, but found out last April we needed to be married by June 15 when David was also leaving his job in order for me to get on his health insurance.  The “domestic partner” provision we’d thought would cover us is only for same sex couples.  So, we got married in a hurry and decided to keep it to ourselves, mostly because we were too busy in the whirlwind of winding down our jobs and in our family lives to make a big deal out of getting married.

We started telling our children, our families, and our friends, about two months ago.  Now we’re telling everyone.  Happy Anniversary!

Blessings

“I am struck by how available everything is that is wonderful if you abandon the notion that you have to live on the edge of it,” David said as we sat on the porch on Friday night, watching the few clouds in the sky take on the pinks and mauves of the lowering light.  We were talking about all the places we love to be — on the water, in the woods, on a mountain top.

“I’m really pleased that these boots were made in Italy and not China,” he went on, looking at the boots he finally decided on, after weeks of boot research and boot trying-on in preparation for our walk across England.

“Is it a blessing or a curse that everything I experience is translated into language to be written down?” I asked.  “It’s a blessing,” David said.  And so it is, and here I am, writing it down.

Petal Salt

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The early blossoming trees and bushes are ringed with color, their pink and white petals fallen like petticoats that have been dropped into the grass.  I first saw this a few weeks ago in Tennessee, where the azaleas were finishing up their blooming circle and dropping their blaze of colors.  Now I see it here in New Hampshire, again with azaleas and apple and cherry trees.  I love the richness of color in the landscape now, trees at their peak of showing off.  Here is a poem from long ago that comes to mind every year at this time.

Rising

What is the weight of a flower, the weight
of a tree bearing such blatant intent?
Every mass of blossoms, snow cloud,
exclamation, exuberance of fruit
to come, has a future, a history,

a moment of abandon, petals
splayed wide, drawing pollen to the core.
The wilt and decay towards apple
is hidden in new leaves, riches spent,
riches returned, petals salting the grass.

Reactions to the Truth

“Your poems were beautiful, but I can’t buy your book,” a woman said to me after my first reading from The Truth About Death.  “Sure you can,” I said.  “Just read one poem at a time if you have to,” I urged her.  Because I do want to sell the book, and because I do think it tells the truth about death.  I know that’s hard for many people.  “No,” she said.  “I just can’t even have it in the house.  I can’t handle it.”

In contrast, a woman I know through work came to that first reading and bought two books, one for herself, and one for friends who recently lost an adult son, as she did almost two years ago.  “I have never been to a reading before so it was nice to meet people who do write poetry,” she wrote to me two days later.  She went on, “I truly enjoyed reading your book.  I am just amazed at how profoundly honest you are with your thoughts and feelings, and of course only someone who has faced death can even begin to write about it as you have.  Losing  someone can be such a lonely and sad journey so I did find reading your book makes you realize you are not alone.”

I did a training in Rhode Island the week before last, and my good friend Deb, the Executive Director of the Coalition there bought a book.  She also wrote to me a few days later with the subject line of the email “blown away.”  “I just wanted to tell you how phenomenal your poems are…. I am ‘enjoying’ them, as emotionally brutal as they are, and savoring each one.”  Deb has never known me as a poet, only as a sister Coalition Director, so it meant a lot to me to hear from her about my poetry.

And just this morning, another widow who leaves nearby emailed me about the copy of the book she bought earlier this week.  She sent me a passage from her journal.  “The book has not been disappointing. Waited for it for months.  The Truth About Death.  I think it could be named The Truth about Love. Soulful, riveting language and content, so intimate, sexy. Painful. Her relationships are so rich. She says so much with so little. Her grounding in the wilderness where she lives gives me pause. I rave about where I live but do I inhabit these woods the way she and her Eric did?  I could not stop writing in my travel journal as I read it through the first time. Always a sign I am reading something terrific when it makes me crazy to write myself. Revised a few poems tonight and wrote two short new ones. It has been like taking a crash poetry workshop. I like her use of coma, no conjunctions. The coupling of things not usually put together as all my favorite poets do. The way the mind actually works, I think, before we squash our thoughts and refine them for public use.”

I realize this post could be taken as shameless self-promotion, and of course as I said, I do want to sell books.  But not just because they’re my books.  I believe in this book and its power to affect people in the ways my friends have written to tell me.  The truth is I want this book in the hands of people who need to hear this truth.

Yahrzeit

The first year after Eric died I noted the anniversary of his death three times — on the actual day (first Sunday in May), the Roman calendar date, and the Jewish calendar date — the yahrzeit (Hebrew for ”
time of year”).   It was grueling, three days to think about him having been gone a year.  “No more triple anniversaries,” I told myself, or “deathaversaries” as Adrienne calls them.

But here I am, burning a yahrzeit candle today, on the Jewish calendar anniversary.  And I’m very aware that this year Sunday is May 6 and I’ll think about that being the day of the week Eric died.  And then the next day is May 7, the actual common calendar date of his death.

All this awareness is only heightened by the fact that I’m doing readings from The Truth About Death.  Several people at the book launch last week at Gibson’s in Concord (smashing success, with 83 people there and many many books sold, check out the photos) told me how nice it was for them to remember Eric and feel like he was there in the room.  He’s here, as everyone we’ve ever loved is with us in our hearts, but he’s also really really not here.