What I’ve Been Up To


“What have you been up to?” John, the father of the bride at the Asheville wedding asked.  We were sitting on his deck, shaded by tall trees, the wedding and morning-after brunch over, the boxes of flowers and food unloaded, a time to sit and visit for a bit before we left for the airport.

“I’ve been writing, spending time with family, doing some consulting work, training for a tri.”  I hesitated for a moment.   “And managing zucchini.”  John smiled at the zucchini comment.  I smiled because I liked my list.

It’s been a continuous struggle, since I left my job, to spend my time the way I’d imagined I would, or the way I felt I should.  But who makes up the shoulds?  I’d envisioned a life centered around my writing, with a lot of reading, and many breaks for being outdoors, gardening and kayaking and cross-country skiing, with time for traveling and unhurried visits with friends and family.  This summer, it’s finally feeling like that’s exactly what I’m doing. The activities may not be in the proportions I’d imagined, and since there’s no predicting what each day is going to bring, I’ve gotten better at not expecting a certain amount of time or attention for what I think I should be doing, and instead being grateful for the days I’m able to do largely what I want.

Maybe I’m feeling better about how this post-big-career-overwhelming-job-life is shaping up because I have been doing a lot of writing this summer.  I’m making progress on my memoir and I’ve got poems and essays out being considered for publication and at least two dozen poems in on-going revision and one poem that’s in my head as soon as I wake up, as I run or bike or swim, as I’m falling asleep, shifting a word here and there in my mind and eager to get to the page on my computer screen so I can see how it fits.

And yesterday, I cleaned the shoes out of my closet.  I had expected I would do this within a week of leaving my job over two years ago.  Seven pairs of old running shoes, three pairs of boots, black flats, slippers, walking shoes — almost twenty pairs in all, sorted and bagged and dropped off at Goodwill.  Progress.

And on the subject of gratitude, there is bounty to appreciate.  Now I’m managing cucumbers and tomatoes and green beans, as well as the zucchini.


Above Tree Line: August x 2


Any month that includes two trips above tree line is a good one.  Earlier this month, David, Anne and I hiked up Mt. Garfield, making our way easily up the 10 miles of trail to a clear summit.  Earlier this week, David, Anne and I hiked again, this time with five other friends, to celebrate my 6oth birthday.  We climbed Mt. Carragain, again 10 miles and only 250 feet of additional elevation gain over the 3,000 it takes to get to the summit of Garfield.  But the trail is far gnarlier, with rocks and roots and straight ascents up Signal Ridge, rather than the mostly even footing up the switchbacks of Garfield.  It was not an easy hike, but it was glorious.  When we got to an opening on the ridge with views down into Carragain Notch, we stopped for lunch and a birthday celebration.  Alison had brought cake, she lit a candle, and a group of young men and women, on an orientation trip from Yale, joined in singing “Happy Birthday” to me.

It was just what I wanted to celebrate this milestone birthday.  Not a big deal, but really, a big deal — a day in the mountains with friends, savoring good conversations, a challenging but satisfying stretch of my muscles and strength, and long views off into the waves of mountain ridges, blue fading into smoky gray then climbing back up into bluer sky.

Wedding in Asheville


We finally fell into bed at 2:oo a.m. Saturday in Asheville, NC for a wedding later in the day.  It had been an exhausting night of travel, and at that moment, the late planes, long car ride, and late late late to bed didn’t feel like it could be worth it.  I hardly knew the parents of the bride (long-time friends of David), had never met the bride or her sister (childhood best friends of Melia) and was struggling to contain all the sad thoughts that a wedding brings up for me at this stage in my life.  How do you mix the joy of young love with the awareness of lost and about-to-be-lost loved ones who will never get to be at the weddings of their children, and a too recent reminder that what seem to be heartfelt wedding promises can be betrayed?

Then I got to the wedding.  The wedding website had said that if it was raining, we’d all just wait on the porch drinking beer until it cleared.  So we did.  This summer has been even wetter in the mountains of North Carolina than it has been in New Hampshire, and thunderstorms and heavy rain showers had been moving through all day.  At 4:00 p.m., the set wedding time, it was pouring, and 200+ guests were standing on the porch of the historic Old Sherrill’s Inn, the Blue Ridge Mountains hiding behind the sheets of rain and the low clouds.  The beer was coming out of the keg with a thick head of foam, and the young man pouring it was telling us to plunge our finger in, to “kill the foam.”  It didn’t.

The first building at Old Sherrill’s Inn went up in the late 17oos, with most of the building construction dating to the first half of the 1800s.  The house is a fascinating maze of antique-packed rooms; the study was the original log cabin, the first dwelling built on the site, and a front parlor has walls of murals painted by the grandmother of the current owner depicting the history of the Inn.  But the best history of the Inn came from talking to the husband of the woman whose family bought the Inn almost 100 years ago.

There was a long enough break in the rain that the wedding ceremony, in a tree-lined bower up through boxwood paths that had me thinking of the “walks in the shubbery” from my recent re-reading of Jane Austen, had been able to proceed and was as sweet and natural as I’d expected, given what I knew of this family.  As we listened to the music and vows and prayers, swallowtail butterflies flew in and out of the leaves far above our heads.   After a huge group photo, guests gathered under the tent and began to eat and drink in earnest as a few early dancers tested the wet dance floor, set up under strings of lights and whatever stars might come out.

I walked down to the porch to get another view of the mountains to the north, hoping to have the porch to myself to sit quietly for a few minutes.  Instead, I met a delightful couple and talked with them about life and art and creative pursuits, just the sort of unexpected conversations that make weddings, with their focus on celebrating love and connection, so remarkable.  That’s when John, one of the owners of Old Sherrill’s Inn, came out on the porch, and told us stories.  And stories and stories.

His wife’s grandparents traveled to the mountains of North Carolina on their honeymoon, having married outside of Chicago.  They arrived at the Inn in 1916, and met the current owner, an 80-year-old man, and his wife, an 18-year-old woman.  The newlyweds expressed an interest in relocating to North Carolina and buying property, and the 18-year-old started crying.  “I’m the loneliest, most miserable young woman in the county,” she said.  “Please buy this farm so I can move into town and have some friends.”

They bought the farm and their descendents live there still.  John didn’t tell us what happened to the 18 year-old wife, but I can imagine.

The clouds had lifted and the ridge of mountains to the north were settling into a deep blue haze.  Stories floated off the porch and into the evening.  The rain came and went a couple more times throughout the evening, but there was plenty of time for dancing under the strung and unstrung stars.

Monhegan Island Retreat


David and I are working hard.  He’s in a week-long plein air painting class, I’m intent on completing a first draft of my island journal, a memoir I started five years ago, meant to be written only on islands.  David’s gone from 9:00 until after 5:00 every day, and comes back to the cottage we’re renting with a painting or two, depleted from a day of concentrating on capturing the clouds or the ocean or a grove of trees in paint on canvas. I’m writing and walking the many miles of trails through woods and along ocean cliffs, and reading journals from years before, sinking back into the world I was inhabiting five years ago when I wrote the first of this book I’m trying to finish.

It was a difficult time in our lives, rich with new love and terrifying with the approach of another untimely death from fast-moving cancer.  Adrienne was getting married, and our family was managing the reality that Eric wasn’t going to be at her wedding, a wedding he and I had been planning in our fantasies for her for years.  I was trying to sort out how or if to respond to the best friend I’d lost in the previous year who was reaching out and trying to reconnect, in spite of the boundary violations that had led to us breaking up (and yes, you can break up with a best friend, it doesn’t have to be a lover) never having been resolved or completely understood by either of us.

Going back to that summer, to write about it, hasn’t been easy.

We met the painting group for a lobster dinner at the Fish House last night, a shack on Fish Beach that serves seafood across a wooden counter, with seating at sand-planted picnic tables overlooking the harbor.  Which is a pocket of water created by the rise of Manana Island, a small but tall hump of land off the western side of Monhegan.  Our first night here the harbor was full of fog.


Last night it was clear.


As the group talked about painting and writing and creative retreats, I was asked what my book is about.  “Love and death,” I said.  Five years ago when I was first working on the book Sam asked me what it was about.  “Death,” I said then and he said, “Well, that’s a new subject for you, Mom.”

At least now love is in the equation.

After dinner we walked back to our cottage, watching the contrails of all the jets (red-eyes to Europe we decided, coming out of New York and Boston and headed up over Greenland on their way to London or Paris or Amsterdam) bleed off into feathered lines of cloud.  The sun was reaching the water horizon, on the north side of Manana, and as we approached the Monhegan School House David mentioned that people had been talking about the good sunset views from behind it.  There was already a knot of people there watching.  One woman had binoculars, and after the sun was gone and we were all watching the after glow shift its pinks around the sky, she spotted a minke whale surfacing, out beyond a ledge of rocks.  Every few minutes we could see a bit of black break the surface of the water, then disappear again.