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Lee Krasner, The Seasons, 1957
*Portion of The Seasons, Lee Krasner, 1957, Whitney Museum of American Art

A steady clack comes out of the bedroom where the plastic pull knob on the cord for the blinds taps the sill, pulsing in the wind through the window opened to get air into the house.

Sunshine glints off the screens in the four large windows in my study, screens that will come out in the next few weeks.

There was a frost while we were away, nasturtiums drooping on themselves, the basil brown and wilted.  Was it last night?

Cows still graze the pasture across the street, framed by a branch of the old maple sprouting yellow, orange and red.

When I got home this morning I opened my journal to write about our last few days — all the places and family we’ve visited, the historic First Parish in Concord (this is the congregation Emerson and the Alcotts were part of, where Thoreau’s memorial was held) to meet with the minister who’ll be involved in the memorial service for Chris, the astonishing America Is Hard To Find exhibit at the equally astonishing new building now housing the Whitney Museum, watching Ava clap her gold moccasins together and laugh, fitting the pieces of a table-top-size Spiderman together with Emilio, last night in a Rodeway Inn off the traffic circle in Greenfield, MA, a former Howard Johnson’s with a glass shelf of spectacular crystal rocks behind the check-in desk that the clerk said no one knows the history of, this morning’s drive in pre-dawn darkness into the hills to the west and then east again into autumn smoke rising from rivers and dew — and instead I drew a map, with the buildings and skylines and houses we’ve visited, lines with arrows tracing our route, and then connecting the words when I began to write with language.

Is art hard to find or hard to find the time for?

For the first time since the beginning of July, I’m home with no immediate plans to be anywhere else overnight.  What will I find the time for?

* From Whitney exhibit description of the painting above:  This monumental painting offered Krasner an outlet during a time of deep personal sorrow.  The year before, her husband, fellow artist Jackson Pollock, had died in a car accident.  In the wake of this sudden loss, Krasner remarked about The Seasons, “the question came up whether one would continue painting at all, and I guess this was my answer.”

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Memorials

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Chris died on Thursday evening as the family gathered around her, including David and I, took turns reading aloud from the Tao Te Ching.  We got home Friday afternoon, just before the long-planned arrival of Carol, my friend who lost her beloved life companion to cancer last winter.  As she came in to the kitchen Carol asked, “Are sure you’re ready for company?” and I said, “I’m ready for you,” because I knew we could both dive right in to talking about death and dying and grief and how do we move on in the face of sorrow and the absence of someone we love dearly.

Our friend Deb arrived the next day and we kept talking and cooking and crying and eating and coloring in my Crazy Paisley coloring book.  Yesterday morning we went for a walk out to the rock where I’ve been building cairns as a memorial for Eric since he died.  I told Carol and Deb the story, which I’ve told here on this blog, about the cairns accidentally being knocked over while the woods around the rock were being logged last summer, and how badly my neighbor who owns the land felt about that.  He erected a stone cross as a way to continue my ritual of using the rock as a memorial site, and also because he’d begun to use the rock as a place to remember and honor his father.

As we walked Carol told me she was looking for large, flat rocks to use in the memorial garden she’s creating for Steve in her yard in Delaware.  She’d shown us pictures earlier of the mosaic sculpture that sits among plantings of perennials and shrubs.  I started looking down as we walked, hoping to find stones she could use.

When we reached the rock with the cross and the beginnings of cairns being rebuilt by me, I stepped up on the top to put a couple more layers on the cairns.  From that vantage I could see that many of the rocks from the previous cairns had fallen in to a cleft in the middle of the rock, piled in a jumble waiting to be reassembled into towers.  There were a half-dozen that were large and flat, some speckled with tiny flakes of mica.

I asked Carol if she wanted any of the flat rocks for her memorial garden and she loved them all. So Deb, David, Carol and I walked back out of the woods carrying rocks, heavy but manageable.

Now Carol has taken rocks from Eric’s memorial cairns back to Delaware to become part of Steve’s memorial garden, and I’m carrying memories of Chris as I help make the arrangements for her memorial service.

It was a sad and glorious weekend, with striking blue skies and sharp air, gusty wind and sunshine glinting on the leaves of the trees, beginning to rattle with autumn dryness.  We looked at photos of Steve and Carol and me and my sisters and talked, talked, talked.

Getting ready to build again.  I’m going to start a cairn on the rock for Chris.

Today

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This is the day my grandson started kindergarten

This is the day the latest heat wave ended.

This is the day I tried to pick enough apples off my Golden Delicious tree so the branch that’s draped all the way to the ground can lift again.  A large branch has already broken off the tree, too much apple weight.  I didn’t succeed.

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This is the day I discovered the garden spider is gone, an egg sack left dangling from a bar of the wrought iron trellis the nasturiums climb.

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This is the third day my sister hasn’t eaten or taken liquids.

This is the day my grandson started kindergarten.

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We Don’t Have Time To See the People We Love

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Photo from http://www.thetimes.co.uk/

Crossing the lobby of the grocery store I heard someone call, “Chris?  Chris Mattern?”  At the Mattern I turned around.

There was my cousin Sally, who lives in NH but who I haven’t seen for at least ten years, though we trade holiday cards and I recently sent her a condolence card when her mother, my father’s older sister, died.

“I’m Grace,” I said and she said, “Of course.” Sally is wide and beautiful and smiled as she pulled me in to her large bosom.  I told her how sick Chris is and she said she’d called her three months ago, to tell Chris about her own recent diagnosis of lung cancer caused by a genetic mutation, did she think there could be a connection between their cancers?  No, no connection and Sally is doing well.  She just finished chemo and radiation and is going into a clinical trail with a drug targeted to her mutation, a promising development in cancer treatment.

That’s the seventh new diagnosis of cancer among people I know this summer, two of them in their 20s.  And now Oliver Sacks has died of ocular melanoma, same as Eric. Oliver was in the 2% of people expected to have his cancer metastasize.  Eric was in the 10%. Spectacularly unlucky, in that regard.  Chris was in the 10% of people expected to survive her cancer for five years, 24 years ago.

Here was the one in who-knows-how-many chance that I’d run in to my cousin at Hannaford’s.  We had a lot to say to each other and at first didn’t notice people trying to manuever around us to get shopping carts.  We moved out of the way and kept talking.  It was nice to talk to someone who had the same grandmother as me.

When we said good-bye we told each other, and ourselves but I don’t believe we believed it, that we’ll get together this fall, our other cousin from my father’s brother has a vacation house close to Sally, we’ll have a little reunion.

That evening I told David about running in to Sally, and how it would be nice to see her again, to connect with cousins because I see a cousin about once every five years.  He laughed.  “We don’t have time to see the people we love.”

He’s right, and it’s not that I don’t love my cousins, but it’s in a cousin way that turns in to long stretches between connections.  Sally and I were in a hope warp, thinking new time would open up in our lives and we’d be able to make real plans to visit.  But don’t we do that all the time, imagine that our lives will expand into another dimension with infinite opportunities to love all the people we love in person and even add in more?