Unplugged

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“This is the most unplugged I’ve been for a long time,” David said last night as we drove back to our house from our camp rental on Jenness Pond.  After three weeks of living on the water, mostly sleeping in a corner of the screened porch so that lying in bed at night I could look out on the overhanging maple and oak trees to the night sky beyond, and spending much of every day in the water or looking at the water, I knew just what he meant.

For the last three weeks it’s often been almost unbearably hot out in the world which continued to report the usual bad and distressing news.  On the water it’s been comfortably cool and when it got too hot, I got in the water.  When my periodic checks of the NYTimes website to stay updated on Trump missteps was too distressing I clicked off my phone, put it on the hutch on the porch and went outside.

There were stretches every day when I didn’t know where my phone was and didn’t care. There were days I didn’t open my computer.  There were many meals with many friends and lots of family eaten on the long porch table, watching the sun set over the pond. There was an unending supply of zucchini brought to the camp by visitors.  Emilio learned what a “dip” in the pond before bed is (a skinny one) and learned to jump off the swim raft, plunging deep and popping back up above the water with his eyes wide and blinking every time, as if he was just being born.  That was the big news of the week.

Now I’m on my porch at home, listening to geese chatter as they circle the farm ponds across the street.  There’s a breeze and late light on the horizon, the geese silhouetted as they circle the fields.  Tomorrow instead of waking up to water off the porch it will be the cows in the pasture.  But I may keep trying to lose track of my phone periodically. Unplugging  can be blissful.

On Jenness Pond

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A small fish jumps from the water beside the dock and skips five times, like a flat stone, disappearing into the rushes that circle the pond, a green edging blushed with the copper of small flowers.

Dawn, no wind, thin shreds of mist floating a few feet above the water. When the sun breaks the horizon behind the trees to the east it colors the clouds which colors the water around the dock, a peach atmosphere.

A heron cuts across the view framed by the screened panels of the porch, barely clearing the water, great wings floating in their long, slow rhythm.

Light fills the sky and the hill across the pond brightens, a single tree near the top already golden, a beacon.

Wood plank rafts float in a curve that follows the shore, a long lane for swimming.  The water is warmer than the air for a change.  When I dip my foot in it feels like a hot tub.

A fragment of rainbow hangs over the trees on the far shore,  deepening as the morning comes on.

Swallows scan the surface of the pond for insects, twirling and swooping, touching down in quick spurts that send rings out into the barely rippled surface.

The clouds directly above begin to unthread and a rich blue shows through.

David and I sit at opposite ends of the table on the porch, writing.  A bald eagle flies by, scanning the length of the pond.

Evenings, a pair of nesting loons with two chicks float past the end of the dock, making a circuit on the pond, then scream and warble as dusk tightens.

The Power of Ten

 

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What is it about the years divisible by ten?  All the milestone birthdays are in increments of ten — people especially note turning 30 or 40, 50 or 60.  Money rolls out in increments of ten.  We celebrate anniversaries of major events in tens — marriages, assassinations, great scientific achievements, disasters.  Pretty much everything would be counted in tens if we used the metric system like the rest of the world.  Ten means starting again, because that second digit comes in, the need to go back to the first finger to continue keeping track.

I’m thinking about this because in May it will be ten years since Eric died, and right now it’s ten years since Eric began to be really sick, though we didn’t realize yet that he was dying.

Dawn has crept further and further into the night and now I’m waking up many mornings with light already in the sky, after months of being up for hours in the dark.  Birdsong comes along with the light, the beginning chatter of birds awakening to the next season, starting to build nests and call to each other to mate and start the whole cycle of birth and death again.  The rise in morning birdsong is burned into my psyche as signifying the rise in Eric’s cancer.  Birdsong = Impending Death.

Not very spring-like.  But there it is, the twittering of purple finches and melodic call of a robin and the chink of red-winged blackbirds.  I wrote a poem about it this morning, one of many in a long line of poems about what spring birdsong means to me now (like the first poem in The Truth About Death, which I posted here around this time last year).

But there’s a twist this year.  I also made a collage.  Does that have anything to do with the tenth anniversary of Eric’s illness and death?  Or is it simply the process of aging and getting better at giving myself permission to do things because I want to, because I have an urge to create in a different way, because I care less and less what it means and just want to do it.

I’m  signing up for a drawing class.  Maybe next I’ll draw the birds.

Day Fourteen — Tilting Back Towards the Sun

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December 21:  Black morning, lights over the kitchen table, coffee in my mug. Today the North Pole will finish its furthest tilt from the sun – 23.5 degrees. The sun hasn’t really been slipping down the horizon until it sets behind the old silo. We’ve been tilting away.

Yesterday David and I climbed Parker Mountain, the first hike we did together, on our first date, almost eight years ago. It had snowed the night before, heavy and wet, and we trudged up the first steep incline on snowshoes, me well ahead of him. Was I testing whether he could keep up with me? Probably. He didn’t climb as fast as I did, but he got there.

At the first peak we stopped and looked out over the coastal plain to Portsmouth, a plume of smoke from the tall chimney of the power plant, ocean a flat line behind it. David talked about his sadness, his worry about losing friends. I talked about losing Eric.

We’ve climbed that same trail probably 50 times since and yesterday was glorious. On the north side of the mountain, we started in shadow and climbed up into the sun. The trail was a pageant of sage lichen on gray granite, dark green hemlocks, shiny green white pine, brown oak leaves burying the path and then piled alongside, deep purple stalks of bare, scrubby blueberry.

By the time we got back to the car, it was twilight, leaning over in to dusk. David and I don’t talk all the time as we did on that first hike, as we did in the first months and even years we were together. But we still talk most of the time. So much happens in our lives and, for us, in our heads. There’s always plenty to sort out.

Day Nine — Inside Out

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The day is folding itself back inside. When I got home early this afternoon there was no wind and bright sun, a good combination on my porch. I had lunch at the porch table. The weather may be scary warm, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it.

So I moved my afternoon projects out to the porch, origami sailboats first. As the sun got lower and spent more and more time behind clouds, the reality of December started to chill my fingers. But by then I’d mastered the reverse fold of the two boat designs I was using and I kept going, folding and unfolding and pushing the paper back on itself so a valley fold tucked in to a mountain fold and the inside of the paper made white sails hoisted in a colored boat.

Origami is full of reverse folds, and you have to learn to trust that what looks backwards is going to turn into what you want. It’s not intuitive and I mess around until I can make it work, then do it again, and again. Training my fingers to ignore my brain telling me it’s wrong.

Now the day is doing the same thing. The sun is long gone below the horizon and it’s cold. It’s black out my windows, as it is when I get up in the morning, as it is for two thirds of the cycle that makes a day. This is the fold that shoves the pocket back in to the dark. Tomorrow it will turn inside out again. The pocket will be empty, but it will be open and the light will last until the next fold, whether I know how to make it or not.

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Ice Skim

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Yesterday there was a glass-thin layer of ice across a leaf-packed tub of water on the disc golf course David and I walked with Sam as he somehow got discs to angle around corners and find open lines through trees.  The sun was bright but winter felt close by.

This morning I ran by small ponds skimmed with ice.  Now the sun is setting behind the silo in the old farmyard, at least 45 degrees down the horizon from where the last light disappears behind trees in June.  Darkness takes up more and more of every day.

But the pasture across the street still has a sheen of green, grass not yet entirely done for the season, though not enough for the cows to eat.  They romp and bellow as they come to the hay trough that’s parked in front of our house, right under my study windows.  A daily show I never get tired of.  Like watching a fire or moving water, having animals live across the street, in clear view, is calming.

Almost exactly three weeks from now the sun will begin to travel back up the horizon. It’s a relief to be that close to the light cycle turning around yet again.  It will continue to get colder, the ice will thicken and eventually hold and hopefully bear weight for skating or skiing.

But there will be more light.  And cows.

Money

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In this season of advertised merriment with its vision of happy times supported by a hefty bout of shopping, posting the last of the four poems in my list of universal experiences that hold too much silence — sex, death, drugs, money — seems very appropriate.

Here I’m recounting the responses to what counts as wealth in the larger world and my own reckoning of true wealth, having experienced a deep and encompassing love.

On this gray morning polished by slow snow, as we travel towards the turn of the sun, the winter solstice only hours away, may you find your own sources of wealth to celebrate.

Money

I sit on the window ledge of the restaurant
and talk to the woman beside me, her head
wrapped in a bandana, she lives on the streets,
she had a brain aneurysm, her family is lost
along the west coast, no chemicals,
it keeps her safe, she didn’t repeat herself
for a long time. Two men in a row tell me
it’s not my luck but my heart that makes me
put large bills in their cups, the blessing
I carry with me. You ate pears whole,
ignoring the core, to you all fruit.

The View From Here and Now

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My study is a room with a view, full of light.  Three big windows face south and one faces west, all looking over pastures and the remains of a dairy farm, with the mountains of Epsom as a backdrop.  When Eric was alive, this was his favorite room, with the TV in the corner and his stylish Danish recliner positioned for a view out the windows or at the television screen. When Eric was dying this is where we put a bed for him to spend his last weeks.  That was partly because of the television so he could watch Red Sox games or his favorite movies, but it was also because this was, essentially, his room.

It remained his room for years after he died.  No one spent much time here during those years.  A new, large, flat screen TV had been installed in the family room, part of the finished upstairs of the barn, and the “tower room” as we called it then, the second story of the tower we built to connect the upstairs of the house with the rooms over the barn, served as a passage between rooms, not as a place anyone hung out.  There was still too much sorrow in the room, too much weighted memory.

Six years ago, when I first started to think about moving my study in to this room, my friend Marsie was over for a visit.  I brought her upstairs to show her how I might change the room in to a study and she stood by the western window for a few moments.  “There’s still a lot of Eric’s energy here, but Eric is getting ready for this to become your room,” she said.  “Talk to him about it and the energy will clear.”

Even though I’m not sure what I believe about how the energy of loved ones who’ve died manifests in this world, Marsie’s advice made sense to me.  I spent time in the tower room, thinking about Eric and all the changes in my life since he’d died.  I let him know I was going to transform the room, and six months later I did.

Now I have a glorious study with a view of trees snapping in a brisk wind and a hillside of russet and ochre oaks.  As I sit at my desk, I’m less than a foot from where Eric died.  He sits here with me and I sit here by myself.  I look out the windows and then look at the fall of sunlight in to the room.  I’m grateful and warm and reminded not to take any moment of this day for granted.  I’m here now.

Small Stone #29

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Sun sharpens my study, warming the room.  I’ve photographed a page from my Monhegan Island journal, digitally colored and printed the page, and cut it into small squares and rectangles of fragmented text.  This visual art project has been wearing a circular track in my mind for a couple of days and now is taking shape on my desk.  Is this preparation for my upcoming month at Vermont Studio Center where I’ll be mapping the island journal/memoir I started five years, trying to shape it into a book? At this moment, cutting colored text into boxes to arrange is what I need to do.  So I’m doing it.

Small Stone #28

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Full disclosure — I picked up this stone yesterday, but it got out shadowed by that spectacular sunset yesterday evening.  Earlier in my walk, as I reached a clearing in the woods, I could see the last of the sun lighting the tops of the trees.  I used to watch the same thing years ago, sitting on the side of the baseball and soccer field watching games when Sam was in middle school.  As the sun would go down behind us, the line of light on the trees to the east would move up and up until it slipped off into sky.  Here’s a poem from those many years ago, one of many in an unpublished manuscript influenced by my fascination with physics and the way trees manifest the immutable laws of the universe.

Evergreen

The light draws a line on the crowns
that moves down as the sun
rises, or up as it sets.

It’s the world’s line
between is or is not, the world’s
shutter opening and closing

as the globe turns along the loop
that draws all bodies
in the same spinning path, tracking

our groove in the universe so we always
know where we’re going even as we rush
forward into the airless dark.