An idea, not new by any means, but new for me — a haiku each day as the next season unfolds. I brought a haiku to my Yogurt Poets meeting last night, and was caught by the tight examination of words, the spareness that haiku demands, the strict attention. Several years ago, a colleague, struggling with the intensity and time suck of her job, started writing a haiku each day, as a way to be doing something creative, meditative, and not work each day. I’m feeling untethered lately from my poetic self, so this is a small step back towards that awareness. Here goes.
A stream of smoke curves
Over the slope of pasture
Hung in morning cold.
I got a call and an email at 11:17 this morning, letting me know my 4:05 flight out of Philadelphia, back to Manchester, was delayed until 5:20. We’re going camping in Baxter State Park this weekend, to climb Mt. Katahdin (long story, but getting access to a trailhead to climb Katahdin is so complicated, and it’s so far away, it’s easiest just to camp there) and had a highly optimistic plan to go spend tonight with our friends who are camping with us, at their condo in Portland, Maine. The plan was far enough advanced that Amy asked where she should make a dinner reservation for tonight. Knowing air travel, I said let’s play it by ear, my plane may be late, I’ll call you from the airport on Friday afternoon and let you know how it’s looking. I didn’t expect to be calling Amy as early as noon, letting her know I knew already that my plane would be too late for us to get to Portland tonight.
The late plane also changed the plan for getting me back to the airport from the training I did with the board of the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The board meeting finished early, so my friend Carol who invited me to do the training decided to drive me to the airport, rather than have me take a shuttle. There was plenty of time so she continued talking about some plans with a few board members. Then I got another call and email at 12:56, saying the plane would be leaving at 4:40. Not quite so much time now, so Carol cut short her conversation and we left for the airport. By the time I got here, there was another call and message. Now the plane was leaving at 4:15. Perfect. Just time to do my usual airport Body Shop body butter stock up and get to the gate.
Except I got to the gate and there was another call and email — plane now leaving at 5:25. Then the man at the gate desk made an announcement that our plane was here, but not the crew. As soon as the crew got here, about 6:30, we would leave. I thought, okay, maybe I’ll go get some food. Then there’s another announcement — the plane that’s here has mechanical difficulties, so even when the crew gets here, we may not be able to leave.
I go get some food. When I get back to gate C24, there’s no one there. Another phone call and email — the plane is now scheduled to leave at 7:32. But where is everyone? The gate has been changed to C31. I go to C31 and sit down at a dining area to eat. I finish the half-way decent meal (waiting for the garlic eggplant and tofu with brown rice in the tiny Asian Bistro take-out nook and watching the cooks, cashier and customers was a people watching experience worthy of its own post) and go over to gate C31. The sign says the next flight is to Rochester. I go back to the one of the big departure boards, and the flight is still scheduled for 7:32, but it’s back at gate C24. I go back to C24 and talk to the man at the gate. The crew is here, there’s the plane, it’s been at the gate since about 5:15, but it’s not the plane we’ll be using, so either they’ll move this plane, or move us again to another gate. The 6:30 flight to Manchester, meanwhile, has been cancelled. A cheery customer offers to get some frozen yogurt for the man and woman who’ve been staffing the gate desk for over three hours now. Everyone else seems fairly glum.
But, here’s the bonus — the Philadelphia airport has free wifi!
I wake to gun shots, hard smacking blasts again and again. Just barely dawn, the clouds are tufted grey in the eastern sky when I pull up the window shade. Walking into the study, I hear birds calling. I go out on the porch to drink my cappuccino and hear more gun shots, this time from the west. Waterfowl hunting season opened this morning. Black ducks, mallards, wood ducks and mergansers. Canada geese and snow geese. Harlequin ducks appear to be off-limits, according to the Fish and Game website. My house is surrounded by ponds, brooks and a lake, all within a mile, so this is familiar, waking early in the fall, just before sunrise, to gunshots. A goose honks as it flies over the house.
The cars are sheened white this morning, and there are patches of white still on the grass where the sun hasn’t reached yet. The delicate ice of frost rims a red leaf, frozen dew, fall finally here. When we got up Friday morning the temperture was 74 degrees, yesterday it was 37, today the frost fell before we woke.
Yesterday we picked apples with my parents, and the trees were loaded with fruit. Trying to eat local as much as we can, apples are the fruit we’re eating right now, and we have a refrigerator bin full. The old maple tree in front of the house is getting bare, and the leaves that are left are yellow and orange and red. Today we’ll bring in the plants from the porch, I’ll clean off the garden, and pick whatever basil didn’t get browned by the cold. We’ll finish taking down screens and washing the windows, clearing the path between inside and out. We’re turning into the dark and letting in light.
The lake held the memory of the afternoon’s hard wind, waves chopping the water with a few caps still curling into white, as we crossed to Five Mile Island to watch the sun set. Earlier when we paddled out of the lee of Bear Island to try kayaking straight into the north wind, the entire surface of the lake was wild, two and three foot waves slapping our boats up and down, spray blowing back at us. We could hardly move against the wind, but the kayaks handled well and we turned and paddled back along the shore of the Island, into protected coves, skirting rocks and docks, letting the late summer sun warm us.
Now this morning there is no wind, but the water is still moving. I’ve missed being next to water, experiencing the changing face of the lake, yesterday’s dark, ripping waves, the softening flow as the wind died in the evening, this morning’s flicker of the cloudy morning light on the rippled surface. After dinner last night, we watched the moon rise, first like a half-circle orange cap on the opposite shore making me wonder what unknown neon casino had opened there. The moon rose into a bank of clouds and disappeared, then come out again like a big yellow egg, making a wider and wider path across the water as it got higher. The path of moonlight came straight across the water to us, sitting on the camp’s deck 20 feet from the shore.
“It looks like a slow, sensuous flash of lightning,” David said, and it did, snaking and shifting in the moving water, zig-zagging into a smaller and smaller line of light until it was just a random flash here and there at the water’s edge.
This has been a brief and welcome retreat. It was an initial treat when David and I first came out to this island camp for three days in July of 2008. We’d only known each other four months, and those three days were magical. We were away from all the complications surrounding our emerging relationship, like orange traffic cones we had to navigate — the need for discretion among David’s family and friends, my family and friends’ thoughtful wariness, the difficulty of finding time to be together in the face of the usual work and family demands on time. Here on Bear Island we were alone, on the water, letting what was happening between us unfold and sweep along with the constant shift of the lake. We talked and wrote and read poetry. David made a pastel painting that is still tacked to one of the cabin’s walls.
We haven’t been back in the over two years since, and we were barely able to squeeze this visit in among our fall commitments, but we did it. Yesterday morning we packed the car, stopping to admire the morning glories climbing their string through the blossoms of hydrangea as we carried gear and kayaks from the barn. Driving north, we talked about the rise and fall of intellectual and artistic communities, the human need to connect and stretch individual thinking and creation by reaching beyond ourselves. And we talked, as we always do, about the need to retreat, to have unconnected time to create. Kayaking out to the camp was a bit tricky, with loaded boats and a hard wind, but once we rounded the north end of the island we had the wind at our backs and reached the sandy beach in front of the cabin easily.
Now we’re having our usual coffee on the deck, but we have a field of lake in front of us, instead of pasture or yard. The sun is drawing shifting paths of sparkle as it moves across the cloudy sky and lights on the undulating surface of the water.
The wind is picking up again, this time from the south. It’s time to pack up and kayak back to the car, drive home and, for me, get ready to leave. I’ll be in Chicago tonight, but I’ll have this window of waterfront time to take with me. Retreat.
Okay, I really thought, over four years after Eric’s death, and over three years after I finished all the financial death chores, that the one dollar bill was the last of it. But yesterday, the very day after the dollar arrived, there was another envelope addressed to Eric. In it was a check for $15.36, a settlement from a Securities and Exchange Commission administrative proceeding from some mutual fund Eric must have owned at some point in the past. If things really do come in threes, and each subsequent, unsettled piece of Eric’s estate increases by a factor of 15, like this latest check, then I should be receiving $225 any day now. I’ll let you know.
There was a message on the answering machine last night. “This is Linda from Dr. Bezon’s office, calling about a credit balance on your account. If you could call and verify your address, I can send you the balance.” She left the phone number to call three times. I didn’t recognize the doctor’s name.
Though wary this might be some sort of scam, I called the number this morning. Linda answered, and when I told her I’d gotten a message from her, she asked my name. Still wary, I gave her the phone number she’d called and asked who she was looking for. “I don’t recognize the doctor’s name,” I told her.
“Let me see,” she said. “I can’t find that number, what’s your name?”
She seemed legitimate, so I gave her my last name. “Oh, here’s the number,” she said. “Do you have an Erica or Eric there?”
“My late husband’s name was Eric, but he died four years ago.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Linda said. “But this is from 2006. Dr. Bezon is a chiropractor your husband saw.”
“Yes,” I said. “Eric went to a chiropractor a couple of times for the back pain he was having. We didn’t know yet the pain was from metastatic cancer in his bones. The chiropractor didn’t help.”
“I’m so sorry,” Linda said again. “We just got a new accounting system, and we’re finding balances we didn’t know we have. Eric’s account has a balance of 68 cents, from a visit on March 10, 2006.” Two months before Eric died.
“Well, you can have the 68 cents,” I said. “That’s fine with me.”
“Oh no,” Linda answered. “If you could just verify the address, I’ll send you a check for the balance.” She told me again how sorry she was, apologized for being so tardy in finding the balance, and said she would be putting a check in the mail.
At one point in the year after Eric died, I got two checks two days apart. I’d transferred an account in Eric’s name, but the order to transfer didn’t catch the last of the interest. A check, in Eric’s name, arrived for $7.32. Then a check for $.01 came. The account was finally closed.
At least this check will be in my name.
Two years ago on Erev Yom Kippur, I went upstairs to change for services, and lay on the bed for a few minutes, to collect myself, and to let some tears loose. It was my third High Holy Day season without Eric, so I was getting used to not finding Eric at the Temple when I went to services, and David was in my life, so I wasn’t feeling the wrenching loneliness I’d felt in the first year after Eric’s death. But it had been another hard summer, losing David for a time during his return home to be with Laura and their children on her journey to death, and reliving a quick cancer death, even though it was happening to a family I only knew through David.
Sam came into the room and lay down next to me on the bed. “What’s up?” he asked.
“I’m just getting ready to go to services,” I said, wiping at the tears.
“You know what I think about every year at Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur?” Sam asked.
“Daddy?” I said, half laughing.
“I realize that Daddy had the life he wanted,” Sam said. “I used to think he just spent his life working for The Man. That he was cooped up in these jobs that weren’t what he really wanted. But now I understand that he loved his work, he had a great family life, he spent a lot of time doing things he loved liked hiking and kayaking. He had a good life.”
“Yes, he did,” I answered. “He said over and over in the weeks he was dying that he didn’t regret anything. There was nothing he wished he hadn’t done, and nothing he wished he could go back and do. That’s a gift. To die without regret.”
“And you’re really lucky,” Sam said.
“Well I think so too,” I said. “But I’m interested in why you think I’m lucky.”
“You had something with Daddy that a lot of women don’t get even once,” Sam said. “You had real love. And now you have it again, with another wonderful man.”
I smiled. I got up and we went to the Kol Nidre service. Last year neither Sam or Adrienne were home at Yom Kippur. This year, Adrienne was home, beautiful and pregnant with a grandchild Eric will never know. We have a new Rabbi, David came to Kol Nidre services with us, we broke our fast with a private, home-made memorial service with Mark and Andi, on their new patio under their ancient maple tree, then went and celebrated the 60th birthday of Eric’s best friend John. It was a fun party, a joyful conclusion of the Days of Awe.
But my contemplation of atonement and forgiveness and the repeating cycles of life and death is not over. The Rabbi’s stories and sermons are still reverberating in my head and somewhere in my heart too. I’ve been weepy off and on since walking into Rosh Hashanah services without Eric, yet again, 11 days ago.
I’m feeling lucky and sad, maneuvering my way past regret.