Cat’s Heart

My daughter’s cat lies on the gray-painted floor at the top of the stairs, just outside her room, looking in. She’s away with friends in Maine. Over email, her sister and I see pictures of her swimming in a lake and the ocean — all that great blue and green wilderness around her 13-year-old self.

Her cat, of course, knows nothing of this, but simply lies at the threshold to her door, waiting for her return.

This morning, the rain’s returned, a great downpour. In the garden, yesterday, I pulled out handfuls of dead lily leaves, the broken and blackened remainders of lupine stems. Middle of August, and school and soccer start soon. The evenings come earlier, and the Black-eyed Susans burst brightly along the weedy roadsides.

Things do not change; we change.

— Thoreau


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Ides of August, Buying Gas

Stopping to buy gas late in the evening, I walk into D&L and immediately stop: the familiar clerk is mopping the floor. It’s so muggy, even long past dark, that he holds the back of his wrist to his sweating forehead.

Go ahead, he tells me. Walk on it. And he crosses the wet tile floor himself.

We talk a little about this hot, sultry summer, now winding down. Already, I’m waking in the dark, turning on the light over the kitchen sink to feed the mewling cats.

In this liquor and gas station on the edge of town, the clerks are sharp-eyed, scanning the crowd, but this evening, it’s just him and I. He leans on his mop handle, nearly finished with his day’s shift, nearly closing time.

I mention that six months from now, in lightless January, I’m going to be complaining to him about the subzero cold.

He laughs out loud. Oh, boy, I can’t wait.

Outside, the gas station lights are an illuminated bubble in the surrounding darkness. Most people sleep at night in this little town. I’m sure there’s mothers and fathers awake with crying babies, the heartsick or troubled who wander their dim rooms, drug users or simply those who are sleepless. The crickets whirr their song, this still night, with not even any passing-through traffic. August: season of t-shirts and sandals, and, this morning, rain sweetly falling.

The Chinese junk
not stopping
moving on through the mist

— Buson


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Small Talk

Last evening, an elderly doctor I was introduced to asked me how I survived childhood.

For folks who don’t know me, I’m small — I mean, really small. I’m a smidge over 4’8″. Technically, I’m tall for a dwarf.

Only as an adult did I realize my smallness, to some extent, defined my habits. Teased in elementary school, I was ridiculously shy. Find me sitting at a school board table, and I can be fierce and demanding, the playing field innately leveled.  In a crowd, I instinctively gravitate towards the kids.

Once upon a time, I know I cared tremendously. Now, being small is such a minor thing, a mere curiosity.

My job requires I ask questions of people — sometimes reflective questions, sometimes difficult ones. But this one? Like anyone else, I know people who have had terrible things in their childhood. But smallness? I skipped school sports and went to the library a lot. Could have been worse.

Here’s some Alice Munro….

‘The thing is to be happy,’ he said. ‘No matter what. Just try that. You can. It gets to be easier and easier. It’s nothing to do with circumstances. You wouldn’t believe how good it is. Accept everything and then tragedy disappears. Or tragedy lightens, anyway, you’re just there, going along easy in the world.


Cat’s work day

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A Sweeter Version of Macbeth’s Day to Day

On our back deck yesterday, my 19-year-old and I talk about the crickets, how their songs are lengthening and yet quieting at the same time, their strength slowly leaking away with summer.

The sunflowers are high in our garden.

This summer has been one of the daughters coming and going, and myself mostly staying put. The younger daughter’s suitcase is packed again, as she happily heads to Maine with friends. The older daughter has been working mixed-up nursing home shifts — most recently the graveyard hours. Her bags are packed, too, as she anticipates returning to college.

We’re busy, sure, but not that busy. In the midst of all this, we cook dinner together when we’re all home, and in these long dusky evenings, we go for walks.

Last night, we were in the town’s community gardens, taking photographs in the pink-leaved echinacea. I remembered that very first year I was a mother, and I kept trying to grab some stability — Oh, this is what being a mother is like. This is how our life will go. But my baby kept changing. She slept, or she didn’t sleep. She crawled, and then she ran. She babbled. Sometimes, she cried fiercely. She was radiant and fierce and deeply loving — a babyhood version of who she is as a young woman.

But she grew and changed all the time, which is — and I really don’t know why this came as such a shock to me — the essence of this earthly life. But the deep down elements of our lives haven’t altered: her eyes are the same curious, merry upside-down crescent moons I first saw on the night she was born.

All this, I suppose, means that I intend to swim in the nearby pond as long as possible. The water is warm yet, and the banks are brilliant with goldenrod.

I had to learn that I was a better mother and wife when I was working than when I was not.

— Madeline L’Engle, Walking On Water


Photo by Molly S.

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Opening Up

On a muggy afternoon, my daughters and I swim in a cold New Hampshire mountain stream with my brother’s girlfriend. She suggests going to the ocean the following day. I see my younger daughter’s eyes — the quiet girl — gleam with love of ocean.

While I drive that familiar way back over the mountains back to Vermont and back to work, the girls and my brother and his girlfriend head the opposite way, east, to the sea. Later that evening, I read Louise Erdrich while the cats sprawl on the windowsill, watching a pouring rainstorm. In my garden, the sunflowers stretch far above my head, not yet blooming, their golden faces not yet opened up to the world.

The Erdrich book is her memoir of early motherhood. Watching the rain with the cats, I imagine my 13-year-old when she was three, picking colorful bouquets of zinnias in my garden for her two best friends.

At 13, wearing sunglasses and jean shorts, she’s so often savvier than I give her credit for, happily stepping into a wider world.

… with each celebration of maturity there is the pang of loss. This is our human problem… how to let go while holding tight, how to simultaneously cherish the closeness and intricacy of the bond while at the same time letting out the raveling string, the red yarn that ties our hearts.

— Louise Erdrich, The Blue Jay’s Dance


Maine/Photo by Molly S.

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My daughter’s pinpointed the difference between her two tiger cats: Acer has an imaginative life keeping him busy — he’s a mighty African lion, a belly-crawling spy, a baby who must be carried up the stairs — while Tar is simply happy being a cat.

I’m a little worried the contrast offers great metaphor for human life. Satisfied and sweet? Or creative and twitchy?

Yesterday, on such a lovely August day, after swimming in the pond, my friend reminds me of this E. B. White quote from Charlotte’s Web. Ah…..

The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumour of sadness and change.


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Morning Notes

An August Sunday list with the daughter:

  • put up dill pickles
  • can peaches
  • write questions for tomorrow’s interview
  • pick blackberries
  • pluck Japanese beetles from the bean vines and feed this salad to the hens
  • bake a tart in the pan found yesterday in a free pile
  • wander somewhere unknown

The screened door slamming tells me it is summer…

— David Budbill, “The Sound of Summer”


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