It’s been a long time since my little family and I went anywhere just for fun, to explore coastline or trails. Friday morning finds us sitting beneath an enormous oak tree eating donuts, admiring a salt marsh, and then chatting with a woman about delphiniums in a community garden.
Two years and some into the pandemic, my little family has grown up. We are years past the summer where I took my daughter and a friend canoe camping with a giant teddy bear. Once upon a time, I believed I could keep the chaos of the world distant from my family — impossible, impossible. For these few days, the chaos of the world reigns on while we’ve carved out a small space of Uno and dumplings, rock and sand and ocean, the silliness of leaning over a balcony railing and watching how city folks prize parking spaces.
We’re in a sea of songbirds in these tall maples surrounding our temporary home. As for that chaos — how clearly I remember my own young womanhood and how hungrily I dove into my own share of life, how I embraced the chaos that came my way. I underestimated how hard it would be to shape chaos into creativity; maybe we all misjudges the depths of life. No longer in the Age of Sippy Cups, my daughters beat me at cards. I still win at trivia.
A friend and I drive to a nursery on a back road in Plainfield, VT, through fields that seem impossibly green. The trees have barely begun to bud. I buy a snowdrift crabapple tree there. The tree is so tall that my friend and I spend some time carefully nudging it into the back of my Subaru.
I’ve met the staff on my annual pilgrimage there. They all speak quietly, as if our words might disturb the rows of potted currents and grapes. I ask again for planting advice. As I listen, I suddenly realize I’ve gone at this tree planting and cultivating thing all wrong. Beneath my trees, I should create a forest garden of duff and broken up straw and that humus-y compost that plants must love like chocolate. Daffodils bloom in the gardens beneath their trees.
I expect the staff has told me this before, but for whatever I reason I didn’t listen, or their advice drifted the way of so many words.
All the way home and all afternoon, I keep thinking about these woodland gardens and about a Raymond Carver story, “A Small Good Thing.” Two years plus into the pandemic, in this jumbled world, a small good thing….
That night, my teenager comes home and suggests we get a creemee. Friday night, and there’s no one out. We stand under the moon, licking ice cream cones, the peeper screeching in the swamp behind the pizza joint. A small good thing.
My daughter discovered the foundation of an old mill near where she lives, a fieldstone structure built beside a rushing stream. A grist mill I speculate.
Sunday afternoon, and the day has warmed. The bugs haven’t risen yet. The spring ephemerals haven’t unfolded from the forest floor.
With one daughter grown, my youngest nearly so, my own parents well along in old age, I think about the things I wish I’d done as a parent. I wish we’d traveled more, seen the northern lights, gone to concerts. I wish my daughters’ father had stuck around. That trite phrase — glass half-empty or half-full — comes to mind. But maybe a truer comparison is this foundation, this well-crafted structure that has now morphed into a wilderness home, where birch trees set seeds and grew in improbable places.
We keep walking, and she shows me a small swamp in a hollow far off the road. The peepers are singing. The mud beneath my boots is black and rich. Water runs through it.
Heavy snow falls this morning. My little cat sits at the back door, staring up at flakes swirling down through the porch light. The snow is dense and sopping wet and won’t last long. It will drive out the green that is already bursting through the tips of branches. Nonetheless, the damp eats into us. I’ve foolishly let the wood stove go dead. When I kindle a fire, the cats return, satisfied again.
Around us, there’s a raging dissatisfaction. The pandemic continues to unwind, and war rages overseas in the most sickening ways. My teenager asks with adolescent scorn what’s up with the human race, anyway, as if I’ve had a major role in shaping eons of stark unfairness. I toss the conversation back to her: you’re a piece of this human pie, too.
I long for heat and beach sand.
In the meantime, the great world spins on. The snow will melt by midday. We keep on.
Nature teaches nothing is lost.
It’s transmuted.~ Laura Grace Weldon
I’ve reached the point in my life where suddenly my parents are old and my daughters are fleeing childhood. Technically, this is the Empty Nest realm, although I dislike that phrase. I’m not heading anywhere. Do the cats count for nothing?
A different woman might be plotting a sewing room. Instead, I’m plotting my own Huck Finn plans, and I’ll pack my knitting needles, thank you very much.
While my youngest is still here, and I’m still reveling in the teen world (which is, honestly, utterly fascinating), I sense more and more how I saddle two generations.
So I read poet Diana Whitney’s recent IG post about intergenerational trauma and female bodies with keen interest today. I followed by reading Whitney’s essay in Longreads. You should read it, too. We’d all be healthier, perhaps, if we spoke a little more about these hard things. And that, today, is as far as I’ll write about that.
Twilight drags out again — not a sign of spring by any means but a hopeful sign. The light’s returning to us. After work, I rush through my outside chores, then keep walking and walking. I’ve somehow slightly twinged my knee, and so I walk with the faintest of limps, which amuses my athletic daughter no end. Why wouldn’t your body hurt? she asks me.
We live in such a crazy, mixed-up time. Some of this is just us — a high school student, a grown daughter, four jobs between us, an EMT class, a recently published book and another I’m writing, an absent father, my single motherless — and then a world where the Expected Everydayness is suddenly flipped inside out. The rules have all changed, or at least it’s worth rethinking all the rules.
No phones, ever, at dinner. But then my youngest asks why? and we call my brother. He’s working at his brewery and steps into a quiet place. My daughter and I eat calzones and talk skiing and Covid. We talk bread making. And that is really darn nice.
Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.
I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.”
— William Stafford