A little girl, about the height of my hip, leans against me in the library, seeking gum. My stash melted in the freak heat wave. She looks at me, forlorn.
The adult I’m speaking with suggests they walk outside and pick a leaf of kale.
Later, when I’m outside, too, I see the little girl with a dark green leaf tucked in her fist. She clutches this edible bouquet, watching the big girls swing. Then she leans against my leg, still facing away, a kind of forgiveness. She eats the entire leaf.
How much I desire!
Inside my little satchel,
the moon, and flowers.
From the season’s last swim….
Hiking down the Zealand trail with my brother in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, he suggests taking a spur to “somewhere with a really good view.” My 12-year-old is more game than I expect, and we hike along an easy wooded path, in a valley where he and I surmise a railroad must have been laid for logging, many many decades ago. It takes longer than we imagined, because, well, hiking always takes longer.
Suddenly, the woods drop away, and the view is way more than terrific. It’s unbelievable. High above, sheer granite cliffs end in autumn-yellow woods. We step out on enormous granite boulders and gaze up and down the valley, flanked on either side by steep mountains. In the distance at one end, we see the Zealand Falls hut; to the other side, the valley funnels down to silhouettes of blue mountain ranges.
We spread out on the rock. It’s just the three of us and a dog and the sunlight and the leftover blue cheese and chips from lunch. My daughter’s brought beer for my brother, and she’s proud that it’s still cold. In the mountain valley, with foliage turning scarlet in flashes against a muted sea of gold, the place reminds me of Frijoles Canyon in New Mexico, of Washington’s Mt. Baker territory where I lived as a grad student, of so many hikes I’ve taken with my daughters. All the best memories of my hiking life are folded into this one wide valley.
My daughter wanders off with the dog. My brother and I talk about hikes we took together as kids, laughing about how we never packed enough water. A raven calls, and then another answers. We stay there for a good long while, in no great rush about anything, talking, surrounded by all that landscape, all those layers of mysterious life in the forest and the river below, those lines of receding mountain ridges leading to the sea.
The autumn evening.
The buses are in line,
One goes out.
– Nakamura Teijo
Cricket songs and screeching starlings. In little flashes, the world around us brightens in bits of red, preparing for autumn.
My daughter, busy with middle school and soccer all day, leaves her hula hoop as a calling card for any stray visitors. Reading the lines below, I think they may apply equally to parents of young children. In theory, we might believe our babies will one distant day shoulder a backpack and venture into their own journeys, but in practicality lies the rub….
We typically take the world of our day-to-day lives far too much for granted, assuming without much thought and despite all evidence to the contrary that what we see before us is just the way things are – and presumably always were. This is, I think, especially true of many young people….
From William Cronon’s Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England
In a cold rain, my teenager heads out to the barn in search of a saw and a just-right piece of wood, then disappears upstairs with her wood-burning tool. The younger girl spreads between the kitchen table and oven, baking mini-eclairs.
Not so long ago, the girls were toddlers, with me trailing behind, frazzled and tired. While I believed they were so needy as little girls, I was likely wrong, caught up in our society’s crazy ideas of overparenting. Even then, my girls were writing their own stories, learning the ways of the world – beginning with nursing (and more nursing and yet more nursing), with skinned knees and bruised shins, with making friends, once sharing stories about a beloved stuffed Piglet and now trading their own girl secrets.
While I’m in the dining room, in my own writing world, my daughters are writing and rewriting their own lives. Toddlerhood is darling, but this is cool, too.
How do you begin to tell your own story?
Jacqueline Woodson, Another Brooklyn
These early August morning, mist nestles around the house. Laundry left overnight on the line wets again. I’m reminded of the first three days I lived in Vermont – 18-years-old, in unbroken mist, concealing this new landscape. I had no idea where I had arrived.
Reading Knausgaard is akin to entering fog – uncharted, mesmerizing. Years ago, on a long expedition with my girls, I insisted we would take only what we could carry. At one repacking stage, my older daughter lifted a heavy hardcover book from my backpack and demanded, What’s this?
Knausgaard. Here’s a few lines from his latest:
What makes life worth living?
No child asks itself that question. To children life is self-evident. Life goes without saying: whether it is good or bad makes no difference. This is because children don’t see the world, don’t observe the world, don’t contemplate the world, but are so deeply immersed in the world that they don’t distinguish between it and their own selves. Not until that happens, until a distance appears between what they are and what the world is, does the question arise: what makes life worth living?
Karl Ove Knausgaard, Autumn
Photo by Molly S.
Swimming in the lake last night until the children were shivering and laughing, the rosy sunset spilling over the still water, I imagined myself like the black bears around us, storing not calories but summer’s barefoot warmth, the ease of lying on the sand, the way you might swim with your eyes at the lake’s surface, all that water stretching from shore to shore, filled with the teeming mysteries of animal, vegetable and mica-flecked rocky life.
An acquaintance once gave me a piece of advice: if I wanted to change my life, do one or two changes well, and see how that spins things around. In those toddler-raising days, I chose two things: I baked our family’s bread and learned to knit. O, once upon the time as a very young woman, I teased and mocked the domestic, little knowing its ancient power and life-carrying grace. Once upon a time, too, I brushed off August swimming as frivolity, back in those days when I chopped my life into pieces, ranked weeding the garden above sand between the girls’ toes, misunderstanding how that lake nourishes our human hunger.
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.
– Robert Frost, “October”