Elegy to a Maple

Going home this summer, I found the fence torn down halfway along itself, the same fence that divided our yard from the neighboring plant nursery – that I climbed over on one particular night with a childhood friend, and we wandered through an acre of potted trees taller than us and startled wild rabbits and I distinctly remember looking up at the stars, and in the veiled night felt the air of magic that children feel before they become adults and enchantment becomes something entirely different. And this night is what inspired Girls in the Garden, which is about trespassing onto another’s property after hours but is also very certainly about more than that.

And so last summer, upon returning to my childhood home during the same month we signed over our family’s property of 30 years to a land developer, I walked through the opening in this newly fallen fence and further into my backyard than I had been in years, to an aged and giant maple that like the next door garden I once personified into a friend, and in my memory still do, but at the time of this writing I don’t believe the tree still stands.

On this day I approached my Giant Maple Tree with hesitation, and I believe this is why: sometimes we wait to touch something that is good, because the sooner something begins, the sooner it also ends.

But of course I did touch it, because that is why I went to see it: to say goodbye. I put my palms on its moss-grown bark in the way a daughter touches a parent who is soon to die. I did not want to take my hands away.

I put my forehead against its trunk, the way a tired woman leans her face into a man’s shoulder. Who comforts who in this moment I do not know, but would like to believe it can go both ways, whether you are a woman or a man or a tree. Regardless, I did not want to take my face away.

I asked that they wait until I leave – until I flew home – to cut it down. Who wants to watch death.

The boating ropes we’d tied to it more than twenty years earlier were still wrapped around the trunk the day I pulled out of the driveway and watched my childhood home and the Giant Maple Tree disappear as we drove up the hill to the airport. Those ropes, once upon a time, at one end held the seat of a swing where my younger self would sit and sing as loudly as I wanted on the back half-acre.

By now the ropes must be gone, and of course, the tree too. Now I hold in my memory the branch that, for the span of at least one childhood, supported a comfortable swing for a young and awkward girl who for many years believed in the magic of her yard.

And now I must turn my face from its shoulder. Now, I have taken my hands away.

Standard

Landmania

At the feet of mountains, meadows and shores I turn from busy-minded woman to awed servant of our earth. I breathe the pines smelling like childhood camping and hold to mind valleys cradling cloud shadows in the afternoon, once in Montana and another time in New Mexico. 

I know now: that the still of a mountain lake arrives twice daily, at each end of the light; the embrace of everyday grass under bare feet; the change in the air that signals an ocean is a few miles out of sight; a love affair that, next to humans loving one another deeply and intimately (the only way worth doing it), most makes apparent life’s worth.

Love and land. Currency of choice, given the choice.

A stretch of road once led (still does) through northern New Mexico toward Colorado. Such flat, open ground is good for the mind. It doesn’t change at every turn; it doesn’t make you work to maneuver through it or ask much of you but to hold reasonable speed, if you like, and keep one eye out for the pronghorn.

If arriving somewhere new at night, then you are not yet there. The exploration begins in the morning, when the sun rises to reveal the surroundings. The evening before was merely counting a series of freeway exits, unpacking the car and falling into the bed or chair or arms of wherever your inner compass has taken you.

“I began to feel I loved the land and to know that I would never forget it. There I would go for long walks alone. It was alive, I was sure of it. I wanted to identify myself with it, to lose myself in it.” – Jean Rhys

(written in 2014; edited for ColetteKay.com)

Standard

An Odd Way to Sleep

I said to the closed-eyed dog lying in the middle of the floor like a Sphinx:

That seems like an odd way to sleep;
it looks more like waiting.


But as a dog he will do what he wants, and it remains unconfirmed what and if they think – so maybe he is in fact sleeping and waiting, one in the same. What do we know?

May 30, 2019

Standard

Goodnight, Norman

This week I reverted to killing bugs again – the tiny beetles that search my kitchen sink basin when the lights have gone out. I go in for a glass of water and switch on the light and before they scurry off have often stamped them out with a paper towel under my thumb.

It began this way (killing everything in sight), then it was not (feeling bad about killing), and only recently have I begun to murder them again, sometimes two or three at a time but they are bugs and one soul is no more important than the next, says my tired mind that has been working too-long days and my strained body worn out mostly because the mind is.

Norman, I named them. Hi Norman, I would say walking into the kitchen and I would let he-she do what beetlebugs are going to do which is be harmless. And I felt joy that I had named them and thought Norman was a likeable kind of character the way some names tell you all about a person before you’ve gotten to know them (of course there can always be surprises).

Other items in and around my home are: Vivienne (the dinosaur balloon now deflated since my birthday), Sheldon P. Strawberry (P stands for Percival), Cornelius the Jelly Donut Pillow, and Horace Alfred the owl-made-of-bird-seed who has two first names and whose apricot eyes attracted a trail of ants that I also wanted to kill. There might be a few others, but only so many details can fit in a brain at one time although I do think mine has extra room compared to standard brains which are often attached to people with standard names like Courtney and Bob and Mike (never more than two syllables, these types).

On the day I named the kitchen bugs Norman (earlier this year) I also stopped smushing them because once something has a name it has a personality and a soul and before you know it simple bug extermination feels more like murdering a roommate, albeit one(s) who lives only in your kitchen sink basin.

Hi Norman! – a good way to start the day

Goodnight Norman! – a good way to end it

But this week I began killing Norman(s) again and have two theories why:

1. I am tired and overwhelmed and someone has to pay for it.

2. Norman has multiplied and I must draw the line somewhere.

May 2019

Standard

As the Dog Sleeps

There have been several dreams, most a form of wish fulfillment, even that in which I walked across the room to hold him and found a skeleton under his clothes. The physicality of this I still feel when awake. It is no unforgettable sensation, wrapping your arms around bones.

In waking life I have spent half a lifetime holding men who needed to be held, but I cannot save him now, nor could I ever.

Some years later the dreams arrive less frequently, but after their return last night I wonder how the sleeping brain can recall a person’s smallest mannerisms and micro expressions. To forget would be lovely.

Furthermore, until I woke this morning I did not know that I was still angry. At who? This is what I have sat upon all day.

This morning, in the still-dim dawn I found that the Aloneness I have worked so hard to keep at bay had returned. Early filtered light silhouetted the room, revealing all the possessions that we as humans collect to make our lives comfortable–to feel safe and significant–but even then I began my Sunday weeping, loudly, into my pillow. The dog slept in the corner and the sun continued to rise and time passed as time does.

Must we feel what needs to be felt for grief to work itself out of us? Reluctantly, yes. Not one of us differs in this way and if nothing else there is solace in that.

I write this the same day as the morning it happened and will feel silly for such melancholic contemplation once it is Monday and I am again reading the news and stirring my coffee.

Yes, to forget would be lovely – but while we are wishing that something never happened we can also stay actively hopeful, because this remains a constant: life unfolds and time passes and the dog sleeps and the sun rises and a sliver of the mind says there are new memories to be made.

(written Easter Sunday 2019 after a bad dream)

Standard

Two Swans

The days shorten, the nights arrive sooner now. I find myself dreaming about what it might be like to see him again. I would walk into the room and from a distance we would lock eyes, approach each other, I might press my face into his neck as he did the same, two swans bowing into one another in recognition, in a ceremony of forgiveness of past transgressions. His and mine.

In my dream he is a picture of health, of athleticism – the way I remember him during our early days. In my dream he has been off drugs for several years now, has struggled to find his way back but has finally made a life for himself. A life I can return to and immerse myself in.

“Where have you been?” he asks, as if I am the one who left so many years ago, but the gentleness in his tone acknowledges he had been absent long before I pushed myself from the couch that last night.

“I’m here now.”

My limbs are around his shoulders, my fingers graze the hair at the nape of his neck.

“I’ve missed you.” It is all I can say.

In this thick, tangible closeness there is no kiss, there are no undertones as in so many other dreams, but there is the simple, loving bowing into one another. As I move to rest my forehead against his shoulder I remember that the warmth on my face is not another human, but a cotton pillowcase in a floral pattern of beige and white. It is my own breath, my own skin, against my own bedding. He is dead.

He has been dead now for three weeks.

***

I dreamed once more: of being horseback, of loping across uncut fields, deep green at the start of spring, grasses pushed in rhythmic waves by the wind. The horse rocks in even stride, the rider in perfect balance, the pleasure of movement that in waking life comes only rarely. Perhaps like coasting downhill on a bicycle as a child.

When I awoke I wanted to be a child again.

(Summer 2016)

Standard

Oceans and Lakes

The impending ocean announces itself in a way that lakes do not. I’ve seen more lakes than I’ve cared to count lately; mountain lakes and manmade lakes and reservoirs and the always strange and briny Mono Lake. Rarely do these still and scentless bodies of water give you a heads up that they are there (particularly if you’re not a map watcher). You often must come within sight of their waters before you think, “Look at that, there’s a lake here.”

But the ocean is for the devout, in that you do not have to see or hear it to know it is there. Our body senses its existence. The atmosphere changes, the wind blows a new way through the car window and the air weighs more heavily around your being. It begins to smell like water—powerful, unconstrained saltwater—from many miles away. It speaks to us.

Be wild here, says the Northern ocean, and I am bundled up and unruly, flipping shells and jumping rocks and peering into every tide pool.

Relax, says the Southern ocean, and I am under the sun and into a book, my purple-patterned towel spread across hot sand.

Somewhere between these two cultures a wooden pier juts out and divides north from south. Once used for shipping, a bait shop now draws in a steady population of quiet fisherman who, in turn, pull a population of gulls who keep a close eye on the day’s catch.

I keep a close eye on the ocean. I am a girl who grew up near water, a girl who took many childhood trips to the marina with her parents, and whose father owned a sailboat, a power boat and  a handful of smaller boats – not all of which I can recall, but I’m sure I counted at least two canoes sitting in our yard before I’d turned 21. I know this as I sold them after my father passed away. A man of Native American descent named Tomas came to buy them one afternoon, carrying them away from the grassy slope where they rested upside down, and that is as far as my memory goes as it has been many years – and because the mind is funny about what it chooses to remember.

And as I am a girl raised near water, one day after weeks in the deserts and mountains of inland states the ocean was a welcome sight and sound and smell. There I stood at the shore knowing that a handful of hours south these same waters were breaking against San Diego, and three days north they would filter into the Puget Sound and swell much more gently alongside my hometown, Seattle. This realization is akin to looking up at the moon at night to know that you and someone you miss and maybe love are both under the same sky, except we are both—we are all—not only under a moon, but along this shore. Connected by currents, all types of them, both water and human.

(written summer 2014; revised for ColetteKay.com)

Standard