evanescent

Until this moment there had been no sound of a dancing, sparkling stream: not yesterday, or the day before, or even weeks before. Then out of nowhere, I heard the startling sound of rushing water gurgling unfettered. Incongruous, it sang from beyond the shady green sliver of muddy lawn behind our house. Usually, I went about the day’s chores accompanied only by the slosh of the dishwasher and the whir of the air conditioning.

Until now, on this languorous hot spring day heavy with aching nostalgia. We were homesick for where we recently moved from and didn’t know for sure where we would go next. Then came this flash of brilliance: more than swiftly flowing water, more like magic unleashed from some mysterious provenance.

The shallow creek bed strewn with leaves had not shown a drop of moisture since we moved into the tattered rental home at the top of an ordinary suburban street. A house remarkable only because of its perch on a beautiful mountainside.  Steep and meandering, the creek bed had, in fact, become almost invisible in the shadows under the cottonwoods and willows that bordered our backyard. I wandered out onto the back step transfixed by the music of the stream mingled with the shrieks of children . . . joyously distracted children: laughing, splashing, chattering, released from the mundane heat and lethargy of a late spring afternoon. 

My children, stirred from heat induced drowsiness,  instinctively waded into the water and with the plentiful creek stones, began building dams above crystal pools, and grottos amidst crenelated castles. Smooth round, flattened, and egg-shaped stones which had spent eons being shaped under the sylvan hand of snow melt dripping from mountain peaks and ledges and coalescing among the springs and ravines above our mountainside home. Noisy freshets, carrying a  sweet unforced joy, gained momentum tumbled down the mountain unrestrained and were unleashed in our back yard. But unleashed from where exactly? Where had it been imprisoned? Why did it hide until this rapturous moment when it burst forth at our doorstep?    

We barely questioned the source for being absorbed by all the avenues of play and delight that having our own enchanted stream presented. And we were enchanted: by the sound of water on stone, by the slick squish of mud between our toes, and the bracing baptism of muddy feet in the ankle-deep freezing water. Imaginations were suddenly awakened to dreams unfettered on what had seemed a dead end day.

Later, when the magic disappeared,  I suspected that some demand of yearly maintenance stopped the normal diversion of water into the more civilized irrigation canal that bordered the subdivision. And thus, for a brief time, liberated the water from being carried neatly, well-behaved, and on schedule to the farms and gardens below unleashing it into its ancient wild courses. Which unleashed the children and I from a spate of listlessness for a few quixotic days.

It was a brief flash of enigmatic fun. As small as our postage stamp yard but as large, and splendid as the snow-capped peaks above us. When the water abruptly stopped flowing, the tragedy was so poignant we just shrugged it off so as not to feel the loss. We were between permanent homes and couldn’t absorb another drop of sadness. Later, I reflected on the joy of those few days and marked them as important, a shimmering family memory. Reflecting back is useful, but there is a skill less common and deeply quenching to our rushed souls:  slowing down this moment and sensing its iridescence, savoring the rush of joy from common occurrences that are a wild privilege in our neatly channeled lives.

Too often I have been missing from some of the most important moments of my life. Much later, they reappear to remind me that there is extraordinary magic that unexpectedly comes not from grand events or spectacularly rendered achievement, but from gleams that can be lost in the blink of an eye. A more attuned mind might immediately see such moments shine in faceted brilliance. A testament to the of the sorcery of small things.

 

A MOTHER’S UNIVERSITY BLUES

After sending our first child off to  Utah State University for his freshman year of college, I wrote this nostalgic introspective.  Important to note is that we moved from Alaska to North Ogden Utah only a couple of years earlier. In order to continue the classes he was taking at Chugiak High School,  Jason skipped mid-year from being a 9th grader to being a second semester sophomore at Weber High School. It was a shock to realize we would be sending him off to college a year earlier than expected. 

My theme for my essays thus far in 2016 has been Curiosity: the joys, the benefits, the healing nature of this essential human experience.  I didn’t realize it at the time but curiosity helped me cope with this moment of separating from my firstborn and at the same time staying connected. 

A MOTHER’S UNIVERSITY BLUES – Fall 1993

I watch wistfully as you stand on the lawn outside Rich Hall in faded Levi shorts and white t-shirt, your body poised loosely with weight on your right foot, hands in pockets. You call no attention to yourself as is your way.  You wait and watch, sensing how to subtly fit in with a new crowd. You glance towards a group of self-absorbed students playing guitars and handing out keys to the new kingdom you enter today.

“I hope I didn’t embarrass you by telling them your guitar is broken.  It would probably be fun to listen to them jam once you finish unpacking.”  I tell you what you are probably already thinking.

You nod and say, “Hey, did you hear that? That guy’s playing Pink Floyd.”

Yes, Pink Floyd. I’ve made it my business to know the music you listen to and to nurture a discriminating ear for melody, lyrics, and quality. We became Sting fans together–you shared the concert I couldn’t get to. David Arkenstone we discovered together at Graywhale music store. From Paula Abdul when you were twelve, you moved on to Sting, the Cranberries, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Dream Academy (more my taste), Stone Temple Pilots, Live, Rage Against the Machine. You tolerated my enthusiasm for Crosby, Stills, and Nash but you did fall in love with Joni Mitchell. “Hey, Mom, listen to this,” was a signal for me to drop everything. I have jealously cultivated a foothold in everything you love: music, art, science. We have shared a voracious curiosity.

How can I maintain a foothold in your life here, fifty miles from home, on this insular mountain-valley campus where the tang of fall is keen and the air is electric with anticipation?  A small toehold will have to do.

The music drifts by us. Your father hugs you and strolls to the car. It’s time to go but I can’t. I’m thinking about your apartment. We forgot a few things. You’ll only be an hour away, but already I feel torn. There’s a new space growing in my consciousness; a bubble of awareness that will hold a tiny, worn-out, student apartment.

“You could use some slip covers or a blanket to hide that frayed sectional in the sitting area. Maybe a plant for the kitchen. Would you like me to bring something like that?”

“Yeah, and get the guitar fixed right away, the bike too. Try to bring them up next weekend.”

“We’ll try.” I’m thinking about how you could decorate the walls and hoping you’ll remember to clean the bathroom once in awhile. “Don’t hesitate to call us if you need to . . . try to call when the rates are lowest.” It’s a miserable thing to be cheap about keeping in touch with your child.

I’m wondering: Will I lose touch with you? Will you branch out into places I can’t go? No doubt. I’m jealous and at the same time proud and glad that you can move on. I can give the extra time and space to your sisters and brothers. They still need what you must now leave.

I wish I could be a fly on the wall of your apartment. Not to spy, but to experience: your new friends, new tasks, new awareness of life and possibilities. I know you can cook for yourself, plan your time, make your own choices.  You’ve proved that many times. I’ve invested so much of my life–surely I can be forgiven for living through you some of the time.

“Dad’s about to honk the horn at me. I’d better go.” I wrap my arms around you tightly. You respond with a limp squeeze. We pull away from the curb with a glimpse back to see you disappear into the stairwell to your apartment. My little bug’s eye-view continues: I see you enter your room and begin unpacking. First, you will set up your stereo and put on some music, maybe Windham Hills guitar?  More likely Stone Temple pilots. You’ll arrange your books, pictures, and make up the bed, making the room look less sterile. You’ll look out the window at the boys playing their guitars, and your fingers will itch to work out another song.

In the car on the way home we listen to Sting’s “Fragile” as we ride through the mountains watching the autumn leaves change color.

5

Jason 2005, still looking like a college kid, Thunderbird Falls, Alaska

 

Autumn and Sleepy Hollow

At my childhood home in Rancho Palos Verdes autumn came and went in California with only the sycamore tree dropping its leaves on the front yard.  I have since moved all over the country:  Utah, Wyoming, New York, Alaska, Washington, and Idaho and thankfully have more fully experienced the treasures of fall.   Because of that experience I can confidently assert that upstate New York is the capital of autumn.

We lived in the small village of Dryden, New York  and enjoyed two spectacular fall seasons.  The sticky heat of summer giving way to crisp mornings is the first hint of the season.  Pops of fiery color appear in the woods gradually envelope the hills, valleys, and farms. It seems every small village has its own river, stream, or waterfall along with a picturesque white steeple punctuating the blazing skyline.  At Cornell University Orchard store we tasted apples – Empire and Cortland varieties which I still crave – and filled our empty gallon jugs with fresh pressed apple cider.  On many Sunday drives we traveled country roads lined with produce stands, pumpkin fields, and corn mazes.

Our autumn color drives led us to Windham Mountain overlooking the Hudson River Valley where my husband’s ancestor, Peter, ran an inn back in the 1700’s. This is Sleepy Hollow country. This is where our American version of Halloween comes to life in the bounties of Squire Van Tassel’s harvest party and the terrors of the Headless Horseman. In our New York travels we saw many “Sleepy Hollow’s”: quaint towns festive with cornstalks and scarecrows. We witnessed the crumbling turrets of old mansions and mossy ancient cemeteries sinking into leafy soil. Tipsy pitted stones carved with R.I.P. and skull motifs show death dates going back to the early years of New York’s settlement. Halloween seems particularly authentic in the mystical countryside of the Hudson River Valley.  In the shadowy evocative hills and hollows of upstate New York I began to appreciate and savor the beauties of things neglected, spooky, and in disrepair and to follow the eerie allure of that which has been forgotten.

The mysteries and terrors of Halloween occupy miles of store shelves and hours of costuming fun but my favorite part of the fall season is the harvest.  I adore, and I do mean adore, the neat rows of bottled fruit in my pantry and the frozen gems of raspberry and strawberry jam in my freezer. The practice is labor intensive and not always a frugal practice still I find growing, harvesting, and preserving food to be deeply satisfy.  Perhaps I crave a hedge against insecurity and some future apocalypse.  Surely, home grown and home preserved food is the most delicious.  From Utah to Wyoming to Alaska to Idaho, I’ve  engaged in some large or small effort to preserve from my own garden or the local harvest.  In Utah, Wyoming, and Alaska that harvest included fishing and hunting:  deer, antelope, moose, salmon.   But as I contemplate writing about that particular harvest I realize it would take an additional essay for each adventure to be adequately detailed. I will save hunting expeditions for some other post.

Here, now,  in my home above Emmett, Idaho the buff colored hills are punctuated by spots of orange, yellow, and red.  The valley below is a patchwork of orchards and farms where we thankfully observe the the cycle of planting and harvesting. Last Sunday, we enjoyed a feast of autumn dishes with family: pork roast, potatoes, gravy, and apple-pear tart. This morning we turned on the gas fireplace to drive off the morning chill. Halloween is just a few days away.  My grandchildren will re-enact the yearly costume ritual redolent of  the road to Sleepy Hollow where their several times great grandfather, Peter,  served freshly harvested foods to weary travelers taking shelter from the terrors of the night on Windham Mountain in in upstate New York.