COVID-19, Garden, Home, Writing

Inviting Revery

As spring approaches I feel a quickening of spirit, a pull outwards to light and sound and life. The neighborhood sprang alive last week, little kids playing on one side, college students skateboarding and shooting hoops on the other side, people walking dogs, riding bikes. I chatted with Herbie from across the street, a widower in his 80s. I’ve seen him from afar this winter when he takes out the trash or occasionally pulls out of the driveway but we haven’t chatted in a couple of months. He says he’s OK but it sure has been a long winter. I agree.

First signs of spring

I started raking off garden beds last week, cutting back dried stalks of foliage, sweeping all the debris onto the old blue tarp and hauling it back to the brush and compost pile. It felt good to use my body in this way although I’m slower, more cautious, than I was when I first began gardening this small lot over twenty-five years ago. In those days I would have spent most of the day crouching down to cut stalks back to the ground, weeding, raking, edging, letting the shape of the garden emerge, plotting out what I was going to transplant, what needed feeding. I’d circle the garden with a cart loaded with organic fertilizers, one bag for acid loving plants, the rhododendrons and azaleas, the andromeda, and one for plants that appreciate a more neutral soil. 

But these days, with an older body to tend and nurture, I take my gardening in small sips and savor each moment. I choose a portion to clear, rake off the leaves and other loose debris, use the long handled trimmer to snip back the dried stalks, rake some more, then take a quick break to stretch before returning for a final round of clipping and raking. 

I uncover a few green shoots starting to poke through; the cat mint shows new growth hiding under last year’s smoky gray foliage, the pulmonaria sports a few blooms. I clip the dead foliage from the epimedium to make way for the delicate spring blossoms that will soon appear, tiny bells dangling from fragile stems followed by foliage that claims the space, holds its own. Eventually garden helpers will come in to edge, weed, and transplant. They’ll move through all the beds in a day, leaving them tidied and ready for summer, but I relish my slow start to clean up, my chance to say hello again to the flowers and shrubs, my old friends. 

I move more slowly through the rest of my life as well. This is partly pandemic lethargy. No need to hurry because there’s no place to go. Do I need to shower today? Not really. I pass a quick sniff test and the only living creature I’ll see in person is the cat. 

I lie in bed first thing, easing into the day. It’s hard to imagine being upright and functional but I’m soon out of bed and headed for the kitchen and coffee. The morning drifts along. I review my mental to-do list but have a hard time settling on a starting point—nothing feels urgent.

Friends and I talk about what we’ll do when we’re fully vaccinated, which for most of us will be mid-April. My dreams are modest: hug my friends, share a meal around my dining table, browse a bookstore. But even with increased freedom of movement and contact, I’ll need to navigate unstructured time, negotiate with myself about productivity, wonder what that means at this stage of life. 

At some point most days I catch myself staring into space, my mind wandering like those clouds that float in a summer sky, and I shake myself. Do something! Get busy! my inner critic chides. Then I remember the Emily Dickinson quote I used to have posted above my desk: 

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

I breathe and stretch, throw a load in the washer, do a few dishes, amble around the garden before settling at my desk and inviting revery to wander onto the page. 

COVID-19, Home, Writing

Making space

I wrote an eloquent blog post in my head while I was clearing accumulated stuff off the dining table a few days ago. The blog post is gone along with all the detritus piled on the table. But maybe, by opening the computer, pulling up a blank document, and putting fingers to keys some of those thoughts will re-emerge. 

The piles had been there since spring. I’d periodically sift through looking for bills or other items that needed immediate attention; occasionally I’d make half-hearted attempts to organize and clear away. But I’d get distracted and abandon the task and the somewhat diminished piles would grow once again until my next brief attempt at pile purging. 

I’ve never been a neat and tidy person; my dining table has often sported teetering piles of paper, half unpacked grocery bags, a few stray articles of clothing. But at some point I’d invite friends in for a meal and the mess would disappear leaving an expanse of oak ready for placemats and cutlery, napkins, plates, bowls of steaming, fragrant stews or soups, cutting boards piled with bread, wine glasses glimmering, candles lit, maybe flowers in a vase, friendly faces, mingled voices. I don’t remember the last time I shared a meal at this table. Last February perhaps?

A major contributor to the mess was a big pile of fabric I’d used to make masks back in the early days of the pandemic. I’d spent hours researching patterns on the Internet, bookmarking YouTube videos of perky mask makers demonstrating their particular approach to cutting, stitching, pleating, fastening. I’d sacrificed an old bra and two unused half slips to the cause, snipping out their elastic to make ear loops. After several failed masks I produced two that I continue to wear. But with many vendors selling well-designed masks online I no longer need immediate access to all that fabric. 

My iron, a tote bag with sewing supplies, and the pile of fabric scraps are now cleared away—the iron is hanging next to the folded up ironing board, the fabric scraps are folded up in a bin under my bed, the sewing supplies stowed near the sewing machine in another room. All that’s left on the table is a small pile of papers to be filed or shredded.  

The empty table seems to be issuing an invitation but for what? An as yet to be discovered art project? A display of family photos and papers to stimulate my writing? A different sewing project? (I could use a new duvet cover.) Who knows when I’ll once again invite friends to gather around this table. 

This isn’t the post I drafted in my mind—I think I was playing around with a theme of “delights that ground me.” And I might write about that some day. For now, I’ll fold up the grocery bag that I plopped on the table yesterday and unfurl a brightly colored cloth. 

Crafts, Family, Home

The black ceramic dog

The window ledge above my kitchen sink is home to a collection of artifacts—a glass replica of a Hershey’s kiss given me by a roommate years ago, a miniature watercolor of an iris that I bought in an antique store near my sister’s house in England, a tiny blue vase I made in my wheel thrown pottery phase, and a black ceramic dog that I made in eighth grade art class. 

I have never been much of an artist ; I’ve abandoned attempts at learning to draw or use watercolors. I don’t remember much about that art class—I suspect it wasn’t one of my more successful academic experiences.

But there’s this dog with ears and a nose and legs curled up and a tail tucked in. Never mind the fact it looks like a black lab and I was trying to make a statue of our family’s tiny brown terrier. I made this thing that is pleasing to the eye and fits easily in my hand. The surface is smooth although I can feel lumps in the clay when I glide my finger along its body.

I don’t remember what I did with it after I brought it home from school. Did I keep it in my bedroom? Give it to my mom? Many years later I saw it on her writing desk where it sat between the blotter and the lamp. After she died I packed it into my suitcase and brought it back to Massachusetts with me. 

This doggie has lived on the ledge above the sink for all the years I’ve been in this house–a small lumpy thread back to childhood. I often don’t notice it—it’s just part of the array of small items that have migrated to that spot. But sometimes my eyes linger on it and I stroke its back. It reminds me to create what needs to be created, even if it ends up being a black lab rather than a terrier. 

COVID-19, Home, Writing

Writing feels distant these days

I open the computer with the intention to write but my restless mind interferes and soon I’m out the door where I pace up and down the street or do laps around my yard. My body appreciates the exercise but writing stagnates. I wish I had the cat’s ability to focus. He can sit for long stretches of time staring intently into the shrubbery, not even a whisker twitching as he waits for a chipmunk or vole to emerge. 

Eventually, renewing my resolve to sit with the blank page until words emerge, I go back inside, settle into my comfortable chair, and open the computer. I poke at a piece of writing for a while but then slide over to look at email or social media.

This past week has been especially difficult as the election nears and threats, fear, and anger escalate. Writing about my daily life seems frivolous, and yet it’s what I know. I’m angry and weary–as are most people I know–but I don’t have anything to add to the conversation about current events except to note how overwhelming it can all be. 

I talked about this with some writing friends and felt reassured that writing about my day to day is just fine. It might even be an antidote to the gathering angst. So, throughout the week I’m going to post quick word snapshots, glimpses of moments from my day to day. 

For example, yesterday I was in the front yard looking for the cat who I’d just seen disappearing into the depths of one of my gardens when I noticed the next door neighbors were out in the street taking pictures of their two boys.

I wandered over to see what was up. The three-year-old was just learning to ride a two-wheeled bike. He had such glee on his face as he wobbled along finding his balance point for seconds at a time before needing to plop his feet on the ground. Not to be outdone, the five-year-old demonstrated his ability to ride with just one hand on the handlebars.

He was just about to try riding with no hands when my phone rang. I needed to take the call and the family wandered off down the street. But I was left with the younger child’s broad smile and his joy in the trying and then trying again. 

Family, Garden, Grief, Home, Nature, Poetry

Yes, and…

In our writing group recently one of the prompts was Jane Kenyon’s poem “Heavy Summer Rain” in which she writes about missing someone “…steadily, painfully.” This poem felt particularly poignant as we move into late summer/early fall days when the quality of the light, the feel of the air remind me of my yearly visits with my sister either here in New England or at her home in England. I miss her deeply, especially when I sit in the garden in the late afternoon. The following is what emerged in that writing session, with just a bit of editing to make it readable.

*****

A pervasive ache of missing weaves through my days. Missing far flung friends, missing places, missing you. Missing Maine and the view of Damariscotta as we drop down the hill from Route 1, then the road out to the coast, the tang of sea air, the porch overlooking the cove, sitting there with you in late afternoon light as birds skim the water. Or missing your little piece of England, the view of the village up on its hill, the church where you and Peter are buried, the village hall and cricket field, the winding lane that curves in front of your house, your garden that slopes up to a fence and field, your house with its multileveled roofline, its stepped and staggered rooms, its worn upholstery and pooled lamplight.

The shape of loss changes with time, the space it occupies waxes and wanes. I go for days without much thought of you and then…I’ve written about this before, how turning from Route 116 onto the road toward home jolts me back to the turnoff to your house or how a particular bird call tugs me back to your garden in the late afternoon. Small seams of grief. 

I recently re-read Unless by Carol Shields. I took the book off your shelf the last time I was in your house, before all the books were packed up to be sold or given away. I remember your admiration for her writing and your small pleasure in having known her. She was a year ahead of you at Hanover College and preceded you on a junior year abroad to study at Exeter University. You told the story of how her safe return from this trip convinced our father that it was OK for you to head off to England, where you met Peter and fell in love with him and his home, how she set you on a course that took you around the world. 

A friend emailed me a recent New York Times article about Carol Shields. As I read I felt your absence tip-toe in. I wanted to call you and tell you about the article, send it on to you. 

A pervasive ache of missing threads through my days but I’m not, on the whole, unhappy. Tired of this viral existence? Of course. Worried about the future, the election, the course of the pandemic? Oh, yes. But day to day small pleasures abound, details I wish I could share with you in a Sunday phone call—a meal with friends at the end of the day, a pot of hot orange zinnias in the garden, an egret wading in the river, a small boy in yellow shorts and orange sneakers running down the path, a rooster that crows at me as I walk by his driveway domain, the white flowers on the chives glowing at dusk, like small stars hovering close to ground. Grief and delight. The “yes, and…” of life.