On my morning walks, I have been noticing a change to the light, but tonight I first noticed a change to the dark. The autumn is coming. I started walking every morning in March of 2020, and now I see the sunrise every day. I used to be a sunset person, but now I am a sunrise and a sunset person. Both occurrences so important, so uniquely beautiful; one of my takeaways from the times of the pandemic is that each day is so, so precious.
I lost my Dad starting now, last year. Starting now, his health switched and he began to sound different. Starting now, he left. Starting now, this year, I see the light shifting and slanting; more golden, it delivers a punch each day. It is as if it is saying: pay attention! See me! And I do.
Aging is beautiful except for two things: your body hurts and people you love begin to die. Aging teaches you so much if you are willing to see it, just like the light, and the dark.
Tonight we had chicken and potatoes and salad. Tonight we watched a documentary about psilocybin. The dog desperately wanted chicken and potatoes and salad, or so he thought.
Tomorrow it will get dark even earlier. I am loving this strange August that is cooler and rainier than June and July. Climate change is this great, scary mystery. We never know what this season will bring, or how the weather will be affected.
With a smile I watch the change. Last year, at this time, I had no idea what changes were about to occur. A year later, now, I understand just a little bit more.
God speaks to each of us as he makes us, then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall, go to the limits of your longing. Embody me.
Flare up like a flame and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life. You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours, I 59
Today I reflect on a day. A day that is part of a week, which is part of a long, but short, month. February. February. No month can drag on quite like it; the month that is the bridge between winter and spring. The month that has so few days, but so many of them are grey, cold, and icy.
Life feels interminable in February.
But! Tomorrow is its last day.
Reflections on loss for February:
I felt myself for the first time since October last week. I felt that I was actually a good teacher who was engaged with her students, her curriculum, and her process. I thought of this yesterday as I was driving into Austin, on a flyover between US Highway 290 and I35 North to meet a friend for brunch. I thought of a photo of me and my dad in west Texas in 1983 or so. I am wearing pink corduroy overalls, and he is wearing a cowboy hat. Neither outfit makes sense, and yet it does in this image. I am sitting on a shelf, and he is looking at me. I thought of showing this to the students and telling them about this realization of last week, and I started to cry.
These tears were different. These tears are acceptance tears, and tears of peace. These are tears that come with the realization that he is gone and he did a lot of amazing things for me and was a complicated person who made a lot of bad decisions. These tears are also an acknowledgment that my relationship with him was not the relationship I thought we had when he was alive. I was always mad at him, disappointed in him, judgemental of his behavior, questioning why he did all the things he did. In death, I realized how much I talked to him. I would call him, randomly, all the time, and talk for about 5-6 minutes each time. Then he would say something like, “well this must be costing you a fortune!” to get off the phone.
The hardest thing about death, for me, as the obviously loquacious person that I am, is that I can never speak to my lost friends again.
Sometimes, at night, I go outside and sit on a hard surface and talk to my friend Meredith. I have no idea why it has to be a rock or a road or a sidewalk. I look up into the sky, into the stars, and talk to her until I hear her laughing at me. She always laughed at me, with me, she always thought I was the best person, the most knowledgeable about education and school, and she was always one of my best friends. At 52, she counted on me, and I was only in my twenties. She laughed at the absurdity of it all, she wrote me all the time (all of her emails are saved of course). She died back in 2011. When she was dying, she complained about the British being imperialists who tried to take over the world. This was clearly aimed at me. She also told me, over and over again, how much she loved her children.
Today I thought about my Dad, and I visited my friend Patty who is my quilting friend and the mom of one of my best friends, Ann. Patty recently was diagnosed with cancer as well, although they caught it early and everyone is very hopeful. I had to see her today and give her a hug and a kiss and we went through bins of fabric that she had inherited from a friend’s grandmother who just went into a residential home for people with dementia. I went through tubs and tubs of fabric and I watched her and her daughter play fight about her inability to use the Costco website.
Afterward, I drove up the highway, on my way home, to see my friend who tomorrow goes in for the first dose of her last possible chemotherapy. First of the last. We talked and ate cheese and walked and chatted with Sarah, her friend and owner of the big house, and ate spicy Thai food with Marie that made all of our lips burn but was delicious. We laughed and talked about weddings and old friends. She said she thinks tomorrow will be fine and is not worried.
Earlier, I found Marie in the road as she was on the phone with me. We are dealing with a hard situation in this mix which I will enumerate later, but today we drove to the UT Campus and sat on the steps of the Texas Memorial Museum in the sunshine and talked about losing our friend, and what we want for her and for our friendships. Marie is so strong and wise it is daily amazing to me. She was born across from a special star, I am sure, and inherits this wisdom and palpable love from her mother, Ruth. We talked about how maybe we will take care of her in Denton, at Marie’s house, and she will be comfortable. I don’t want her to be in any pain or any worry.
Such a strange time on this Earth. In one place on its surface, there is a war brewing. In another, there is hateful rhetoric spewing from a small man in a wood-paneled office in downtown Austin. In another, my friend is celebrating her 5th anniversary with her sweet boyfriend in New Jersey. In another, my friend is planning her first restaurant. In yet another, I sit at a table, in the dark, typing away, as my husband eats dinner 4 hours north in Grapevine.
We are all part of this world, and yet are alone and floating within it at any given moment. Some of us read poetry, and some of us listen to music. Some of us ride horses, drive trucks, sing, or dance. Some play sports, some walk in the woods. Some watch television. Some sleep. Some watch the sunrise, some the sunset. Every day the sun rises in the east and sets in the west; I see it rise through the boughs of my 200-year-old post oak tree when I walk home from my early morning walk with my dog.
The light changes each day; as I get older, I notice how each day is different. I never noticed that when I was younger.
Tonight, I looked at the lighted windows of my friend’s apartment while I talked to my friend Marie in the street. I looked at the silhouetted branches of trees, the muted colors of the curtains, the outline of lamps. I thought about her sitting up there, facing all of this. I thought of all the things we have done together and all that I have learned from her; I thought of the time she had a steroid reaction and I drove full-speed through tiny Texas coastal towns in our friend Jenny’s brokedown car, and how we had to get out on the side of the road and pee and how I ran into a hospital yelling, “HELP ME MY FRIEND HAS CANCER” only to be looked at strangely by all present. I thought about being on the jetties in the wind, about hearing her story, about going to the Barbican in London, and her chastising me for always having horrible shoes to walk around in. I thought about her laughing, laughing, laughing.
I hear my dad’s voice in my head, but the sound of it is fading. I will always be able to see his face and to remember my memories of him, and I hope I will always recall his distinctive voice. But I don’t know. All I can hear of Meredith now is her laugh, and the one time she told me “it was a really great wedding” after my first wedding, which she paid for.
Hugs to you and yours wherever you are in our strange world. xx P
Over the last month, 29 new people have started following this blog. Since I have not regularly posted to the blog in almost three years, and am rather a fair-weather blog friend these days, I am taking this as a sign from the universe and the second nod of inspiration to get to it again! A few weeks ago, my mother’s best friend Jean also asked me: “what is happening these days with your writing?”.
A bridge in Hogeye, Texas…a few miles from my new home
Challenge accepted, and with gratitude, as I have discovered, in the in-between times, that writing is a way that I understand my own experiences, my meandering wander through this game of life, and, most useful, it helps me remember the things that happened. I was happy to hear from a friend yesterday (and she is younger than me!) that she is now depending on her 4 year-old to help her remember new peoples’ names and the details of the day. Memory is funny: it’s like there is only so much space in there and so many little things get deleted. Perhaps it’s a survival skill.
Chinaberry blossoms: this year, I felt like I had never seen them before. Maybe I hadn’t.
The same friend also inspired me yesterday by carving out a writing nook in her home. My house is quite small, so there is not a space for this as such, but I have taken the “dining room” (sounds quite fancy but it is really just a small, lovely room with two windows that looks out into the garden and is a pass-through to the living room) as the sewing room and so decided, yesterday, that it will also be the “writing nook” starting, well, today. In this room, along with the two lovely windows, is my sewing machine, the sweet hutch my lover surprised me with a while back (it houses all the fabric, the patterns and the sparkly things in the two lighted cabinets), a nice round brown wooden table, two brass candlesticks, four chairs, a wool rug with a hole at one end, and me.
The sewing/dining room now writing nook
As I look out of the windows, I can see a windy crepe-myrtle tree and in it, a pair of cardinals. Mama usually shows up first and then is quickly chased by her partner, Red Papa. They are very sweet and chubby these days, no doubt from all the birdseed and everything else around the large yard. There are so many trees: trees in trees! In fact, in the center of the crepe myrtle is a small pecan. There is debate in the house about which goes. I vote for the pecan, as I love the crepe myrtles so much and a pecan there is too close to the house. There is also a blue ceramic birdbath that the doves love, and the grackles like to land in and splash everyone else. Beyond this scene is a white driveway shining in the early summer sun (when did it get so HOT?) and beyond that, the ever-expanding garden fence, a greenhouse, vegetable patches, and many flowers just beginning their pretty journey with us here at the new house in Elgin.
The house with its first flower patch – now teeming with tiny flowers of myriad variety. I am sitting in front of those two full-sized windows near the back of the house in this photo. The small window is the window over the kitchen sink!
Paciencia, Paciencia is starting a new step in the journey it seems! I am leaving my current school in a few weeks and have transferred to the small middle school here in town. I will still teach the same things; the making of things, the drawing of things, the thinking of things, and the feeling better about ourselves way of things, but I will be able to bike to school on my wonderful bicycle, rather than sit on a highway in my wonderful car. My life is circling around me, the wagons of inspiration hugging a bit closer: more time for art, for garden, for writing. Here we are. Thanks for being along.
Is there anything as beautiful as a tomato and pepper patch in the afternoon light?
It was a pack of cards with optical illusions printed on both sides, it was a stamp of a skeleton, it was a book about a mysterious girl with a colorful cover, it was a gilded leather jewelry box. It was memories: the memories of times gone past, of another life, of being oh so much younger. Held onto for years, they were tucked in the corners of old trunks and the shelves of bookcases.
Moving, packing, sorting, organizing: de-possessing. Communing with all of the things in this cabin in the woods: holding each item in my hand and examining where it came from, who brought it, what it meant over the passing of time and asking myself, honestly, whether it had a place in the house anymore. For most things, surprisingly, the answer was yes. Over the past few years, I have done a really good job of shedding the errata, the flotsam of life defined as possessions.
What does it mean to let it go? It is a phrase that we often utter ourselves or hear others utter in terms of life and its myriad experiences. Let it go, we say, not really knowing what that may mean to others or to ourselves. This week is the beginning of spring, although you wouldn’t know it here on the coast of Maine where snow seems firmly planted in our landscape everywhere you look, but nonetheless, Friday is the spring equinox and the beginning of the sun’s warmth beckoning the living things back out from under the ground, under the snow. Shortly, Persephone returns to us and her mother will celebrate by giving us flowers and leaves again. Shortly, the days will become much longer and we will be able to celebrate the feeling of the warm air on our shoulders.
Let it go….let go all of the stuff that is holding growth, feeling, evolution back. That pack of cards went into the fire, that stamp went to the growing free pile, the book went to the library. Such magpies are we: holding on to shiny objects, putting them up on shelves or in drawers to be gazed upon during the dark moments. What does it mean to really glean from our lives those items that have meaning and purpose, and to slough off that which doesn’t? Does it mean we are losing or gaining ourselves? Does it mean that we are better at the growth, or worse at the remembering? Does it mean we shall find ourselves at some future date wondering where that bit or bob went? Possibly, but after all, it is just stuff. You can’t take it with you, as the other popular saying says.
Spring is a natural time of cleaning, sorting, and developing better habits for the warmer days. It is a time of reckoning with oneself and with the earth as we witness the huge shift that is happening beneath our feet and around our heads. It is an antsy time: a time of intense preparation, hesitation, and promise.
Where are we all going on this tiny blue planet hurtling through space? What will happen to us in this new year, after the beginnings of it have been so slow and so cold and so dark? The only thing I know is that I don’t know: I feel like I know less as I learn more about this game of life we all are lucky enough to play.
Lately, I have been trying to appreciate something about the place in which I live each day: mostly I notice the mountains that I can see from my front garden: the dooryard, as it is called here. In front of me each morning is a line of graceful, arced mountains that are dotted with trees that appear black and stand out of a uniform field of white. Behind them, during the day, the sky is either white with snow or blue with sun. At sunset, the sky transforms into a pink-purple-salmon wonderland that casts the roll of those mountaintops in beautiful relief. The lake at their base is beginning to melt: the ice is going out, again, as they say here.
As we all make this grand transition, again, as our axis posits us in greater exposure to our central star, my goal is to remember something simple, something about being in the present moment, something that goes something like this:
“Nothing is absolute. Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away.”
This morning, it was autumn. I woke up at sunrise to the sounds of the street sweepers and noticed a copper light cast across the tops of the buildings and caught in the leaves of the trees. Cadillac Mountain, standing so stately at the end of the street, was highlighted by a glimmering sheath of coppery-gold-red-and-yellow very early this morning. The slant, or angle, of the light is so sharp now as the Sun’s light is bending around the curves of Earth! Take heed for soon it shall start to slip away…and away…and away.
This is my bedroom, or at least, a part of it. I have spent some hours over the last few weeks decorating its nooks and crannies for winter. I have added tropical plants and candles and nicely smelling things. I have stared out the windows, wondering how it will change. I have thought about my own feelings of this house’s temporary feel: never have I felt that I will stay here for long.
I ended up here on Saturday night: a club called the Oak and Ax in Biddeford, Maine. I watched some friends perform beautifully, and I watched a couple in paisley and beige dance. I watched young people dressed like the Beastie Boys sing space trip-hop. I spoke to a girl wearing a white polyester dress she had bought at the Goodwill-by-the-pound in Gorham. I smoked a cigarette with a man who sang like Stevie Wonder backed by synth beats. I danced, and was happy, because, beside my friends who I was attending the show with, I knew no one and was happy in a brief moment of true anonymity.
Fall is a season of overturning: of watching the colors of our landscape change before our eyes. We can feel the energy drain from the surface of the Earth to its undercarriage: the Sun begins to wane and the light disappears, the leaves turn red-orange-yellow-brown, and the wind becomes sharper and colder. We ourselves learn to spend moments feeling the cool wind blow on our faces and the warm sun shining on our backs for just a little while more. We can watch the clouds move in the blustery wind and hear it shake our windowpanes as the cold blows in off the water, and down from the North.
One of the themes of late, for me, is a feeling of letting go, of accepting new beginnings whatever they may be, and to try to say goodbye to a feeling of fighting for fighting’s sake. It is time to transition and to take off the battle garb: to look into your lover’s eyes late at night and see light flash and listen to your souls laughing. It is time to feel one another’s skin between sheets and hold another’s head in your hands: appreciating in moments the beauty of hair and skin and bone. It is time to hold hands while sleeping, and to be tender in whatever moments you are lucky enough to express it.
“I do not understand the mystery of grace, only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”
Early on a late September morning: foggy, damp, warm but a slight chill lingers. A very quiet town: also very dark. Slowly a few cars creep along the streets: coming, going, searching, watching. It is the time when everyone and everything is calming down and people don’t seem to know what to do with themselves. Rushing here, running there, overexerting energies to fill now empty spaces.
The five colors blind the eye.
The five tones deafen the ear.
The five flavors dull the taste.
Racing and hunting madden the mind.
Precious things lead one astray.
Therefore the sage is guided by what he feels and not by what he sees.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove: O no; it is an ever-fixed mark, That looks on tempests, and is never shaken; It is the star to every wandering bark, Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken. Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle’s compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Tonight, I watched the sun set over the ocean. It spread lavender and navy and peach and magenta red light out over the horizon and washed the clouds, bathed them in color. I looked up at the clock and noticed it was 7:15: we have already lost a full hour of daylight. I noticed one branch of maple leaves was bright red against the remaining green ones stretching up to the roof of my building. This morning, I woke up to a breeze blowing through my windows. I had kicked off a blanket last night and woke up cold: it was a fall morning.
Life is a constantly changing mystery; but if you start to pay attention, the good floats to the top, until it’s all you want to see.
(On my birthday, we had only two, but it was still beautiful)
“Pies, para que los quiero si tengo alas para volar?” – – – Frida Kahlo
2013, lucky 13, was a year of great changes and growth. It was a year full of walking and ice skating and driving around my new home of Downeast Maine. It was a year of new friends and a new life, of teaching art to children and adults, of becoming a craftsperson full time, of, in general, adjusting and changing and adapting to this place that adjusts and changes and adapts as the seasons switch and the days appear and disappear, ever different, no two the same.
Last night, while yet more snow fell and the skies looked ominous and grey-orange in the lateness of a December night, I spoke about how I felt that the winter here is more beautiful than the summer. My friend who I stood with, in the dark, said that he cannot really appreciate one without the other, implying I suppose that the contrast between the seasons, the starkness of this place, is what inspires the wonder and awe that I feel when finding myself on a porch at night with sleet and snow pelting my curly hair.
Last year’s first snow, magnified on my windows
“I like it when I take the controls from you, and when you take the control from me. I really am a lucky man…” says Bill Callahan in his song, Small Plane, one of my favorites of his and a perfect song for the last few days of what was a huge year for me.
Ice-scape from Jordan Pond
A year ago, I lived in a beautiful but cold apartment that sat up above a quiet street in Northeast Harbor, Maine. I named it the House that Floats, and soon after, I moved into The Caravan: the tiniest house in Northeast Harbor. I packed my life into a space that is less than 350 square feet, and made a life there by planting flowers and vegetables, sewing, and making jewelry into the wee hours. It is a house with few doors and no closets: it is like living on a very small ship, with everything battened down into its appropriate place.
Early morning coffee cups at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts
Soon I will move into a new place, and I am not sure what its name is yet, only that it is a very blank slate in a very new town. I realized whilst walking around it the other night that I have no furniture at all anymore to put inside it: no table, no bed, no anything at all save a workbench, a sewing machine table, a cabinet and a bookshelf. So I suppose I do have some things, after all. If I have learned anything from life, it is that our magpie nature dictates that we fill our spaces in no time, and no doubt, the new house will fill up quickly with what I consider to be beautiful things. I decided a little while ago that one of the gifts of all the transitions over the last few years is that I get to decide what and who comes in my door, that this life is mine to create in beauty to the best of my ability.
A Laborious Mosaic
This past year has taught me a thing or two about beauty, and about cultivating a beautiful life. I have done my best to keep moving forward in this new place, this place in which many people have been for years. I still feel very, very new here: a feeling only amplified by the choice to try a new town on the same island. My newness is exposed almost daily as I remark on sea smoke on the ocean, or ice on the branches of trees, or on the discovery that a good winter coat really saves you in the cold days that seem to be with us with full force. Tonight we go down to 0 degrees, and over the next few nights, to much below that as we enter January. As far as I remember, January was the coldest month, last year full of ice skating on fierce winter days, and that by February everyone is ready for the bitterness of winter’s chill to be over, only to realize that at least two months lie before us before the warmth returns. February, as one of my friends said, is when everyone goes crazy for a while, just dealing with being in the middle of it, rather than at the magical beginning, or the slushy end.
But, I am getting ahead of myself. Here we are, on December 30th, one short day away from a new year. I am sitting in a beautiful old house in Bar Harbor, housesitting and catsitting for friends who are out of town. I am eating pasta alla carbonara and drinking French wine that I bought from the folks who run the restaurant that took all my time and energy this past summer. I am thinking about what I want for the new year, what I am grateful for from last year, and what to do on the very important last day of 2013.
Planting strawberries: another life (2007)
I have a few habits for New Years Eve; I clean my house very well, I take out all the trash, I pay all the bills, I sweep the dust out of the door. I light candles and eat good food and try to reach the people that I care about. I think about resolutions in a realistic way, as far as what I can really do with my time in the new year. This year I am resolving to be more organized in my business and teaching, and to believe all the compliments that people give me in order to be helpful and keep me going on this path. I am trying to let go of some fear and terror that has held me back for a few years in the hope that it is only a roadblock put in place by my survival skills and instincts. Fight or flight has no place for me here in my new home: this is a place of peace and forgiveness and acceptance of differences. This is a place where people help each other.
Last night, during another long conversation, a friend and I spoke about the North Pond Hermit and other Maine characters of special significance. A friend of mine who used to live here was complaining the other night about how anti-social everyone is: how everyone stays home and expects others to come to them, about how everyone entertains themselves with various projects. I agree that it is a different sort of place in that way: we all are here for some reason, and I think that reason has something to do with peace and solitude, with creativity and independence, with being away. It is hard sometimes to communicate with people who do not wish to live here about the power of being away here, away in a small community of independent spirits, who occasionally gather together over dinner or a fire. Is it escapism living here? Sometimes I wonder about that, wondering if it is a sense of escaping the external world into a world of your own making. Sometimes I wonder if that is bad, or good, or neither. There is a power in creating your own world, and there are few places where you really can do that; in most places, I think the external forces are so strong that you are challenged to create an inner world at all, much less one that can influence and forge your external world in a meaningful way. There are so many people here who do so many things: small things that add up to a very rich and full life. Some people might think that life too quiet, and that, I suppose is why there are so few people here. Another friend said a few months ago that the beauty of this place is that there are so few people, and the ultimate downside is that there are so few people.
Reliquary of the Heart
Is it a place of contrasts? To be sure. Is it a place of introspection and quiet? Again, to be sure. Is it the end all be all? Most certainly not, but I am beginning to wonder if there is a place like that at all, or if life, is, indeed, what you make it.
Egon Shiele, 1913 —
I pasted this to the front window of my house. Each day as I stared outward, the landscape reminded me of this painting.
So, here we are, sitting on the cusp of a new year. Tomorrow night, during the new moon, we will all listen and watch as another year ends and one begins. My prayer for the new year is that we spend more time noting the present, thinking about the future, and are less hemmed in by our past.
I hope to spend more time thinking about where I am then where I have been or where I am going.
It was one of the last warm mornings, and by warm I mean it was in the low 40s, as we drove a silver truck down a lonesome highway on a small island toward an equally small pond.
This pond, owned by the Rockefellers and gifted to us as our dog park, is one of my favorite places on our island and the site of many morning and evening ice skates of last winter. Little Long Pond was even memorialized into a pendant made of silver, which I, of course, forgot to photograph. It was purchased by a lady book seller from the Yosemite Valley of California, who found it to be truly beautiful despite never having been there. I asked her to please go to the pond after she left my little town, and she told me she would take her son there and take photographs.
In the bed of the truck lay tied a red canoe: flat bottomed, without a keel, it promised to glide over the smooth surface of the pond at that early morning hour. It was Saturday, it was sunrise, and we were all alone, as we are during most of our adventures. Ours is a sort of magic that one finds only maybe once in a lifetime, and the moments one finds to be so precious you hold them in your heart like the palm holds a delicate match’s flame in the darkness.
Carrying the canoe down to the water, I was surprised at how heavy the canoe was and found its fiberglass-plastic to cut into the palm of my hand. Switching positions, my friend ended up dragging the boat to water’s edge, to the very same spot that we had laced our skates nine months before. There is a stone bench under a sweeping tree with weeping branches, covered still with leaves turning gold and rusted brown. The canoe slipped into the water, and I stepped in slightly to push us off and back. I simply kept the pace as all navigation was taken care of for me, slipping away, away, and down the pond.
To my right lay the bank that, last winter, was frozen and held in ice and snow. I used to skate near that bank and watch the snow’s height grow and shrink. I saw how the wind carved the snow and ice as the winter progressed. It was there that I gained confidence as a skater, doubling back many times to skate in large swathes, circles and ovals, taking precious time that I know made my friend impatient.
We paddled on, toward the end of the lake, watching the trees and grass on the left and the boathouse on the right. The boathouse is brown, and the ground near it was littered with brown leaves and yellow ones, too. The boathouse is always empty: its windows are like eyes, downcast.
Slipping through that water in the early morning, I looked back toward the ocean and saw the colors of the sunrise beaming to us across the water. A crowd of eider ducks ahead of us were disappointed with us interrupting, and whined and cried and muttered and flew off to the far end of the pond. We paddled on, looking at the muck of the pond’s floor, the grasses and reeds covered with detritus. Some of them coiled and looked like fuzzy brown intestines, clumped together on the floor. So shallow this pond: months ago, I dreamed of its depths, of the ice cracking and of my body slipping below into black water so cold and bottomless. Only now I know that it was shallow enough to stand up in the whole time.
Towards the end of the pond lie two beaver dams, one closer and one further away. They are constructed of branches and twigs and leaves and myriad other items, these bower birds of our biome no doubt are resourceful. Most of their dam lies beneath the water’s surface to protect their homes from predators. That morning, they were coated with hoarfrost, and glistened in a musky way. The eider ducks continued to watch us from the left side of the pond, and we endeavored to paddle further back into the cattails, into the marsh, into the rivulets we had skated last winter. We were, alas, curtailed, by a low water mark that caused our boat to run aground in silt, and we turned away. As we glided by the closer beaver dam, my friend remarked to me to look at the water’s surface and as I listened to a strange, slight crackling, I realized we were canoeing through thin sheets of ice.
Like the sound the wind makes through leaves, like the feeling of your hand brushing across grasses in an open field, like the cracking of a crusty piece of bread, the bow of our boat pushed through the ice crystals, breaking them apart into hundreds of invisible pieces. I reached out and tried to touch them, only to pull my hand away when I realized that I would do nothing more than disrupt them myself. The crystals had formed large triangles, prism-like, as if they were transparent, gossamer wings stretched across the water’s surface.
As we headed doggedly back to where we’d started, the ice dissipated, seemingly only to be found where the eider ducks swam, where the water was least disturbed by the tide or perhaps the wind off the ocean. Canoeing on through those shallow waters, I remembered skating for hours on this same pond, when the ice was bright grey, when I imagined wolves and foxes and harpies and Russian faerie tales alive in these woods, so silent as they are in midwinter.
Almost back to the stone bench, we slipped around an edge of the pond that was covered with small lily pads, the same ones that soon will be frozen into its surface. Skimming among and between them reminded me of skating in tight circles, of avoiding the leaves and lily pads because they caused the ice to melt and form dodgy places that could catch the tip of your skate and cause you to fall.
Pulling the canoe out of the pond, my friend dragged it back to the truck and I helped him hoist it into the bed once more. He tied it up, we climbed back inside, and returned along that same highway, not so lonesome as before as others had woken while we were paddling, and returned home for another late autumn day in Maine.
I have a neighbor named Jill; she and her boyfriend are about to go to Florida for the winter, but she came over to chat tonight and betrayed The Secret, the thing that you are not supposed to say out loud when you live here: she said, “this place is hard when you’re alone, by yourself, that’s for sure.” (Her boyfriend, Bobby, is already on his way to Florida and she has been solo now for about a month. She also said she’s staying til November 20th and at this point, has no idea why.)
The stores all closed this past weekend, the weekend of Halloween, and many of the year round places are taking some time off. This is not hugely significant to me, as I spend most of my time at my house or at my friend’s houses, but it is strange to think of this island, so abuzz with activity all summer, as literally shutting down: closing doors. I keep noticing the dark curtains pulled close across all the windows of the summer houses and interpret it as a metaphor for this place.
What does that mean? I honestly have no idea, just am mulling over the loneliness factor of living here for a second winter. People here pair up, hardly anyone is single, and I think the reason is that the starkness and the harshness of staring down the barrel of a long, cold winter, is just too much for any one person to seriously be able to handle. Perhaps people like the North Pond Hermit love the loneliness and isolation, and I do, too, for many, many hours and even days during the winter.
But I miss strangers, strangely. I miss the surface level interactions you have with people in cities: with the guy that works at the coffee shop, or the bartender at the pub. I also miss seeing people on the street and smiling at them or just saying hello, knowing that will be your only interaction with them for the rest of time. Here, in winter, you know almost everyone to the point of being actual friends, and having conversations every time you run into them. Now, this may sound magical and sweet, and it is, but sometimes I just want to be anonymous as I walk around the towns, and there is no anonymity here. You, your business, your quirks, are all on public display and a topic of public conversation.
To meditate for too long on one’s existential loneliness is probably not a good idea, but places like this tiny island do force you to think about the Big Ideas, the life issues that we all must confront at some point: what gives our lives meaning? What messages are we putting out there for all the world to see? What does accountability mean? How do we really communicate with those we love? What is community? Family? Truth in relationships? How do you balance independence and a desire for companionship? Are you doing it right? The last question is, of course, a joke, but these are the questions floating through my mind tonight, a night of cooler temperatures, a rare solar eclipse in the morning, and our first snowfall coming sometime tomorrow.
Today, whilst driving through the park, listening to the hum of a very loud engine, I saw hundreds of naked beech trees. Silent, tall, skinny, with knobby trunks, they are deep grey with black blotches. Growing in stands, or groups of trees, they dazzle the eye with their sheer number and monochrome. Beyond the stands of trees are great granite outcroppings, covered with lichen in various shades of green. Almost gone are the colors of spring and summer: green and grey are highlighted in the fading light, in the absence of leaves and flowers.