Premier Automne

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/59230893″>Premier Automne (2013)</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user1362690″>Carlos De Carvalho</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

“Abel lives in the winter and Apolline lives in the summer. Isolated in their “natures”, they never met each other. They are not even supposed to meet. So when Abel crosses the border and discovers Apolline, curiosity is overwhelming. Their encounter soon becomes more complicated than they could imagine. Both of them will have to learn compromise to protect the other…”

Spring is coming here on the Maine coast; you can feel it in the wind, and smell it in the air. Spring, which in Maine means 36 degrees today and 28 yesterday, is full of sunshine. I have discovered my garden to be a very windy place. I believe that my proximity to the harbor, but placement up on the side of its hill, means the wind funnels up as if on a highway, hitting my part of town with some serious force. It’s hard to say whether the wind chimes will ever actually make it up onto their hook.

Compromise, the theme of the short film above, is a great theme for the transition into spring. All the members of my tiny town are gearing up for summer: realizing that our days of ease are numbered. Everyone is keyed up, in a way: thinking about hordes of out of towners, cars on the streets, the opening of restaurants and shops, seeing more than the 300 people who populate our town right now. We all have to compromise, in myriad ways, to live here and to live with each other. We have to compromise in terms of money, of jobs, and of earning potential. Here, you must be creative or  you must go somewhere else. We also have to compromise and understand that the peace of fall into winter comes at the price of serving thousands of people for three months in the summer. We have to compromise with each other and understand that each of us experiences this transition in a different way, probably, I suppose, based on the amount of years one has spent riding this tourist economy rollercoaster.

This is my first go-round: my first experience of seasonal living, of seasonal changes, of being a part of tourist-driven small paradise. The seasonal changes have effected me in profound ways; I feel this intense energy of spring bouncing around inside my body and mind. Each day there are new sprigs of grass, new calls of birds who have returned, bulbs are bursting forth from the ground. The pressure is on, as the Earth here in Maine finally exhales its winter breaths, welcoming in the smell of sunshine on chlorophyll-laden leaves.

Conversations with…

march 2013 4Somes Sound

I had a friend who I will call M. M was 52 when she died about three years ago, after a very short battle with a very intense cancer. M was my ex-husband’s best friend’s mother, and when we met, about ten years ago, we instantly became friends. At that time, she was living with her husband and youngest son in a wonderful bungalow in the Heights, an older neighborhood of downtown Houston: one of its oldest suburbs. The house was filled with artwork, and old furniture, trunks, animals, coffee cups, ashtrays, and M.

M was an acquired taste to many people. She could be difficult, she was snarky, she was wickedly intelligent, and had a wry smile that instantly communicated how she felt about any situation. She was genuine, she didn’t beat around the bush, she struggled, she never knew what to do, but always tried her best.

march 2013 8Precipice Trail

When I learned that M had cancer, it was about a year after I had split from my husband and about six months after we had divorced. I hadn’t spoken to her in quite a while because of the divorce, and I sort of felt like she was part of my ex-husband’s family, and so assumed that I wouldn’t see her again. But, when I learned she was sick, my heart was hit with what felt like a rock, and I realized that I needed to see her. I called her the next day, and told her I wanted to come over. It was near the end of the school year that year; the heat of the Texas summer already beating down on me as I walked through the parking lot of her apartment complex in South Austin.

When I walked into her apartment, she said something very simple to me. She said, “It is so good to see you.” And it was true; it was great to see each other. What was not great was that she was so sick that she was having a hard time using one side of her body and could not use one arm at all. Her apartment was a mess, and her younger son who used to be precocious and seven years old, was now sixteen and scared out of his mind, and expressed that fear by withdrawing and flunking out of school.

march 2013 5In the Woods

Over the next four months, I saw M almost every day, and tried my best to wrap my head around cancer, families, relationships, fear, death, illness, our failing healthcare system, courage, acceptance, grief, denial, and a host of other emotions. I took her to the doctor, I took her to the emergency room, I took her to a man named Francis the Healer, who let her lie on a bed and relax. It was at Francis’s that we had our most profound conversations. We spoke about love and life a lot. We spoke about the temporal nature of life, about what it was for and why it was important. We spoke a lot about me, and some of the time about her. M was an adopted mom of a sort, but she was more like that aunt that has always done her own thing, is irreverent and uncategorizable, who makes you uncomfortable sometimes, but who you are drawn to, like a magnet of life inside her just pulled you in.

M was tough. She was demanding, and most importantly, she was intensely protective of her three sons and how the situation impacted them. Denial is a serious and complicated emotion, and has a very important place when you are dealing with cancer. Denial comes in the form of your ex-husband showing up with $300 worth of organic groceries despite knowing that his ex-wife can barely eat anything. Denial comes in the form of renting a house with a crazy, winding set of front stairs knowing your mom is in a wheelchair, and planning on building a ramp so that she can get in an out of this beautiful house in a beautiful place. Denial is late night phone calls and emails begging someone to come and see his mother because she is dying, and him not listening. Denial is looking at your friend’s dead body in a hospital room, knowing she is gone, and not being able to leave her body because she hasn’t been alone, not even for a moment, for four months. Denial is fighting, from all sides.

Acceptance comes in strange ways, too. Acceptance comes in the form of arriving on the doorstep, even for two days, from across the country. Acceptance is not being able to speak in the emergency room of a hospital when your mom has to have an emergency blood transfusion. Acceptance is listening to a nurse explain to you that you should take your friend to France because there is no care for her at her age, without insurance. Acceptance is sitting on the stairs in that same house with all the steps, looking at photo after photo of your friend smoking cigarettes for her whole life, all the while touching her youngest son, just to let him know that he and you are physically here, in this moment.

I came up here, to Maine, for about two weeks, during that summer when M was dying. I called her one night, it was July 4th and I wanted to see if someone had taken her to the fireworks. We had this hilarious conversation in which she told me she wanted to be taxidermied and stuffed so that she could still come to all the important events in our lives, and that we could just carry her around to holidays and weddings. In this same conversation, as I was sitting on my friend’s brick patio, in July, in Maine, she told me that she understood what death was, that it was a crossing, but that she would be able to cross back sometimes and communicate in some way. She was in acceptance of what was happening and knew where she was going.

The day before she died, she was very in and out of her body and of time, she was traveling all over the world and through different eras. She said a lot of funny things, but the thing that she kept repeating was how much she loved her boys. There was no doubt, to anyone, about how much she loved them. No matter how much morphine she was on, or how much pain was racing through her tiny little body, she kept communicating that she loved them, she loved them, she loved them.

march 2013 11Looking Back at Mount Desert from Islesford, from a very tiny boat!

What does this have to do with me, now, today, in Northeast Harbor, Maine, after my two week hiatus, when I house sat in the woods with ten cats, and made jewelry, and mulled over my life? Tonight, I sat out on my deck for a while and stared at the stars, and watched the moon rise over the harbor, and talked to ________ (whatever you want to call it) for a while.

march 2013 10Moon Rise over the slowly melting Snow Mountain

While speaking to __________ tonight, on the deck, I asked the question: “why do I feel so lonely here? Why is it that this place is so lonely, so alone?” I love this place, but the sense of solitude is Great, and I mean great as in size, not value or experience. I feel, in my heart, that the loneliness here is part of the place, meaning that it is somewhat inescapable, and therefore, must be accepted into your heart as not a negative aspect, but just another part of the environment, like the wind off the ocean, the sculpted granite, the six month long winter, the call of seagulls from the roofs of buildings. My question of loneliness was more related to my own fear of closeness with others. In cities, there are so many people and restaurants and cafes and museums that you are never confronted with that truth of our own isolation, our aloneness in the world. You can be so easily distracted and meet so many people to have friendships with that you never have to confront the deep thoughts that come in winter, in Maine, on a wooden deck, on the edge of a harbor.

march 2013 1Somes Sound from Sargeant Drive

Coming back to my friend M: when I first saw M in that tiny apartment, when her arm didn’t work (Francis and M and cancer treatments fixed that, by the way), she told me that she knew how she had gotten cancer. I looked at her and asked her, “how?”. She told me that every morning she poured a cup of coffee and went outside to smoke her morning cigarette and asked the same question: “Well, what the fuck am I going to do now?”. She told me that she believed she got cancer because that was the energy she put out every morning, and the thought with which she started each new day. Whether you believe in that or not, she believed in it, and it resonates with me to this day.

One of the things that I have learned from winter, from Maine, from Northeast Harbor, is that this life, this time, is all about perspective. Sometimes the tininess and the loneliness of this place scares me, like tonight. And sometimes, the loneliness, the solitude, is utterly joyous because you feel like your slice of the world is wholly yours, and that the beauty of the moment is happening to only you, as if you can hold on to beauty and awe in your hand, heart and mind, for pure moments of time.

march 2013 3Somes Sound

Today, for the first time in months, I sat on the grass, with a cup of coffee, a book, some chicken salad and some french bread and had a picnic with myself in the spring sunshine. I had just spent two hours digging out a path to my new house, from the road. The path will be lined with rocks, and filled with grey pea stone. It will be a lovely start to my first garden in a long time: the first garden, really, since I sold my house back in the fall of 2009. So, perspective comes with time, and the memory of those who have impacted our lives in myriad ways. Perseverance comes in the last dregs of winter, knowing that change is on the horizon, that the sun is coming back, that green things are almost ready to peep out of the ground, and the warmth on the back of your head isn’t from a knit cap, but from the warmth of a new season itself.

march 2013 7The Tarn

I Wake to Sleep, and Take My Waking Slow

“Reflection must be reserved for solitary hours; whenever she was alone, she gave way to it as the greatest relief; and not a day went by without a solitary walk, in which she might indulge in all the delight of unpleasant recollections.”

Jane Austen

path

On Sunday, I begin housesitting at a beautiful post-and-beam house in the woods. This house is made of wood and windows, and is populated by ten cats who perch on shelves and beams and chairs and stairs. Outside are twelve large chickens who live in a henhouse with a red light, and two giant angora bunnies with tufted ears. Inside, in a black cage that hangs from the ceiling are two lady canaries who, I was informed, occasionally lay tiny eggs which, when cooked, have whites that stay clear, not turning to white as chicken eggs do.

During this housesit, this time in the woods, this time away from town, I am embarking on a daily writing and photography project, which will, of course, begin and end here. A photograph of the day, at least, and a prompt will frame the course of the day. Almost two weeks of time alone, to reflect on all that has happened, to prepare for the coming spring, to think about what lies ahead. The steps, still, are a bit murky, are still covered with snow and ice. The path’s end isn’t clear, as has been the case now for many months. I am beginning to be comfortable with the unknowns, with the trust that I will be borne by the universe, carried by my community, and spurred forth by love and faith in myself, by friends, by putting one foot in front of the other. I am looking forward to this small vacation in a home away from home.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Theodore Roethke

Time Capsules

cowboy boots

I have been many things in my short life. I have been a camp counselor for young students at the Museum of Natural History in Houston, as well as a genetics lab research assistant (I mostly did what I was told and spent a lot of time inside a giant freezer cataloguing little vials). I have been a bead- and oddities-seller in Austin, as well as a middle school science teacher. I have been a gallery girl in central Mexico, as well as a governess who conducted class on the brick patio of a beautiful hotel. I have been a gardener in New York City, as well as the personal assistant and later business manager of an art dealer. I have been a cross-country-traveling event planner. I have been a middle school teacher in Philadelphia. I have been a gallery girl in Maine, and now a jeweler, seamstress, drawing model, dog- and house-sitter, tutor, teacher, and writer.

ice melting 3

The ice is melting: winter is slowly coming to an end. Water is seeping and sometimes rushing out into the landscape. Little Long Pond, scene of so many early morning ice skates, is now covered with sheets of ice and water all around the edges. Gone is the deep cold, replaced by mud and water, by slush and a landscape that seems to spit up onto your clothes, your car, your everything. There were no deafening cracks or booms as the ice cracked and melted, as I had hoped, just a slow process of light returning, the path of sunlight expanding onto our landscape as if the beam of light was being pulled back, further away, its path widening as each day passed. The sunlight breathed life back into the wilderness, as if finally, after many months, the land began to exhale and inhale again, no longer holding its breath, steeling itself against winter.

grandpa

I received quite a gift today.

In my bedroom for as long as I can remember, I have hung a picture embroidered by my great Grandmother. It depicts two owls, one smiling sweetly at the other, in the tops of grapefruit trees. The colours are green and yellow and brown, and it is something that makes my bedroom feel complete: without it, something is missing. When I moved to Maine last June, the glass in the picture broke due to the overwhelming amount of stuff I had packed into my VW station wagon. My mom took it to the frame shop a few weeks ago to replace the glass, and hidden inside the frame was a note written to me by my Grandpa, for my 1st birthday:

“Canvas done by Mrs McDowell (Grandmother’s mother) between 1940 1942 during the air raids on Liverpool. For P.M. Blythe With Love 1st Birthday” (Also inscribed is 1981 and his name, to the right)

Neither I nor my mother knew this note was hidden inside the frame, and had the glass never broken, we would have never known. Discovering time capsules, like this one, is a bittersweet gift that comes around not often. My Grandpa died in 1994, when I was in 7th grade, the year my parents lost all their money and our family life significantly changed. I remember being a latch-key kid for the first time that year; our front door had a terrible stained glass design of a duck flying through cattails on it. The entryway was linoleum, beige in colour, and the rest of the house was carpeted in drab brown. I remember, when Grandpa died, when we all couldn’t go to England because we couldn’t afford it, and I think were probably limping along quite a bit in those days, being so sad because he was one of my favorite people in the world, if not the favorite. I hadn’t seen him, at that time, in four or five years, and had missed the ending of his life. Those days were hard days for many reasons, and I remember sitting on the linoleum floor by the front door, after school, alone in the house as my brother was outside playing, crying desperately with the knowledge that I would never see him again.

salisbury cove

Once, when my grandparents visited, we went to Galveston as a family and walked around The Strand. I think that my Grandpa really liked the States; he always found humour in our culture here no matter where we took him. After he died, my mom and brother and I went to Galveston one day, and I was walking around my favorite store there: a junk and antique shop full of curiousities. I looked up and saw an old man with bright white hair, a button down shirt and glasses, with a camera around his neck. It was him! I turned to tell my mom, couldn’t find her, turned back around, and of course, he was gone.

ice melting 2

Later, I had a dream that we were all together at the church yard where he is buried, where also my grandparents were married. It is a tiny church, built of old mossy stone, with a yard of graves around three sides. In my dream, our whole family was together: grandma, aunt, cousins, parents, children. We were walking through a churchyard and Grandpa appeared to us, only he was very young: as he was in photos of him during the war. He was smiling and happy, with his strong jaw and bright eyes. We spent time together: the time you can only spend in dreams, when you are not exactly sure how much time has passed, whether it is mere moments, or days, or months. We were all so happy just to be together: my Grandma especially (he died months before their 50th wedding anniversary). Then, suddenly, an array of white stones, set out in the pattern of an English cross, the St George’s cross with its even arms, began to hop up and down, tapping onto the flagstones but keeping their arrangement. He turned to us all and told us he loved us, but that he had to go. We all said goodbye. I haven’t seen him since, haven’t heard from him either.

That is, until yesterday. Love survives: I shall never doubt that again.

breakfast with grandpaBreakfast with Grandpa in 1987 in Formby, Liverpool, England…I would sneak downstairs to have breakfast with him before anyone else was awake.

Waiting

Bruegel_1565_Winter-scene-with-a-bird-trap_WIK

Pieter Bruegel the Elder – A Winter Scene, 1562

What do I think of when I am lying there?: on my stomach, propped up on my elbows, leafing through art books on Toulouse Lautrec and Pieter Bruegel and Peter Beard; gazing upon the paintings in the collection of the Mauritshuis Museum.

Mad_meg

Dulle Griet by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Pressed into the floor, feeling the coarse plastic fibers of commercial carpet dig into my elbows, through the fabric of my light shirt, I catch myself looking around. Behind me is a pool table, under which stand two polar bears, staring out at me. Above me are deeply pocked marks of pool cues’ chalk, all over the ceiling. To my left are giraffes and hyenas, and up above the window, the skeleton of a sea turtle, many years gone from this world. To my right is my dearest friend here, lost in his own thoughts.

Before me is an off-white enameled Jotul wood stove, with a front window already stained with soot. Through the soot shadow, one can depict the licking of bright orange flames made amber as they filter through the dirty shade. The flames grow and gather, spewing up and across the ceiling of the stove, recirculating.

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I am thinking about birds’ wings and the lips of Nepenthes plants. I am thinking about patches of snow on the surface of Little Long Pond, and of playing Pac Man on the table consoles at Pizza Hut in the ’80s. I am thinking about the tea that I am drinking, about artificial, non-dairy creamer: the stuff you can light on fire if you sprinkle it onto a candle’s flame. I am thinking about scent, about wood shavings, about ice melting, about the songs of the birds that just recently reappeared.

I am thinking about change.

Mad-Meg-by-Pieter-Bruegel-I-PARTIAL-butthead

We all know that birds’ bones are hollow so that their bodies and wings are lighter than ours: this is one of the reasons that they can fly and we are glued to the Earth. Each morning I watch five crows flit around from tree to tree along my street. They break into peoples’ garbage seeking treasure. They yammer at the the doves and the blue jays yammer back at them. They swoop and dive, and turn their heads to look at each other, and to me, as I stare at them. They pretend to be scared of me, when I know better. They were here before me.

Yesterday I went skating, maybe for the last time, and played an age-old game on ice skates. Pretending that the patches of snow were obstacles, were pools of lava, my friend and I skated round and round them, ever tightening our circles in between and through them, forming curly-cues and slashes and ellipses and circles in skate marks between the snow patches. The snow patches, large and small, close together and far apart, became deadly territory that would turn you into a ghost if you touched them, and provided fodder for chasing each other, not too quickly, between them in a game of ghost tag. Ghost tag, so much like Pac Man, making me think of the way the crust crunched at Pizza Hut when I was a child: how greasy it was, and how all the windows were made of diamond shaped stained glass in clear and red. How we sat at booths together but snuck off to play video games at those strangely stalwart video game tables.

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These are the thoughts that cross my mind in mid-winter, in February, as the ice and snow melt outside, again. I learned my lesson last week, when a short February thaw had me convinced I’d be in sundresses in no time, only to be blasted by a fierce winter storm once more.

After the snow came roaring through, again, a few days ago, my friend and I drove down to Jordan Pond to assess the likelihood of skating. As we clambered over a snowbank, carrying skates down the path to the water, we crossed another, larger snowbank and were hit, full force, full frontal with 55 mph gusts of blowing snow. Wind so fierce that it blew ice crystals into your eyes. Wind so strong you couldn’t even look into it. Wind so loud it howled around and through your ears. Wind so tough that we both laughed and walked back to the truck; recognizing when to go home is a skill one learns during winter in Maine.

Mad-Meg-by-Pieter-Bruegel-I-PARTIAL-butthead

Winter is drawing to a close: you can feel it in the air. There is a lightness to the sky, as if the sun is coming back. The birds are calling. The days are full of sunshine, when for so long, they have been so dark. There is a sadness in this: a loss. The darker times when all that is before you is you and your work, you and the tiny world that surrounds you, when the sun sets before 4 and all you can think to do is create; well that time is shifting and going away. The light is returning, flooding us with the recognition that soon, buds will burst open on tree limbs, grass will grow, crocus will appear in front of our eyes. Soon, the light will return and the sunsets will change, the water colour will, too, and people will return to this place that has been so quiet and lovely for so long. Flowers will grow, shoulders will be bared, times will change. People will change.

People already are changing: a nervousness is invading every cell of every person, causing each of us angst and anxiety, expressed in unique ways. Peoples’ eyes flit back and forth, as if they are watching for something. Some people draw back, into themselves, away from those that they have held dear during the darker months. Some people are planning, some people are counting down the days, some people are thankful for the retreat of the ice and snow.

Some people are waiting; listening for the ice to crack.

Mad-Meg-by-Pieter-Bruegel-I-PARTIAL-woman