In Moments

Last night, I was sitting on a small bed in the lamplight and I was brushing my teeth. It was midnight and I was staring at my lover sitting at the opposite end of the room, staring off into space. He seemed to be thinking deeply about something, occasionally shifting his head and nodding, sometimes stroking his beard with his right hand. Distractedly, I moved my gaze to the ceiling, to a wreath I had made yesterday out of mustang grape vines and spent poppy pods. Feeling something, I looked back, and noticed him looking at me and smiling.

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Sunset thunderstorm with rainbow…yes, it was actually this color

On Sunday, I took a walk with a small and young friend who is new to me, despite having known him since he was about three. We watched pond skimmers on the surface of a tannin-stained creek and then threw rocks of increasing size into it, creating cannonball-like effects upon its surface. We moved on after the largest one created waves so large they spread almost instantly across the creek bed. Later, we were walking along a country lane and came upon a large field with a tilled-up bed on its left. The earth was black and stood up in perfect rows and the rest of the landscape was that early spring green that is so electric it seems colored in with a pencil rather than created through chlorophyll and sunlight. As we stood there, my young friend said, “don’t you want to own a bunch of land someday and have half of it fenced off so all you could do is ride a horse all around it?”. I smiled and said yes.

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Ireland’s fuchsia bells interpreted in textured sterling silver

Last night, my jewelry teacher of ten years, Bob, walked up to me and hugged me so close and laughingly asked, “are you suffering some culture shock? Hmmmmmmmm?”

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Good morning poppy forest

Last week, my best friend and I walked through my old and her current neighborhood, gazing at fancy houses and drinking iced coffees on a late spring afternoon. She tricked me, you see, into a false sense of strolling, because all of a sudden, we turned down an alley and before us was a house with four wooden tall birdhouses and a field of poppies. Rather like somewhere in Europe, but actually in Austin, Texas, the poppy flowers were suspended on their stalks and in the air at the same time, moving lightly and liltingly in the breeze. Someone else was on the other side of the field: we watched each other til we realized he was taking photos, so we moved out of his way.

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Sunlight at the Barton Creek Greenbelt

When we were driving back from Houston via Route 71, meandering toward Bastrop on rainy but sunny Saturday afternoon, two weeks ago?, on the right side there was a large field populated by beautiful black cows. The cows were that perfect, deep, midnight black that seems to pull all light into it. Some were standing, some walking, some laying down with babies beside them. The field, normally green and grassy, was overwhelmed with thousands, millions maybe, of pink buttercups, a wildflower that some call primroses but children of Houston seem to know them as buttercups, from the years of balancing them on our noses and holding them up to reflect their bright yellow pollen color onto our necks. The field was filled from highway to horizon with nothing but pink flowers and black cows. In the background was a bright blue sky, dotted ever so perfectly with white clouds.

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Maidenhair ferns on limestone

The other night, I drove home through a huge thunderstorm, in which my car was buffeted around by winds that reminded me of blizzard wind. Across the sky in front of me stretched a flash of white lightning on black sky so large it seemed to span miles.

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Look up!

On Monday I sat on a cool concrete patio of an old hotel-house with one of my best friends: someone I hadn’t seen for three and a half years. We drank Arnold Palmers and beers and went for a walk and looked at photos and laughed and confirmed our mutual doubts that we really don’t know anything.

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Top secret phone-call-making spot behind an ol’ oak tree

Being back in Texas is beautiful and overwhelming and friendly and strange all at the same time. Last night I skipped through the halls of an antique shop and spoke in silly Russian accents with another old friend…”you are soooooo prettttyyyyyyyy” we said. “No, you are sooooo prettyyyyyyy….your mama, she did goooood.”

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Branching

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How Summer Ends…

rockefeller gardens 5Leaves beginning to disintegrate in the waning sunlight…

“The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. “

Natalie Babbitt

And here we are, again, another ending to another season: summer.

moglosMorning glories on parade!

Tonight I walked out of the restaurant with another week of summer under my belt. Summer, to me, has meant non-stop working: smiling, helping, bringing, doing, aquiesceing to peoples’ desires. Summer is a season of wants, sometimes fulfilled. Summer is a season when the population explodes: when your always sleepy town is transformed by people strolling in pistachio green or salmon pink trousers, people stopping in their cars or at least driving ever so slowly, as if creeping along a new road that has yet to be discovered.

rockefeller gardens 6Hidden views from Rockefeller Gardens

Whilst driving home, I noticed the outdoor temperature was 49 degrees: 49 degrees! Ever so cold for August; ever so cold for a girl who lived most of her life in a place when if it was less than 100 degrees in August, those types of low temperatures were considered a reprieve.

islesfordEnd of summer sunset from the Islesford dock

I have been writing here for almost a year: so much has happened over the last ten months. Most of the discoveries of the last almost-year have been reflective in nature: never before did I give myself the latitude of place to have time to think. This morning, when I woke, I noticed that the sun that daily streams through my front windows has bleached out my rendering of Shel Silverstein’s “Hector the Collector”, which is written in my slanting hand on the inside of a greeting card with the blazing emblem of “Let’s Get Drunk and Eat Waffles” on its cover.

rockefeller gardens 8Even lilies become caught in late afternoon misty rainstorms

My little house, so filled with light and creative projects, has been transformed from the tiny cottage it was when I moved in, to a jewelry studio with a small kitchen and bedroom. Everywhere, every surface indicates that an active artist lives here. The floor, messy, is covered with bits and bobs, the kitchen table-now-work-station is covered with silver wire, stones, pliers and projects halfway completed. On the counter lie Queen Anne’s Lace blossoms, drying in the salty air. On the floor below is a skateboard-cribbage board, now decorated with insects from the 1800s. In the window hangs an Egon Schiele print, some prisms, a steel block or two, a slide from a Magic Lantern, tins filled with magical objects of a lost art, a sea urchin skeleton, and some antique steel components that once belonged on the drawers or in the doors of someone, somewhere far away.

rockefeller gardens 3Stucco rusting, dripping, disintegrating

To the right is a tiny antique shelf from Germany, or maybe England, although its rendering of wildflowers makes me think of Heidi, up there in the mountains of Europe. On the shelf lies a strand of ivory: Indian, not African, brought to me by my father when I was a little girl, before ivory was entirely illegalized. Within the curves of the ivory necklace is a stone box, with a magnetic clasp. Inside the box is the surprise of cicada exoskeletons, their bodies green and wings a plastic, black, threaded delight of perfect cells, and the dessicated body of a hummingbird who once flew into the windows of the school in which I taught. He flew into the glass, hit his little head, and fell to the ground, dead. I put him in a tin of salt, and after a time, he became what he is now: an artifact, a beautiful, scary thing that will stay for all time. His feathers shine green and black and grey and brown: a miracle of suspended iridescence.

rockefeller gardens 1Gateway in the rain

One of the things to appreciate in this grand scheme of turning time, this period of peace and quiet and loneliness, for it is that to be sure, are the stars. Glorious and reaching, they spread from horizon to horizon on nights like this. Wherever you look, there are stars, and the backbone-like fuzz of another arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. A galaxy so far, far away, yet we are a part of it and see only the tiny fraction of what is ours, what is our own neighborhood, here from the surface of planet Earth. Tomorrow when I awake, again it will be sunny and the sunshine will glitter like shimmering pellets on the water’s surface. Again the water will be deep blue, and the sunshine gold upon it. Again will I wonder at the beauty of this place, the stillness coupled with unfathomable dynamism: this place of daily change, of growth, of beauty, of solitude, of trees, water, and earth.

rockefeller gardens 7Sleepy Lisianthus, reflecting cloud cover and covered with an afternoon dew

Time

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Gone are my long, wistful days of winter-spring when all I had to do was work a little bit and play alot, traipsing through my tiny town in my black Bean boots, staring at the wind and the sun’s movements across the landscape.

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Now it is summer and there are flowers everywhere and the grass is green! The air is hot, sometimes, the sun shines bright, and the days fly by. Tomorrow is July 23rd? How is this true? It seems only yesterday it was the beginning of May.

A couple of hours ago, I walked out of the restaurant in which I work, into the darkness of almost-midnight, and felt a chill upon the air. Realizing, in that moment, that summer is halfway over, and that the chill is slowly returning,will be slowly returning as the light begins to leave us again, made me think of how strange it is to live in a place where the weather is so dynamic that as soon as you get used to one feeling in the air, it will change into something completely different.

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My days, at the moment, are spent working at one of three places. I feel so behind on making jewelry!! I feel like time is just slipping out of my hands: there is not enough of it! But oh well, such is the way of the summer. Yesterday I went to an amazing part at the 10 Spot Labs on Islesford and spent the afternoon with friends, sitting in the sunshine and under the shade of fir trees. I walked through a door that was floating in between two trees, I watched a girl skinny-dip in the ocean, I stared at strange fertility sculptures that decorated the hallway leading to a bathroom, I received a lovely compliment from the Compliment Booth, I laid down on a dock in the late evening and fell asleep, surrounded by friends.

Despite its pace, summer is a lovely time, isn’t it?

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Spring Fever

“I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don’t respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.”

Brendan Behan

Feeling the seasons change in your bones, and in the bones of others, is a rather mystifying experience. All day today, in my travels over and across this island, people said the same thing to me: “are you enjoying the weather?” because, of course, we all are. It is amazing to feel the sun and warmth return after such a long time: my journal reflects our first snowfall from November 9th, and here we are April 4th, and although we may get another snowstorm or two, I think it is safe to say that winter is resolutely over, and spring is here. This season of spring is so short here in Maine: a mere two months, mid-April to mid-June, and then of course the shortness of summer, too, mid-June to beginning of September, then fall and winter find us, again.

But enough about that.

Spring fever is in the air: birds are singing about it, plants are bursting forth communicating their connection to our Earth and our position in space relative to the Sun, beautiful people near and far are catching each other’s eyes, gardeners are sweeping back the layers of leaves left on the ground after so many months. Ice is melting to reveal moss, no ferns or leaves just yet, but we all know they are lurking under there somewhere.

march 2013 7The Tarn, still frozen, two weeks ago!

Driving home from Bar Harbor today, I took the scenic route and noticed the sunshine on the top of Dorr Mountain, and followed the light all the way down the cliffs edges and onto the surface of The Tarn. When I was a little girl, we used to fish in The Tarn, but I don’t remember catching much. Today, the sunlight seemed to burnish the golden-colored reeds leaning out of the dark blue water. A mere few weeks ago, those same reeds were held up and in place by white ice, the same ice that spread across the surfaces of all the ponds and lakes, and up mountainsides and dripped off ledges in suspended animation.

This afternoon, the glow of spring seemed to beam off the surface of The Tarn, clearly communicating that warmth is back, the sun has returned. During the sunset, as I drove the long way home through Otter Creek, and then took Cooksey Drive onto the Hill of Seal Harbor, over and through the wooded, mossy roadway, lined with the granite walls of the fancy peoples’ houses, the light remained a bronze-y, brass-y, gold, a colour that left us for so long. The last time I remember it was in the fall, one bronze morning.

Transitions, even joyful ones like this one, are difficult because your rhythm and routine is disrupted; it takes a while to regain the swing of things when the environment is fundamentally changing. I have said it before, but this place connects you so strongly to itself. You are quite literally a part of the landscape and you feel its shifts within your body and mind. For the last few days, the only way that I can channel this shifting energy, this cacophony of nature expanding and exhaling and returning to us after sleeping for six months, is to handle stones and place them in a path, to feel their rough texture, their weight in my arms.

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