a journal of...

A journal among friends...
art, words, home, people and places

Friday, September 25, 2020

Inside life


Today being gray, I stayed in bed a bit longer, watching the rain and ruing the loss of my early walk.  I don't mind walking in the rain, but the morning seemed built for other things...later, I thought, I will put on my raincoat and go collect Alexander for the afternoon.   Good thought:  immediately the rain and wind picked up, or rather shot down, bringing a torrent over the garden and terrace.

In bed, I made a list or two, one practical and one fantastic, checked my phone for messages, then read another story in a book I had bought through the Friends of the Library sale, just re-opened in a new Covid way.

I should explain that for months, the town library had been closed...in your towns, too, I am sure...until summer, when they'd found a way to have us order books online and pick them up outside safely.  It helped me a little, but really I am more of a browser, and so I didn't use the welcome service much.  Then, last week, the Friends of the Library sent a message saying that they had found a way to reinvent their store, semi-virtually, and sent pages of titles they had for sale...all very inexpensive and all supporting the library, of course.  Many were new or scarcely read; lots were interesting.  I scrolled through and picked out more than a few, including Margaret Drabble's stories, which have become my bedside reading.  When they notified me that my order was ready, I went to the back of the library, where a window in a glass wall had been installed, and at the mention of my name out came a bag with my books.  I was proud of them and of me for getting these next weeks' reads.

You will notice on top of the pile above a book which came from John May himself, upstairs, a history of his family which begins at the beginning of time, just about, and which I have been reading chapter by chapter each afternoon, absorbing the chronicle of not only his family odyssey, but everyone's.  It is a fascinating book, part history, part fiction...both well-told.  I am glad to read it slowly.

As it happens, about the time John's gift arrived, I'd also picked up Gertrude Stein's Autobiography of Alice Toklas, which somehow I'd missed the whole of in college.  But my Paris obsession now required it.  I alternated his with hers, enjoying the juxtaposition of language, history and intention.  I was sorry to finish Gertrude and Alice as quickly as I did, so I turned to a biography of Stein done by a woman I sort of knew.  Like a balloon deflating, I plowed through a while, then put it down.  Having been lifted by the prose of the two before, the pedanticism of this one made me wonder why I had spent 40 years in academia reading such.  It was well-researched and informative...I will give it that...and someday wanting information in its drier format I might pick it up again.

Meanwhile I have my Friends' books to enjoy.

This morning's read was a Drabble story about a woman, an actress, I think, although her occuption  wasn't much part of the plot...wait, perhaps it was, now I think of it, the whole motive of the piece...hmm.  Anyway, she fell in love with a house, a Dower House attached to a titled family pile crumbling over the centuries, wasted by the unwieldy marriages of two lines of sort-of nobles who couldn't, frankly, get it together.  But that's not the story itself, which, as I said, is about a woman falling in love with an old house, disrepair and all.  She doesn't particularly want to fix it up; she likes the melancholy, as she admits, in which the house and lands enclose her.  In the end, she has had the illumination to marry one or the other of the men on whom it has been entailed; she isn't sure whether she wants to marry the men or marry the men for the place.

Yes, well.  I could understand that, even though I probably would not follow her example if put to the test.  A house inhabits one as much as one inhabits it.  I know that from long experience with the places I have lived.

A place can call to you, not only from outside, but from inside, its call a murmur as well as a haunting. The choice today to be an inside day was a call from place, weather notwithstanding.

After reading, I went into the kitchen to do the next best thing:  cooking.  Yesterday, I had gone to the New Hope Market, a little place along the back road to Hillsborough and places north that has breakfast, lunch and produce from local farms.  I meant to pick up eggs and butter and whatever roots would make a good soup, but on the glassed shelves I found lovely zucchini and tiny eggplants and grabbed them as well.  So soup began and the roasted finds with a little tomato from my neighbor Betsy's garden and some basil that has so far withstood bugs and cool nights; alas the parsley has not.  


From the stove and oven now come inside-warm aromas.  I think I have just enough time 
to make Alexander something chocolate for his afternoon treat.  
Or read another chapter of The Mays of  Alamann's Creek.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Out my window...

 The wind is shaking the crape myrtles from not one but several directions, though the weather vane seems stuck on S. My windows are open to catch the breeze...cool, not yet past 65 degrees late morning.  Fall is arriving, a bit early for these parts, but most welcome after the humidity and heat I've been plowing through on my walks each day.  On the terrace, wet leaves stick to the chairs, the bricks, clutter the grass, yellow and brown mostly though an occasional red-tinged one enlivens the mix.

Something in the blood responds with a welcome, too.  Soup for dinner, oatmeal for brunch, apples in a pile, weekly replenished as the months go on.  Last week my friend Anne sent me a huge packet of tea including my favorite...Tazo's Wild Sweet Orange...there is a cup next to me as I type.  

The other day Joseph and Alexander drove up with a pumpkin and carved it right in front of the door.  Engineers, both, they first made a careful drawing, deciding on the proper angles for the best scare-factor, and went to work.  Can I bury this seed in your garden, asked Alexander?  And did so...I'll expect a vine curling around the living room window next summer.  Maybe a pumpkin on it?

But this is fall.  There's also the sadness of the change in light...dark til nearly 7 and evening light disappearing only a little after 12 hours later.  My evening walks have gotten fewer, my morning walks later.  My hands work to a different tune, the left one less cooperative.  
Images twenty years old appear in the fitfully moving branches.

This year it will be just us for Rosh HaShanah.  Nonetheless, I'm feeling, this weekend of the new year, like doing a brisket for the men...a recipe from my early married days (maybe one or two substitutions are in order now?) with noodle pudding, braised carrots, and an apple crisp for dessert...hearty stuff whose aroma will fill the apartment with the new season after the lighter fare of summer. (How I will miss Alexandra's spectacular sweets, though.) 

You are invited...

There is a lot more to celebrate...Aunt Sadie's 98th birthday on Sunday; my niece Stephanie's baby shower a week later.  So:  new year, new inspirations, new chances for hope.  

Let Fall raise our spirits and bring us welcome change in the atmosphere.

Friday, August 28, 2020

The imaginary traveler

Here's what bothers me the most about these Covid-19 days, going on and on without resolution or salvation (or, in this city-state-country, sanity): the inability to grab a ride to the airport and head for somewhere interesting.  We have been holed up so long, keeping busy with the mundane work and make-work that fill the day, not to mention tiring, desperate negotiations of space when we do venture out for a bit of air.  Travel seems like a lost dream that haunts me.

It's not that I don't have plenty to do.  But these days Paris and Provence seem to have taken over the dream waves.  The romanticism of the place grows as farther I get from the possibility of return any time soon. I pick up articles and books on French life, fiction and non-, and download French movies, especially those with my favorite actors...Juliette Binoche, Patrick Bruel, Fannie Ardant, Catherine Deneuve, Sandrine Bonnaire, Gerard Depardieu.  I lean in, listening hard to their spoken French more than watching the translated words at the bottom of the screen, though I miss more than I catch.  In the air, French songs even Alexander will dance to.

On Prime, I found a teacher who laid out the verb faire (to make or do...the French think of them as the same verb) in idioms I could actually use, should I arrive on the Blvd. Raspail wanting to take a walk or do some shopping.  I've copied them down, each day memorizing another of the two-page list.  Tu fais la tete a moi?  Je le regard...

Pathetically, I leave my Paris guide book on the table so as a book or film flashes a scene at me, I can open the map and pinpoint it exactly, perhaps even remembering when I, too, walked over that very pont.  Yesterday, the latest issue of France Today tauted a neighborhood in the 19th arrondisement that I hadn't heard about, though apparently it's becoming trendy.  I made a note to find an apartment there for a month or so, somewhere close to the tiny streets of burgeoning art galleries and ateliers, convenient outdoor cafes, and small hidden prizes among les bistrots. I see Saint Chappelle is in easy walking distance for concerts.  Ah!  bon, there is an open-air market, where I can get everything I need, even if I leave on the next plane without bothering to take a suitcase.  

photo:  France Today

When the French decide I am responsible enough to resume visitation, I promise myself to be the first one off the Paris Star from London.  (Maybe I should fly to Heathrow now to be ready ...will they let me in?) 

 I promise to wear a mask everywhere and slide far enough away around crowds.  I will pick a morning when everyone is at a boule tournament to visit the Jacquemart-Andre and, though I love lunching in that elegant salon, will picnic all by myself in a quiet copse of that little garden attached to a little museum on a street I can't remember right now, except it was down the rue from the Carnavalet.

Is all this fantasy healthy, I wonder? And yet I can feel it in my bones, particularly today when a sort of wanderlust has sacked my energy.  Though I have kept the ordinary going...cooking market vegetables, tearing out and re-hemming a difficulty in what ought to be a simple child's quilt, making list upon list to do another day, watching Alexander learn with his virtual schoolmates...here is this blog post about Paris.  It could easily have been about Menerbe.

Outside my window, the leaves of the tulip poplar drop yellow, one by one.  I think of the plane trees along the boulevards about to do the same.  It's not a difficult leap to make, imagined or en realite'.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Of loss and the lost

I know I promised to write this time about the art I'm framing, gathered from trips abroad, but I can't settle into that right now, though the two photographs, painting and poster are laid out in front of me, their inspirations still vibrating.  What is on my mind has been almost life-changing; but if that sounds like hyperbole, I can't blame you for thinking so...so much is overblown these days (think about that poor word amazing, which has lost its true meaning with every inexact stab; life-changing, like incredible, fails that way, as well).  But hear me out.

A week and a day ago, carrying Alexander to the Farm for an afternoon swim, rushing first to get him on his feet and ready for our reservation (in these days of distancing and caution we have to sign up for a place in the pool), I forgot, while I changed into my suit, to remove my necklace.  We were in the pool, diving under water and playing Alexander's game of Torpedo, when I suddenly said to him,  "Oops!  You wait here by the pool side, while I go up to put this in my bag."

I dropped the necklace in the deep well of (oh, look! here comes some travel art, after all) the canvas bag, a David Hockney reproduction which I'd picked up at the Tate exhibit while in London a few years ago, and which became thereafter my swim bag.  Then I went back to fun with Alexander.

We had a busy afternoon...the swim, then coming home for a snack and rest, then making dinner for Joseph (it was Friday night)...so I didn't think of it again until just before I went to bed.  Unloading the bag, shaking everything out, then shaking out again, I began to panic.  No necklace.

I'm not much of a jewelry person, but this one is always with me, part of me after all this time.  It's the one Jake gave me for our tenth wedding anniversary, three small diamond and gold droplets, graduated in size to represent, he told me (as I stared, astounded), our past, our present and our future together.  It was a gift so unlike anything he would have ordinarily chosen that it became a kind of icon of the moment. 

Jake was, really, a romantic person.  Each holiday, birthday, anniversary brought a huge bouquet of flowers to the door.  Celebrations were often weekend trips or longer journeys, often surprises (we were only a few miles from Williamsburg when I realized where he was taking me one birthday), and tokens picked up along the way to remind us of where we had been. But something like this...I couldn't get my head around his head thinking of this gift.  That day I clipped it on me and there it stayed, all through the next decade and on into widowhood, removed only for showers, MRIs...and of course swims.

The next morning I called the pool, emailed the Farm director, and then, the minute they opened, rushed over to beg the lifeguards to help me look for it in the only two or three places it could have dropped out. They checked lost and found, drawers and cubbies.  Ben, the director, kindly sympathetic, promised to keep an eye out.  All kinds of scenarios were going through my mind, including, I'm sorry to say, the not very generous image of someone finding it and deciding it was their lucky day.  On someone else, I imagined bitterly, it would be bereft of meaning, only a sham.

In a few days, Ben wrote to say a necklace did show up, one with gold stars, but it wasn't mine.  I looked for a photograph to send him, but because I am not a selfie taker, and, frankly, dislike having my picture taken at all, it was difficult to come up with any.  Finally, my sister texted me one she had snapped in front of the Louvre last year (neither the museum nor I come out looking dignified, but at least the necklace shows clearly.  And,no, it won't appear here, though Mary Ellen looks good).

Meanwhile, my mind was undergoing a sea change, not unlike those transformers all the kids had to have a few decades ago.  Though I live only a block from where Jake is buried, I avoided that corner when I walked each morning, shamed by my carelessness.  It occurred to me that this might be some sort of sign.  He's been gone eight years last month, but maybe the universe was trying to point out that life with him had become, as Grace Paley wrote, a known closed book.  My sister, trying to salve my sorrow, reminded me that loss often means an opening to something else.  Like what?  Goodness knows, life has changed almost constantly these past years.  Haven't I changed enough with it?

When a week had gone by, hearing no more news, I briefly thought of filing for insurance, but I didn't dare open that can of psychological worms.   Money, or even a close replacement was useless; it wasn't, after all, so much the jewelry that was precious but that signature of a life.

Interestingly, my reading during the past week has been, first, Jill McCorkle's new book Hieroglyphics, about a couple whose lives were each founded on loss, and for whom such small leavings mean everything.  (The book comes on the heels of her Life after Life; my favorite of all of hers, it also, though in a different context, threads through the same theme.)  When I came to the last page, I reached automatically for one of Anne Tyler's to re-read.  Jill's stories and the telling of them always seem to me to share the same sensibilities as Tyler's, and three novels later, An Accidental Marriage closed beside meI lifted my head, now wrung out with late regret.

About now you may be saying to yourself, perhaps understandably impatient, "Yes, yes, how sad...but we do lose things, after all...one gets over it."  It's how I too kept thinking I should be thinking.

Should have been thinking, should be thinking still.  And yet...our losses return over and over in waves, no matter what the latest event that brings them forth.

I put aside Marriage, and picked up my phone, which, by the way, had been oddly silent the hours I was reading.  On it was a message from the Farm:  "Necklace", Ben had entitled it.  It had been sent an hour before, probably just when I had gotten to the point in the story where Michael, the husband of the couple, finally comes face to face with the now-grown child they had lost track of over 30 years before.  I don't think there is significance in that...only in the message that lay for an hour unreceived while I read it: Good morning.  I think my assistant manager, Seth, found your necklace.  Picture attached.

 "I'm on my way," I wrote back, grabbed my keys and headed to the Farm.

Seth, who, it turned out, was no longer at the pool, but at the grocery while his kids napped, told me the story of the find when we met in the parking lot.  He and his family had been leaving their swim session when his little one dropped the top of her sippy cup just outside the entry gate.  He leaned down to pick it up, and there, half buried in the gravel, he saw my necklace.  Unwilling to leave it at the desk, he put it in his pocket. "I'd been reading the emails about it," he said, "so I knew it was important to you."

I didn't know how to thank him...a nice dinner, I offered?  a gift? anything at all? I kept babbling my thanks over and over.  No, no, he repeated.  "I'm just glad to get it back to you."

In the car, I clicked the necklace on, still a little rough from its week in the gravel, and went shopping myself, every few minutes patting my neck where it lay like a security blanket.  Now, a day later, I seem to be traveling between the way things were before its loss and a different place I haven't figured out yet.  I'm relieved, of course, but what I am swimming in is much more complex than relief.

In the meantime, however, I am pretty sure I owe Seth's little girl something for dropping her sippy cup just where it could turn my day and my sense of where I am around.  Monday, I'll see to it.

And I am thinking that that loss and that find with all their reverberations would play good parts in either of those authors' novels, wouldn't they?

Monday, August 3, 2020

Whence art?

Good morning.  A little storm coming through has me comfortable, laptop in lap, eyes sliding from window screen (digital) to window screen (architectural) where I am watching the meditative drops and the slowly darkening sky.  It's an art in itself, the way rain, and indeed all weather, seems to provide the backdrop to what we are at any moment.  Watching this wetness, I ought to be talking about losses of this last week, but instead, I'm focusing on art, for there have been gains, too, in spite of that.

Elizabeth Matheson, porch at the inn in Hillsborough
In my view at the moment are two new pieces of my own and two recently acquired.  And then, the brown paper packet of art I have been carrying around all year, bought abroad and waiting for their time to be framed and hung.  Now, I decided, was the time. Though my wall space is limited, there will surely be a place for them, for they are the work of friends, new friends, two of whose work I have admired for years, so I suppose, in the language of art, they are actually old friends.  Knowing the person behind the art is like knowing a fuller story to be imagined.

It's like that triangle I used to teach my writing students:  The author/artist on one point drawn to an idea on another point and finally to a reader/observer on the third point.  All three form the meaning of the art, its beauty, its recurring vibrations.  Where art comes from and where it goes are all apiece.  (I suppose one could interpret that literally, too...how does an art change in essence from the artist's working bench to the museum wall to my wall?  But let's not go there right now...)

Last week, unhappy about doing yet another small art project, especially with all that friendly inspiration around me,  I looked up and noticed the original of that tree I painted for the head of "Ancestry" a few posts ago.  I liked it, but in that flat surface it seemed as unhappy as I.  Perhaps it deserved a new space, where it could incur renewed  meaning.  A tree is life, after all, growth, connection, protection. 

I cut a piece of linen, then with a tiny, sharp scissors cut the tree from its paper roots, and pasted it on the fabric.  From my pocket-stash of found things, I gave it a human connection...a swing hung from each side, with a ground of old metal beneath.  I added a cloud above, though, frankly, it seemed (and still seems) gratuitous.  l called it essentials.

Then what, I thought?  What is this all about?  Maybe this tree, after all a family tree in its origins, needed some words of its own to show me what it meant.  So I asked my sisters, aunt, cousin and nieces to answer a question:  what do they believe has kept them going throughout life?  I expected them to think a while on that, but only a few seconds after the text went out, the first answer arrived from my new niece Stephanie, expecting her first little one, and a minute or two later almost all of the rest tumbled out, sending my phone blinging away.  One more niece (she was on a conference call at the time) caught up soon after, and two more, whose phone numbers needed correcting, soon after that.  They seemed happy for the chance to step out of the ordinary and focus on an essential way of being.

Not only their quickness, but the astuteness of their responses amazed me, and the intra-chat among them, too.  Here is a family that knows what it is, I thought.  I typed their words out and hung them in long strips on the tree.  That's better, I thought.  And left it at that.

A few days later, though, there remained still a degree of uncomfortable flatness.  Besides which, as was mentioned once or twice, the words were difficult to read, being small and sidewise.  My niece Meredith liked them that way...inspiration and blessings come from both directions, she said, looking up for them and raining down.  We liked her take on it.  Still, I thought those words needed yet another airing.

Kathy Steinsberger, studio
Words, I thought...I guess I could put them in a book.  Immediately I began ruing the fact that this pandemic has prevented my dropping in on Kathy Steinsberger's studio, a place where art magnetizes you from every surface and the infinite varieties of books burst from every corner.

So each morning this past week found me (excitedly, I will admit, almost as if I were at Kathy's) choosing papers, measuring, cutting and sewing, clipping and arranging, pasting pages, words, covers.  While they dried and were pressed, I decided to ask the men in the family the same question.  A book, after all, can have as many pages as it needs to say what it means.

Interestingly (such a useful word), I had to wait a few minutes for the first reply, my nephew Tommy weighing in with his philosophy of a life's journey.  An hour later, my brother Frank sent in one word...a really good one.  A few days passed, and Jimmy, another nephew, sent his in, writing first that it was harder than it looked to decide what he lived on.  That's it...so far.  I'm still waiting.  But meanwhile, the book, put together, held well what held us together, what we lived on.  If there are more words forthcoming, they have a place there, too.

Next time, more about the art of friends...

Be well, all...please, please take care!

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Old lives

Last week, my sister sent me a message that echoed back a decade ago.  "I was looking through my computer files," she wrote, "and found a copy of your novel from 2011!  I remember I really liked those characters.  I am going to read it again."  She wasn't sure she had the whole thing.  Would I look to see?

Well.  That set me into a quandary.  Where to find the original now, since the years hence have had me cleaning out and clearing at least four times, and the manuscript, done that many life changes ago, would pretty much be a stranger to me.

Fiction is not something I've done much of.  In all the words I have put on paper, only a few have been devoted to it, mostly in the guise of a family story, part of it (necessarily) imagined.  In fact, this story, too, began as one, told me by my husband Jake about his grandmother, a woman who had died fairly young and whom he hadn't much chance to know.  As family stories often do, this one had a mystery about it, mostly because it had been handed down in parts by different people at different times.

But it wasn't so much the story but the occasion which prompted my deciding to write from it...if, in fact, you could call it deciding.  One fall morning, Doris Schneider walked into the journal workshop at the library with a flier from New Bern arts festival literary contest.  New Bern is an old town about half an hour from Washington, where were were living then, like New Bern an old town on a river which used to be important.  There are many similarities of history, landscape, and social design.  But it also has its differences, particularly among the people who live there.

That, however, is beside the point.  Doris' point was that we should enter some of our work in the contest.  Doris was a novelist-in-training, one who has since shown her talent in print several times.  So it was not a surprise to hear her so interested in the contest.  But the rest of us were in the workshop for very different reasons, writing for ourselves primarily, reading to a closed and respectful group, so her flier didn't receive much enthusiasm.

I felt a little bad about that response, so I told Doris I would think about it.  There were separate contests for poetry, nonfiction, and fiction entries, and it would have been easy for me to turn in a poem or two.  But a few days before the deadline, I sat down with an image in my head for which poetry would not suffice...a young girl, running from home, hoping for a life outside the one slowly suffocating her.  It was the girl from Jake's grandmother's story.  To this day, I can't figure out why, at that moment, she came to me.

The limit of five-pages went quickly, because that image erupted into words from the first.  I turned it in, as Doris did her story, and another journal writer her poem.  In a few weeks, all three of us received a call indicating that we had won something.  New Bern might be the judges, but Washington was holding its own.  We were pleased with our success, and I, especially, was grateful for the remarks of one of the judges who sought me out.  "I really liked your work," he said, almost sotto voce, "I could see that girl, such an interesting character."

Not too long after that, there was a suggestion, I forget how, that perhaps I should keep her story going.  So, having nothing pressing to keep me literarily busy at the moment, I did.  All good fiction, said someone who knew what she was talking about, begins with a question, even if at first one thinks he/she has the answer.  The question now was obvious:  where did she go?  And then, What did she do?  Until, What became of her?

Like that first chapter, words rolled out into shapes of characters and plots, and what turned out to be an interesting historical setting...mill life in the thirties in a place changing character too swiftly, and not a little roughly.  More immediately, there was the setting of boarding house life, which has for a long time fascinated me anyway.

Jake, excited to be my guide, drove me all over his home town, filling in the facts of the town he knew so well:  who was who, who did what, where to find more.  He tagged along with me to two library archives where facts and photographs rose up like painted scenery behind her story.  I moved my girl, Anna Lee, up about thirty years ahead of her model's real time, to take advantage of the possibilities history presented, and also because, frankly, I couldn't envision the 1890's the way I could the 1930's.  I imagined houses, streets, buildings, roads and the faces of people whose lives could easily interject with hers.

Best of all, at the invitation of Jake's sweet cousins, we went to stay awhile in the old family cabin out in the county where, each day, I set up my laptop on the porch overlooking Stony Creek, and a new chapter a day bloomed.

Beyond some family and a few friends who know writing, I didn't send it out anywhere.  I think I wrote one publisher about it, but having no response, let it dangle. And then Jake died and the need for it died, too.  It went on the shelf, where a few other manuscripts lay collecting age.  To be honest, I am a person who, when she is finished with something...writing, painting, whatever...is done with it.  I don't care how it gets out into the world, or whether it ever does. 

So, that's the story of my story.  Now the trick would be finding that manuscript in one of a few stored closets, digging for some missing parts, and then, one Sunday afternoon, all afternoon, sitting down to read it again.  That turned out an adventure in itself.  Had I really written this, I kept asking myself?  The story was familiar, but the words...how did I ever think of those phrases?  Where did that fellow out of New Orleans by way of Brooklyn come from?  But obviously they were my inventions, some other mind ago.  Now, like a stranger reading a new book, I was looking with other eyes at that girl, and at all the others who crossed her path along the plot.  There were, in fact, numerous plots, for each character brought his or her own story into the fray, weaving in and out of the happenings and places to change their direction or import.  That was the fun of writing it.

I also found a few startling abscesses, for clearly not quite all the story had left my head for the black and white of the page.  There were misalliances and leaps of incredulity I hadn't seen from so close. (I think Wayne Caldwell, for one, tried to tell me something like that back then, bless him; now I see it.)  Still, I have to say, the story was in the main pretty good.

Eventually, I found that my sister was, indeed, missing a chapter, and promised to send it.  I also mentioned that it might be interesting to go back and see what I could do about revision, after all this time, even if it were just an exercise to help fill these virus-enclosed days, in the hours when art, reading, walking, and Alexander escape me.  Maybe the characters everyone seems to like deserve  not to stumble over their lives so.

I haven't got to it yet, but if I do, I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Waiting for Rain

Since we are socializing outdoors these days, the weather makes a strong play for whether a coffee, walk, lunch or dinner (suitably masked and/or distanced) will go on.  Storms gather to the south and east of us, one promising to take a name as a tropical depression.  So far, however, clouds split as they pass over our town, sparing not a drop for us.  It's been dry here, and the usual summer's heat has been intensified by oppressive humidity. After my walks each morning and each evening, I return home drenched.  We wouldn't mind the 87-90% clogging the air if a little ground-nourishing water went along with it, but the ground is about at the hard, cracked stage, and the gardens are drooping.  Joseph's new hydrangea looked desolate by Sunday.

A few minutes ago, though, a friend called to say that she thought her backyard dinner had better wait for another evening...the weather radar showed a rain heading our way. 

So we are waiting to see whether that green-yellow-orange system stalled over Georgia will reach us finally.  In the meantime, my friend Joanne kindly packed up her already-cooked meal to send me...we will dine each in our own homes, trying to imagine the conversation real presence might engender.

 That, I think, has been the most difficult thing about the sequestering this viral outbreak has necessitated.  With each new report of conditions, we try to squirm around changing parameters of safety, hoping for a chance to be among friends and family.  The late news that outside is safer than inside brings a lot of relief, at least to me...it means that even while I skirt the (amazingly, alarmingly) oblivious walkers and runners, who do not seem to have heard that masks and distance can save them (I am pretty sure they are not, as the song goes, thinking of me), the natural world of path and garden salves jitters, and there are plenty of alternate paths one can take to avoid trouble.

This morning, watching a mother and her toddler exploring an ant pile between bricks on the quad, or the woman with cane whose slow gait along one arboretum path led me to turn onto an alternate route, I thought about how, ordinarily, I would have stopped to have a chat with either or both.  One can wave across the distance, or smile from across the greenery, but there are now fewer possible real connections to people who share a shrimking world.

Joanne and I will find another way to catch up, and so will I with others I know.  But that woman with the cane (who, on any day when my knees are cranky, might be I) looked as if a conversation with anyone could bring her out of her funk.

And that's the trouble, right there.  We are all, no matter what our resources, waiting for rain...for the chance to join the community again, to be a part of the wider world.  Other parts of the world are opening, but farther beyond us than we can reach right now.  And some, open, are closing up again. We wonder how long this drought will last, even while we know that wondering is useless.

On the street, in the park and around the neighborhood, things are just the same. I come to the conclusion that I can do no more about others' social disregard than I can about the rain.  I carry a mask or an umbrella, spontaneously diversify my routes, and hope for the best.

But what's this?  As I am about to post this, I look outside, and suddenly I am running to catch
the first sign of relief!
Rain...at last...one wonders how long it will last.