Bending, I press the red plastic bubble that pumps fresh gas into the dew drenched mower engine. 9:30 in the morning and the humid air is already 79*. A bead of sweat drags a wet fingertip along my collar bone and down beneath my paint-stained tank top. The wrench of the pull and then the growl of the machine cuts through the bird song and I set out to tame the clover studded yards before me.
I generally do the front yards of both of our neighbors - one whose elderly owner pays me a small amount to ensure its respectability and the other dear friends who have shoveled our snowy walk enough times (making my cold-hating, non-morning self muchous happious) to ensure I will joyfully trim their yard all summer long.
Yet I am paused on the far side of their lawn. The edge between them, shared by a white haired, seventy-ish, very fit and able, feminine soul who absolutely refuses to mow one single inch beyond her responsibility. A six foot span of green between their houses, split...and her three foot stretch immaculately mowed. The line down the middle glaringly obvious as our warm, damp summer has amped the grass to ultimate lengths.
I am stopped.
Standing there beneath the heavy weight of the day, I am....achingly saddened by this visual boundary. A non-verbal condemnation of lackadaisical landscaping. (I'm a once-a-week-whacker-of-weeds kinda girl) The thing is, Ms. Linda and I have a history. She is the only person I have ever called the police on. Can you believe that? Seventy-something and yet with a tyrannical grip on this street that preceded our arrival; but her reducing my boys to tears, threats and orders--the claim that the sidewalk in front of her house was HERS and such nonsense. She told them they were stupid. (I merely called about the absolute laws and then for a number which, in my bare feet and sundress, I marched up on her porch to deliver with a "please call this officer if you have any questions....but my boys are INDEED allowed to ride their skateboards down this sidewalk, thank you ma'am.") But such hostility is so...unnecessary.
I wonder at the lines I draw. Between myself and co-workers....friends, neighbors....some healthy and needed. Some out of fear of being hurt. Some of self-preservation. Some of exhaustion. The compartments that make up our lives. The separation of selves....
I remember standing in front of a class of my English students towards the end of term and (dressed in a modest blouse and black slacks as usual ) asking them if they had any idea how many tattoos I had. If they knew the last show I'd been to was Tool. That if they met me on the street on a Saturday night they would never recognize me....because that personal self, the slightly wild artist with a taste for whiskey, is separate from this professional self. The one that is never late, fully prepared, on point and ready--as they should be in their future careers. And the moment they let their "private self" dominate...if they bought the lie, "you gotta be YOU all the time!" they would handicap themselves.
I still believe this.
That there is a time and place for every facet of who you are. The wisdom is in the choice. Every life needs lines. The lack of these is eroding some of the foundations we need to survive as a society and I am at a loss as to the answer to that.
However, these lines that are drawn that keep neighbor from neighbor....that tear away at the very idea of community...they crush me. Perhaps I'll make her cookies. Can you make cookies for someone you've called the police on?
(For those of you who don't know, Mandy is my best friend from the college years. Though separated by miles and family and responsibilities, we retain our friendship strictly through posted mail....something of an anomaly these days I suppose. Such a friendship, free from technology, I cherish deeply. And thus, my seven page letter to her this week... )
June 18th, 4:30pm
The art of packing everything one might possibly need for the next four days into a vehicle along with a carsick prone dog--this is a miracle of mighty proportions. Success of such a venture is totally dependant upon a single thing...the List. Composed days ahead, amended, re-written and edited--this list includes the food, the misc crap we cannot live without, the bandaides and sunburn aloe (both of which are certain to be needed with this crew) emergency inhalers, mountain pie makers, and the percolator coffee pot, of course. It details what must be done before we leave (water the plants, arrange mail pick-up with the neighbors, lock the windows...) and who needs to be told. (which happens to be few as we do not announce our departures from the civilized world--might as well give a timetable to be robbed)
Stacked, stashed, crammed and shoved--we left by eleven. Tubs topped with inner tubes perched over tents and fishing poles, immaculately organized and strapped down to withstand Dorothy's own tornado--but still reminiscent of the Clampets, none the less. Two and a half hours later we undo it all and set up residence beneath the trees, ever so Grizzly Adams, I feel. Three tents, (one for us, one for the boys, and the "stuff tent" for all the clothes--sleeping is much more enjoyable if the soggy socks are in another tent, yes?) a canopy over the chef's table holding the stove and coolers and cookery, five chairs, the tripod grilling system for the firepit and a mountain of wood to burn. It's a sprawling spread of canvas and velcro, lines and stakes pounded into the ground, an instant homestead indeed.
Jase has left for groceries and I must return to the organizing of bedding and delegation of dog duty. Already I can feel the magic that is a roof of blue sky and branches, that hush that steals quietly into your soul and reminds you that we are more than plastic and glitter...and sometimes leaving all of that behind is very, very good for us.
I write by the light of the fire and the ring of tiki torches that surround the camp, lit as the sun sets. The boys are chattering in their tent, s'mores consumed, chocolate smeared faces, slightly sticky hugs goodnight. I'm watching the fireflies dance in the woods. Like a magic game of fairy tag, they swirl through the darkness before me. The sound of the trees in the wind, the hiss and pop of the fire...such peace.
Goodnight, my dear.
June 19th, noonish....I don't have a clock. *smile*
A lazy morning of slow cooked bacon and eggs, thick black coffee, slightly squashed Krispy Kreme donuts a surprise pulled from the coolers for breakfast. The boys have left for the pond, cut up hotdog bait in their pockets (which works astoundingly well, I might add) and fishing poles clutched in eager hands. My heart sings as I watch them skip down the path, their simple happiness so unattached to anything electric.
The crisp dawn has given way to a cloudless sky and the sun is warm on my bare shoulders as I write. I think I packed four sundresses and something to sleep in--oh, how I love the freedom from clothing that summer brings! Hazel is doing wonderfully well, adjusted to our new abode easily, and slept next to me the night through. The local army of chipmunks has her jumping at shadows a bit, their antics remind me of a Loony Tunes cartoon...
I think I might nap.
Jason's parents are joining us for dinner tonight, it will be lovely to see them. I've got chicken marinating and corn soaking in their husks in a pan of water, all to be cooked over the fire. After catching numerous fish and newts and frogs, the boys are "starving" and hover about, recounting tales of the fish that "broke the hook" this afternoon. (lol) The rum and wine are chilling, the flames are burning down to the coals desired for roasting this feast, and I see a car in the distance. Such joy is the simplicity of just a meal....without a single other thing to be done before bed.
June 20th, 3:30ish
This morning we learned that "there was a spider in our tent, that's why mommy screamed" no longer works with the boys. Next year their tent will be further away from ours. *ahem*
The boys have left after lunch to pick up Jason's dad and inflate the spare inner tube - an afternoon splashing down the river had them nearly spinning with excitement. Hazel and I have laid in the sun, slowly sipping a glass of wine and finishing the novel I brought with me. (oh, note to self: before deciding it was fine to stretch out topless in the sun, check for random hikers....dear Lord above)
I revel in this forced laziness. Here beneath the trees, there is no laundry to be done, no vacuuming or bills to pay, no e-mails to answer. Just the birds and wind and hours that pass deliciously slow...
I'm not sure I want to go home.
Our last night. *sigh* Each of the boys has come and asked if we could stay longer...I wish. Tomorrow will be a whirlwind of packing and re-stashing, of ropes and ties and the gobbling of the last of the marshmallows and chocolate ("Go ahead and finish them off, one less thing to take home....") One last trip to the pond, one last hot dog....one last meander through the woods breathing in the warm green air in deep lungfulls, as if I could take some of it home with me.
I must admit that my legs have acquired a smattering of bruises, the bones of my hips are sore from the lack of a mattress....and last night's raccoon chase to retrieve the bread left me with a sore foot. I will be glad for a long hot shower, the lushness of lather and perfume....but I will dream of misty mornings and lazy nights for days to come.
Kiss the littles for me darling Mandy, and say hello to handsome. I hope your week was as full of sunshine and laughter as mine was. We'll have to plan a trip together soon....
A quarter to eight found me with feet tucked up, curled into a chair on the porch. An indian print shawl of gold and black and umber draped over a chocolate sundress that smelled faintly of the fajitas and saffron rice of dinner. A glass of wine upon the table beside me; a novel, pages slightly tacky in the humid air, resting in my lap. Suddenly the dark clouds that have scuttled across the sky all afternoon broke in the evening breeze, golden light burst through the air--June's last stand on a day decidedly resembling April.
And it began to rain.
Oh, the splendor that is sunlit rain! Were that I had such a camera to capture the jewel-like waterfall that cascaded from the heavens, as if Mother Nature had held her aqueous breath all day and then let it out in a glorious deluge of glittering waves... It seemed the world paused. The leaves of the dogwood danced in tune with the giant oak across the way; the herbs along the rails shimmied, their essence painting the air with the scent of green and warmth and delicious promise. Paper pages of lust and love and death forgotten under damp kisses on my cheeks and soft wet trails across my shoulder, the seduction of summer.
The rain has passed now, the sunlight faded into the grey that announces the arrival of the night. The patter of drips are a piano that plays along with my thoughts...as I await the return of my love.
The sky seems like a watercolor love story. Blue and crimson dancing in each other's arms, their passion spilling over the horizon in a tangle of violet and tangerine ecstasy. Diana Krall whispers in my ear (Quiet Nights is an amazing accompaniment to a glass of wine lingering on such a porch on such a night as this) and the breeze brings murmurs of rosemary and sweet basil as it passes by. Evening has come, shrouding our neighborhood in her velvet cloak of hush...she stills the pulse, blurs the parameters of the day.
There, beyond the rail, the flash that causes my heart to skip. Memories...
Raised on that Colorado ranch, half of a mountain 9,000 feet above sea level, was a life...apart. Isolation incarnate. No television, no neighbors, three hundred animals and eighty acres and more than my share of loneliness, I fear. This was battled (as often is) by the magic of the literary world -- adventure and fantasy became my addictions of choice. I flew through the heavens on gauzy wings that swept me from the reality of mucking pens and milking goats. (while I am forever grateful for such an upbringing now, what child relishes such things?) Fast forward years and the farm was sold, my mother's health required a lower elevation; Dad had found something suitable...we trekked across the country in a whirlwind of possibility to the level lands of Maryland.
I was terrified.
Society awaited. Cars and teenagers and excitement unleashed. A long journey, exhaustion, and the first night There. A "there" with no horses, no chickens....and no sleep. I wandered the unfamiliar carpeted halls, the rooms dimly lit by streetlights beyond curtained glass - something that stopped me in my tracks in and of itself, total foreign currency.
A glass of water, sipped in a stranger's kitchen filled with ghosts unknown. The silk of my nightgown chilly...air-conditioning, another exotic. And there, standing at the kitchen sink, my gaze was captured by the flickers of light that glimmered in the mist over the pond at the end of the yard. An incandescent dance that swirled beneath the stars.
We had fairies!
What other conclusion was there?? My heart pounding as if to burst from my chest, the glass abandoned on the counter, I stumbled down the stairs to the back door and out into the damp June night. It was magic, that moment. Still, my heart remembers the joy as I chased the lights down the long hill, the grass wet beneath my bare feet, my hair streaming behind me in the thick humid air.
I'd never seen them before. I stayed for hours, catching them to watch them crawl along my fingers and leap into the air again and again, my fascination as if I were four, rather than fourteen. I think I fell in love with the east coast that night. Alone, damp and giggling in the dark of a summer's night as the magic of my dreams invaded my waking world.