Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Single New Year’s Resolution

The hand writing on the envelope is distinctive. I can’t get Hanukkah cards out to my own family, yet, every year this woman remembers. I tear open the envelope. Her handwriting’s a slow read. I like that, give my brain time to remember the days I used to spend on her porch, the two of us, sipping wine, eating dinner, talking and talking. She’s a poet, a teacher. We met while we were both graduate students, going back to school later in life. She became a good friend, a close friend, but we haven’t seen each other for nearly four years, ever since she moved away. This is a woman who has shown me a beach where we trolled for sea glass, who has introduced me to the work of Rita Dove, a woman who loves me as I am, a woman who won’t let me drop out of her life. I adore that.

And so that card brings me back to our friendship, and I realize that as we near the end of this year, a time when everyone seems to be making resolutions for the future, I’m looking back. I like that, and I think that’s what’s missing from this crazy listing that we do, telling ourselves to spend more time with family, to exercise, to lose weight, to quit smoking, to quit drinking, to enjoy life more, to get out of debt, to learn something new, to help others, to get organized. The list is overwhelming, and sets us up for failure.

My friend didn’t move a great distance, seventy miles or so. I could easily drive there. I’m the one with the time. She lives on her elderly aunt’s farm. There are chores, animals to feed, to water, eggs to collect. There is the aunt. My friend has a daily four hour commute for work. Why don’t I create the space? And so I find myself thinking about the drives I’ve taken last summer, passing the road to the farm, on my way to hike in the White Mountains. I’ve thought about veering off. I haven’t.

And so I find myself making a resolution, a single resolution. I will call. I will make that drive. This will not be a veering off. It will be a visit, a real visit, and I’ll bring Lucy and Sam, my two standard poodles. They’ll love the farm. I’ll love the farm, but most of all I’ll love reuniting with my friend.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Morning of Clarity

The sky was cloudless, the air so clear I thought it would break. Sun poured in. On the other side of the sliding glass doors, the ocean rolled. White caps broke. Foam roiled. On a flat promontory of rock that we, the family, called, Nana’s Rock—because that’s where we gave my mother’s ashes to the sea—cormorants dried their wings.

At the kitchen table, my husband sat watching those long-necked black birds. “You know what else dries their wings?” he said.

He was full of these tidbits, like Harper’s Index, like my middle son, about whom we used to joke, Andy’s Index. Like my husband’s facts, my son’s facts were obscure, but correct. Who knows what we carry in our genes?

I had no idea what other creature dried its wings as the cormorant did.

“Mayflies,” my husband said.

I stood at the kitchen stove, pouring water through freshly ground coffee beans I’d scooped into a paper filter. Where had he learned that?

Turned out he was watching one of his nature programs. He loved animals. This show was about bears, a mother bear teaching her cub to climb trees, then to come down as the cub went up, head first—another interesting fact. Who knew that a bear needed to climb down a tree head first? The mother was also teaching her cub to fish. That’s where the mayflies came in. They emerged by the thousands from streams, ponds and lakes at twilight in early spring. They perched on the surface, drying their wings. Trout fed on the mayflies. Bear fed on the trout.

I sat down at the table. I loved my husband's stories, loved these strange connections, the mayfly with its veined transparent wings, the clumsy black-winged cormorant. I thought we’d talk more about this strange coincidence, but his attention was elsewhere. I followed his gaze to the string of small red peppers I’d threaded, then hung from under a kitchen shelf. “I think they’re called 'ristas,' he said.

I was lost. “What’re called ‘ristas’?”

“Remember when we were in the southwest and they had all those strings of hot peppers?”

Of course I did. It was a wonderful trip, the long drive across the desert, each of us taking turns driving, taking turns reading aloud from Willa Cather’s, Death Comes For The Archbishop, passing through the magnificent landscapes of Cather’s vivid descriptions, her words painting themselves indelibly on our minds.

“'Ristas’, aren’t they?” he said, again.

I had no idea. Then, I wondered. How can this man remember ‘ristas,’ remember that a mayfly dried its wings, yet forget the names of friends to whom I’ve introduced him over and over, forget what he ate for dinner the night before or what he ordered and liked so much the last time we visited a particular restaurant? And how annoyed I became with his forgetting. I glanced at the threaded peppers, and suddenly, my thoughts seemed trivial and mean-spirited. Here was my husband stitching time, telling me stories about mayflies and 'ristas', which I found out were ristras—but he was close—early one morning in late November as we drank our coffee, and after nearly fifty years of marriage, this old love of mine has made my morning new.