Thursday, May 23, 2002

Hugging Trees

Re: to a conversation about having epiphanies in the woods. yes, that's right, it happens to me all the time.

I recently went camping with my daughter at King's Canyon Sequoia National Park. While we were there, Tess I did all the tourist-y stuff, including stopping at "General Sherman", supposedly the world's largest sequioa, surrounded by loud tourists videotaping each other in front of signs.

General Sherman, and all the huge sequioas in this grove, is fenced off. Sequioas (sequioadendron gigantea, for all you plant geeks out there) have very shallow root systems, and if they get walked on too much, it can kill them.

I set Tessie up on the fence. Babe, this tree is phenomenal. A few of the stats: 65 feet in diameter, somewhere between 2300-2700 years old. A living ent, if there ever was one.

As I was saying, I set Miss Tess up on the fence. She got quiet, for the first time the entire weekend. Being a metaphysical fool, I said, "Tessie, can you hear the tree talking to us?"

"Trees don't talk, silly mama."

"Yes they do, but they don't talk to our ears, like people do, they talk directly to our hearts.
"Sit quietly, and feel here" - I touched her chest - "and listen with your heart."

She sat, I stood behind her, balancing her on the fence.

"Can you hear it, Tessie?" For some reason, we're whispering.

"Yes, mama."

"What's it saying?"

"It's saying that it loves me."


A miracle! She sits still, for longer than she has for the entire weekend, except, perhaps, when strapped, immobile, sometimes against her will, in the car seat. This is child who can normally wear her pretty high energy mama out in considerably less than a weekend.

"Ready to go?" (I was starving.)

"Wait mama, I'm still talking to the tree."

"What are you saying?"

"I was telling the tree that we love it."

Sometimes, not often, but sometimes, I get to feel like I'm a great mom - few and far between, perhaps, but it happens. This was one of those times.

I don't really know if I think that trees talk, or not. But this tree has an incredible, spiritual presence. It took my breath away, but it also took Tessie's away, and this is the first time I've noticed her sharing this kind of awareness.

Either way, this memory floods me with the same sense of[awe that I felt standing in the grove. It also fills me with pleasure that Tessie seems to hold the same love of the outdoors and wild nature that I do. We spent a lot of the weekend talking about bears, bugs], stars, you name it, but this was the moment that will stick with me the longest.

I don't belive in god, at least not as our current xenophobic and paranoid western christianity describes him/it. (Jesus wants american military supremacy...) When people ask about my spirituality, my flippant response is usually that I am a buddhist unitarian quaker pagan, or variations on that. In part because I subscibe to pieces of all those, and partly because for me, it is an extremely private question. Normally they don't ask anything else, but if they do, I can indeed, describe what I mean by that combination, up to a point. I'm more likely to exclaim "ye gods and goddesses!" or "thank the gods", (or "bother" as winnie the pooh does), when I need emphasis. (Although I have been known to mutter "hell, hell, hell", in certain situations, and out of Tessie's hearing.) But the point is, if parenting is about transmitting values, among other things, it seems to be working.

"Mama, I'm still telling the tree that WE love IT."

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

It was just a crush

A letter I won’t send.

Yes, I knew you were attracted to me, I just managed to ignore it. It would not be useful, at any level, to pursue.

I’m older than you are. You have that ease of freshness and youth and breezing through a charmed life that always tastes like magic]to me. A boy, in the way that boys are attractive to me, and men aren’t. I know the pain an impulsive choice could lead to. Would lead to.

Yes, I knew you wanted me. I knew that you would not make any move toward me. I knew that if anyone would cross that electrical divide, it would be me. But I would not. I will not. I touched your hand, once, and a spark jumped across. That’s when I knew our poses, relaxed and friendly, were just poses. That in spite of that, I would not follow you up the stairs.

But in my imagination, something else happened. In my imagination, I walked across that divide. The first thing I noticed was your hands, narrow, with long fingers. Expressive. I always notice hands. So different from my hands, which are square and sturdy, craftsman’s hands, that hold all the work that I do. Mine, that carry and schlep and wash and dig and clench, and also, when not too tired, that try to bring music from the body of a guitar or a mandolin. When not too tired and careworn, or worn of spirit and soul. Music takes a little bit of energy, and so often now I have none. I sing, even with no energy left, I sing. I learn the blues. But to play as well, so often now there is not enough of me, right now, to play.

In my imagination, those hands started to touch me. Just snuck across the divide, and stroked my arm. And we both pretended it wasn’t happening, and kept chatting, with most of our senses focussed on that hand. My skin tingles, even thinking about it now.

But then my hand reached over, and wove it’s own fingers into yours. That’s when we stopped talking, and eyes took over. So blue, like falling into the sky in a wheat field.

Then I reached across and touched your hair. Those curls, so different from my own straight darkness, I want to rub my face in those curls.

I imagine the hands, then starting to explore in other ways. Tentatively at first. We still haven’t kissed, although when you were talking, I did think about the shape of your mouth, and the shape of your words. Wanting to kiss you. Wanting you. Those hands reach over to the side of my neck, and stroke down, running across my collarbone. How did you know? How did you know so easily, so well, how to touch so that I burn like fire? Those hands……..

A button undone. Two. Skin, revealed. A question in the eyes. We should not do this, but soon it will be too late to turn back. I feel the tug of war, the fight we both are fighting in our heads. Suddenly grins split apart, almost simultaneously. Laughs.

Another choice. Again, my imagination takes two paths, one in knowing that I will not, would not follow you. The other, that I would, and in my mind, I do. We take hands, and I follow you up the stairs.

It seems so quiet, it is so late, here, the smell of eucalyptus filters through the open window. I rub my cheek against yours, roughness of a day of beard against my smoothness.

You take my hair out. Most of the day, it is wrapped, or braided, under control, out of my way. Today, as I write this, its still wet from the morning, from having to throw it into a bun, and having no time for anything else.

In love, my hair takes on a life all of its own. The only time I really like it long. I’ve only recently realized how much it is a measure of my emotions – tight back, I’m trying to concentrate. Don’t bother me, I’m working. Braided once it is convenient, and symbolizes me in efficiency. No nonsense. In two braids, and wrapped over the top of my head, it symbolizes my playful self, my kid side, playing in the woods. But loose, it becomes something else. Silky, it wraps down around us, enclosing us in another layer of darkness. You reach up, and start to run your fingers through it. I close my eyes, to better feel that sensation. Heaven. You pull me down toward you. Wrapped in a cocoon of silk, we finally kiss. It jolts through me, turning from this soft sensuousness to raw desire, in one moment so sharp it is almost painful. We are together, surrounded in the dark by the crowded space that is bursting with too many things, the stuff of my life, the paintings, the books, the sketchbooks piled to the ceiling. We are together, and it feels right.

I won’t write the rest of the story here. But yes, I knew. And I know, and you will never, how many times this has replayed in my head. I get a lot of mileage out of fantasy, now, since that’s mostly where my love life lives. I don’t mind a lot of the time, I’m not sure I have time for a lover. I would want time for you.

I would want so much time, freedom, emancipation from all the cares that weigh me down. Time to stand in a garden and watch our tomatoes grow. Time to stay up late, letting our minds wander where they will. Time for silly word play, sharing the flavor of the language that we love to mess with. Time to make love, so slowly, by a campfire, with a sky spilling with stars overhead. To grin at each other’s sillyness, and yes, I would cook you dinner. I would cook you many dinners. I want that time. Time, which so often feels like there is much too little of.

You are a dreamer. I see those dreams leap out of you, so many. You remind me of myself. I want to see you make those dreams come true. I want to be a part of making them come true, and I can, but not in the way that I want. Or that, at least at this moment, that I want.

This then, is a crush. I call it that, knowing it is more, but that is all I will name it. A crush. It will pass, with all likelyhood. But for now I will enjoy the flush, the flow of energy, the spark it adds to my day. A glint in my eye, a rosy cheek, a flush rising over my breastbone as I think about you. About your hands.

About your hand, that I touched. Once.

Friday, May 10, 2002

Mother's Day

I hate Mother's Day.

My mother died two years ago, on May 15th, of ovarian cancer, at age 61. The day she died was the day after Mother's Day, 2000. She would have been 62 on May 31st.

She was my favorite person in the entire world. She was funny, charming, beautiful, incredibly charismatic. She taught me how to draw, how to paint, how to see. Any time I see beauty in the world I see it through her eyes.

She was the epitome of the Fun Mom. She went to a play with me and my sister when we were both in high school, wearing her jeans and high tops, and they gave us 3 student tickets. We all laughed. She had the most amazing ability to find a way to make to best of any situation, even when time in my family were difficult.

I miss her every day. I miss her more at this time of year, when the spring coming out makes me remember the spring she died. Sitting by her hospital bed, at my parents house, and her looking out the window and wishing she could be in the garden. Asking me to weed, so she could watch. I see a garden, and I miss her. I hear a funny story, and I think "I have to remember to tell that to Helen on Sunday". Then I remember that I can't. We talked almost every Sunday through thick and thin, and the phone still doesn't ring on Sunday in a way that makes the house echo with its silence.

I remember her telling me about one summer day when my father's alcohol consumption was out of control. She was walking up our street to the corner store, and stopped to get herself an ice cream cone. As she walked back down in the dripping hot Washington D.C. summer, she thought to herself, "this is all I need. This moment is perfect".

I remember easter, and her watching her two granddaughters, both two, toddle around grasping easter eggs and chortling. I remember injecting anti-nausea drugs into a tube, when she was choking, so she could fall asleep. I remember turning up the morphine when she was in pain, wondering if this was the dose that was going to make her stop breathing instead of just provide ease. I remember seeing her get thinner every day, suddenly seeing her look like my grandmother, going from 60 to 75 to 90 in a matter of days. I remember her hair all falling out, and her covering her head with rub-on tattoos, to make us all laugh. I remember thinking about shaving my head in sympathy with her. And then again, and now, in mourning her.

I remember her saying "I feel like I should be saying something profound..." and both of us laughing. And later, my telling her that our love wasn't made up of profundities, it was made up of little things - a cup of tea, a long and rambling conversation, a shared book, an art lesson, a walk around the garden, a sketch on a napkin. A shared sympathy, a sense that here was love, unconditional. I remember her telling me I was her best friend. I remember telling her, in response, that she was also my best friend.

I remember visiting gardens, being amazed with how she could name every plant and tree. Once I started working in the woods, I remember taking her on a hike and her admiring the fact that I knew all the wildflowers. I remember going on camping trips almost every weekend in upstate New York, starting at age 5, and being lured to keep hiking with sour balls, and the promise of chocolate at the end of the hike. (No chocolate during the hike, it will make you too thirsty.) I realize now that my first camping trip with Tess, we fed her sour jelly bellies about every 100 yards. She hiked 3 miles, at age 2. A family tradition I didn't even realize I was carrying on, at the time.

I have the camping sketchbook now. Sketches of me and my sister, captions like "Chrissy holding a bouquet of 'pinky ways', so named by her". "The girls played in the creek all day, building moss boats and getting wrinkly toes". Many descriptions of the food: dinner was hamburger helper, potatoes, the grown-ups had whiskey sours, yummy! The trip where it snowed. The trip with the wild strawberries. The trip where we accidentally camped in a cow pasture, and were woken in the morning by very curious milk cows. The first trip in Virginia, where we all walked by the most enormous copperhead I've ever seen.

I remember her dying with incredible grace, and her making her going easier for us. I hope I made her going easier for her.

I remember people calling to talk to her, and they would remark that it sounded like she was having a party. She would reply "We are, I wanted to have the wake before I died. You should come and join us!" And she meant it. The first week after she was home from the hospital, we cooked dinner every night for anywhere from 10 to 14 people. She couldn't eat, but we would all take turns keeping her company and filling her in on the dinner conversation.

I recently wrote a note to all my housemates. "I miss my mom so much right now, I feel as though my whole body is covered with bruises. Forgive me if I've been a space cadet lately, its because I'm out to lunch. Or maybe vice versa." They all read it at various times, and hugged me.

Please understand, if you wish me a happy Mother's Day, and I don't respond, it's not because of you. It's because of a phone that doesn't ring, a cup of tea that will never be drunk, a garden that can never be shared, a granddaughter that will never know a grandmother. I love being a mom...but

I hate Mother's Day.

Dona nobis pacem, Helen Temple Burling Ottaway, 1938 - 2000.

Now it just says....
I miss Helen.