July 2018


This weekend I’m in Ashfield on my own. Two kids are visiting their Texas family with their dad. One kid is working and performing in the city, as he does most every weekend. New guy needed a weekend at home. I decided too late to invite a friend, also imagined the time alone would do me good.

I left early, awake in the 6’s and ready to go, stopped in Northampton for breakfast at my favorite spot, the farmer’s market, coffee at Western Mass prices, a walk around town with Richard and a visit with his daughter, all reminders of the life I’ve left behind, the life here, one of many lives, now part of my past more than my future.

In Ashfield, I made my rounds, farmer’s market, library, hardware store, Elmer’s, a local open house, cooler down the road for eggs. Between Northampton and Ashfield errands my car slowly filled with treasure, potatoes and peppers and green beans from the blind woman whose stall is at one end of the Northampton farmer’s market, greens from the small organic farm half way down the hill, blueberries from the no nonsense farmer on the other end, corn from the grumpy woman at the next stall heading back up the hill, three bags of coffee from Tart before heading back to my car, two caff, one decaf to share with my new guy and my at home son, two cups of free iced coffee, one for me for the road, one for Richard for later with no ice, a tearful hug, a short surprise visit with his daughter and her new guy’s friend, drive to Ashfield listening to Blues Run the Game, treasure for my eyes and ears and nose as I cruise a favorite route into the country, then in Ashfield, summer squash, bantam eggs, cucumbers, and asian eggplants from my favorite Ashfield farmer, whose got a new hair style and the same old smile, parsley, basil, kale, and scallions from the young and earthy guy in the middle of the ever shrinking market, ground pork for 6 dollars a pound from a new farmer I don’t recognize, raspberries, second to last pint, from a tiny woman who also sells local meat, then on to the Hardware store for the second dozen eggs and Skinny oatmeal molasses bread and a “welcome home” from the owner, our neighbor down the road in the Spruce Corner end of Ashfield, a pile of books and a renewed card at the Belding Memorial Library, where I find Isa’s vegan cookbook and take a photo for my gal, self-named Isa this past year, vegan for two years, another cookbook about the pleasures of cooking for one, a third, Barefoot Contessa I remember enjoying several summers ago, a pile of books of essays by Marilynne Robinson, Maya Angelous, and Mary Oliver, all wise women writing about the inner life, from a later life perspective, Sidehill Farms yogurt and a conversation with a familiar face in Elmer’s, remembering aloud getting Sidehill yogurt in the early days from the shed in the woods in Baptist Corner, wondering aloud and thinking not about getting yogurt at the new farm up on the hill in Hawley. Car fully loaded, I send a photo to my guy in the city, letting him know I’m fine, get one back of a Trader Joe’s shopping cart and an offer of a nice meal when I get back to the city tomorrow night.

At the house on Willis-Howes Road, the cows are home. Otherwise the place is quiet. The quiet is both welcome after a hard and emotionally intense stretch at home and work in the city, and hard, as in it I can imagine all the lives I’ve left behind, all those who are together while I am not, Richard preparing for his dinner party with old friends and a new woman friend, new guy who chose to be home and do chores and see a movie alone rather than come to the country with me, daughter and son visiting my used to be in-laws in Texas where I used to go with them and their dad and before they were born, with their dad, Ashfield housemates who were just visiting the place together, friends of mine since college, married to each other twenty five years or more, and all the friends I imagine spending the weekend with friends and partners. Does anyone at 51 go to a country house alone?

As I dropped off my daughter at her dad’s last night, after an evening together wondering if Mars Retrograde was messing with our moods, each of us in our separate funks all week, me on the verge of tears much of every day as I made my way through week two of dealing with the DEEC legal documents that arrived via e-mail two weekends ago, and imagined each moment in the day care to be the moment when we mess up again, when things again, this time irrevocably, fall apart, my daughter in a funk she didn’t talk about much with me, but the sharing of the funks and the wondering about the astrological origins brought us together and allowed me to ask if she thinks I’m weird to go to Ashfield alone, and to hear from her an answer I might have expected, that I am not.

The place was calling me through the week. I imagine that call to be the inner voice I read about on the web site for the New England Yearly Meeting Sessions we are going to in August, a voice calling me to my better self, to a place of renewal and refreshment, away from the DCF and the DEEC, away from my old house of housemates, away from the worry of making another mistake, of losing all I’ve got, to a field of sunshine, to woods and water, to farms and farmer’s markets, to fresh baked bread, eggs in a cooler down the road, greens wet from washing by the farmer’s hands, cucumbers and summer squash bursting their skins, berries so tender and flavorful I don’t need other sweets, and Ashfield Lake, my home in the water, where I find myself at last, spend the first half hour reading Mary Oliver Upstream, where she tells me about things I need to know, hardness of life, escape into books and nature, redemption in making a creative life, living for oneself in spite of and sometimes apart from the world.

When I have had enough of her wisdom, I get up from my butterfly blanket, leave the young mother wrapping her and her chilled child in a rainbow towel beside me, and find my way to the water. I take my time to enter, adjusting to the coolness on my skin, find myself remembering the last time I swam there, with Richard taking each step beside me, telling me as he did each time we went swimming, we aren’t here for the fun of it, as his dad used to tell him, and I let that bit of life go, cry my way across the lake, until I can catch my breath, remembering my new guy coaching me in breath, tai chi style, find my  bearings in the water, relax, close my eyes, glide until I realize no one is stopping me from going across. My children are grown and aren’t waiting at the shore. Richard is hosting a dinner party and going to a play with another woman and our former friends. New guy is taking a nap at home in the city and headed to a super hero movie I wouldn’t want to see. I swim for myself and for the far shore, wonder if I should worry about being alone in deep water, decide it is now or never, no reason to believe I will give out, that I’ll collapse, lose strength. And so I swim and relax until I meet tangles of water plants that thicken and close off access to the last of the water, allow myself not to reach the far shore, but to turn back, return trip shorter somehow, and choppier, wind pushing the waves into my mouth unless I hold my head up high. When I reach shore, the sky is clouding over, rain forecast to start around midnight and last through tomorrow. I’m chilled and I get out, dry off, dress in the parking lot, find my way to the pizza shop, find a table, type, switch tables to one near enough to an extension cord to plug in my computer, write this blog post here, return to writing again about being alone, making me wonder what life holds, a partner or more solitude. The hand ahead of me in the water was naked, no ring for nearly ten years. For awhile after I took off my wedding ring, I remember wearing a turquoise Navajo ring of my grandmother’s. Then a piece of turquoise fell out and I went bare. Until the return trip in the water, I hadn’t thought much about it. I remember now asking Richard for a ring, and not getting one, bracelet, necklace, earrings, no ring. A ring is for commitment. For now, I’m free.

 

 

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My daughter has a summer reading list, a first for her, I believe. When she was putting it together, she texted me for suggestions. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for, she wrote, and she was right, it was.

I suggested many of my favorite books, Plainsong, A Member of the Wedding, books by favorite authors, books I thought she’d like. I described some of them to her when she came home, and she chose The Summer Book, which made me happy, because it is poetic, playful, and deep, and because something about it reminds me of her, and because I hoped she’d love it.

I don’t know if she’s reading it, but I am. I brought it with me to Vermont, where I’m staying in a Groupon motel and mostly laying low, town shut down for the holiday, heat making activity oppressive.

I’m nearly done. It’s 11:24 and I’m wide awake from a late afternoon coffee, not enough exercise, and a wish to write, a wish that hasn’t been coming as regularly as I’d like. I’m on the sofa typing, wondering what will come if I keep on clicking keys.

My daughter is home with her father, out to the 4th of July fireworks in Boston. I played frisbee on a tennis court, where the to and fro of the tosses began at last to find a rhythm. When I get up out of bed to write, I remembered the to and fro of late night summer tennis when I was a girl and met my friends at the court between their two houses, and we hit balls on the tennis courts while the boys we admired played basketball on the court beside us.

The Summer Book kept me company when I couldn’t sleep last night, made me laugh out loud in the dark, and today in the room when the AC kept us cool, and by the pool, where it was so hot only shade and regular dips would do. I love it and it’s new. That’s the thing about me and my favorite books, Plainsong, Gilead, The Member of the Wedding, The Summer Book, Stuart Little. I can read them again and again and each time they’re new.

This time I read the introduction, perhaps because my daughter asked me from the couch as she contemplated starting her summer reading as I sat at the dining room table doing desk work, if it was important to read the introduction. Yes, it can be, I let her know.  I learned from reading it myself this time that the dreamy book I’ve loved is in fact about the girl’s mother having just died. As I read the book this time, I arrived at the line the writer of the introduction has quoted to illustrate this point, which I must have read right over in the past, and then I knew, the book is about a six year old girl whose mother has died. I was once a six year old girl whose father had died. I wonder after learning this what part of me was drawn to and may keep returning to the Summer Book because the author captures an experience I’ve spent my life trying to understand and if my daughter, who didn’t lose a parent to death, but lost a family, or had a family change dramatically through divorce, will relate or not.

But whatever happens, it’s the first book we’ll both have read in ages, maybe since she was small and I read to her at bedtime, and I hope she love The Summer Book as I do.

For now, no more. Time for bed. No fireworks here, no child, but a connection to summer and to childhood that is magical and travels wherever I go, first reading in Ashfield one August vacation, another reading on retreat at Gilchrist in Michigan, third reading in a Vermont motel, fourth by my daughter, wherever she may be, a reader, too, like me.