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Entries in memory (6)


Ten on Ten: Restart, Home

Looking back at it now, I can see I am a child of deep woods.  I was too little to notice then.  I saw the red clay earth under my fingernails, of course.  Heard the hot percussion of rain falling on the tin roof of the cabin my dad built, the urgent burbling of the creek that ran behind his house after the rain, and the crunching of leaves under my feet in autumn as I beat a path - back and forth through the woods, a million times a week - to my best friend's house.  I saw trees, trees, trees, a dense verticality between me and the world.

I wanted out.  I wanted city, and things to do, and sidewalks, and drywall, and next-door neighbors.

Now when I go back I see the forest.  It takes my breath away.

We were there over the holidays.  When I go home now, I ache for the woods.  I want to walk in them and notice everything.  They feel exactly the same, and also nothing like I remember.  I notice how brutal and delicate they are, how rich.  Life grows over life here, fallen trees slowly eaten by water and moss and vines.  The carpet of leaves shed by innumerable deciduous trees are a wet mulch on winter ground.  I am always surprised at the feelings that rise in me, a tender loving familiarity. 

Ezra loves it there.  Being with his grandparents is a big draw, of course, but he resonates with quiet, and space, and sticks and rocks and running water.

(Twice this week he has told me he wants to live back there, and I have to laugh at the inevitability of running from a place only to have your child long to return.  It is the migrant's tale, no?)

I might be tempted to relegate this all to the closet of sentimentality, but when I was home I ran into a childhood friend named Sampson Starkweather.  He's a poet based in Brooklyn now, but his sharp memory of what seems like every detail of coming-of-age and the deep sense of place in many of his poems confirms for me the power of these woods.  In his brilliant new book he writes:

I know you need the city but we all have our forests.

A place for things to grow or fail... to go unnoticed.

A place for things to fall.  I am speaking of the heart.

Like Ezra, I apparently resonate with sticks and rocks and running water.  But I also resonate with the idea that perspectives change.  That we can restart our relationship with a world, a person, life. 

I love my adopted home of Colorado, the wide horizon, the enormous sky, the dry air, the family I've built.  And I know that no matter where I go, these woods are imprinted on my bones.  I'm not running from that anymore.

My little photography blog circle is examining the idea of "restart" this month in our 10 on 10.  I can't wait to see how the lovely and talented Tara Romasanta is restarting in this new year.  Hop on over here to see what beauty she has in store.


View From The Bus

The shuffle function on my iPod landed on Ani DiFranco on my drive to work and transported me immediately to the 24-year-old Corinna.  This time I watched that Corinna as through glass, like a tourist on a bus ride through some dimension where she still fumbles her way, mostly laughing, through early adulthood.  The music runs underneath it, the soundtrack to a time when every day was a test of how big to be in the world.  The unexpected rhythms of Ani's music and her way of turning metaphors on their ears were just as surprising as my autonomy.

From my seat on the bus it's all bathed in golden light: those few, halcyon years after abject fear and before responsibility.  There was a suspended moment when friendship and cheap beer and free concert tickets were the only currency worth trading.  When propriety and sobriety belonged to an inconceivable life (I had no idea then just how familiar they would be come), when any place that contained my passport, address book and toothbrush could reasonably be considered home.  From this angle that Corinna looks blithe and unflappable, and while I don't remember her as fearless, she seems utterly secure in the sense that it will all work out. 

She was right, of course.  It has all worked out, far better than she had any right to expect.  Every single thread has woven together in a warm and heavy tapestry of completely blessed life.  A life laden with meaning, as though that is a fair trade for youth and buoyancy and adventure.  Through the glass, she is in bloom.  And the tour bus is confining and crowded, and I know that in some other dimension my life awaits.


Three Minutes In The Dark

Babies can't put the bread in the toaster, because they will get burned.  Only big boys can do that.

Babies can't sit on the big potty, because they will fall in. I can do that because I'm a big boy.

Suddenly I notice that all of Ezra's shirts are too small.  Mind you, not because I observe it myself, but because he squeals when it is time to get dressed, demanding a floppy shirt.  One that wiggles.  I don't want that shirt.  That shirt is too tight.

I don't mind Ezra's hell-bent demonstrations of growing up.  I actually relish that he's not a baby any more.  But at night, after our torturously slow tooth brushing routine and our books and our what-was-your-favorite-thing-about-today, lately he asks, Will you lay with me in three minutes? 

And I do, because it's the quietest three minutes of the day.

Will gave me a necklace when Ezra was born, a thin gold chain with three small beads, one for each of us.  It has dangled there nearly every day since.  As soon as the infant Ezra gained any control of his extremities he found that necklace.  When he was nursing we sat in the blue rocking chair in his room a million times a day, and every time he latched his tiny little hand fluttered to my throat and clutched the necklace like a prayer mala.

(The other day he pointed to my breast and asked, Is that your belly? 

No, I said.  That's my breast.

What is it for?

When you were a baby it made milk and that's how you ate.

Oh.  He thought, pointed at one and then the other.  This one made milk and that one made water?)

So here we are in the big boy phase.  The other night lying next to him in three minutes, watching him sink into slowness, I felt the absentminded starfish of his big boy hand find its way to my necklace.  It was a happy jolt, jogging me into remembering those long, slow infant days. 

The gift, as we rush into Big, is this: our former selves and all our time together, all of it, is encoded into our muscle memories in a place beyond knowing.


A Love Letter

Dear Dylan,

I can't believe next week marks three years since you've been gone. When you called me a few years earlier to confess that you'd fallen off the wagon I didn't realize it was the beginning of the end.  I had always known you as a sober person and I assumed this was an unfortunate bump in the road, but that you'd be back on track, say, the next day.  I didn't know that the wheels were starting to come off.  I didn't understand that all those years when you seemed okay, your demons were still there, under the surface, gaining strength.  I didn't understand anything.

When I think about how absent I was from your life at the end, so wound up in pregnancy and having a new baby, I feel so sad.  I know I couldn't have changed anything for you, but I wonder if I could have just gotten a little bit more of you.  Jackie told me things got pretty bad, that you were in the grip of self destruction and despair, so maybe it's a gift that I don't remember you that way.

I usually think of you when I'm in the car listening to music, but that might be because it's the only place I tend to be alone with my thoughts.  You also always come to mind when I'm chasing a tele-skier down a slope that's a little beyond me (this has become a theme in my life, but you were the first and the most demanding), or when I get on the old mountain bike you sold me when you became a partner in the bike shop. When I go hear shows at Red Rocks you are with me and I can't listen to David Byrne any more without thinking about the time that you got me backstage at the Fillmore to meet him. 

I feel so lucky to have shared the years of friendship with you and Jackie that I did.  I was such a kid when I started working with Jackie that it's a wonder she didn't roll her eyes and mock me mercilessly for my endless follies.  But she didn't.  She laughed with me, and she invited me into your lives and made me the approved girlfriend, an appropriate companion for the things you loved that she didn't, like skiing and listening to jam bands play live shows.  I hope I was good company for the things we all loved to do together too, like four straight seasons of Sunday night potlucks at your house watching every episode of Six Feet Under that ever aired.

I found myself wondering recently, during one of my Dylan reveries in the car, if you're here at all anymore.  The grief we all shared immediately after you died made you feel so present to me.  But coming up on three years without you, you were starting to feel distant and faint.  When Jackie e-mailed me to ask if I wanted the cruiser you gave her it was like a jolt.  When I saw the bike for the first time I laughed out loud for the joy of it.

Dylan, this bike is the most perfect gift I could imagine.  It just feels so you, from the outrageous color to the skull-and-crossbones valve stem caps.  Riding it makes me feel close to you and to Jackie and to all the times we shared together.  It also makes me hopeful for the colorful and inspired future I am calling forth every day.  This bike is the vehicle I'm taking to that place, so thanks for that.

I made this little film for Jackie, but also for you, to show you just how much I love your bike.  Since you loved good design and the coolest people, I'm imagining you and Jerry Garcia and Steve Jobs huddled up in a corner around an iPad watching this.  (You would have LOVED the high-def iPad, Dyllie.  Wish you could have stuck around to see it.)

Miss you so.




Destruction and Creation

Ezra's teacher told me about a lesson she's been working with him, where she has a collection of small blocks of painted wood.  She asks him to go across the room and get the one that matches in color and then watches as he encounters all the distractions along the way: other children trying to get his attention, other work that might look interesting.  Sometimes he forgets along the way, and she has to remind him what he is meant to be doing.  Sometimes when he arrives at the wooden blocks he can't remember which color he came for.  It's an exercise in concentration and memory.  Some days, she tells me, are better than others.


I forgot what to dream about.  I know I wrote it down, and I remember that it felt very present to me in the moment, but now it feels like fog.  This urge towards some sort of movement, shift, transformation lingers, but the vision is utterly obscured.  A Montessori teacher might be helpful now.


I look around my comfortable life and wonder: what will have to be destroyed as this seed takes root?  Or maybe I shouldn't even plant it, not knowing after all, what it is I'm trying to bring to fruition.

Jen Lemen gave me a mantra: Nothing is wasted.

Nothing is wasted. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is wasted.

Will's compost pile comes to mind.  Scraps and remnants of once-useful nourishment, creating their own heat.  He turns it into the soil.  Plants the seeds.  And waits.

The seeds do their work in the dark.  We only know later, as green shoots emerge, that the process worked.


I can't even remember if I already planted the seed.  I should keep better records of these things.  I am waiting, wondering if the seed is going to crack open and sprout.

I hope it doesn't hurt.