December 21, 2010


On the drive from DC, the snow lined the rows in the cut corn fields. I have always loved the way corn fields look after the corn harvest. The stalks are cut a foot above the soil, and left. And now, grass gone and ground frozen, the left-stalks rise hard and jagged from the fields in strange, wind-tilted rows. In the spring it will be plowed over and churned under. But today, with great streaks of white only highlighting the spears of the cut corn stalks, the fields were so cold and beautiful that I stopped and stood outside my car for a moment. I watched the crows peck for the last remnants of summer beneath the crust of winter white. Winter in the city is so different, so winter.

It's cold and hard and the wind whips between the buildings so fast it feels barbed. You steel yourself against it. The snow has stayed, and the sidewalks are icy. Pedestrians dart across the streets in front of cars, emboldened by their need not to freeze to death. I have to admit, I find the winter difficult in DC. More so than on the island, which is saying something. In some respects, my time on the island now seems surreal--imagined. Perhaps because it isn't an understood thing to do. When I say to people, Well, I spent a year living in relative isolation on an island in the Chesapeake Bay, I don't think that they grasp that I am entirely serious. I think to myself, now, what was I doing this day one year ago? Today, I likely built a fire in the morning. Maybe I made a trip to Gloucester to buy wine and vegetable broth (which is inexplicably impossible to buy in Mathews County). Maybe I watched a film, arrived red-slipped from Netflix in PO Box 188 at the Gwynn's Island PO. If it was above forty degrees, I rode my bicycle to pick up said mail, hands buried deep in the pockets of my red, hooded coat. The locals stared at me from their well-heated cars in disbelief and I nodded to them, face mostly obscured by one of the many scarves I knitted last winter, while watching West Wing. Maybe, just maybe, I wrote something. Most likely I agonized about the fact that I hadn't. I made myself dinner, something ridiculously labor-intensive, and drank Pinot Noir, and winnowed away the dark hours. Last winter, my winter here, was difficult.

I miss summer, as I always do, every year. When I was a child I stole a little plastic bottle of my Great Aunt Margaret's perfume. It was a dark, dark amber color and came in a little round bottle with a cheaply painted gold top. I don't know why I took it. It smelled so like my summers, I guess. Every year I would spend a night or two with Aunt Margaret, in Chapel Neck, at her little figurine-filled house on North River. Her second husband had gone to sea and brought her treasures. Her indoor porch was a museum of his travels--reed-covered wine bottles from Italy, delicate blue china, tiny boxed bamboo houses from Japan, a mobile of tropical seashells, and dozens of porcelain statues of birds. I chased fiddler crabs in the yard and plunged my foot through a rotting plank on her dock, beside which a long sunk wooden boat sat in the shallows, filling slowly with sharp edged salt grass. I took her little bottle of perfume and at home, in California, a state I hated beyond reason until I was old enough to enjoy things like rampant liberalism or farmers markets, I dropped a single amber drop on the last page of the Elizabeth Enright novel Gone-Away Lake. I still have the copy of the book, one of my favorites from my adolescence. It was published in 1957, and is about two children who, while visiting the country home of their cousins, stumble upon a long-forgotten Victorian resort community at the edge of a long-vanished lake, and the two elderly eccentrics who still reside there. For whatever reason, the book always made me think so hard of Virginia that it broke my heart a little bit to read it, I wanted so badly for it to be August, when we would go East. So I put the drop there, that strange cheap old-lady perfume, and sometimes in the middle of winter, when things were particularly hard at school or hard at home or hard in my head I would open the book to the last page and breathe in. And instantly, every time, it would be as if it was summer, and I was here, sunburnt and freckled, knee-deep in the Chesapeake.

I suppose what I'm saying is that, shuddering against a particularly fierce onslaught of winter wind on my way to the Dupont metro, I can't help but wish for my copy of that book, or the smell of my great aunt's perfume, or the feeling of humid hot so humid and hot you can taste it.

November 9, 2010

Time Flies

I think I am happy. It is a different sort of happiness than what I found on the island--that strange, quiet happiness. A self contained happiness. My DC happiness goes in all directions, tumbling. It's a spinning in place kind of happiness. I used to do that as a child--spin until I fell down, dizzy and laughing. That's how I often feel here. Off-kilter and a little bit disoriented, but glad and unafraid. In some ways everything seems very easy here. It's a funny thing, learning to handle things on your own. On the island I learned how to be by myself. I learned how to handle long stretches of time with relatively little human contact, how to be silent, how to entertain myself. I learned that I could be okay without people there to make me okay. Here, there are more people than I really know what to do with, and though I am still forming my little world, I have never felt lonely. I'd imagine I could be very lonely here. Living alone, five floors off the ground, in a city I've never spent more than a week in prior to moving here. I am lucky to have Mike here, because he has made the whole experience of reintegrating into the big bad world easy and comfortable. We go on forays out into the city, trying and tasting and talking. But it isn't even just that. It's that compared to keeping myself sane for the long, dark winter months on Gwynn's Island, coming home to an empty apartment in a strange city and being okay with it seems pretty damn simple.

So what have I been doing. Facts. I made it through midterms unscathed. I find I can't summon anywhere near the amount of anxiety and stress I used to be able to as an undergraduate. I like my classes. The writing is the hardest part, which is an odd thing, as it is a difficulty you have to create for yourself. No one else can make it difficult. The challenge is yours. I've managed, but I don't think I'm at the top of my game, yet, yet. I am rusty. What else? Mike and I went to the Rally to Restore Sanity, which was pretty fantastic, honestly. It wasn't a high-high, if that makes sense. It was more a subdued, contented thing. We jumped and clapped and laughed with the most polite group of 250,000 people imaginable. I saw Frightened Rabbit perform last week, and that was lovely. They put on an incredible show, and I would recommend seeing them should you ever find yourself in the position to. I've yet to set foot in a museum, which is, I know, shameful. There's so much to do here that I find I have to pick my battles. I have to say, one of my favorite things to do in this big strange city is to sit at the bar down the road from my apartment, drink a Guinness, and read the workshop pieces for any given week. It's loud and comfortable, and I love it. Strange, that before I know it December will roll around and I'll have five (?!) weeks off. And then before I know it, May will arrive, hot and green, and I'll have finished my first year of graduate school. But I'm getting ahead of myself, aren't I?

October 9, 2010

Twice Over

Making friends, making plans, writing stories, walking and riding and laughing, trying. It has been a hard week for me and mine. Two years on Sunday, two long short horrible normal years. Sitting in class I found myself remembering what I was doing two years ago, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Driving with Aunt Lynne to San Jose looking for a flower designer--hydrangeas, green and rose-studded in tall glass vases. Sitting at a round table at Chapel of the Angels, barely barely keeping it together until I broke and went to the parking lot. Buying plants at the nursery in Santa Cruz, gently prodding the dangling fuschias, phone to my ear as my mother told me that she had died instantaneously. Staying up nights, later and later, pasting photos of her face to cardboard for the memorial service.

I didn't think about any of this last year. Last year was all about the day of it, the day she died, and the drive and the clouds and Colby on the phone and sitting in the living room with my parents, in the room none of us ever used. This year was all about the days after, the days between October 3 and the day of the memorial service, the following Saturday. The convoy to San Francisco to pick up her car. The phone calls to her friends. The arrival of my relatives. The food, the wonderful bizarre food delivered to our doorstep and often left. Lasagnas and apple tatine and more bagels than I had ever seen in one place. And the plants, the flowers, lining every surface of our house. We ran out of vases, room.

Last year my parents came to Homagin and we huddled together, our little family. This year they went to Tahoe and I stayed here. My father asked if I was going to be okay and I said, What's the worst that can happen? I'll be sad. I find myself saying that a lot these days, in all sorts of situations. What's the worst that can happen?

September 14, 2010

Watch it all change some more.

Suddenly busy, suddenly so busy, and I am trying so hard to remember how to be busy. It makes me think of the last time I was busy, in June of 2008, in the weeks before graduation. It seems so very long time ago. It seems like another life, somehow, and incomparable to the life I am trying to live now. If you permanently alter a fundamental, defining aspect of a person's identity, do you fundamentally alter the person? I feel different. I feel so different that I have trouble remembering June of 2008, and what it was like to be that busy busy crazy girl.

It is good to feel busy. I like my classes and generally I like my classmates, although sometimes I feel strangely old/young. Being around young people for the first time in a year makes me feel like I am twenty-four. At the same time, being around young people makes me feel used and beaten up and beaten down and like I've already lived my share, and I am just too damn young to feel this old. How to explain that to anyone? How to avoid having to? The freshman are teensy and nervous and too-loud and slow to load the bus and I find myself staring at them, awed that only six years ago I was one of them. I wore red shoes with paint stained boy's jeans and horribly knit scarves and cut my own hair in the dorm bathroom and couldn't imagine that I would ever graduate from college, that I would ever be grown up.

I went down to Homagin over the weekend to try it out--this whole visiting the island thing. I was excited on the way down and excited on the way up, so I suppose it worked fairly well. Admittedly, it was strange to be there. There were new baggers at the Best Value and some old pines had been cut down and the lawns were all brown. It was Fall, totally and completely, and I felt the same rush of sadness that visited me last Fall. These beautiful Fall days, all blue-skies and shapely clouds and new light, are heartbreaking in a way that makes me hate them. Yesterday I realized why, of the two metro stops I am exactly between, I always choose the one that gives me an uphill hike (the station at Dupont Circle) rather than the Woodley Park Zoo station. If I get off at Woodley I have to cross a bridge, something I thought didn't bother me. It does bother me, I find, unexpectedly, crossing that beautiful bridge. And I think, Damn. Uphill it is.

August 25, 2010

Washington D.C.

The view from where I'm sitting has changed significantly in the last two weeks. I find myself at a coffeehouse in Adams Morgan, drinking Guinness and surrounded by young people similarly engrossed by their laptops. I spend my nights in an apartment on the fifth floor of a brick building on California Street NW. In the morning I drink coffee and walk down to the Dupont Circle metro, where a train whisks me about the underside of this city. I emerge, blinking, fumbling for sunglasses, as of yet unsure of where I am. I find that the surreality of it hasn't yet lifted, and I sometimes feel like I am an actor in some kind of play, or that I am playing make-believe. My classes at American University started Monday, and I was nervous and skittish and shaky. The campus is small and there are no deer and I have yet to detect the wafting scent of marijuana. It started raining on Tuesday as I, chagrined, searched high and low for the campus bookstore. There were no naked freshman running pell-mell through the quad, and no drum circle, and I did miss Santa Cruz. It also made me glad of my own college experience, and envious of the freshman who as we speak are nervously preparing to descend on UCSC, where I expect they will be met in the Porter Circle by eccentric TAs wearing pink tutus, a sight that upon my arrival filled me with a sense of immense relief.

When I received my first syllabus (for National Cinema, which I can take for literature credit, wonderfully enough) and found it twenty dense pages long, I felt as if I'd been hit in the head with a brick. Yes! You have returned to college, on purpose! It wasn't that I regretted the decision; it was more the realization that I'd made it. After attending my first few classes, I find that I am a little bit excited and a little bit nervous. Carolyn, graduate student. Goodness gracious. It was unspeakably hard to leave Virginia, and I have yet to love DC the way I love Gwynn's Island, but sitting here, surrounded by people my own age and the sound of voices and music and cars and sirens, I am looking forward to the next few years, and what I will find. I left the island in a car full of the same things as had arrived with me from California a year before, but I knew I wasn't running from anything, and that was new.

August 8, 2010

Moon Jelly Nights

I see my departure date fast approaching, and am trying to enjoy everything, everything I can think of. I am doing everything I can. And I haven't been sleeping much.

A few nights ago I was up late, restless, and could see lightning flashing out over the bay. I climbed on my bike and headed out into the moonless dark, a sensation like flying, and ended up at the beach at Tin Can Alley. The clouds were lighting up, and I walked in the shallows, nervous of stinging nettles. I ran into some boys bait-fishing for croakers off some of the salt-beaten pylons lining the beach, and sat with them a bit, talking and drinking awful beer. Hot, we jumped overboard and swam a while. They spun their hands in the water to show me the phosphorescent moon jellies, lit by the movement like strange little lanterns beneath the waves. I got my first jellyfish sting, and barely noticed until the next day, when my arm was striped in red bands where the nettles had glanced across my skin. We swam and looked at Mars and watched shooting stars and the clouds flashed at the edge of our sight. And it was one of those strange happenstance nights where it seems like reality has been suspended, and all bets are off, and strangers impulsively swim in the jelly-lit Chesapeake.

Last night I went to a show at the Southwind Cafe; The Delvers played, a neat little string band with a viola for a fiddle. I sat at the bar and sang along with Bob Dylan songs and met a dreadlocked boy named Bradley who may as well have been beamed straight out of Santa Cruz. As he explained to me that he was trying to live sustainably, and grew his own organic food and filtered his own water, I found myself shaking my head in disbelief. They played my favorite song, "Wagon Wheel," and half the bar sang along, and a 93-year old watermen in white pants and a cowboy hat got up and danced, eliciting whoops from the crowd. I realized after leaving that I had known almost every person at the cafe, and by the end of the night I had met most of those I didn't know at the start. It is a small county, and seems to be getting smaller all the time, and I am sad to leave it just as I feel I've become a real part of it. My only regret is that it took me as long as it did. But summer isn't over, and there are more nights to be had, and I am so glad.

July 31, 2010

Land of the Pines

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color.
--Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

Today marks the one year anniversary of my arrival on the island, when I crossed the bridge sunburnt and mosquito-bit from ten days of driving in a car packed full of friends and one unfortunate fern. It is fitting that we arrived in August. It has always been my favorite month. It is a portentous month, heavy and hot and bittersweet. I counted its days as a child, dreading the erring chill moments of fall, the first browning leaves. It always seemed to me the last chapter of a book you didn't want to finish.

I have been thinking about what to say about this year, this long, strange, short, surreal year. This grounding year. This feet planted on the dirt year. This isolated year. This year of figs and persimmons and cherries and butter beans. This year of snow and hail and thunder and tide. This year, almost two since my sister died and left me to figure out who I was if I wasn't her older sister. This biking, kayaking, swimming year. Sand year, mud year, brackish year. This year on an island in the Chesapeake Bay, bounded by water and family and fable and memory. When I left Santa Cruz I didn't much care to try. Try, try anything. I just wanted to leave, to move, even laterally. I thought that maybe, just maybe, if I could find my way here I would find some strength again, some sliver of passion or pride. A year ago I described myself as a forest burnt to the ground. I did feel that way. I underestimated my roots. I underestimated this place and my people. I find myself buoyed up and held by my eastern family, those people who I saw but barely knew, shared blood with but never a home. This year could have been indescribably lonely, and while it had its hard days, my aunts and uncles and grandparents visited and ate and laughed and treated me like I hadn't been raised thousands of miles away, tethered to them only by phone line and photograph. I expected to find my strength in the place, and while I love this island with a desperation that I have reserved only for Laura, I found as much, if not more, in joining the family fray. I see Laura sometimes, in the turn of my grandfather's head or the narrowing of my aunt's eyes or the quietness of my grandmother's company. I see myself, too, and feel as close to complete as I have in two years, in more.

I made the right choice, and I am ready to try now.

July 24, 2010

Golden Years

I've had visitors abound on Gwynn's Island. Lacy and Greg followed by the Breingan family, soon to be followed by the whole catastrophe. I love to share this place with people who appreciate it, but it does make me feel vulnerable sometimes, like I am exposing my underbelly. It is a house of memories, especially precious now that some of the players are no longer in play.

While Lacy and Greg were here we watched a movie I made in 2004, documenting a one week sojourn in the family hurrah's nest. I hadn't seen it in quite a while, and found I still liked it. It was odd to see the family then, before a lot of what would make the next few years hard had even threatened us. Granddaddy rules the dinner table, making grand proclamations about the intelligence of pipe smokers. Laura appears frequently, and I see things in watching the film now that I had missed before. The sadness just creeping into the edges of the frame, like spiderwebs. Everyone looks older now, and more tired, and our laughter is perhaps lacking in some of its old irreverence. It seems that you never realize you're living in the golden years until they've changed into something else. Laura is dead, Zoe has cancer, and my grandfather can't remember to claim that smoking a pipe is a sign of intelligence. We are still here, and we are still laughing, and in a week most of the whole catastrophe will gather her at my insistence. We have done this every summer since I was a child, and I am not letting go of that. I am glad that the film exists, a time capsule to remind us of the before now that we're living in the after. It doesn't make me feel sad so much as thoughtful, and when I watch Laura onscreen, wiping peanut butter on Zoe's head after feeding her a cracker, I am glad to see her.

July 18, 2010

Prunus serotina.

It's wild cherry time on the island. When my grandmother went away to college her parents would cut branches from the wild cherry trees and ship them to her, and she would sit on the floor of her dormitory room and eat them off the branch. I bike all over the island looking for the best tree. I rate them based on accessibility, the size of the fruit, and the sweetness of the cherries. Of the largest cherries I find, grandmother says that they must be growing over an old outhouse, and I have a sneaking suspicion that she is correct. The cherries turn jet black when ripe, varying in size from a pea to a marble, and there juice stains my hands and teeth. This taste, more than any other, is my summer. Sweat soaked cherry picking days. When we were children I would drag Laura along on my quest for the best tree. She never ate the fruit; she didn't eat fruit. Now I bike home with handfuls of fruit and spit the pits in the ditches, hoping to sow black cherry trees up and down Gumthicket Road. My grandmother used to walk with me to the closest trees and hold the branches low for me, so I could strip them of their fruit with greedy young hands. Now I drive to DC to stay with her, a bag of wild cherry branches on the passenger seat, and she sits in her chair overlooking the city and eats the black fruit from the branch.

July 5, 2010

Maybe You're Right

I've been in DC for the weekend, and have been extremely productive. I bought a new computer (old one spontaneously died early last week, and this is why I haven't been updating anything/existing online), found and secured a beautiful apartment for August, managed to have my data transferred from my old, dead computer (thank you Ted), toured my Grandmother's potential new apartment, saw the DC firework display from the roof of the Watergate, sketched a to-scale floorplan of the new apartment and cut out to-scale little pieces of furniture that I've been arranging and rearranging, went to the first farmers' market I've seen in a year, and attended an orientation for my department at American University. I now have a DC apartment and an AU ID. It has been quite a weekend. This is good, because it had the potential to be a difficult weekend, and while I found I was sad, I was okay. It is hard to watch all of your old friends march into the future holding hands, and to not be a part of that, but I suppose marching off into my own future distracted me, and lessened the hurt a bit. I do miss them, and their company, and feeling as though I was a part of their lives. It would be easiest to be angry, but I find that I am not. And regret, I have learned, does not serve me. 

June 21, 2010

Salt Days

My summer days are whipping by and I feel myself toeing for the brakes. I try not to miss it. I try not to let the uncertainty of what is coming steal joy from my summer. My summer, my summer. Laura's birthday was last week and I found that it was not much at all. What would she think of this, of my presence here? What would she think of everything that has happened? What would she regret missing, had she the chance to regret?

In the hot afternoons I bike the mile and a half to the beach at Tin Can Alley and dive into the warming waters of the Chesapeake Bay. I am afraid of jellyfish, but haven't seen any yet. The salt water is hot now, and at night if the temperature of the air dips into the low eighties the wind off of the bay is warm against your face. I swim out to a sandbar, far from the beach, and float around on my back. Once, walking on the soft bottom, I scared a stingray and it went streaking through the shallows, three feet wide and dark. I'll admit, I screamed. Islanders and non-islanders come to the beach and lie on the sand, a half-collapsed house in an abandoned field the backdrop to our summer. Kids play Marco Polo near the shore, and I laugh at their game. The bay is so expansive, so free from a swimming pools boundaries, and they never find each other. They just yell and yell and burn and I wonder, who came up with this stupid game? On my way home I often stop to pick wild blueberries. I get poison oak and poison sumac and mosquito bites all up my legs but somehow it feels just right--like the summer I never fully had as a child.

The kids on the island are out of school now and they run free, racing up and down the lanes long past dusk. Chasing sunsets across the island with a camera in one hand, I run across them. They hunt lightning bugs in the fields and play hide and go seek in the woods and sometimes they play tag on the main road, hiding behind houses and cars. Their home is an enviable one, and I am glad to share it with them. I feel more kinship with them, often, than with their parents, who wave at me from cars and lawn mowers and their front porches. I ride by, sunburnt and salt-haired. This evening I was passed by one particularly unfriendly teenage boy who shares my road, and said hello, and was ignored. When I reached the main road, there he was, handing smuggled beers to two teenage girls from a Jansport backpack. I laughed aloud, so anxious were their faces. As I biked past one girl opened the tab of her beer and it exploded, eliciting screams. I went to the beach and hung my dress on my bicycle and jumped in the water and tried not to think about leaving. I try not to think about regrets, and I am happy. Some moments I am so happy in this place that I feel like I am brand new. I remember, we were children once, before this happened.

June 13, 2010


We all met in Santa Cruz, California. Only two of the five now reside in California, Alex and Hannah. Travis and Jessica now hail from Brooklyn, a world apart from mine. Once upon a time we sat on meadows and lay on beaches and did homework splayed on beat up dorm carpet. Once upon a time we shared rooms and none of us were in love, and once upon a time we didn’t know each other at all. We meet now under different skies, in changed skins, in a place I never expected we would all be, together. There are so many stars, so many stars, they say, and I see them again, the way I did when I first arrived. We speculate on constellations, realizing that these are those we have never been able to see before, so bright are the lights of our homes. We ate crappy French fries in a dining hall and bathed in co-ed showers and knew all the same people. Have we grown up?

The world has stretched now and it has all turned out so differently than we may have expected but we met there, on my island, under skies with too many stars in a world with a few too many questions. We are, none of us, assured. We can’t imagine what our futures might be, or if we will remain friends, or if we will ever be in such a place again, together. So we barbecue corn and ribs and boil butter beans and steam asparagus and bake strawberry rhubarb pie and spoon bread and eat eat eat with abandon and dance in the kitchen with young legs that feel old. I make crab cakes and fresh bread and scrambled eggs and BLTs and hot dogs and cole slaw. We stomp our feet on linoleum we couldn’t afford to buy and wave our arms to music made by people now dead, and laugh. We bake too long on the beach at Tin Can Alley and our skin, our barely age beaten skin, burns bright red in places, and freckles splatter my cheekbones like spilt coffee. We drink, oh we drink. We went to college, see, and that’s the place to learn how to drink. Watermelon sangria and beer and Virginia root rum and whiskey coke and g/t. In the water of a new ocean we fear sting rays and try to dig our toes into the sand beneath the salt water but can’t; the tide keeps taking us, again and again. We ride bicycles on country roads and our teeth chatter on the gravel and sand. The air is so hot here, not like California. Sweat curls our hair, longer now than it once was, and wets our clothes against our skin. All together we drive to Southwind and play music with people who would hate our politics and religion, singing aloud and dancing on old hardwood floors. People with decades on us watch and laugh and ask, Who are they? And I see, I see, how it must be to be the old looking upon the young. I see how it is to mourn time spent, or not spent.

At night, we walk Gumthicket Road. Fireflies like dreams flash in the marsh and trees and the road before us, like lights on a Christmas pine. When we reach a certain stand of gum trees a half mile away, we stand in silence. There is so little to say. What seems like hundreds of lightning bugs flash flash flash in the trees and I will spend the rest of my life trying to tell you what it looked like, but I suspect there aren’t words to say. It was so something that my eyes couldn’t follow, and I felt like crying. We stood in the dark, listening, watching. I think we all felt as if we were seeing a moment apart. Apart from it—from growing up or growing old. Apart from life as we see it and live it. I think we may have time traveled a little, to a time when we were not so worried or afraid or in a hurry. What I saw there, in the trees, was indescribable. I think my friends, my good old friends, would agree with me. To describe such a thing in words would be to attempt to ruin it, and I can’t. At night I climb on an old rusty cruiser and bicycle Gumthicket and it is like biking through starshowers. How to forget it? How to leave it behind? How to grow up, if growing up is forgetting this?

May 25, 2010


Time is going very fast now. Why does that happen? With a finish line in sight the days slip by, paper calendar pages. I haven't had much to say. No, I have. But I don't much like talking anymore. I visited my mother's side of the family in Pennsylvania over the weekend, and stayed with my Uncle Billy and his family at the house my mother's parents lived in for my entire childhood. The basement smells just the same. I talked nervously, self-consciously. I had a very nice time. It is strange to see your mannerisms crop up where you didn't expect to see them. My mother's parents planted a tree for every child and grandchild in the backyard. My tree is tallest now, a blue-grey pine that dwarfs everything but Gil's green pine. He is closest to me in age. I am the eldest cousin. Laura's tree is gone--died. I try not to read fate in botany. I eye my overlarge tree with distaste, and Uncle Billy talks about donating it as a Christmas tree to the city of Philadelphia. Yes, I think.

In Virginia a school of cownose rays spend their afternoons and evening in the shallow water in front of the house. They are broad, sometimes two feet wide, and their wing tips breach the water like shark fins. Guppies jump out of the water and Zoe refuses to go overboard. She stands on the steps watching the gray fins break the water's surface in twos. Aunt Lynne and I stand at the water's edge and scream when we see a particularly large ray skimming the water's surface, its shape alien. There are dozens of them, whirling and gliding, and I have never seen anything like it. Skates, they call them here. We find a recipe for fried skate wings, but all agree that after seeing them, smooth as sharks, we would not eat them.

My garden has doubled in size in my absence, and the first eggplant and zucchini blossoms are just opening on their respective vines. The hydrangeas at the yard's edge are blooming, pink again, despite Grandmother's attempts to turn them blue. Aunt Lynne brought me my first bouquet of peonies from DC, and they burst open, gaudy and pink. The day stretches into the evening and we all sit on the porch after dinner, Granddaddy asking the same questions as we supply the same answers, over and over.

May 12, 2010


I can think of nothing I like better than to take a bike ride in a light summer dress and to be caught in a warm Virginia rainstorm. I climb onto my worn out bicycle and pedal out under darkening skies. The air goes suddenly heavy and still and the hairs stick to the back of my neck and then, all at once, the rain begins to fall in curtains, as if someone somewhere has pulled a lever. I bicycle with arms spread open to catch what falls, warm and wet as the air in August. On the main road gruff men in pickup trucks smile and wave, arms outstretched, amused by the drenched come-here on a already rain-rusted bicycle. People wave from their porches and laugh and shout hello. And when thunder drumrolls in the unseen edges of the sky and the clouds fall so gray they almost look purple, I pedal home, exhilarated and foolish. Frogs chant in the ditches and I pull up my driveway just as the darkest clouds begin to alight like lanterns on the horizon, flashing. I sit in my great grandfathers's porch chair and watch the lightning strike white out beyond the trees and count, 1, 2, 3, waiting for the thunder to shake the house.

May 10, 2010

The Bridge

This week's episode of This American Life is called simply: The Bridge. I didn't have to read the synopsis to know that I shouldn't listen to it. It speaks to the way that my life has been altered. Bridges will forever be symbols of grief. I am no longer surprised by how often the Golden Gate Bridge appears in media culture. I have not set foot in the city of San Francisco, aside from the airport, since we drove to pick up Laura's car in the week after she jumped. I have no plans to go there again. It is difficult to explain the strength of my reaction to that city, let alone the bridge. When I am confronted by an image of the bridge it feels as if I have placed my hands in boiling water, or stepped on a nail, or fallen. I saw it once, just once, from an airplane upon arrival in California. I found myself twisting in my seat just to stare, fixated. I could not look away. It is a unnerving to see this massive thing, this beloved thing, and to know that right there, in that place, a life ended and your life became this thing, this unrecognizable thing. People frequently post pictures of themselves in front of the bridge on facebook, and it is always making appearances in film, usually without warning. I understand. It is beautiful. But what people don't seem to see is that for more people than can be counted, this bridge is a symbol of horror, of loss. So many, so many people have died there. Innumerable people have died there. It is literally the most popular place in the world to commit suicide. But people do not like to think about that. They like a beautiful bridge over a beautiful body of water. And while I can understand it, it hurts me to feel isolated by my sorrow. It hurts to hate people for their ignorance, or their unawareness, or their ability to live easily, without pain. It hurts to think of it, that orange metal wrapped in fog. But I know that there are things I can not change, and bridges I can not will to sink into the sea, and people who can not, will not understand.


I managed to get in my first kayak trip of the season last week, right before I descended into a four day hell of allergic insanity during which I was confined to the house by an influx of some unknown, unseen assailant. I am amazed by my body's ability to overreact. The kayak trip was lovely; I paddled out to the Hole in the Wall, the little chain of sandy islands that protect Milford Haven from the rougher Chesapeake Bay. I walked around the largest island for about an hour, hoping to come across either a duck nest or some wild asparagus. I found neither, but enjoyed myself nonetheless. Asparagusin' is a local past time. Wild asparagus is common in the marshes, and if you know where to look you can reap a plentiful harvest of pencil-slender spears of the most delicate, lovely asparagus imaginable. Knowing where to look is the hard part, and in the days of yore it was the crabbers who tended to know best. They marked off the patches during the summer, when the asparagus fern is easy to sight, and returned in late April to asparagus. My granddaddy used to asparagus as a boy; he and friends would scrounge the muddy shallows for the elusive vegetable and sell big rubber banded bundles to the neighbors in Mobjack. Novice that I am, I failed to note the some four asparagus plants on my property before winter fell and the fern disappeared. By the time I could find the plants this spring, the asparagus had gone woody--past the point of edibility. Next year I will not be so unprepared.

Despite a lack of asparagus/duck nests, I did have a lovely time on the little island, scaring sandpipers and poking around the empty duck hides. I'm glad I did when I had the chance; my allergy induced convalescence lasted out the hot weather, and I find that now that I am well it is cool and windy. Crab season has begun, and the crabs are plentiful this year for the first time since I was a child. The local restaurants and seafood shops proudly boast signs for soft shell crabs, a local delicacy that I have never quite wrapped my palette around. Soft shell crab sandwiches consist of a deep-fried whole soft shell crab (they look like spiders) in a bun. The legs hang out the sides. It's a little too much for the come-here in me to handle. Look at some pictures online. I dare you to claim you would do better. Crab cakes I can handle. Cracking crabs I find sort of viciously delightful. We used to throw our own crab pots overboard at the end of the dock, baited with an unlucky croaker from the morning's fishing adventure. Sometimes Laura and I would sit at the end of the dock with little lines baited with raw bacon, teasing blue crabs from the water and into a waiting net.

Water is a defining aspect of life in Mathews. It is said that in the old days, when Mathews boys went to sea, captains were warned to never let a Mathews sailor on board, or he'd soon have the helm. RC went to sea, as did many in our family. Granddaddy marvels at it--that boys from the edge of nowhere would leave the County and see the world, only to come back.

May 2, 2010

May Things

There are two mallards showing up in the yard every day: a male and a female. The female appears to be pregnant. The male arrives first and scouts out the lawn, and then quacks until she flies in, all wobbly and rotund. They waddle around the yard, the female feeding from fallen seed beneath the bird feeders while the male keeps watch. Then they sit side by side in the shade and just hang out. Zoe was here over the last week, and chased them off again and again, but it doesn't seem to have left an impression. I am glad to have them. I'm hoping that they're nesting in the marsh, where I see them feeding at night. Maybe I'll have ducklings. Grandmother tells me that a mallard pair had a nest in our juniper bushes a few years ago, but a black snake ate the eggs. The black snakes really are something out of southern gothic fiction. They are like giant pitch black garden hoses. RC hates snakes, and kills them every chance he can. I wonder what it is like to be a duck.

The spring weather didn't seem to last very long. It was 90 degrees today, and humid as August. Not that I'm complaining, as I am just the kind of weirdo who loves this jungly weather. I managed to get my garden in last week. RC begrudgingly cleared me a dirt patch in his magnificent lawn, telling me repeatedly that that was the end of his involvement in the garden. RC hates vegetable gardens. I am not sure why. Anyway, it's a fairly small patch, but I've packed in as much as I can. Zucchini, cantaloupe, eggplant, bell peppers (red, green, and orange), tomatoes (cherry, beefsteak, and better boy), and cucumbers. I planted marigolds all around the edge, hoping to deter insects and rabbits. No telling if this plant husbandry stuff actually will work here, where insects and rabbits abound. I have a little container kitchen garden on the other side of the house. I am pretty excited about all of this. I haven't had a proper garden since elementary school. Thunderstorms are supposed to be rolling through tomorrow, and I'll welcome a break from all the watering I've been doing to combat the temperature.

The mosquitoes and tourists have arrived. I am glad I have a few months here before I start school. Months to sit on my front porch and watch the boats and listen to the drawbridge horn at night. To sip gin and tonics and end this sojourn just as I began it, but happier. I am comforted in knowing that the island will change very little in my absence.

April 30, 2010

The County

I have never been on the island in April, and I am just amazed. A month ago there wasn't a speck of green, and now the forest has erupted. The azalea bushes all over the island have turned out amazing displays of hot pink, peach, and red on plants so large that the look like clouds. Being in London got me thinking about the reasons I love Virginia, or rather, one reason: that it has a real sense of history. Not to say that California doesn't have history; it surely does. But more so that history is more evident here. In California the land is so valuable that things don't linger the same way they do here; old buildings are mowed down and new stucco atrocities spring up. There isn't much sentiment. Or at least it always seemed that way to me.

There are a great number of old, old houses in Mathews County. Not old compared to the houses you walk by on every street in London, but old by American standards. Many of them are pretty run down, or even uninhabitable at this point. Salt and water and forest can be hard on timber homes, and there's an abundance of all three in Mathews. The County, as from-heres often refer to it, was established in 1791 after it split off from the larger Gloucester County (there's still a healthy amount of mud-slinging between the two neighboring counties, and things apparently come to a head every time the high schools' teams face off). What's interesting about Mathews County, among other things, is that while it has a total area of 252 square miles (which isn't much), 166 square miles of that is water. That's just about 67%. My grandfather likes to say that there isn't a place in Mathews over a mile from the water, and he's most likely correct.

After the collapse of the steamship industry and the decline of the fishing industry, Mathews went into an economic decline that seems to have persisted through to this day. This economic decline is probably the reason that Mathews remains largely untouched by the quick-changing technological and social aspects of American society, for good or ill. On the lovely side of this, Mathews boasts no Walmart or Starbucks--no chains at all, really, besides one Hardees on Main Street. The shops in the courthouse are all locally owned and run, and the restaurants that manage to stay open (Southwind Cafe, White Dog Inn, Lynne's Diner, etc) are definitely more interesting than a Chilis, Chevy's, or TGI Fridays. People buy shrimp, scallops, jumbo lump crabmeat, and (in the right season) watermelons, tomatoes, and cucumbers off the back of pick-up trucks parked up and down Main Street. The manager of the local grocery store greets you by name and your postmistress knows your entire family. There are no traffic lights in the entire county.

Of course, a lack of modernity comes with its negative aspects. Mathews can be a little prickly towards outsiders, particularly the Obama-sticker-sporting-Prius-driving-come-heres that own riverfront and bayfront property all over the county. This prickliness, which is born of a fierce local pride, has helped preserve Mathews County's identity while Gloucester County got its Walmart, Starbucks, and traffic lights. It has also preserved some of the regrettable prejudices that Obama-sticker-sporting-Prius-driving-come-heres associate with the South. It was interesting to be in California when Virginia's governor declared Confederate History month, much to the shock and indignation of a lot of people. I could only shrug. You see a lot of Confederate flags around here, Confederate History month or not. You see a lot of bumper stickers (often on pick-up trucks, for whatever reason). I barely notice anymore. The rebel flag is as common here as those offensive lawn jockeys, and almost as common as the American flag. Racial prejudice is still very much alive, especially among the older generations, so it's of no great surprise that the racial slur that comes with flying a Confederate flag isn't much of a deterrent, even if the implication is meant to be more southern pride than anything. Gwynn's Island, despite the large come-here population, is no different. It's probably worse. You can't help but be a little shocked and dismayed to discover that the postmistress who keeps you in Netflix and dumdums is an old-school racist, who ever-so ironically sneers, in reference to Dorothy Height, that she guesses "now we'll have to lower the flag for every colored person that dies." The island has had a purely white population since the early 1900s for a reason. Of course, that is not to say that everyone who lives in Mathews, or on Gwynn's Island, thinks this way--it's most likely a vocal minority. But it's there, and it's common, and people don't seem very surprised by it.

It's difficult to reconcile the unpleasant undercurrents of this place with the sheer beauty of it. They occasionally break across the surface, reminding me that I am a come-here and that some of my political and religious beliefs would undoubtedly be met with fury by the people whose paths I cross on a daily basis. I sometimes appreciate it, the overtness of it. It isn't hidden and no one pretends it isn't there. Just because you rarely see a rebel flag in suburban California does not indicate a total absence of racism, or hate. I am trying to take this place as it is and understand it, even when I absolutely despair at what I see and hear. It reminds me that this isn't paradise--that this is a place like any other, despite my love for it.

April 20, 2010


I am in London, caught in this limbo. The circumstances are peculiar; on still days the ash hands low on the horizon, a gray curtain over the city. Foreigners listlessly wander; at a tavern outside of the British Museum, we met two other groups of Americans stranded by the volcanic ash. Everyone talks, sharing hearsay and legitimate news. We discuss contingency plans: Frankfurt by Parisian train? An overnight to Madrid? Days revolve around evening and morning airport announcements. Heathrow, it sounds, reopened tonight. Now the waiting game, as thousands of limbo citizens attempt to escape to the continent, or the States. The sense here is that of a blackout, when the bets are off and everyone aimlessly wanders from their homes, unsure of what to do in their lightless houses. I always loved that as a child, and later, in Santa Cruz. Neighbors who never spoke spoke, sharing speculation about downed trees or failed grids, clustered on the cement corners of my suburban neighborhood. And in Santa Cruz, we gathered on the front porch, drinks and tea lights in hand, to chat with our neighbors and watch the people gather. It's all very odd, really. We haven't been detained for very long yet, and London is a pretty ideal place to be marooned. We see Billy Elliot the musical, which we wouldn't have had time to do before, and become all too familiar with our underground station, Lancaster Gate. My parents do laundry at the laundromat and I return to my room every night to find the blankets turned down and the curtains pulled tight shut. I buy a red Marc Jacobs wallet and wander through the Egyptian wing of the British museum, examining cat mummies and taking pictures of a flock of elderly Chinese tourists gawking over the sand-leathered body of a young Eqyptian woman, body curled with skeletal hands over her face. It is all a dream, anxious and surreal.

April 12, 2010

Family Trip

I am leaving for London tomorrow morning on the first real family trip the Whites have taken since Laura died. We used to take family trips yearly, and usually more than one. Yellowstone, Santa Fe, Mesa Verde, Yosemite, Hawaii, Amsterdam. We visited Homagin every summer, usually in August, which by no small accident came to be my favorite month of the year. My father had plenty of vacation time, and so we traveled. We also took trips with the extended White family, usually to celebrate birthdays or anniversaries. Alaska, Hawaii, Florida. I saw a lot of this country before I was really old enough to appreciate it. The memories are a bit faded and fuzzy, little specific events punctuating lost time. On Maui, I told my Great Aunt Margaret that there were geckos in her bed, terrifying her. In the Alaskan rainforest, a wilderness guide tells our tour group that the bogs are so deep bicyclists get lost in them, and shows us a tiny carnivorous plant that looks like a little orange gummy candy. At Mesa Verde, Laura and I climb through the sandy windows of ancient plateau homes, where the Anasazi tried their hands at agriculture. In Santa Fe, my mother buys me a turquoise and silver bracelet, which I still regret the later loss of. At Yellowstone, Laura is terrified of the geysers and boiling springs, and is miserable. On our cruise ship on the western coast of Canada, we run up the escalator the wrong way, and I fall and bruise my knee. On Gwynn's Island we play bicycle tag with our cousins, the whole island our playground as we tear through the thick woods on secret roads. In Amsterdam Laura is sad and we stay in our hotel room and eat bowls of asparagus soup; she doesn't want to go outside.

We spent hours in the backseats of cars, many of them white and rented. The family traveled together, but Laura was my partner; where she went, I went. We explored London together, hopping on the underground as if the whole city was an amusement park--the tube its pastel-painted gondola or plastic-seated tram. We groaned through family photos, stealing dignity from ruins at Yorktown, Bruge, and the Valley of the Ancients with our silly faces. The last trip I took with her was such a long time ago, now. I think it may have been to Homagin. I feel like I am leaving her here, which is nonsensical. I will have a good time, and try to celebrate my birthday and the good things that have happened. But I will know that she is not with me when driving through the Costwolds, I find the seat next to me empty.

April 6, 2010

Fake Summer

It is officially fake summer here. Fake summer is my favorite time of year. It is better than actual summer because it is unexpected, and seems portentous. It's like stolen french fries. For me, anyway. Significant life events always seem to come calling as soon as that balmy, rare spring/summer rolls in. This fake summer has been no different. But before I get into that, I'd like to include this. I wrote this in an online journal entry on March 10, 2004. I am including this because it is what I think of every time a string of eighty-some-degree days punctuate the tepid spring weather. It may seem silly, but the day I wrote this, I realized that I wanted to write.

March 10, 2004

This is our life. We are driving down Palm with the windows down and music blaring wearing our skirts, and the hot fake summer air is whipping our hair in our eyes, and we don't mind. We are crying in each others' arms because someone else's life conflicted with our dreams, bursting the bubbles we guarded in our hearts. It's those bubbles we're dreaming of when we are driving down those many streets, hot air whipping our hair in our eyes.

and they don't love you like i love you

We are listening to the lyrics of another song and it makes us cry but we hide our tears from each other, terrified of revealing our inherent weakness. There are seconds, there are days, and they are all once in a lifetime days and seconds and every time we blink we lose another once in a lifetime sight. We are looking at those things we have seen so many times before but we'll never see them the same way again. We are growing up. Second by second, day by day, until it's over.

and they don't love you like i love you
oh say say say

We are wishing we could get those seconds and days back, because they held our dreams intact, before they were burst and the tears wouldn't stop. But they're gone gone behind us and today is a once in a lifetime day and this second is a once in a lifetime second. We will never get it back. And in 10 years, we won't remember this day or second, because in 10 years it'll be a once in a lifetime day and second. And we're hoping it'll be a good one.

In late August I will be moving to DC. On April 1st I was rejected from UVa's creative writing MFA program, and had a moment of crisis in which I declared to my mother that I was going to give up and live in a trailer and make bird houses for the rest of my life. Luckily, I then got a call from American University, and they're offering me a merit based fellowship, meaning that two years of graduate study will be covered by the university. So, rather than fulfilling my lifelong dream of bird-house-building, I think I'll go to American University to get an MFA in fiction writing, live in DC, and rejoin the world. Fake summer never fails to deliver. I am very excited, and nervous, and confident that this is the right thing. I am also sad, because I will be so sad to leave this place. Luckily, that won't happen until I've had my fill of humid Virginia summer, which I'm getting my first taste of right now.

It smells like summer here, which means that it smells like my childhood. The island is hot and wet, wild ramps and onions lining the ditches and turtles and rabbits emerging from their winter hideouts. The water around the island is still winter-cool, and the breeze sweeps cold, cold salt-smelling air across the land, a sensation akin to a sip from a sweating glass of lemonade on an afternoon in July. At night, when it is windy and hot like this, I walk out across the lawn and down the dock and dangle my bare feet above the water of Barn Creek. The stars here are bright and crowded, and I think of the comets and meteor showers when I was a child. My father would wake me in the middle of the night to go stand in a field with him, and we would watch, and then he would carry me home. A stolen time. Sometimes I woke with no memory of it. How strange it is to grow up, and how strange to remember your childhood as a kind of adult. The smell of Gwynn's Island in summer is like lawn clippings and wet pine and salt water and rotting leaves--it never changes. I am breathing deep and trying to remember all of this, every second, to sustain me in the time after I have left this place.

March 28, 2010


It is strange, but I think that in removing myself from a familiar place and familiar people and familiar life I had to relearn myself. Does that make sense? I think that when I was surrounded by people and places and school and job I had all of these things pressing me together; all of those things filled in all the space around me and held all the little pieces of me in place, like water in a glass, or a lake in its shorelines. And when all of those things were gone I felt myself spreading out all over the place--diffusing into the air that used to be taken up by "my life." It was frightening. Without people there to tell me things about myself or to interact with, and without a schedule to act as the daily outline to my existence, it got confusing for a little while. I had never lived by myself before, and especially not somewhere alien. In Santa Cruz I could have still seen friends or gone to Pergolesi or had a beer at the Poet, but here the only person I regularly saw was R.C. and half the time I didn't see him. I just heard him in the garage, picking up the trash, or heard the lawnmower in the mornings before I woke up. In the first months I was here, the sound of the garage door opening or his car rumbling up the drive was absurdly comforting.

For whatever reason I didn't try to fill up all the space again. I could have taken art classes or tried, really tried to meet people. But I didn't. I left the air open, and I'm glad of it now. Because it forced me to learn how to collect all the little pieces of myself on my own, without anyone pressing in about me. I think it was a necessary thing, since I had already felt diffuse upon arriving here. It was impossible not to. My big job, my most life-defining and longest lasting job had just been ended. I wasn't anyone's big sister anymore. My therapist used to have me list things I knew about myself so that I could collect all the pieces on weeks I was feeling particularly insubstantial, like smoke. My name is Carolyn and I like to make things with my hands, be it food or art or forts or messes. My name is Carolyn and I like to wear cotton. My name is Carolyn and my hands shake. My name is Carolyn and I'm lactose intolerant. On and on. But it wasn't quite enough to combat the uneasiness of no longer being able to say, My name is Carolyn and I am Laura's big sister. I could say it, but it wouldn't have been the same thing anymore.

So, in being here I have learned who Carolyn is. I don't have to make lists to remind myself. I can sit in the silence for hours, days, and not feel little pieces of myself floating off somewhere. I feel substantial. We spend so much time in the company of people who laugh at our jokes (hopefully) and remember things about our lives and share our sadnesses that I think we are prone to forgetting how to laugh at our own jokes, without anyone to laugh with us, or to remember things about our own lives, without anyone to ask us questions about our pasts, and to know our sadnesses, without anyone to say to us, How sad. Not that these aren't all wonderful things to have in friends, and I do miss my friends and their laughter and lives and sadnesses. But I think I will be a better friend to them for having missed them.

March 21, 2010


It occurred to me, quite out of nowhere, that at some point, life permitting, my life will be thrown out of balance. In my mid forties I will suddenly wake up and realize that Laura has been dead for more years of my life than she has been alive. I am bothered by this. It unnerves me. Because right now, as I am about to turn twenty-four, Laura's effect on my life can still be accurately quantified. She has been present for all but five or so years of my life. It seems silly to get upset about something that is really only a measurement--a symptom of the much greater grief that is her loss. Once, about a year after that September, I called my parents' house and left a voicemail. I said, Hi parents, it's Carolyn. After I hung up the phone I realized something new. I realized that there was no longer any earthly reason for me to identify myself. They are my parents, and I am the daughter. No confusion. I catch myself sometimes, still about to differentiate myself from a person who doesn't exist. It is unfair, grief. You get a handle on it and you learn to live with a certain level of daily pain, but every once and a while something comes flying forth and shakes you. Reminds you that while you may have learned to live with the knowledge of a death, and no longer wake having forgotten, it is still wrong. It is still not the way things were supposed to be. Your life has been irreparably altered, and no amount of practice makes perfect.

March 20, 2010

Jonquil Days

Around here, people refer to daffodils as jonquils, a term I had never heard until I moved here. Jonquils are coming up everywhere here; on the island there are whole yards and fields studded with the long green leaves and nodding yellow buds. The weather has been absurdly beautiful, and it is supposed to last. I've been spending several hours a day on my bicycle, visiting parts of the island I haven't ventured into since the fall. I think of the island as divided into two halves: Grimstead P.O. and Gwynn P.O. These post offices are ridiculously close to one another (probably about a mile) but somehow manage to stay open. Post offices are second only to churches in commonality in Mathews County. I like to think that there is some kind of Grimstead vs. Gwynn thing at work. The Grimstead P.O. shares its side of the island with the Seabreeze (the only island eatery), the ruined Islander motel, Island Sea Food, the Narrows Marina, the ruined Callis wharf, Roz's Island Market, and the only bridge to the mainland. For this reason I think of Grimstead as the 'town" side. The Gwynn side is less thickly populated and claims only the RV resort, the Baptist church, and the Gwynn's Island Museum (a wonder in of itself) as its commercial attraction. I think there may be a come-here/from-here dynamic at work as well.

Anyway, today I made a little jaunt past Grimstead P.O. into long unvisited territory, which was pleasant, despite being chased by several dogs. People are a lot less prone to wave on that side of the island, but that may just be evidence of my infrequent visits to it. The great event of the bike ride was my encounter with two awkward boys near the cemetery (about halfway between Gwynn and Grimstead). They were holding sticks (why do all the boys around here arm themselves?) and as I rode by on my way they one at a time chimed "Hi Bike Lady" and waved. Bike Lady? And on my way back past the cemetery, they were still there. This time they said in unison, "Bye Bike Lady." I smiled and waved, all the while wondering if perchance this is my island moniker. It may seem crazy, but I was sort of excited by this. I am Carolyn, resident of Gwynn's Island, known more commonly as.... Bike Lady.

All in all it has been an excellent week, and a first rate return from California. I am in love with this place. The smell off of the water and the sounds of the boats and the sight of a raised hand above the steering wheel: these things are things that I love. The effect that this island had on my childhood is only reenforced by my time here. I hope that every person should have the opportunity to live in a place that they irrationally, desperately adore--a place without which they would not be the person that they are. This evening I'm off to a documentary showing on the third floor of a brick building in downtown Mathews. My grandmother knows the place; in her youth it was a roller rink, and she says she remembers the wood floors that still run the length of this great long room. The room is still ringed with the hand holds of the roller rink, and as I sit there in the dark I think of my grandmother grabbing hold, young as I am now, laughing on wobbly legs.

March 17, 2010

Cloud Chaser

Last week I returned to Virginia to find that spring has finally arrived. This morning I woke to the sound of the osprey cackling next door, and practically vaulted from the bed. I stood on my balcony watching as they wheeled around overhead, in a sky as blue and clear as summer. Daffodils are erupting from yards all over the island, though the most magnificent display probably belongs to my neighbors, the Callis'. In the afternoon great dark rain clouds come rolling across the water to drench the island. The ditches are full of green algae and the marshes that lay so undisturbed all winter are suddenly teeming with minnows. I open all the windows to fill the house with new air and sit on the porch in the late afternoon, watching the birds dance around each other in the trees.

This probably all sounds a little absurd, but after this winter I feel entitled to romanticize the heck out of spring. The islanders seem to feel similarly; they've all emerged suddenly to begin mowing their lawns and shining their landlocked fishing boats, though it will probably be a while before either of these things are truly necessary. The little boys who live on Gumthicket were out yesterday, all armed with spears made of driftwood, attempting to lance minnows in the marsh along the road. As I road by they all posed menacingly above the water, letting their spears fly into the brackish water with warrior cries. I visit the lanes left unvisited in the cold months, biking slowly so as to note any changes in this island I have come to know so well. Great swaths of little blue flowers and lime-green moss have erupted in the greening lawns on Gwynnsville, like rashes. The pines on the bayside of the island lean precariously, battered sideways by the high winds of February. The gnomes are gone, and the interior of the Gwynn post office is decorated for St. Patrick's Day.

My favorite thing about spring thusfar is that the maples glow. I have never seen this before. Their branches are tipped in little bursts of buds colored bright orange or red, and when the sun is low the light makes the trees look like they're on fire. At a distance, whole stands of forest will appear to be covered in a strange red blossoming. In a month I'd imagine these red buds will explode into clusters of bright green leaves. For now, I will enjoy this unexpected spring display.

March 6, 2010


It is strange to be in California, so warm and green and peopled. My attachment to this place seems to have less to do with the place than with my parents, who are my only real people connections to Fremont at this point. Most of the people I knew here have left, or are now strangers. I have affection for some things: the sight of the creek I jumped every morning to get to school, or the incredibly small high schoolers running track, or the sound of the drum line practicing in the parking lot in the afternoon. I recognize this place, though with my eyes more so than my heart. It is different than Virginia in that way. I do not love this house; too much happened here between my childhood's end and now, if this is even adulthood. There are so many traffic lights and stop signs in this place, constant punctuation. Interruptions to my thoughts or my movements. Everyone is going somewhere, and they are on a schedule, and I can see why I had road rage by the time I left California, a condition that has now totally disappeared in my time in Virginia. I told my father, By the time you get stuck behind your fifth tractor you're not so upset by it anymore. The water smells strange, and my parents' house feels small, and full of things. People sound unnerving, their voices unfamiliar or the cadence of their speech alien. I know it sounds ridiculous to claim that I have become so acclimated to another place in so little time as seven months, but I think that more than anything I am unused to being so surrounded by anyone, and the voices of people I do not know surprise me. Everything is fast, and I realize that I have been living slowly.

I have already consumed Chinese food, Afghan food, and Vietnamese food, and am awaiting the incoming digestive crisis. All delicious, all familiar. The variety of everything is startling, and while I often find myself wishing for all these things while I am on my island, I am glad of their absence in some way. It helps to differentiate eras of my life, I think, these distinctions. I can't help but associate California with my before life. My life as I lived it and thought about it before Laura died. It is sad, but for me, California belongs to Laura now. Maybe that is why I left. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to make new memories here, so colored is this place. I did the right thing in leaving. I never know that more clearly than when I visit, necessary as it may be to visit my parents and my friends and acknowledge my life here before I left it. In my first entry I included a part of a poem that once spoke to me. I do not think I have ever understood as fully as I do now. I see this place, this Californian place, and I see it now more clearly than I ever had in living here. I see the town I grew up in, and the room I slept in, and the streets I walked. And, I think I see the person I was before this happened, and I begin to better understand myself, and who I want to be now, after.

My friend, a painter, blacks over his lines
and packets his pad:
"We never see a place," he says,
"Until we leave it behind." Yes,
and by then it has become someplace else.

-Nicholas Christopher, Crossing the Equator

February 27, 2010

Sick Day

Okay, Virginia. As much fun as everything being frozen and gray and windy as hell is, I am done. I hereby declare my tolerance for winter exceeded. I get it. And I am high-tailing it to California for a week in hopes that my abandonment draws some of the shit weather west, and away from Gwynn's Island. Is a little verdancy so much to ask? I think not. This is what I have in mind:

I am sick, which is not as much fun as I remember. This is probably related to my lack of things to be shirked. With the magical free pass to shirk responsibilities rendered worthless, sickness isn't so great. There is also no one to make me soup. I made my own soup. But soup, like Coke and sandwiches and french fries, is best when it is someone else's. Even if that person can't cook at all. Colby once made me sick-soup. Chicken Noodle Soup with whole fresh cilantro leaves inexplicably floating in it. I still appreciated it, because I hadn't made it. And really, from the guy who brought us "Chunky Peanut Butter/Margarita Mix Chicken" that soup was really not so bad. I also lose all sense of taste when sick, so, you know. I hope I am well in time for my trip to DC, and then to California, because traveling is unpleasant enough while healthy. I am looking forward to ethnic foods, and coffee shops, and beer on tap. Also to seeing people. I should probably examine my priorities, shouldn't I? Sometimes I lay awake and fantasize about potstickers. There is one Chinese restaurant in the county, and it is in downtown Mathews next door to the Food Lion. It is called "Shun Xing" and it is the object of rampant speculation in the White family. For me, my fascination with the place stems from the fact that I have never seen anyone enter or exit the establishment. It is like Willy Wonka's Backwoods Chinese Chocolate Factory. I like to thing it is staffed entirely by Oompa Loompas. Either that, or that it is simply to front business to some sort of unseemly Mathews underbelly organization. I have met a person who claims to have been there, and to have ordered two different entrees and received two separate cartons containing exactly the same thing. If that doesn't sound like a front business I don't know what does. Either way, I don't want to eat there.

I suppose I really haven't talked much about downtown Mathews. When my grandparents were growing up, each in different parts of Mathews county (Mobjack and Port Haywood, respectively) Mathews courthouse was the happening place on Friday and Saturday nights. People from all over the county would catch rides with friends down to Main Street, where they would parade down the street back and forth, stopping into the soda fountain at Rexall's Drugstore or the nickelodeon in the old Halycon Building. The interesting thing about Mathews is that most of the buildings have survived, and though downtown Mathews is pretty much a ghost town on Friday and Saturday nights nowadays, the locals you run into at Rexall's Soda Fountain (newly reopened) or the Mathews Film Society at the Halycon building (newly reopened) are happy to tell you about the town's heyday. I would most like to visit Mathews in the 1930s, when my grandmother would hitch a ride with her school friend and they would head to the courthouse and join the hubbub. It is hard to imagine now, that a trip to such a little place could ever have been the social highlight of the day.