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.