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.