“Forget about enlightenment. Sit down wherever you are and listen to the wind singing in your veins.”—John Welwood

The serving plates and bowls had been washed and tucked away late into the night—hidden in narrow cabinets and sliding drawers until Thanksgiving—the list of what to buy to feed everyone slipped into the recycling bin.

The stillness of the house that next early-morning had the feeling of Summer drawing-open the curtains and strolling into the backyard for a long and undisturbed rest in the shade—The New Yorker magazine tucked under her arm for a leisurely read.

Jonah and Adrian meandered down the stairs in the late morning like droopy, rag-dolls with soiled, grass-stained feet, the glow of sparklers lingering still within their midst.

Slowly, we gathered up library books scattered about the house—some in a pile on a bench by the bookshelf, others in a spring-green shopping bag hanging by the back door.

I felt relieved and like my shoulders hung a little softer for having upheld a family tradition once again—knowing my children rely on the event for marking time, for understanding their unique place in the world.

The trunk of my car was filled with recycling and returnable cans and bottles. I planned to drop off the cardboard boxes and papers but to wait on cashing in our returns.

I thought we were all feeling too-lazy to navigate the somewhat messy return process. I imagined we would avoid the crowd of last night’s revelers who might be doing the same.

Eager for some pocket-change, Jonah encouraged the exchange.

When we arrived at the grocery store the air was thick and heavy with heat—intensified by the asphalt parking lot. I soaked in the warmth on my bare, freckled arms and helped each boy to a black, plastic bag from the trunk—Jonah got the heavier one.

The boys walked slightly ahead of me knowing where the machines were. I captured the image of them in my mind—each with their load slung over their shoulder—Adrian in his favorite grey sports shorts with the florescent stripe on the side and his pale-yellow shirt, Jonah tossing his long hair back with the flip of his head.

Inside, their arms disappeared fully into the damp bags—bending to the side, dipping-in and grabbing a can or bottle and then reaching up to slide it onto the conveyor belt of the machine located just above their heads.

Sometimes the receptacles would get spun around and around and then rejected only to be pushed-in once again by the persistence of four small, but eager, hands.

A couple of tall men with a cart full of cans waited behind us as we navigated the machines. I imagined they were father and son.

Adrian finished first—a small collection of liquid pooling like a narrow balloon at the bottom of his bag. With the more-full load, Jonah was becoming weary of the dampness on his arm and asked me to finish for him.

I reached in—trying to pick up my pace—cognizant of the others in line. I quickly understood his discomfort as I took over, the stench of empty bottles palpable. Before I could get to the last can, Jonah and Adrian had pushed the finish button to collect our receipts.

I took the remaining can and popped it into the shopping cart behind us, thanking the men for their patience.

After collecting our money—just shy of three dollars—we made our way to the bathroom to the right of the customer service counter to clean the sticky layer off of our arms.

Jonah went into the men’s room and I walked further down the hallway to the women’s room—Adrian shuffled between us in the two places.

I rubbed Pepto Bismol-pink soap into my palms and all the way up my right arm and then rinsed it off with cool water, drying with a paper towel.

When I came out, Jonah and Adrian were standing wide-eyed in front of a collection of colorful gumball and candy machines and turned to me with their puppy-dog eyes.

Can we use our money to get something?

 I smiled and gave them the bad news as gently as I could, ushering them back down the hallway and out into the penetrating sun.

Contentment hung between us like a sundress on a clothesline in a cool breeze as we climbed back into the car.

I thought about the time my sisters and I had gotten gumballs at a grocery story as children—no concern about food dyes then, blue 1 or red 40.

My younger sister was about four-years-old and we had all just piled into the car after shopping—large wads of gum occupying our entire mouths, exercising the strength of our jaws with their stale stiffness.

All of a sudden—having forgotten about the purchase from a machine with a dime and the twist of a metal handle—my mother looked into the rearview mirror catching a glimpse of my little sister’s lips, painted a purpley-blue from the dye of the gum.

She gasped at the site—not making the connection with the gum—and became panicked thinking my sister was turning blue from some sort of lack of oxygen.

I don’t remember how she—how we all—realized it was the gum and not asphyxiation causing the transformation in my sister’s appearance.

It put a scare into us all thinking she couldn’t breathe—we can laugh about it now.

At the library we piled up a little cart with loads of books—we’ve yet to be limited by the staff despite our voracious desire for words. I chose a few picture-books that interested me and got comfortable in a soft, burgundy chair—waiting for my boys to join me.

I thought about kicking off my flip-flops, then didn’t.

One of the books described the transformation of a mother’s closeness with her children over time.

It reminded me of this idea I have of my heart being tied snuggly to the hearts of my children—a big crimson-red ball of yarn between us—and how, as they grow, the fiber unwinds creating greater and greater distances yet keeping us bound together.

I imagine a time when the cord might drape between mountain ranges and across continents— laid out across vast landscapes, only some of them literal.

I am counting on a tight weave for a durability that will weather the distances of a lifetime.

Adrian’s favorite of the stories I selected was the one with the wild illustrations of a lion with big expressions trying to teach some other animals about presence. It was the turtle who understood best in the end—isn’t it always the slower-paced among us who reveal themselves as masters?

We added it to our collection to bring home.

Suddenly we were all famished. I was praying that the taco truck would be parked by the big field and it was.

The car was so hot, the boys insisted I roll down all of the windows and start the air conditioner before getting in. We were sweaty still when we found a parking spot right next to the favorite food truck—the line short enough.

We stood on the sidewalk and I layered Jonah up with the bag of library books and Adrian with our orange, picnic blanket that hangs from a strap. I gave them a twenty-dollar bill and told them to go for the lemonade from the stand down the street and then to find a place in the shade to spread the blanket out while I got our lunch.

In line, I watched as they strolled down the sidewalk together—each weighted down with the things I had given them, the red-line dangling loosely between us.

I have been insisting they carry more and more.

They got to the stand, looked-up at the menu-board, exchanged a few words between them and then Jonah came walking briskly back toward me until he was close enough where he could shout-to-me and I could hear him.

Can we get a root-beer float instead?

No!

Jonah dashed back to Adrian and placed their order while Adrian bounced the blanket against his little legs.

Loaded up with drinks, they managed to spread the blanket next to a tall pine tree on the edge of the field just a few feet from where I was still waiting. I was surprised they had chosen a spot so near—the entire field peppered with shade.

I could see their sneakers on the blanket poking out from the side of the truck and breathed easier knowing they were within my reach.

After lunch I laid back on the blanket—propping myself up on my bag—and looked up and across the lawn at a giant oak tree.

It had thin and spindly branches for arms—giving it the quality of a wise elder with a cane—and boasted copious, flourishing moss-green leaves.

The heat hovered heavy and still all around us—like truth spoken quietly in a loud room.

A very-slight fluttering of the leaves in the distance caught my attention and I felt a thin ribbon of air graze my skin.

It seemed unlikely that the air-pressure would build from there but then I noticed a mounting energy and thought about the nature of this invisible force endlessly reflecting the relationship between conflicting pressures within our atmosphere.

One of the large, wider branches with its dancing leaves began to flap slowly and powerfully like an eagle’s wing pumping air in slow motion—the breeze mounting.

I pointed out the contrast between movement and the stillness and coaxed Jonah and Adrian to lie back onto the blanket with me so that they might experience the tiny hairs raising up upon their own skin.

Like conductors—or sport’s announcers—we pointed out what we saw and felt as the leaves began to flutter—just slightly—ushering in a bigger movement and ultimately a welcome relief to our sweaty skin.

We waited for it again and again—in all of its subtlety—delivering a gentle breath-to-the-day and landing us on a patch of earth, in a sleepy town, side-by-side.

 

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“They say it’s your birthday! It’s my birthday too!”—The Beatles

On this end-of-May, day—forty-five years ago—I arrived into the world at the tail-end of a trend of many women giving birth without dads in delivery rooms.

My father was with my mother through much of her labor but then just as I was about to emerge, she was rolled away into an operating room—bright lights all around.

When he first laid eyes on me, the forceps had been sterilized and put away and I had been bathed and wrapped in a soft, pink blanket—looking slightly bruised from the journey.

Afterward, he headed back to the house where a neighbor was looking after my sister and then came and went from the hospital in the next few days as my mother recovered.

This was before the time of drive-thru deliveries and returning home and being on your own sometimes within hours of giving birth.

On one of those days—and for many hours—my mother looked again and again at the watch on her small wrist, wondering where my father was.

He hadn’t shown up when he said he would.

I’m not sure why she didn’t call or even if she could have.

Much later—when he finally arrived—he explained that he had gotten caught-up mowing the lawn and that my grandmother was cooking chicken paprikash and so he couldn’t leave until she was finished but he was there now and oh look at the baby!

My father can be very charming—distracting from the topic at hand—and he does also go to great lengths to prioritize a well-kept lawn and fine food.

This is to say, my mother believed him—that he had lost track of time.

He had actually been across town at the children’s hospital with my sister—then, two years old—where she was having her stomach pumped of my aunt’s thyroid medication—swallowed, while unattended in the bathroom, in the time before helicopter parenting and safety lids.

It wasn’t until my mother came home from the hospital a few days later and was walking up a sidewalk toward the house that she discovered the truth.

My sister—with her platinum-blond hair and likely mismatched outfit—was sitting on the front steps waiting to greet us.

As my mother approached, she lifted her little arm up to show my mom the hospital tag around her tiny wrist.

Mommy, look at my bracelet!

That was just-the-start of all of the twists and turns of living that have transpired in these last four and a half decades.

In some ways it seems I’ve only just begun to get my bearings and come to understand what living is about.

In other ways it seems as if every-single-step-upon-this-path—and every misstep for that matter—has had a distinct purpose and been adding up to this very moment in time.

It can be tempting on birthdays to wish for something monumental to happen—a surprise, a thoughtful gift, a message from a long-lost friend.

It can be tempting to believe or project the opposite, as well—to brush aside the idea that a single-day-in-a-year can hold any particular relevance and insist instead on the normalcy of this truly miraculous event that marks the beginning of a life.

To discover a balance between the two seems like an apropos metaphor for the grand act of living as a whole.

Rising early on Sunday—sitting cross-legged on my couch in the quiet—I leaned forward to reach for my coffee perched on the leather ottoman bought a few years back to prevent head injury in wrestling children falling from the sofa.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of our fox.

It was the mother—the healthier of the two who have been making themselves comfortable on our property these last months, their den likely constructed nearby.

Her face was very still and staring distinctly down the stretch of lawn on one side of our house.

I thought maybe she was trying to decide whether it was safe to pass-through.

Then I noticed a rustling behind her.

I knew she had two pups—we had seen them on another day frolicking in our yard, fearless and naïve to the world around them.

I thought maybe she was holding them back standing there.

I decided to quietly get up and retrieve my binoculars from a closet across the room.

I knew it was risky.

I had barely risen from the couch when she heard me and began to move.

I knew in an instant what had been going on.

She had been standing there nursing her pups.

She began first trotting across the lawn, the little foxes still attached trying to get one last drink.

Then she began to run.

One small fox released itself and got its footing quickly and ran with her, away.

The other sat there dazed having been knocked loose.

His body language said, what just happened?

I remember having to suddenly stop nursing my own children at times—in a restaurant or some other inconvenient place—and them looking up at me with a similar, confused expression.

It reminds me of how it can be sometimes living out the human experience—confusing, disorienting, abrupt.

We do all eventually find our way—even when this doesn’t seem to be the case.

There is no right way, either.

This I have come to know.

A towering birch tree with its white, textured trunk and unusually draping branches stands tall outside the three picture windows a few feet from me—perhaps wilted from the steamy temperatures that have risen and fallen precipitously these last few days.

Every so often, a powerful gust of wind comes bursting forth brushing the branches to the side like long tresses of hair across a neckline—then just as suddenly stopping and bringing the flowing branches to stillness.

 

 

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“Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.”—Cicero

Seated on an antique bed with a white chenille bedspread, he looks like a doll in his footie pajamas and his upright posture—hands folded in his lap.

Jonah first sat upright on a warm, summer day—the sun cascading in through a weathered window in an old farmhouse.

There are many photographs of him from that first year sleeping with his hands interlaced sometimes held at his heart or by his cheek, sometimes at his round belly—as if born into the world in a state of prayer.

I always wondered if he had held this posture in the womb.

When I ate chocolate he often became active—kicking or elbowing me from the inside—jostled out of his peaceful state by my desire for dessert.

Upon seeing that sitting-up photo for the first time, a childhood friend commented, “You need a baby agent.”

He had almost no hair for the first twelve months of his life and a perfectly round—cue ball—head.

Now when his sandy-blond hair grows out it is thick—like a horse’s mane, like mine—and soft with a slight wave at the base of his neck.

Adrian’s hair is thinner—more silky—and when he is in need of a haircut it gets filled with static electricity—standing spiky in the dry, winter, inside-air.

Adrian looks like a handsome throwback to the 1950’s with a buzz cut but I hate to cut Jonah’s luscious locks. I do so anyway in preparation for tick-season in Maine, trying to keep the top a little longer.

Despite the ground still hosting a layer of white, we’ve been warned—the ticks have already made their way down from the trees and onto the scalps of friends at school.

The image of Jonah sitting up marks a place in time when mothering was still brand new, my own hair landing halfway down my back and wrinkle cream yet to be explored.

The Jonah of today—with his silly faces and poses struck as his hair gets shorn close in the back, with his astute interpretation of justice and willingness to put forth an argument—is well beyond the vision I had for him.

I could never have known all that he would be.

We are all so much more than meets the eye.

That first year I marked time by his transformation.

His awakening into the world ticked-off the days on the calendar where I scribbled about how he kicked his legs—so hard—in rhythm with the Putumayo Kids cd’s that he loved and his horrified expression, followed by a grin, the first time he ate peas—most of the ill-colored food-from-a-jar ending up on his chin.

I jotted down about how he was endlessly amused when I hid beneath his seat where he ate atop the kitchen counter suddenly popping-up surprising him and drinking in his golden laughter.

It never got old—rubbing his soft head, surprising him.

I could account for his every developmental milestone noted with a mixture of joy and pride and relief for that first year.

After that it all became a blur and the copious notations stopped—time speeding up along with his fast-moving, toddler legs pushing a wooden cart with a snapping alligator mouth down the hallway.

There were a gaggle of adults cheering for him—he the first grandchild on one side.

As we approached the completion of his first circulation around the sun I wanted to do something to express what it had meant to abide by another human in their nearly every, waking breath for a solid 365 days.

I recognized that it would likely be several decades before he would even begin to understand the depth of my love and commitment to him.

My own understanding of what it would mean to stand-by him and be devoted to him had only just begun.

I could say the same thing today.

I decided to build a time capsule—not to share what was going on in the world but rather how his parents and all those who loved him felt about his having arrived.

I received letters and photos and small, family heirlooms from across the country. Some of the letters were sealed, others I read wondering what the words would eventually mean to Jonah when the time came for him to absorb them.

It was a cold, winter day—typical for Maine—when my father sat with his laptop in our dining room typing out his own letter to Jonah.

Outside the sprawling, picture-frame windows was a sea of white.

As my father typed, he looked up briefly and witnessed a red fox making its way across the wide expanse of the frozen bay in the distance—its titian coat vibrant against the otherwise stark landscape.

He mentioned the fox in his letter along with his wish for Jonah that he might, “live well.”

He gave me three black-velvet, drawstring bags—two lined with yellow and the third lined with purple silk for the time capsule.

Within the first pouch was a US Navy-issued, caution-orange, pocketknife given to pilots to assist them in survival situations—specifically to cut themselves from tangled parachute straps.

In the second pouch was a white, also Navy-issued, web belt—the buckles separated into the third pouch along with a silver boatswain’s pipe (or whistle) traditionally used to pass on commands and announcements of visitors on Navy ships where both my father and grandfather spent considerable time—both as officers and aviators.

All of these mementos had belonged to my grandfather who had been one of a select group of aviation mechanics chosen from the Naval Air Station Squantum in Massachusetts to be sent to flight training at NAS Pensacola Florida early in 1942—just after the beginning of World War II.

A few months ago it came up with my father about the pocketknife and the other gifts as he offered me a second pocketknife to hold onto for Jonah and Adrian for when they were ready.

I realized the details of his original offerings had become hazy for me over time.

The unfolding of the years and the creation of a second time-capsule for Adrian’s first birthday had created a confusing accumulation of memories within me like a tangled ball of yarn constructed out of a thousand intentions, events and moments that had taken place since the gifts were presented.

My father remembered it all distinctly—the experience of coming up with those particular items with all of the history they held was vivid for him.

As he spoke it all came flooding back to me like a favorite passage in a book revisited.

After our conversation, I checked the place where I keep all of the various letters and gifts—in a big basket on top of a tall dresser—and there safely within were the three silk bags.

I examined them again this morning—bringing a bench to the dresser so that I could reach—pulling the basket down and the three pouches out.

I became overwhelmed with emotion when I considered the reality of care taken over so many years to protect these objects and their meaning within my family legacy.

These chapters-of-our-lives returned to are like our very own, personal time-capsules stock-full of messages and meaning we might have overlooked—or not had the presence for—the first time around.

An injured fox has been lingering in our yard for several weeks.

He makes his way around our property on all four legs and then sometimes lifts a front paw in protection as he hops three-legged for a few strides.

Jonah has been awakening early lately—before Adrian—coming downstairs where he knows he will find me—eyes squinting still in adjustment to the morning light.

His body leans forward slightly as he walks. It seems as if he has willed himself awake before he is ready so that he can be first.

I remove one of the larger pillows from the couch making room for him and he curls up next to me.

In these fleeting early-morning moments, his face seems more delicate—like a baby’s—the defenses accumulated in these nine years of living softened for the moment as he piles his legs across my lap to be massaged, grinning and aware of his opulence.

I suddenly catch a glimpse of the fox’s wiry, thinning tail running across our back porch and we both come to attention.

He’s gone before we can get a good look.

A few minutes later he shows up again at the corner of our yard—by the fence—where he begins gnawing on the frozen carcass of a large bird—maybe a crow, it’s hard to tell.

It seems like a good sign that he is eating and we observe as he picks up one-half of his meal and drags it off around the side of the house.

I wonder if I’m going to have to clean up the other half.

A few minutes later he comes back for the rest and we discuss his ingenuity.

I turn in my journal to a page where I’ve jotted down the number of a local wildlife rehabilitator who specializes in helping these beautiful beasts.

I compare with the number I’ve been dialing on my phone and see I have been calling the wrong number for the last few days. It explains why I haven’t gotten through.

Because of the early hour I decide to reach out again through a text message.

Later I learn that the ragged tail of the fox is more concerning than the injured paw and we construct a plan for helping with supplemental food and possibly even medication left to be found and consumed.

The average fox apparently is lighter than a house-cat and catching one in a trap requires that their weight land heavy on all four feet within the trap—made more difficult when one a limb is injured.

It is better to treat them in the wild when possible.

I climb the stairs down into the basement—watching my head at the last few steps where the ceiling comes down low—and find a plastic container of leftover, dried cat food bringing it back upstairs.

Outside the air is full of moisture—a contrast to the dry interiors so prevalent this time of year.

There are some bare patches of earth where the snow has melted with sandy brown grass covering the rich and damp soil.

I’m fully layered against the chill—still biting this time of year at dusk—even so I imagine stripping off my thick boots and warm woolen socks that have rarely left my feet since the fall and walking barefoot across the tender surface.

With a little cup, I dip into the container of food and sprinkle it along the edges of our yard and on a couple of steps leading down to the dock—careful not to put it all in one place.

I dream about the fox at night imaging that I’ve witnessed him discovering the added nourishment.

Jonah finds the container of food in the garage after school and asks if he can spread some of it around the yard.

I tell him he can explaining that it shouldn’t be placed too close to the house.

He responds that he understands and I overhear him inviting Adrian to help him save the fox.

Together they spread the entire contents of the container—leaving it empty on the back porch— and find their way to the swing.

I sit inside and watch through the windows as they play joyfully draped in the shimmering afternoon light.

 

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“Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory.” —Percy Bysshe Shelley

I’m sitting in a shady spot and although temperatures have tipped into the 80’s in Maine these last days, a cool breeze is grazing the skin on the back of my arms giving me a chill. I’ve been ruminating of late about my boys as babies, as toddlers—images of their less than steady gates, their need to be dressed and held up in the bath are swirling around my mind, around my heart. I’ve been feeling the impact of those bygone days. We were warned —more than we would have liked to have been—about the fleeting nature of those precious times and yet, here I sit on the other side of it all in awe of the haste with which it passed. I am grateful that I paid close attention and yet still I yearn for those chubby baby thighs, the rocking chair cuddles, the simple summer water play in a backyard baby pool. My eyes are a little dewy as I write this and I allow myself that bit of nostalgia before taking heed of these emotions as a cautionary tale about the value of these very times in my midst. Jonah called down to me yesterday from our upstairs bathroom, “I’m 44.8 pounds!” Later I watched him—shirtless and barefooted—in our driveway on his florescent green bike riding back and forth swiftly, then raising up so that his legs were straight for a long glide toward our garage eventually coming to a too-quick stop. We recently decided to name the bikes for their colors, for their speed. Jonah named his, “Running Grass” and Adrian’s is called, “Quick Cheetah.” Adrian’s bike has training wheels still and he sits very upright as he petals—quickly—down our driveway keeping pace with his bigger brother. We write so that we may remember. We write so that we may live this fleeting life twice.

A few years ago we decided to move the boys into the same bedroom. It seemed cozier. They each have a little twin bed on opposite sides of the room only mounted by a sort of box spring so that they aren’t really off of the ground. Jonah has a navy blue comforter on his bed, Adrian’s is green. The room is somewhat sparse although the bookshelf is overflowing. They are currently deeply involved in the Magic Tree House book series and have found fast friends in the characters Jack and Annie. They have said that my husband is more cautious like Jack and that I am more daring like Annie. Hearing that makes me smile. Each night we sit on the floor leaning against Jonah’s bed reading our nightly selection. Adrian is to my right, Jonah to my left. Milk often gets spilled and crumbs from “snack” abound. In the morning I often find a damp cloth from their bathroom and on hands and knees go wiping up the remains around their beds. We continue to utilize a leftover changing table for Adrian’s dresser only it too has books and drawing papers piled up on the changing pad which I reluctantly admit is still there. We’ve also kept a chime with four red glass birds in its place over the dresser. We bought it in an attempt to keep Jonah still when changing his diaper so many years ago. I remember standing on a rickety chair and falling when I first hung those chimes. Jonah can climb from his bed now and reach to ring them and does so every now and then with a little mischievous smile across his face. When we moved into our house we inadvertently replaced the light fixture in this room with a fan and light that was likely meant to be for outside use. The light shines only just barely though an opaque cover. We’ve left it hanging as it creates a nice little moon to keep on in the night. Adrian has been known to say, “turn up the moon!” Over the years a little part of the moon has lost a small layer of the cover. Laying with my children as they drift off to sleep each night, I must have stared up at that missing little patch of the moon one thousand times … or maybe even more.

 

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