“Stillness is where creativity and solutions to problems are found.” —Eckhart Tolle
We filled the seed trays with soil I picked up in a last, scurrying grab for supplies before the world went topsy-turvy, along with pea pebbles for the firepit and a new rake, ours having disappeared last fall. Reflecting on the items considered essential when the world begins folding up and sealing shut like a cardboard box ready for shipping, is like an exercise in reverse of knowing which prized possessions would be saved from a burning building.
The fluffy earth I purchased in a gardening store at the edge of town was compiled in such a way so as to be more nourishing to burgeoning seeds than your average scoop of ground. It needed to be dampened and then massaged before being submerged into individual sections, delineating the plantings. Adrian dove his gloved hands down into a large pot where we poured some of the soil. The bumblebee decal on his green mitts disappeared again and again as he kneaded the mixture, as if he were pressing on dough and we were baking bread. I used a little, half-sized jar as a scoop and dipped out enough soil to fill each compartment three-quarters full.
Some of the seeds were so tiny we could barely hold on to them, like specks of sand. It was inconceivable to plant a single one and expect it to navigate the cavernous den of earth alone and propagate, so Jonah sprinkled in a few.
We peeled off our gloves and dusted off our layers by the back door and brought the tray inside and upstairs to the south side of the house where the sun comes streaming in and hangs around like a third participant in our makeshift classroom for much of the morning. Jonah and Adrian begin compiling spelling lists and writing letters, re-reading entire book series and begging me to make donuts. I begin tracking the sun.
First thing in the morning, a narrow, rectangular beam is mirrored like the reflection of a windowpane next to my desk and alongside the teal, woven rug. Illuminating the front hallway in mid-morning is a large oval, cast down from a window on the second floor. The same spot where I once noticed Adrian, on a Sunday, still donning his cardinal-red robe, a pair of white socks pulled up past his ankles. He was playing his violin and came in and out of the light, as if spotlighted on a stage.
In the late afternoon, I rendezvous with the heated glow when it dips down to the west side of the house in the same place where the horizon melts into tangerine and pink ribbons at dusk. The floor along the row of glass doors is glazed in soft light where paper has been laid out and taped down for the creation of imaginary worlds. Worlds we might venture to escape to, right about now.
As the sun seems to rise and fall through the sky, I follow it, moving our tray of hope from sunbeam to sunbeam. I seek to bestow ample energy onto the soil so that in the ground beneath, our seeds might be well-fueled enough to enact the immense chaos necessary for their destruction and then emergence into their next life as bearers of fruits and greens.
After a couple of days, I notice evidence of germination and the tiny curl of a single shoot of a plant begins peeking out of the soil. It appears as if the stem rises up and then is tucked in a spiral, like an old wizard bent over a cane. In the days to come the miniature sprouts will stretch their fragile limbs and most of them will rise upright, revealing themselves as ready to grow.
The rain and darker days drop like a curtain, propelling us inward toward the dry heat of the woodstove. I worry the parched air and lack of sunlight will rob the sprouting plants of their ability to thrive. I move them around to the brighter rooms noticing the way they crane their necks in the direction of even the most reluctant glimmer of brightness, as if they could somehow will themselves closer to the source of their sustenance.
When the sun returns, Adrian uses the coral watering can with the splash of white paint on the side to dampen the soil. He is concerned the heavy pour of water will flatten the stems. Some of them do appear crushed after we’ve given them what we think they need. I check on them in the morning, and most have returned to their upright stance, but some will show signs of stress with fading, yellowing leaves in the coming days.
An old friend shares on the phone about his wild success and the torturous decisions he has been faced with. I’m thrilled for him in a very particular way, as if his achievement means something about us, about our long friendship. As if the outcome of his endeavors is made of the same fabric of going the distance with someone or something you care about.
Even so, momentarily, in the shadow of his accomplishments, I imagine my seedlings as inconsequential. I struggle to find words to express what it is that I do as someone who stays largely at home, even before it was required. When I witness my fledgling plants wilting, I try to tell myself it doesn’t matter and move on to creating and trying to grow other things. Celery stalks placed in jars of water in the front hallway. The likeness of an owl pieced together from torn papers. Eventually I recover, and moving the seedlings one evening, placing them under a lantern for increased heat and light, I make out the places where they are thriving. Evidence of the direction they are headed is there in the tiny new leaves sprouted at the tops of the plants. I imagine how it will feel to know how far they have come.
First there is pavement where we walk. A long stretch that Jonah and Adrian traverse on their bikes, whisking by me like sled dogs. Parading their talents. Jonah with his no-hands and high fives. On one pass he flashes a wide, grinning, smile and salutes me. On another he shouts about how much he loves to smile. I am purposeful in returning his upbeat energy with my expression, sometimes saluting him back, falling into his joy like a hammock lined with feather pillows. I think about his words when I was lying with him in his bed one blustery evening, the wind howling outside. He said of his problem with sleep, I can hear the wind, but I can’t feel it.
Adrian tests his ability with no hands, too. An incessant attempt to age-up his abilities, striving to exist on a parallel plane with his brother. Sometimes he will ride one-handed or quickly releases both his hands, touching his helmet and then grabbing his handlebars again. I call out to them and remind them to watch for vehicles at the place where our driveway meets an unpaved road and again at the main road up ahead.
Sometimes I am on foot and they will ride out ahead of me and circle back again and again. I trust them to go farther alone but they keep coming back to me, like a pair of homing pigeons. I notice they’ve learned to make a quick glance over their shoulders before crossing into this mostly deserted road.
When we ride, all three of us on our bikes, I notice our shadows, our bodies moving in an out of each other’s orbits as we propel forward like a school of fish. I pump my legs hard, feeling my muscles burn and then stand up on my pedals and glide, remembering the freedom of childhood. Recalling the countless hours of disappearing unnoticed, traipsing through miles of woods and showing up unannounced at a neighbor’s door.
The land narrows at the far end of the peninsula and both shorelines are within a long stone’s throw of each other, lined with enormous granite slabs and giant boulders, strewn with mussel and oyster shells and tidepools overflowing with periwinkles. Mustard-yellow seaweed is strewn all about.
We notice whether the tide has submerged the last stretch of the road that slopes down at the very end and then back up again onto a last plot of land that becomes an island at certain times of the day, depending on the pull of the moon. We’ve always left our bikes on the edge of that last bit of road at the top of the hill and then gone exploring the shoreline on foot.
As our days of solitude mount, Jonah discovers a new means of interacting with our surroundings. He brings his bike to the top of the hill and decides to ride down the steep incline into where the road sometimes disappears and then follow it up onto the other side. In the middle there is a swath of sand and an array of rocks and pebbles to navigate. He quickly discovers a method of maneuvering through the terrain, knowing when to glide and when to pump so as not to go skidding into the water. I brace myself as he moves through the unknown, pushing the edge of his boundaries and experiencing the world in a new and thrilling way. Within 24-hours Adrian gathers his courage and embarks on the same, ambitious course right at the heels of his North Star.
On some days, the wind is so fierce that when we come outside, despite the tops of the tallest of the pine trees remaining still, there is a loud and distant hum in the air like jet engines. The closer we come as we pedal toward the shore, the more we are tossed about by the blustery gales. At the edge, where we drop our bikes, Jonah and Adrian open up their arms into the shape of a T and lean forward and backward into the gusts allowing this force of nature to balance them in its embrace like a gentle God.
I climb down to a grouping of rocks and momentarily hide behind them, noticing the stillness that can exist right there in the midst of a brewing storm. Coming out from beneath the shelter, I climb up onto the top of the rocks, this time embracing the inexorable power of the wind. Chilly and forceful, the crush of air blows past me, slipping beneath my layers. I allow it to pour over me like a cold shower, or a dip in a frigid sea, washing away all that I do not need.