Mid-summer, for nearly four decades, Shadow Nook has called me home. We usually arrive right around the time of the small-town picnic and parade, when the corn is knee high. Firetrucks pass in slow procession, kids scrambling for penny sweets tossed from shiny red engines. Some show off their sirens, blasting them as we rush to cover the baby’s ears. The eyes of the older gentlemen are glassy with reflection and remembering. I imagine the untold stories they harbor. A mountain of loves and losses left undisclosed. Distant friends light up when they see us, remembering our names as we connect the dots between who belongs to who. That’s my son there, in the red sweatshirt. I’m proud of his beaming face, thrilled by his haul of candy.
A stream meanders through the land right down to the backyard where it divides the main house from an old horse barn and a building undergoing renovation. We have dreams of the barn becoming a meeting space and are hopeful the other structure will allow for more beds as the generations who come here grow and expand. I tell my father how in the next few years the kids will be bringing their significant others to join us. He just groans, grinning. His impulse to take care pours through into the stocked pantry and enough plates in the cabinets to feed the masses. Our vexation about the house holding too many supplies erupts into ironic, side-splitting laughter when my sister and I find ourselves at a porch sale buying even more. You can never have too many copies of Women Who Run with the Wolves.
This year a drought has left the brook dry and the steep ledge of rocks in the woods without a flow of water cascading down into a waterfall. We had hoped to take visitors there to cool their feet on wet stones while kids tested their courage dipping whole bodies into a fast and cold flow of water coming down from the top. When they were smaller, I held my breath as they climbed in muddy ravines, fearful they might tumble down. They are mostly sure-footed now.
My sister and I were photographed years ago just a few yards upstream from the waterfall, another era when the creek was dry. Someone thought to record the moment, her with a red cowboy hat, me with a walking stick, my belly poking out. Washing dishes in the island sink, I keep thinking about that image; what it meant for us to be side-by-side all those years back, what it means for us now.
The emerald green rug belonged to my grandmother and was once elegant décor suited for a formal dining room. One day we hope to situate it in a better way, but for now it’s spread out in a small living room where my sister sits beside me on a comfy couch that has seen better days.
I might have been wise to schedule the interview for another time when I wasn’t helping to feed and hold space for so many hungry people. There is an issue connecting my wireless headphones—a costly purchase I haven’t had the chance to figure out. My sister takes my computer into her lap and begins studying the program I will be using. She reads intently, troubleshooting different methods of connecting. We take a break for lunch and then I find her again upstairs in the room she is staying in. She’s sitting on the bed, wearing the headphones, searching for answers and finally discovers that the program discourages wireless use.
In the room where I will be recording, she drapes blankets around to absorb sound and helps set up a table where I can sit, insisting I place a few books beneath my laptop for a better view. Throughout my preparations, she is thinking of ways to better my experience, and I am sitting there, observing her commitment to me. I’m contemplating what it means to help, to be invested in an outcome in which you have nothing to gain. I offer a silent prayer to the gods, that she may always be held with such loving care.
The world does not always reward energetic output, and yet, I believe in the power of positive-intention, open-hearted living and the immense impact of the giving souls walking around on this planet.
How can we shift our acknowledgement, to more of what is good?
A colorful work of art—bright, yet serene with streaks of aqua, canary-yellow and kelly-green—hangs in the background when the video call goes live. The colors ease my anticipation and I do what I can to land fully in my body, hoping to arrive in a way that will be reflective of the truest parts of me. Planting my feet on the floor. Softening the spaces around my heart. Reading my piece slowly, I venture to bring weight to my words. Later, when the interviewer expresses her appreciation for my pace, I imagine she really means I read too slowly.
It takes time for me to find my voice within the interview. I’m walking a fine line between having not that long ago been a cancer patient—knowing exactly what that entails—and also having, in many ways, done whatever I can to leave my cancer story behind me.
Is that even possible?
Within the questioning I lose myself a couple of times. Sharing words or ideas I’m not aligned with, grasping for language, floating outside of my body. Other times I am fully grounded and feel as if my thoughts are being channeled in order to serve.
After the interview I run to find my sister who has migrated to another part of the house. She stops what she is doing and wraps her arms around me in an embrace—a celebration for making it through another wild experience.
Waking in the morning at the farm, it often feels as if I have suddenly been thrust back into my body. It’s as if the majority of my being has been off away in some distant place for the night being reconfigured with stardust. With the slightest fragment of light, I awaken, returned abruptly to this miraculous container, capable of orchestrating a symphony of movement and sound. Given the late nights with the fireflies, everyone else is still sleeping when I walk quietly to the bathroom in the hallway.
The door to the entry has been moved since my childhood, but the water still streams out of the faucet cold from the well. Pulling my hair back, I bend forward to splash my face. Sometimes, rising up, I smile looking into the mirror, growing more and more gentle with my reflection as I age. I witness the changes—the deepening of lines—and slowly begin to accept the privilege of getting to stay on.
I can hear the jingle of Jam’s collar as she joins me in expectation of our outing. Whenever we are reunited, I’m amazed by her remembrance of me and desire to connect. Once the coffee is made and I’ve gulped down a palm-full of supplements, we step into the garage. I press the black button up on the wall to the right and the door rises while I sit to put on my lace up boots. There is a pair of thin wool socks that I leave tucked inside.
I move at a fast clip toward the first sharp hill, Jam at my side, and once I pass the hay barn, I pick up my pace even more. At the incline, I begin jogging quickly uphill, pushing away at the ground, feeling my toes in the tips of my boots. Working my weight side to side on the uneven ground, I imagine I’m a participant in a middle-aged parkour tournament.
At the top of that hill, I slow and walk for a stretch, then looking back for Jam. She’s made her way into a field of crops and I watch as her movement sends a flock of birds flying back into the air orienting in a V-formation. I keep walking ahead and eventually turn back again, calling to her. She picks her head up and looks at me intently. Then she begins running toward me. She’s like a racehorse, her ears pushing back along her head, legs fully outstretched. Later, when we return, my father will comment that she is smiling. Showing off how happy she is to have been out.
We go left at the dip and I pump my legs, moving them with extra effort through the bumpier terrain. If it’s early enough and the sun is bright enough, I can catch my shadow in the tall grass that divides the two fields on either side of me.
I can feel my heart beating fast in my chest and growing stronger, less and less affected by the intensity of my pace and the rise in altitude. The quieter my mind, the more I know I am absorbed in my experience. Often things get very chatty on my way back down—as if I am setting a bountiful table for the day.
At the top of the incline, I reach a lone tree whose branches cascade outward like a giant head of hair. Everything in my body slows as I sit down beneath it, looking out across the vast landscape and into the valley below. Rows of cylindrical hay bales are visible in the distance, along with miles and miles of farmland and a bright blue sky. It reminds me of my brief foray into skydiving and the way it felt to float across a quiet scene as if I was all alone in the world.
Jam objects to my sitting there, coming over, breathing hard and trying to lick my face. I hold her away from me, petting her ears back with both hands and asking her to wait. Soon, with her insistence, I rise back to my feet and we walk toward our final stretch which goes beyond the top of the hill into further fields with woods on either side.
When we reach a cove where, as a child, I once discovered snow in May on my birthday, we come to a stop. I’m trying to remember whether I was wearing boots or shoes that day along with my shorts and imagine there is likely a photo floating around somewhere that can clear up the mystery.
I don’t know why, but I’ve once again chosen this nondescript spot to get down onto my knees. Something about it feels as if by placing my knees and my hands right here on this piece of earth, I will be allowed to speak into the land surrounding me. It feels as if I’m somehow in the center and my voice and energy can move outward and downward into the cylindrical shape of the earth. Jam is also more permitting of my getting still here and lies down in the tall grass off to the side.
The soil is hard and dry, in need of rain. My knees cannot sink into it, but I stay. Soon I sit my thighs back into my heels and lean forward into a child’s pose. My forehead is flat against the ground, my palms placed flat onto the earth. Closing my eyes, I can feel my consciousness moving backward into the place where it seems I’ve gone to in the night.
My surroundings soften and nearly disappear as I bring to mind the vast desires of my heart.