Monday, September 10, 2007


I promise I'll make it back when the summer has warmed me awhile

A few weeks ago, on a shabbat morning while A. and Z. were at services, I walked down to the trickling creek that emerges three blocks from my house, in a bit of woodland that is a vague approximation of wild. Wild enough that my dogs once found a deer leg there, anyway, even though if you look you will see that below your feet, the rocks of the main path are actually the tumbled bricks, chunked concrete and asphalt of construction fill, as much as they are the mica-sparkling local schist that provides the stone for so many of my neighbors' houses.

One of the reasons I wanted a house here, in this little corner of my neighborhood, was that I could walk to those woods with ease: one block up and one block over from my door, a broad path bounded by escaped ivy leads into young beech and maple forest. It joins the main path about a block-length in, and at the intersection there is almost a plaza bounded by roots and capped high above by green canopy on these late-summer days.

I usually head through this crossroads to a little oxbow of path that meanders along parallel to the main one before rejoining it where Anonymous has placed a bench honoring an anniversary. I like that: the public gesture, the private identity.

On the oxbow path, the terrain is more uneven, the path slicker with leaves in fall and winter, but I have walked it often enough that my feet know the roots and the dips in the forest floor. In the nine years I've been walking these woods, efforts have been made to close off the most eroded routes downhill, so there are barriers made of branches and logs along the sides of the path from time to time, and beyond them you can see where the forest is beginning the slow work of undoing the damage we've inflicted on it. Who knows how many years yet before all the traces are gone?

That bench that faces me when I return to the main path is where A. and I had one of the toughest conversations of our pre-dating history. While we were sitting there, almost seven years ago now, a couple I know came by, walking dogs who have since died. They made idle chit-chat with us while we pretended not to be screaming with tension. For years, we made it a point to sit on that bench whenever we could, to layer it over with happier associations.

And we have always been friendly with that couple without quite crossing the line into friendship, but now they have a little girl three years older than Z., and we recently joined their babysitting co-op, and they are staunch loyalists of my store. They have invited us to their house for a yet-to-be-confirmed day during the Jewish holidays--about to finally cross that line and find ourselves friends, I hope.

The first time I babysat for them, a young person dropped by their house looking for them, a young person who is the sibling of one of my former staffers, a child who grew up at the same street number where I live but one block north, someone I first knew as a sixteen-year-old frustrated with the limitations of the school where A. now teaches, and who--while we were chatting that evening--conceded to me that it will be impossible to maintain a genderneutral presentation in nursing school. But I am giving it my best shot here in blogland.

Layers upon layers. My staffer, this young person's sister, would have lunch with their mother every week, a butch woman of many talents, and I would chat with her while my staffer got her things together. A few years back the mother was the inspiration behind an all-woman, mostly-lesbian production of Grease in which A. played the part of Kenickie, and the mother took the Frankie Valli part ("Beauty School Drop Out"). When the Israel-Palestine peace group that A. and I were briefly involved with got into a tangle with a local rabbi, the mother, who's a mediator, came and helped us sort it out. That rabbi is the step-parent of my friend who got married at the end of June and moved to Boston, which freed up her apartment for a neighbor who teaches at Z.'s day care to move in.

Living here is living in a web of intersecting lives. The longer I'm here, the deeper and more layered they become. I live only a few dozen yards from the co-op that is the heart of my shtetl. I shop there daily, and I pass the bookstore on my way. It is rare for me to walk that handful of houselengths without seeing someone I know at least to say hello.

But on that Saturday when I returned to the woods and walked down to the creek, I saw no one else. I listened to the intent buzzing chorus of cicadas as it rose and fell, and heard the wind high above me, but no dogs, no people. I found my way down the hill at the end of the main path, to where a lower path rounds the wetlands and cozies up to the creek. It seemed like saplings were crowding in where there used to be more erosion. The woods are healthier than they were nine years ago.

The creek, never very big, was gentle and contained in the center of its course. I walked along looking for a place to settle and write--I made my way down into the creekbed eventually and, figuring my sandals won't make it til next summer anyway, I just walked in the shallow water for awhile. None of the logs that rested across it looked trustworthy, so I found myself at the footbridge that crosses the creek at the edge of the meadow. It had been my plan to settle in there if I couldn't find anywhere better, but when I sat, I found that just a little ways down was a solid tree whose roots grew down and along the bank, reassuringly solid and perchable.

The creek was maybe 2 or 3 inches deep there, moving through the rocks with eddies so small they were just dimples. Where the bottom was smooth, a half-dozen water boatmen jumped and danced on the surface, making delicate circles of ripples that jittered into each other over and over again. The leaves flashed back at me from the surface of the water, grey and green, with blue sky flashing up between them, and their shadows layered onto the rocks of the creekbed, splitting and doubling the patterns there.

That Saturday was my first trip, alone, to the woods, in years. I had gotten out of the habit of going at all, because going was a production. It involved dogs, and kid, and spouse; leashes and stroller and plastic bags and tennis balls and rinsing off the poison ivy oil from the dogs' coats later. All the layers of home coming right along with me. Why bother?

But a friend and I made a pact to walk for morning sunlight this fall. We both suffer when the sun starts coming a little later and a little later every day, and leaving a little earlier, and if that's how you're wired, too, you know the best way to stave off the blues that creep up on you and the weepy days that pile on in December is to soak up as much light as possible as soon as you can manage it after waking. So we walk in the mornings, in our different hometowns, and check in online later.

That's what I've been doing in the two weeks since Z. started school. I drop her off as early as I can manage, and I head to the woods: all on my lonesome but fulfilling a promise to a friend. It's not as much sun as if I stayed on the sidewalk, but the green all around me eases my jangles and the earth and rocks and roots under my soles keep me focused on the living world that we try to cage with our grids and our masonry and our asphalt, and my online world is layering onto my physically present one. And that little creek at the bottom? Well, I know where it goes. I know the way the storms make it swell and the drought thins it to a trickle and I know the path it follows to the ocean as the water keeps cycling round and round in our saturated world.

*Isn't that the opposite of wrung out?


jo(e) said...

What a beautiful post.

niobe said...

Jo(e) is absolutely right.

Julia said...

Beautiful post it is. I am glad you are sticking to your promise. It's good for you now and it promises to pay dividends.

Magpie said...

Yes, beautiful post. And I'm envious of your woods and your ability to find the time to get out there.

Phantom Scribbler said...

And how ironic is it that I got rained out of my end of the deal on the morning after you wrote this?

Saturated, indeed!

S. said...

Phantom, laughing! Because me, too!

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

This is such a lovely post - thanks! I'd join you if I had woods to walk through instead of sterile suburbia.

S. said...

Hey all, thanks for the nice appreciation.

And welcome, Pilgrim! (It's kind of fun to say that!)

kabbage said...

Beautiful post. The tightness of the web of relationships you share is amazing and beautiful to me.

(on the mundane side, have you and PS considered light boxes? I did not know how much of a difference light made to me until I moved to the western side of the Cascades (the rainy side). without a lightbox, I would go to bed at 4pm in the winter and only grudgingly get up at 8am. not good for a functional life. some of the boxes are quite small and relatively inexpensive now.)

My proof of being human below where I type this is "zoeytl"

Furrow said...

Liz Phair! You go on ahead honey...
Can't remember the song title.

I agree with the others that this is a lovely post. I wish our town was converting back to green instead of being covered over with more and more pavement. The longer I live here, the more isolated I feel as the town spreads out and newcomers come and old-timers leave. Sad.

S. said...

Teh points to Furrow!! The song is Go On Ahead, and it's on whitechocolatespaceegg, the album that's currently supplying me with earworms.

Kabbage, I do have a lightbox! I plan on hauling it out in a month or six weeks or something. Some years I forget to get it out, but I think it makes a difference. Not as much as morning sunlight, though.

(un)relaxeddad said...

Can't remember if I ever heard whitechocolatespaceegg. I really (and rarely) felt as if I was walking there. Is it big cities that those webs just don't seem to grow in the same way?

S. said...

(un)relaxeddad, I *do* live in a big city! Okay, not by London standards, but a million and a half live within city limits and a couple million more in the surrounding area. It's just that I'm in a particularly charmed neighborhood within it.