it stands on a small-town iowa hillside. it’s been there well over a hundred years, this carved headstone at almost-the-highest-point of the pioneer cemetery. in front of us, the earth falls off into fields and fields of green. if you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t know it was there.
we spent the afternoon on the lake michigan beach, searching for hagstones and leaning against a big piece of driftwood watching the waves. mostly deserted, the stripes of soft sand, rocks, aqua, blue sky were serene. we had stumbled upon this beach, discovering it. if you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t know it was there.
there is a spot high in the mountains surrounded by lodgepole pines, the scent strong and inviting. it is cool under the canopy of trees and the log sits next to the stream in a bed of pine needles. an upstream glance reveals a snow-covered summit; downstream is a tiny waterfall. it is a slice of heaven. if you didn’t know…
another spot, a different mountain, we have hiked past the aspen stands and are past the end of the trail. we sit on rocks and play in the brook that swims past us, curling around red rock and granite. there is little noise, save for the babbling. if you didn’t know…
high on the edge of a deep canyon, the sun set over us as we echoed our voices into the deepening dusk. my daughter brought me here and it will always be a pinnacle moment in my heart. that very spot – that canyon – that sunset – that breeze – that stillness – that echo – that power – that humbling – that love – is profound. but if you didn’t know…
places that have made an enduring impact. places unmarked by signs, specific places many do not even know exist, they are carved into my mind’s eye. places – specific spots – of relative anonymity. places that changed me.
it is likely that hillside, that beach, those mountains, that stream, that brook, that canyon will maybe last forever. they will certainly be there long after i will be here. it’s sobering. it gives one pause for thought. it seems a natural hop and skip to: if you didn’t know i was there, you wouldn’t know i was there.
but the hillside, the beach, the mountain stream, the end-of-trail brook, the canyon became a part of me, of the stuff in my tapestry. and, in symbiotic turn, i became a part of them, of those spots.
and somewhere along they way, we have done the same – a tiny part of us has become a part of someone else and they a part of us.
we have our own personally-funded go-fund-me for this dream. it buys time for the bigger dream.
the tiny stand of quaking aspen trees beckoned to us. it was instant love. at first sight, no less. tall, willowy, silvery-white bark, the stand transported us to high mountain forests, to trails in breckenridge, to the first ahhh moments coming over the pass.
we took a breath and asked the price.
the nursery is an oasis. in the middle of our town, we sank into it for a few hours, just strolling about and imagining. these trees brought us to center.
our real landscaping need, right now, is for tall grasses along our new fence. we studied each variety and its characteristics – upright and erect or billowing and rounded, low to the ground or reaching to the sky with plumes, feathery in the light. i visited again during the week, asking questions and spending an inordinate amount of time staring at the aspen trees, photographing from different angles and surprised, soaking, by a full-on sprinkler. we’ll go back and purchase a few grasses.
we’ve run the numbers and the stand of aspen must wait. our tiny aspen tree, delicately brought home from the high mountains, aptly named “breck”, is in our backyard and would love the mentoring of a taller, more established stand. with us five years now, we don’t want breck to feel lonely. but, numbers don’t lie and a stand of aspen, along with planting it, is a little bit expensive. the immediate-gratification toddlers in us want it now, but the adults know it needs to wait. there are other priorities. sigh.
we’ll visit the aspen again. and i’ll visit it while david is working, again. and we’ll save up and keep on designing what we want the next phase of our backyard, our sanctuary, to look like.
in future days, our – still-imagined – tiniest “pando” (latin: i spread) of aspen in our yard will grow and remind us of the interconnectivity of all. the canopy-to-come will bring us to places we cherish, dreams beyond the dreams. we will keep saving, a deliberate stand-fund.
breck rode home in the back. just shy of five years ago. it came potted in black plastic and we happily bought it a giant clay pot so that it could live on the deck with us, next to the old glider, tucked in by the house and shielded from too much wind. we watched its tiny leaves quake in the breezes and marveled at this piece of one of our absolute favorite places, breckenridge, colorado.
during the winter we wrapped the bottom in plastic to protect the pot and keep its roots a little warmer; plus we weren’t really sure where to plant our tiny aspen. our yard isn’t that big and there are big trees that could block the sun from breck, not to mention that we wondered about the possibility of breck’s potential height. twenty to eighty feet is a significant range and, even with a norm of fifty feet, planning might be necessary.
we doted on breck and talked to it every time we passed by. when our daughter house-sat for a summer, we asked her to talk to breck as well. we did not want this displaced tree to feel akilter, out of place, lonely.
a couple summers ago we planted breck in the ground. we placed it back in the corner of the yard, right in the center of ferns and hosta, under a bit of shadowy guidance of some big oaks and maples and next to the big pine tree. we could still see it from the deck and the patio and we hoped it would flourish in its new spot, for, surely, it had outgrown its pot.
breck did well in the summer until things grew up around it. the thing about aspens is that they need sunlight. its branches began to suffer; there wasn’t enough sun getting through. we needed to transplant this baby tree.
in the middle of dogga’s running circle there are some ornamental grasses. they live next to his roundabout sign (the european variety – clockwise). very carefully, in the fall, we moved our sapling aspen into this wide open spot, full-sunlight-possible. we have watched it as it adjusts.
aspens have a cloning nature and, though we cannot see this, breck is hopefully sending out other stems underground. one day in the far future when breck is no longer, there will be new growth and, thus, its clone can live thousands of years. as long as there is sun and rain and things aren’t covered in concrete, our backyard will always have the potential of being an aspen stand.
now that it is spring – well, sort of – we are waiting. there is new rich copper-brown growth and there are buds, leaves patiently timing their grand opening. we will watch carefully and research what breck might need to sustain. we want to give breck every chance to thrive.
we can’t wait to sit on the patio in adirondack chairs in warm sun watching the new leaves of our cherished little aspen quake in the breeze.
inane information moment: i am drinking coffee out of this mug right now.
in a small shop on the main street of frisco, colorado (elev. 9075′) these mugs sat on a shelf and waited. since we are bring-back-a-mug (or cloth napkins or a rock or a big branch) people, it seemed destined to go home with us – a black mug with trees and the word “colorado”. how much more perfect can a memorymug get?
it’s visceral drinking coffee out of this mug. it makes me want to walk down main street, jaunt into the bookstore, find the trailhead at the end of the road. i merely have to hold it in my hands and i am in the high mountains, squishing the goodness out of every single minute we get to breathe in that air.
there are quite a few mugs in our mug cabinet. and this is after we pared them down, bringing cups to the church we used to go to for their coffee hour, which had a huge collection of people’s memorymugs. you’d wrap your hand around a floral mug and wonder who gave it to whom. you’d cup hot coffee and laugh at how many i-love-my-teacher mugs had been options on the rolling cart with the coffee urn.
there are some mugs that i simply could not have let go. a peanuts mug from the 70s, a mug from the cape, a handle-less clay mug from a potter in the north carolina mountains, two round glass mugs from which my sweet momma and dad sipped coffeetime, a charlie brown mug from h, the shayne mugs from my sister, our breckenridge cabin coffee mugs, the remaining unbroken snowmass mug, a couple mugs our girl left behind a few summers ago.
i guess that the point is what each of these conjure up nestled in my hands, steaming-coffee-ready. they are like a timeline of life, the viewmaster of the coffee world. click – another slide. click – another slide. choose your mug, choose your reel.
coffee is never just about the coffee. at least that is what i have learned in my life. it is always about the moments and, at risk of hyper-redundant-emotion-waxing, presence is what counts. for there is simply nothing better than sitting here – this very minute i am writing this – early morning, with coffee, under the quilt, dogga at my feet and d next to me, my mom’s old glass nighttable lamp on by our side, snow falling falling falling outside the window, holding every frisco memory in my hands. even if i have forgotten the tiny details of the trip, i can feel the majesty of the mountains and the way it feels to look across lake dillon and catch my breath.
the gift of this mug in my hands is that it delivers me there – just by opening up the triangle cabinet in the kitchen, selecting this mug and pouring coffee. though we are right here – at home – we are also right there. in summit county.
when we talked to 20 on the phone last night he told us he had only one thing of note he had saved recently that he felt worthy. expecting it to be a helpful hint of some sort, we waited. he paused and then quoted, “by replacing your morning coffee with green tea you can lose up to 87% of what little joy you still have left in your life.” (shah of blah tweet)
i suppose you could drink green tea out of this mug too. but why would you do that?
it smells like florida outside this morning. it’s milder and dewy and distinctive. it makes me think of many, many mornings waking up in florida, ready for sunny and warm. clouds hung low in the early day, burning off as the hours passed. here, this day will stay mostly cloudy, rain passing by, the sun not really having a chance. having passed through a couple days of really-cold, a day in the 50s feels like a reprieve. and that smell…
there have been some days in the summer when something in the air shifted and we could catch a hint of fishy from the lake. the air hung a bit heavier and the seagulls were noisy. these were the days i felt long island, images reaching across time and the miles inbetween here and there, beach days, boating days, old bike-hike days, days on the stoop of my growing-up house…
and the days when the leaves on the ground in late fall or the pine forest in the middle of our river trail place me back hiking in our favorite breckenridge, the scent of evergreen forest ever-present. those high mountains…
there are two small bottles of cologne on the windowsill of our bathroom. neither is mine. the estee lauder pleasures was my sweet momma’s and the small travel size marc jacobs daisy is one that my girl left behind. if my son was represented on the sill it would make me smile to see the abercrombie fierce his sister and i bought, long ago, for him to wear – talkaboutdistinctive! just a whiff of each of those…
the memory of fragrance is powerful and emotional.
we have cleared the deck of summer. the outdoor rugs, the table and chairs and new umbrella, the cushions and pillows, the old door and the ficus tree. all are put away. soon the dog’s water bowl will come inside as well and the last two pillows too. the rugs left lines on the wood, which will fade as time goes on. it looks blank out there. it seems like such a short time ago we were planning and shopping ever-so-wisely to make that space the perfect après spot. now, winter is on its way, taunting us even this week.
we left the small firepit on the deck. i figured we could light it outside the window and watch it from the table in the sunroom. it has been our favorite purchase of the summer and too much change too fast is, let’s face it, too much change too fast. we can still enjoy it for a bit more time, tucking it away on the most extreme days. après has moved inside.
but i suspect there will be a morning we wake up…some wintry day…probably soon…when we rise and open the back door for dogdog. we’ll have a burst of cold air and then, a long breath.
the snow will smell like frosted magic, crisp and white, sparkling. the sun will glimmer off flakes that have fallen on the deck. it will conjure up memories of snowmen and holiday decorating, christmas shopping and wrapping stocking stuffers late-late at night, the fireplace and shoveling and snow angels, walks in the woods and the crunchy sound of snow under your feet…
and that morning i’ll think, yes, this smells just like wisconsin.
when the exposure notification availability showed up on the iphone, i x-ed it out. it comes every day and every day i delete it. i’m not sure we need any more reminders of covid exposure. we are already hyper aware of the dangers of this virus, the breakthrough possibility, the guidelines. last night we talked about all the places we would go were it not for this pandemic. the list was seemingly endless and we were in wonder about missing all of it.
we know that others are out there living life as any other day, as in any other time. i don’t know how to do that right now. any moment i forget about it and start talking about something fun to do or someplace fun to go, i remember. the benefit-risk factor is mightily dependent on, well, every facet involved, including higher threat and protecting ourselves and people we love. but i do know this – if it is for my children, i will do it. though we don’t get to exercise it much, that risk is unconditional.
we are finding that maybe we are more conservative, more cautious than others as we weigh our activities and destinations. it’s frustrating. we are a year and a half into this and, while vaccinations help us significantly, there is no stopping a mutating virus that wants to spread without the cooperation of everyone.
at the end of this pandemic, when there IS one, we will look around at the wreckage. lives and health and homes and jobs and security have been decimated. there are those who have been ultra-cavalier and have blatantly denied and defied any safety measures. there are those who have gone to disney, who have gathered in large unmasked gatherings, who have traveled widely. and there are those of us who have not. it’s a wide spectrum where, really, the most prudent route seems a narrower band of collaboration. and it – truly – sometimes makes me ponder what we’re missing. and, even though i ask ‘why?’ time and again, we stay on the track we have decided on, committing to an end to this insanity.
i suppose an argument against the way we are navigating through this would be that we are living out of fear, that we are limiting ourselves in a limitless world because, even when we have no guarantee for life in ANY given circumstance, we have bowed to covid-19, a frightening reality that makes us pay attention. it makes me sad to write that.
at the end others will have lived through it and have traveled and celebrated and eaten out. and hopefully we, too, will have lived through it. but our experience-list will be shorter; if traveling and celebrating and eating out are the things that count we have the tiniest list. our experience-list includes a serious respect for medicine, for science, for experts trying to help us mitigate this. it includes a deep concern for others and a wish for their good health and well-being. it lists to the end goal and not the short term. it includes the very-fewest visits with beloved children and family, in some cases none, tearing at my heart, painful. it includes much home-time, gratitude for this place in which we work and learn and cook and grow and dance. it’s much narrower than we would have imagined and, yet, it is rich in ways i also could not have imagined.
and next year, or sooner, i hope, maybe our experience-list will include irish fest and farmer’s markets and eating at the bar at wine-knot and restaurants in chicago and exploring in north carolina and live-in-person conversations with people who have been there for us, national geographic live events and long stays in the rocky mountains with mornings at cabin coffee in breck and winterfest in cedarburg and a slow dance party revisited on our patio, with people spilling into the kitchen, making drinks and preparing hors d’oeuvres.
maybe our experience-list will include a booster shot and no masks and fewer headlines about staggering loss and more news about communities coming together in support of each other.
maybe our experience-list will have less worry and less fear. the end goal.
“easy living” it advertises on the cover of the wayfair summer catalog. inside, you can purchase everything you need for easy living. for a price, you can create easy living spaces on your deck, your front porch, in your kitchen, in your bath, by your pool, in your backyard. most items are really beautiful, beckoning you to believe in the power they have to help you live easy. this summer, we actually added a few small things to our own deck, though our deck is a mostly-target-added-to-repurposed-stuff deck. i have to say, a few cushions and outdoor pillows make an inviting difference.
we have changed our schedule a bit these days. we used to stay up really late and watch late night news and comedy talk shows, but through the pandemic and the political-rah-rah times it has tended to get us riled up. so instead, after the sun has fallen from the sky and mosquitoes having joined us on the deck, we watch minimal tv and go to bed early to read aloud or watch trails on a laptop. we wake up early, with rising sun and birdcalls streaming in through the wide-open windows in our bedroom.
this morning, just as the sun rose, i plugged in the coffee, fed dogdog, opened the windows in the sunroom and went outside. i greeted the tiniest farm on our potting stand, tested the soil for dampness, looked for ripe cherry tomatoes, pinched back the sweet basil. i checked on the lavender. i added bird seed to the feeder. i looked for magic in the pond and pulled a couple weeds. i watched dogga sniff around his yard and drank in the salmon sky lightening in the east. i came back inside and wandered from plant to plant, saying good morning to succulents and KC and snakeinthegrass. the coffee pot beeping drew me out of where i was standing by the window, looking out, and i pulled out cabin coffee company mugs. every day is different and every mug brings with it a different set of visceral memories. it was a breckenridge mug kind of day.
it was quiet; all was still. i thought: this. this is easy living. a little bit of ritual, a little peace at the beginning of the day, a little peace at the end of the day – these are ingredients you cannot purchase from a catalog. these simple gestures we make to being present-here-now are contagious. they spread the intention of simplicity to the rest of our day. and though we don’t always stay there, in peace, we know we can find our way back there.
because at the beginning of the next day we can try again. we can find the wonderful in this wonderful world.
she sent us a video of her snowboarding with friends. it was a crazy-good-full-tilt-snow-flying amazing video of them on a magnificently majestic mountain. my heart literally sang watching it; you could feel the rush, the joy! and then….there was this spoken line…at the end…My Girl, breathless from an outstanding run, with a laugh said, “my legs are tired; my heart is happy!” this is how she lives.
i could stop writing right here, because that really says it all. as we go full-tilt at these holidays, full-tilt at the end of this year, full-tilt toward a new year, full-tilt toward our goals and dreams and wishes, we believe that giving our all – and then some – brings us ever closer to that elusive place of “getting there.”
but at the bottom of that powder-run there were no medals; there was no bonus, no ribbon or gold watch. there was something more precious. and kirsten knew it. there was the moment of running it, of sharing it, of living it. the absolute euphoria that comes with just doing the best you can, and putting your body and soul into it, capturing the moments you soar.
may this holiday season – and really, all your days – bring you those moments. at the bottom of the slope, on christmas eve when you are in a dark room with a lighted tree, on a day you gather with family and friends and look around grabbing a few seconds to store away for later, on a facetime with those most beloved to you, when you’ve put away the last dish or driven the last couple hundred miles, when you have gone full-tilt, i know you will be a little tired. but it is my hope your heart will be happy.
standing in a stand of aspens. simply magical. the way the leaves quake in the wind, the glowing bark that takes on the angle of the sun, the graceful spiring height. and the quiet. on a trail in the woods, the backdrop of the rockies peeking between the trees, i breathe easier, deeper. i feel in tune with that place; its voice speaks to me. i whisper back my gratitude.
i don’t have to look further than my two children for examples of being relentless.
The Boy decided, early in high school, that he wanted to change his attention from baseball to tennis. now, most of his classmates who were tennis players on the varsity team had played since earlier childhood. The Boy had only hit the ball around on the court a few times with his very-best-growing-up-friend-miles or pierre-who-hung-out-here-all-the-time-in-high-school but his decision was made and he pursued it with zeal. a part of the jv team, he practiced and took individual lessons, group lessons, worked with his coaches. i, on the sidelines, sweated and watched, trying hard to be quiet as he pushed himself. he, a natural athlete, was moved up to the varsity team and doubled-down on the hard work of tennis – a “game” possibly more psychological than physical….ridiculously tough on a mom. he went to a university that welcomed him on their tennis team and, for years, i spent the better part of tennis season (and tournament season) driving all over the state and beyond, proud to see his skill on the court, proud to see his drive and, mostly, that it paid off for him. now he applies the same strategic tennis-approach to his life, his career. he was – and is – relentless.
The Girl decided, upon moving to the high mountains of colorado, that she, having never been on skis or other propelling-downhill-snow-gear (other than a sled), wanted to snowboard. she was working in a professional (indoor office) position out there, but she spent every spare moment on the slopes, striving to learn. every now and then she’d report in about her experience on copper mountain or keystone or breck or vail or …. she broke her arm, she twisted limbs, she broke her helmet. she persisted. time passed and she traded up for better snowboards, more equipment; she asked more people for advice or pointers; she was a learner beyond compare. she boarded in aspen, in snowmass, in patagonia. she dropped off ledges and split-boarded up vast mountains. fast forward just a few short years and she, no longer in an inside office doing the piece-of-paper-from-the-university-of-minnesota-work-she-was-trained-for, has taken the learn how to learn, learn how to persevere, learn how to dream – from life, from college, from her own purposeful heart – and is a snowboard instructor and a snowboard coach for a team in aspen. she offers more than snowboarding to those around her; she is the picture of excited zealousness. she was – and is – relentless.
so i………who read to them as little ones and tucked them in and drove them to music lessons and sporting events and played with matchbox cars and dressed barbies and ran alongside two-wheelers and crossed my fingers as they sat behind the wheel of the car and tried to instill a little appreciation of beauty and respect, and helped with homework and stayed up all night while they worked on last-minute-projects and rocked them to sleep at night with a well-loved-tattered ‘goodnight moon’ falling off my lap……..now learn from them. to be relentless.
there is this adorable couple from mississippi on hgtv these days. erin and ben star in a show called Home Town and they are working to restore their tiny town of laurel one beautiful home at a time. my favorite moment, as they run commercials for this very popular show, is erin passionately looking into the camera saying, with the most charming southern drawl, “get up and DO it.” you can tell she means this about every single thing. and to her call to action, i just might add – and be relentless.