and nature studied jackson and drip-technique-painted the leaf on the trail. strategically placing small muddy potholes, it invited hikers and dogs and horses to step in. just as strategically, it placed the leaf nearby, deep brown in leftover autumn paint. soon, creamy splotches and drips and spatterings pollocked the leaf, ever-changed. i couldn’t help but notice as we walked. i felt some slight validation for the paint-spattered-paintings on our walls, the ones where i stood back and threw paint and threw paint and threw paint until i knew it was done.
i was tempted to pick up the leaf, to carry it home with us. i kind of wish i had. i wonder if anyone else noticed it, really noticed it as we did. and then i realize, that it is in our noticing – even just us – that it became a complete work and that it had a place in the world and that it wouldn’t be forgotten.
it was a good reminder for me, and i remind myself to tell d as well, to remind him. the size of the audience never matters, the number of viewers or listeners. even in one person’s experience of any work of art there is meaning.
“if you asked me what i came into this world to do, i will tell you i came to live out loud.” (émile zola)
so someone went around our rickety old adirondack chairs with the signs that said “sidewalk closed” in order to walk across the newly-poured sidewalk. clearly, this person wants to be remembered. judging by the print, this person is male, relatively long-legged, dons footwear sans brand markings on the sole and leans a bit heavier on his right foot than his left. since that is not much to go on, there is not much to be remembered. just that he wanted to make some sort of statement that day and marched right around the barriers and right through our new cement.
on the trail through the woods hiking on sunday we went along a train track for a ways. a new-looking black locomotive of a long freight train blew its whistle and we peered through the trees to watch. the train was really long and every car was the same, which seemed unusual. freight trains in these parts usually have all kinds of boxcars, flatcars, hoppers, tanktainers, double-stacked container cars. the only differing aspect of these silver hoppers was the graffiti on the side of the cars. most looked newer – or newly scrubbed – but some had lots of added color…the meaning-making marks of spray paint artists who somehow are able to find ways to paint, despite whatever barriers might exist in the rail yard.
i suppose we all have an imperative to leave a mark. to say “i was here” in one way or another. we visit antique shoppes and tease that my cds and his paintings will someday be piled in tiny booths with 20%-off-sale signs and no curator or record-spinning-dj to “explain” our work. one of these days it will be difficult to find a way to actually physically play cds – so for that, i guess i’m happy a lot of it is digitalized, mp3s, like jpegs and tiffs of david’s paintings that are floating about the internet. marks.
this is our 201st consecutive week of writing these blogs for our melange. 201 weeks, five days a week (and more recently six). rapidly approaching four years of writing in this context, together. if each post is about 500 words – or so – that is over 500,000 words. each. together – in just these last 201 weeks – it’s well over a million words. lotsa marks. blogsites can be cumbersome. they can be barriers to leaving-a-mark because of the technology. but not insurmountable. social media can barrierize one’s efforts, particularly social media that indiscriminately shuts down profiles for community standards that have not actually been violated. but one walks around the old adirondack chairs and figures it out. because marks take a little effort sometimes.
i’m hoping that person-x is feeling more acknowledged by the time the utilities come back out in the spring to pour a permanent cement sidewalk out front. as someone who put tiny initials in a zoo sidewalk thirty years ago, i can’t say i don’t understand. i just hope that if we put up better barriers, the only marks in the new sidewalk will be ours.
i suppose this is one of THOSE things – when you look back and see, with more clarity than you could ever have had in the moment, that you were nudged, pushed, prodded, indeed, shoved along. as you stood resolutely in the spot to which you were dedicated, something prompted change and things were no longer the same nor would they ever be. one of THOSE things.
i remember the early days of hearing garth brooks singing the country song “unanswered prayers”, decades ago now. he released the song and it exploded on radio not too long after i moved to wisconsin, away from family, away from two jobs i loved. i stood outside my then-husband’s workplace and gazed out at soybean fields wondering where i had landed, what on earth i would do. i went to the grocery store and wept in the pasta aisle; no mueller’s pasta to be found. i read the local paper and was disconcerted. i found solace in long-distance letters from my mom and brought lunch to the office at the local airport every day, the place my husband worked. i was lonely and lost.
but the universe had a way of catching up to me and consoling my soybean-cornfield-factory-town angst. that next year, my beautiful daughter was born – my first baby, i found new friendships, and a job i loved in a community of people who grew to be important to me. my amazing son was born in years to follow and then, in serendipitous ways, i started recording albums and i looked back and knew that, though my discomfort in – literally – moving was justified, life would not have been the same had i not moved. the complacency i had earlier adopted was not going to be enough and life had some gaps to fill in. nevertheless, i still sometimes wonder how it all would have turned out without the big jostling-along-to-wisconsin. for that matter, i still sometimes wonder how it all would have turned out without the big jostling-away-from-new-york. things to ponder and never know.
i will never know – really know – how it came to be that i am sitting next to this lovely man right now, writing separately together. how we each have grown and how we each have struggled and sorted through our figurative attics and basements, stuffed with things that have happened, things we have saved, things we have discarded, things we’d rather not remember, things we celebrate. how, from two entirely different places in this vast country, we found each other. i suppose love has a way.
time and again the understanding of events, situations, disappointments, things-that-are-really-hard is delayed. in-the-moment it – the why – is not clear. sometimes it is never clear or perhaps it’s just that by the time clarity arrives, it is far, far after the fact. so far that we have forgotten our dismay or our agnostic questioning or, in those that seem synchronistic miracles, our awe. it is in the looking-back, the time-line reflections that we might parse and question and realize that there was a reason, a cause and effect, maybe a prayer or two gone unanswered. though i could still list those and wonder why – through actions of others, good and bad, or decisions i’ve made, good and bad, or stuff that just happens, good and bad – i would guess that somehow the puzzle fits together in the end. no doubt the discomfort brings learnings we may not have signed up for, given the choice. the story is a mystery.
as i find myself in yet another nudged-pushed-prodded-shoved place, i’m trying to remember to stand still for a moment. to take it in – the discomfort – and to be open to what might be. and, in watching what shows up, in really looking and studying and listening, to take baby steps and move. maybe later on it will all make sense.
we were the only ones. the only customers in the grocery store with masks on. there was one employee we saw wearing one, but we didn’t see any other shoppers with one on. the other day, at a different grocery store, we were the recipients of a few dirty looks. but heck, we have tougher skin than that. mostly.
we sat outside while the light waned, before the mosquitoes had rsvp’d they’d be there. torches on, flame dancing from the fire column, we had a few hors d’oeuvres and a glass of wine and talked about these times. there is a wistful dividing line between before and now. the pandemic has shot a chalkline in our calendars and even now, not quite after, we can see the difference.
the books arrived in the mail. it was one of those rare days when you open up the front door and see a surprise gift parcel on the doorstep. the books, memoirs of raynor and moth. the salt path, the first, a viewmaster of days during which, through the necessity of impossible challenges, raynor and moth were hiking the south west coast path in the united kingdom. “i think they are your people,” she wrote about this couple.
we opened the first paperback. i am reading it aloud and we have a voracious appetite to keep going in between all else. i read and we digest, this tale of backpacking without the reassuring fallback of retreat or going home in the end. it’s breathtaking and stunningly candid.
monday night i read aloud the sentence, “being separate from people for large chunks of time had reduced our tolerance levels.” it was not a statement of pandemic; it was a statement of wilderness camping. yet, it hit us – it was a statement of pandemic. so relevant.
if we are all honest with ourselves, we find now that the pandemic has most definitely divided our circles into before and now . . . and hopefully, one day, after. people who are absolute, people we have stayed in touch with or who have stayed in touch with us, even spottily, people who have fallen away. people who have shown true colors, people who have been generous and compassionate. people who have jumped at the chance to help others, to abide by recommendations to ease this pandemic, people who have chosen to be cavalier, go-their-own-way, to scoff and ignore, to not be any other’s keeper.
the season/reason mantra applies, we pondered aloud at the table, talking about past friendships and working relationships. some people, there with us at some point, are just not to be dragged into now. we appreciate their presence at the time they were present and we learn we must let go. they have become woven into who we have become and those threads remain somewhere in the interior of the quilt. but, in the way that time moves on, so do attachments. and even beyond the natural attrition of relationships – just like raynor and moth, though not on a wild trail – the simplicity of who we have become, what we have seen or done, where we have gone or not gone, how we have lived through these times, of pandemic, of loss, of challenge, of grief – this simplicity has changed us and, it seems, has changed our tolerance levels. as if they were on a cmyk or rgb profile – empathy, compassion, masks, vaccines, distancing, research, critical thinking, kindness, questioning, learning, truth, transparency, loyalty, generosity, inclusivity, gentleness, agenda-ridden-less, fairness, decency, basic dedication to not being mean…a wide spectrum of color levels in humans that surround us.
we were quiet as we sat and thought about people in our lives, what has changed, what has remained the same, people we yearn to see, people we, frankly, perhaps sadly or resignedly, don’t care to see again.
we gratefully looked around at flames in torches, food on our table, the dog on the deck, the old screen door to a comfortable beloved house merely steps away. the simplest pleasures have been, are, the pleasures. we cannot think of a reason that this is not a good thing. though we shed a few tears, we held hands as we spoke, together not separate.
the mosquitoes found their way to the deck. we blew out the torches, snuffed the fire column and carried our plates inside.
three years ago the boy and his best friend and i went to the christmas tree farm. there was a lot of snow and we ran through it, dodging each other’s snowballs. plodding around, we found the ‘perfect’ tree and an extra little one to go upstairs as well. the boy and pierre sawed them down, we loaded the big tree on top of the car, drove home and had hot chocolate before digging out the tree stand from the basement. this ‘perfect’ tree held white lights proudly and felt like a celebration.
two years ago d.dot and i were standing with the boy in the snow out in the field and the boy said, with disdain, “not THAT one!” he was talking about a christmas tree we had moseyed over to, a christmas tree that was speaking to the ‘youtwoarenotnormal’ in us. the boy wanted a ‘normal’ tree – one that had a ‘normal’ shape – one that looked ‘normal’ – the kind of tree that everyone associates with all the hallmark movies and norman rockwell christmas plates. and so, since we had driven in his car and he vowed to make us walk home from the christmas tree farm in freezing temperatures, we obliged his wish for a ‘normal’ tree. and it was beautiful. it had ridiculously sharp needles (we later named it ‘satan’) but it held white christmas lights proudly and it felt like a celebration.
last year the boy wasn’t there when we went to the christmas tree farm. so that meant that two artists were let loose in the fields. dangerous. we stomped through the snow and mud, laughing and looking at every single tree there. it wasn’t all that cold out, and the light was streaming through the fir branches. it was glorious. we found our tree in the back of the farm. we nicknamed it ‘christmas-tree-on-a-stick’. (if you ever go to the minnesota state fair, as the boy and the girl and i did a few years back, you will find literally everyyyything on a stick.) this tree had a long trunk with no branches – about 3-4 feet up- and then the tree part started. everyone who saw it, loved it. it was a ‘perfect’ tree…a ‘perfect’ tree on a stick and it held white christmas lights proudly and felt like a celebration.
this year we drove past the christmas tree farm to see if it was still there. the land is for sale – 34 acres of oasis in town – but it is still there for all who want to have an adventure and find their ‘perfect’ tree. we didn’t stop right then; we planned on coming back another time. we laughed, pondering what this year’s tree would look like. it was likely we would pick out something even more ummm….artsy….than last year. we knew the boy would be thrilled. ha.
one morning, a few days after that, we took a walk. as we approached our home there was a big branch in the street that had somehow been knocked off the big tree in our front yard, a tree that has been there forever. this tree has been in so many pictures through the years. it has towered over the girl and the boy as they grew. it has been the base of snow forts, the shade for the summer, the harbinger of budding spring coming, the last tree to lose leaves in the fall. when i rocked the girl and boy as babies in the nursery, it was this tree i could see out the window, this tree that i see in my mind’s eye, this tree marking the changing of the seasons, the growing of children, the movement of time. i looked over at the branch in the street and then ran to get it. looking at d.dot i said,”what about this? this could be the perfect christmas tree for us this year.” we laughed and brought it inside so that it could dry out a bit. a couple of days ago, we placed it in the christmas tree stand, wrapped burlap around the bottom, and stood back to look. this branch, this piece of history, this year’s christmas tree – is holding white christmas lights -and a little metal star- proudly and is a celebration.