Upstate New York is home. Lucky for me, we’ve always had a reason to stay. The start of autumn marks our first month as Albany residents. While the northernmost part of the state won me over in a big way, I’m looking forward to our newest assignment in the state Capitol. Albany is geographically close to where I grew up but for all intents and purposes it is a world away. Aside from a few school field trips and a little time spent here as a young adult, it is essentially a new experience.
We drove through Albany many times in the last few years and each time I said, “I could see us living here.” I want my children to be rural at heart but I want them to have minimal street smarts, too. When we knew my husband would be taking a job in Albany, we ruled out a long commute to a country setting and I ruled out the suburbs and so downtown it was. After a very brief search of neighborhoods we put a deposit down on the first place we looked at. It was so similar to the house we previously owned in Ballston Spa that we felt at home from the start. Bonus: we get to rent rather than mortgage it.
My little mud faeries are adjusting to urban living. My daughter marveled at seeing a group of people at a crosswalk. “There are twenty people waiting to cross! In Plattsburgh we usually only saw two!” (Her amazement was tempered by a subsequent weekend in New York City. “Albany is really just a big town, right, mom?”) We all feel pretty good in our big town; at ease with time and place. We’re all moved in, getting to know new neighborhoods, looking forward to spending time with old friends and making new friends and, yes, basking in the variety and culture that we kind of forgot existed.
Between days of downtown exploration we are still making sure to get plenty of greens. Our proximity to Thacher State Park was integral to my being at ease with leaving the North Country. In less than half an hour, I can get lost on the trail and in the trees and even see my beloved Adirondack mountains. The miles and hours that separate are condensed in one fantastic view. It is a comfort. As is Thacher itself. The color of the earth, the patterns in the trees and scent on the air creates nostalgia. Running through the woods as a child and then later long autumn afternoon bicycle rides into dark. Somehow I find myself standing seamlessly between the known and the unknown. And it’s a very peaceful place to be.
Summer has always been a time of possibility, newness, indulgence. Fifteen years ago I fell in love in the middle of July. My babies were born in the heat of July, August and September. This summer has also been one of the most memorable of my life. For every new source of stress (avoiding skunks during nightly- yes, literally every single night- walks to the bathroom with sleepwalking kids) there was something wonderful that balanced it (walking back to the camper at 3 a.m. under stars and moonlight and the first drops of a summer storm). I also decided steamed edamame balance out roasted marshmallows. I am a major proponent of everything in moderation. Summer is not a time to hold back.
I’ve been thinking about the concept of a hardship post. The term has come up more than once in conversation over the last two years. Plattsburgh hardly qualifies as a hardship post but on a very small scale it embodies some of the qualifying characteristics. Isolation. Harsh climate. Scarcity of goods. When we set out for the North Country in the early summer days of 2012, friends and family saw us off with farewells bordering on ominous. It was as though we were leaving civilization behind and setting ourselves up for disaster. But downcast proclamations have a way of bolstering my confidence; projected pessimism is an excellent challenge.
Like anything else in life, there was an adjustment period. Complications with selling our house made it difficult to settle in. But I soon found things about this region I really connected with and found, well, myself. In the last couple of years I have thrived in this hardship post. It helps that I haven’t had to worry about a hostile government or parasitic infections. But the isolation and severe weather and limited stuff is all real. And all really wonderful for someone like me. (Hibernating all winter with a stack of books in front of the fireplace between walks along the frozen shoreline? Count me in!) It is as though long dislocated pieces of who I am finally fit together in this undesirable destination. Continue reading
Heirloom Tomato & Herb Salad
Cheese & Dill Stuffed Squash Blossoms
Garlic & Oil Shrimp Linguini
Blue Lake Pole Beans & Wax Beans
Lime Tart with Wild Blackberries
Lemon Balm Lemonade
I let the waves
climb my body like a clinging child,
hair floating in clouds;
there is no center here.
Legs touch slippery-warm
(how we forget what is most familiar).
Waiting for the wave to carve its impression
the way it returns to the rocky outcrop,
surface creased like fabric/flesh,
the rock waits to coarse with the sea.
Careless but not uncaring,
trying to remember how it feels to be
so small in such a great expanse.
Pressing past turquoise map folds
where you wait with ideas and
earth and I surprise you with hands full.
Cold footsteps after dark,
sea and sand exchange temperatures;
lights line another shore,
always, though some days I forget
to look, believe that I can reach
All color and light,
a hundred moons reflect a hundred more,
a fixed distance
no matter how hard I swim.
This month’s trending social media challenge asks people to post five photographs where they think they look beautiful. I have only seen women participating, which is to be expected. There are also the ‘no-makeup selfies’ many celebrities are apparently sharing, with some Upworthy headline calling it brave. And there was the buzz surrounding an “article” about how women in their 40s have suddenly become sex goddesses in 2014. Before that they were resigned to a shackled, maternal, sexually dysfunctional existence out of the light of day as they awaited death. Thank God women finally got the hint and dug deep to find another decade of desirability. Not that I put much stock in the magazine that printed that tripe but I think the writer most likely lives on another planet.
In an ongoing discussion with a group of fellow female artists, we have expressed frustration over societal expectations put on the female, the artist in particular. As creative types, my friends and I have all struggled with how personally our work can be critiqued. The success of a piece of writing or a painting or a photograph is often mixed up with our body language, our lifestyle, our parenting decisions. Honest, intimate work is mistaken as an invitation to overstep boundaries. Continue reading
I have written extensively about the desire to live simply, intentionally, in the moment. Minimalist, anti-materialist living is kind of an aspiration of mine (a lofty one I will never truly realize). Taken far enough, one enters into conversations about living off the grid. It is one thing to fantasize about such an extreme existence while maintaining a much more mainstream lifestyle. It is quite another to actually go for it when the opportunity presents itself. This is the situation we found our family in this summer. For two years we have rented a lovely house just outside of Plattsburgh. My only complaint has been that it is too much house. Too much empty space to clean and heat and look conspicuously spartan. Continue reading
Growing up, one of my favorite stories was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Though to some the book may seem sentimental and folksy, Alcott counted Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller as family friends. Alcott belonged to a group of intellectual transcendentalists and as an adult supported women’s suffrage and the abolitionist movement. As a young girl I was drawn to Alcott’s affinity for family and feminist ideals. What spoke to me in particular was the profound connection she wrote about between mothers, daughters and sisters. I grew up in a family of three girls, though my sisters are 8 and 16 years younger. The fact that we were never peers only added to my desire to be a mother, as I grew up taking care of children and loving them as I now love my own girls. I was thrilled to end up with three daughters. I truly love living in a house full of girls. Continue reading
We cast no shadows in the park on Sunday afternoon. We bring fruit on ice and books to read and blankets to spread. The pages of my book are blinding. The fruit warms, purple juice sweating all over our fingers. The girls run up and down steps, skin their knees, roll down the hill until their faces are red and their hair is shining. They beg to go down to the water. There is a high wall overlooking the lake and it is lined with men, all shirtless, all in work boots and with fishing lines running out to the water. There is a staircase cut out of the wall. The girls could kneel on the bottom step where the water is deep, scoop cold water into their cupped palms. I want to feel it, too. But there is only one set of steps and many people at the park today. I send the girls across the hill to a patch of shade, long and narrow, under the trees. On my back I take off my shoes, roll up my jeans, shade my eyes with my arm. When I turn my head I see shapes and movements of the girls through the green grass. Feet intertwined they laze, trying to instigate an argument. They pick burrs from the bushes. I hear their laughter, the water slapping the wall where the men aren’t catching fish, birds calling from the branches bending to the girls. Looking straight up I see only blue, clouds. I think of the masts I love to watch in the harbors dotting the lake. How they dip and rock and seem to belong more to the sky than the sea. Bare and docked and lonely they rise like grand architecture. The masts exist for the water but still there is a sense they climb like ladders into the water’s blue twin, into the cold of the clouds.
In all the conversation this week surrounding the killing rampage that took place in California, there has been a recurring quote by Margaret Atwood on social media,
Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.
The killer was motivated by insecurity stemming from issues surrounding his sexuality; he felt ignored by women and threatened by other men. And though people are outraged, nobody is surprised. Mental illness may be a factor but part of the root of his psychosis is real. And archaic.
Consider some of the oldest slander on earth: the role of Eve’s sex in bringing sin into the world. On the page we read that Eve and Adam lived in perfect relationship with God and with one another (and had no shame about their sexuality, by the way) and yet each chose to sin. But at some point in extra-biblical history Eve’s sexuality became serpentined throughout the story. Adam was not tempted by his own flesh to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, Eve used her fleshly enticements to deceive him. Throughout time and cultures women have been associated with the origination of sin, having a greater inclination toward it and a knack for leading their counterpart astray. Females have been made into symbols of temptation and lust; sin incarnate; something to be conquered. Continue reading