Flyby

Stones in the wide shallow run
unseen are drying up
from averted searching eyes
the seemingly crooked lean
of mournful parallel lines
gold harbinger or anamnesis
harmoniously nonintersecting

at night the stream expands
into a downy blanket abyss
rains raises oils in the black
impenetrable loft
under speeding cars and
the walking dripping
cold against the flare

the metal notes of the bridge
sing and scatter to nothing
like hours and miles
it can never be enough
I park the car and get in bed
planes fly low over the roof
recurrent dream of regret and descent

 

Take the Train

IMG_6881I wake up in a strange bed, too much light in the room. I hear a recognizable but unfamiliar sound. The 7 train and I remember I am at a friend’s apartment. Beside me on the bed the blankets are thrown back. My daughters are sleeping in the other rooms, dreaming of their first day in the city. And the headlines, boldface, wait. A catchpenny list: extremist, epidemic, terrorist, threat, militant, virus, radical, massacre. And on my daughter’s birthday the mayor and the governor edit the front page. There was a press conference on the train about the imminent non-credible threat to the New York City subway system. Still, there will be a heavy police presence throughout the city and we are advised to report anything suspicious. Be on the lookout, as always. For what?

I’m not good with profiling and I have a low threshold for clickbait so I skip the “news” and respond to a text from a friend.
- The one weekend I’m dragging my children through tourist traps!
- Second thoughts about walking the Brooklyn Bridge?! haha
My husband, on his way to a day of freelance work at Lincoln Center, sends me a picture of Sunnyside. Looking very sunny.
– Kids have been asking to ride the subway forever. Ugh.
- You and I were in Rwanda this time last year, don’t forget. Be the brave mommy.

I wasn’t brave in Rwanda because I wasn’t afraid. And I’m not afraid now. I’m sad. Sad that there really are people out there who want to blow up Americans and anyone else. Today or some other day. Sad that there are Americans who want to bomb, fight hate with hate. Sad that we’re losing our minds over Ebola but had very little concern over it for the last 40 years when it was contained to central Africa. Sad that this is the world my children have inherited. Thoughts like these hit me like a flood of postpartum hormones; wanting my children to be hidden safe, embryonic.

I let more light in through the windows and I dress in the room that is not mine. I find my daughter reading on the couch and we whisper for a few minutes. I get in the guest bed with the younger two who are still sleeping peacefully. And the first words out of my littlest girl’s mouth are Mama, are we going to ride the train today? And I casually tell her yeah, of course. And I pull them out of bed and pull clean outfits over their heads and pull the birthday girl away from her book. There is nothing I want to do more than navigate the city with these little girls, ages 5, 7 and 9, their faces bright with equal parts eagerness and focus.

Crosswalks and breakfast as we’re walking and I point out the Empire State Building from Queens Boulevard. The girls saw it glowing yesterday when we drove into the city after dark, everything lit up like perpetual Christmas. The girls argued over who got to drag the suitcases a block from the car to my friend’s apartment building. And to them every sight and scent and sound was something to behold. This morning they suppress smiles, standing, crowded on the train. I tell them to hold on. And it is one thing to tell myself sensible things but it is another to load my children into a train and into another train and another. And to wait for the train to stop and the doors to open except the train has slowed to a crawl through the last dark length of tunnel.

I close my eyes and think well, what if? I think of my daughters, happy and optimistic, and I think of the train full of strangers who all have places to be. Words come to me.

God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

All I feel in that moment is love; sincere, full. For my children and for these strangers. For life and all the people who populate it. For everyone whose everyday is a threat. It is impossible to feel this serene sense of love and simultaneously feel fear. And I love my daughters too much to allow fear to rule my thoughts and actions.

There is the day waiting for us. Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. The rush of Times Square because they have to see it after seeing the pictures. Roasted peanuts and pizza slices. The girls making plans to move to the city when they grow up and me telling them about the colleges I visited once upon a time. Passionfruit and orange-chocolate gelato. Indian summer in Central Park. Museum tours. Leisurely late afternoon refreshment at the café. Miles of walking and laughing at how my 5 year old somehow seems to be in her element. After dark, the day will turn from hot to warm, lush; the girls will press their foreheads against the window to take in every last light of the city speeding by on the train ride back.

 

Hudson River Homeschool

IMG_6609This school year marks the start of our fifth year of homeschooling. I suppose it’s time we step foot into modern history. While waiting for our shiny new books in the mail, we visited the Farmers Museum and the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown. We missed the early morning rain but the day was left wet and there was a nice autumn chill in the air. Between clouds the sun cast hard shadows, mesmerizing; like the spray of milk on metal as the girls helped milk a cow, the brushstrokes in the Thomas Cole painting, the hiding places in the labyrinth.

IMG_6604IMG_6606IMG_6679

Back at home we cooked up a batch of vanilla ice cream topped with ripe peaches and lavender-infused sugar. The ice cream was hand-agitated using rock salt and the help of little friends who were spending the day with us. All five girls have never heard of Thomas Jefferson (we’re all on the chronological history tract, evidently) and they’re too young to question the nutritional value of Jefferson’s recipe which calls for six egg yolks, a half pound of sugar and four pints of cream. And, technically, we are still a couple hundred years from the 19th century. But in terms of the span of human history, who’s counting centuries (or calories)?IMG_6355IMG_6406

Our relocation, as related to homeschooling, seems rather fortuitous. For once, my snail’s pace has paid off, resulting in an alignment between our syllabus and our setting. The Hudson Valley and the Catskills, the Capitol and New York State as a whole offer a rich, living educational backdrop. Day by day we are learning within a cradle of art, nature and history. The inspiration and greatness of the past is at our fingertips and under our footsteps, the pages we study coming into view in our own backyard.

IMG_6650

Mountains to Metropolis

IMG_6507Upstate 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.

IMG_6512

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.

IMG_6540

Camp Life: Epilogue

IMG_6096

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.

IMG_5994 IMG_6030

Continue reading

Only the Lonely

IMG_3802I’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

I Let the Waves

IMG_5545I 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
such luminescence.

All color and light,
a hundred moons reflect a hundred more,

a fixed distance
no matter how hard I swim.

Yes, Virginia Woolf, There is a Double Standard

IMG_1197This 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

All Or Nothing

This month I have lived moment by moment, day to day. It is out of necessity and it takes everything I’ve got. Without the convenience of appliances my time and energy is leached by daily chores. Cooking and cleaning and meeting my children’s basic needs. Continuously organizing and rearranging in order to maintain reasonable living space in a tiny camper. But setting my clock by sunlight and getting down to basics has also forced me to be in the moment. I have a more immediate appreciation of each day’s gifts. Wildflowers gathered by the girls for my table each morning. Wading in shimmering black water under exploding fireworks. Dinners with friends too abundant for a single picnic table. Watercolor art sessions on the beach. Releasing a birthday balloon into the sky with a 5-year-old wish. Gifts as varied as spin art and help with towing and buckets of fresh picked fruit. Falling asleep each night with the people I love best within arm’s reach, watching stars through the open window overhead. Life has become all or nothing.

IMG_4777

IMG_5968

IMG_4915 photo IMG_5527 IMG_6240  IMG_6259

Off the Grid

IMG_5454I 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