Wednesday, October 31, 2012



It's Halloween night, and I think I've seen a ghost.

I'm not sure; the sighting defies logic, and I could be totally wrong, but I can't think what else it could be. And here it is, so Yes, it's a plant.

We've come through the hurricane quite well, although some of our neighbors have had some minor flooding and damage. One woman lost her satellite dish into the tide-swollen creek. But mostly the only memento we have of the storm is a lot of fallen leaves, needles, and twigs--yes, a lot of our leaves are still green here. Autumn is in progress, but it's not too far along for leaves to be ripped green by a storm.

Anyway, I was walking the dogs this afternoon, and I figured this was an excellent opportunity to take in informal survey of the neighborhood of trees. Familiar trees I can ID by bark, mostly, and I do have the Bark field guide, but it covers New England where I am not. My other guides are all based on leaf and twig characteristics, which of course are forty feet up in the air. I don't know why you don't see tree geeks wearing binoculars all the time, given this ungainly standard. But today, a lot of the leaf and twig characters are scattered all over the ground, so I picked up a big, mixed bouquet, dumped them all in a laundry basket, and dug out my Peterson's Field Guide to Eastern Trees. 

I had deliberately focused on grabbing oaks, first because they were the ones that had fallen with their twigs (identifying a tree by leaf alone rarely works unless you are already familiar with the species), and second because I thought it would be easier and more interesting to focus on one group, and third because I kind of like oaks. So I sorted all the twigs into groups corresponding to the three relevant oak sections in the book (there is a forth section, but none of mine fell in it), and got to work. I found southern red oak and eastern black oak, I found white oak, and I found two groups of oak twigs I could not clearly place. And then I found one that isn't an oak.

I'm sorry if this is boring you, I know you aren't a plant person, but I'm kind of jazzed up at the moment and I've got to share. Pretend they've got feathers or something, if it helps.

The reason I knew it wasn't an oak is that oak buds are all clustered toward the end of the twig, and these buds aren't. The leaves are sort of wavy, not deeply lobed like a classic oak leaf, and while there are oaks with wavy margins, as though the lobes had all gone shallow, the crests of the waves are  always smooth--so says Peterson's. The crests of these waves are sharp, with little bristles, like vegetable white-caps on a storm-tossed photosynthetic sea. I looked again and again; the only thing that matches this piece of tree, bud, leaf, and twig, in the American chestnut.

Chestnuts are the ivory billed woodpecker of trees, a magically liminal species, almost extinct, but maybe--oh, please, do miracles happen--it can come back. There are a number of them around, though; stump-sprouts, resistant individuals, lucky pockets here and there...even a new, blight-resistant cultivar. I've seen a sapling of such a phoenix myself. But that almost isn't the point, because what died in the blight a hundred years ago was not so much a population of trees, for many still exist, but a type of forest, a way of being green. Chestnut forests were entirely normal, generations ago. Chestnut forests defined normal. And they are gone. Maybe they can come back, but neither you nor I will ever see a chestnut-dominated landscape. Maybe my nephew will. So this what I mean when I say an individual chestnut tree is like a ghost. It's a living tree but an ecological ghost.

But what would a chestnut be doing here? It's not their territory, not their range. One could have been planted as a specimen tree, but this area was farm field and woodlot until twenty years ago; who would have planted a specimen tree here? Why? And why a chestnut?

I could be wrong. I'm probably wrong. But it's Halloween, and I've got my ghost story, and for the moment I will stick to it.

I like the thought of an ecological ghost. I like the thought of mourning species, of taking a day to honor the ecological dead. I like the idea of honoring the emotional and cultural losses, noticing the ghosts and gaps on the land where animals and plants go on behaving, for a little while, as though the missing species might come back. Maybe presenting the names and pictures, in silence, the way they honor fallen soldiers, would help somehow, help us notice what is happening. I wouldn't put the chestnut on that role-call yet, of course; it is not that sort of ghost.

Tonight and tomorrow are properly the Day of the Dead, a holiday Celtic as well as Mexican. I don't really celebrate Halloween as such anymore; I find its morbid Bacchanalia anthropologically interesting, but basically without meaning. I do not enjoy being frightened or grossed out, and I am not afraid of skeletons, anyway. But I do celebrate the Day of the Dead. I put out food for the Beloved Dead and light a candle, and I think of those who have passed on. There are a lot of awesome people who have died, and they deserve a day of their own to be remembered and loved again. I don't see why it should be scary; these are people who loved us when they were living.

I think it would be interesting to celebrate all sorts of dead on Samhain, the Day of the Dead, not just human beings, not just organisms, not even just species or ecosystems that have gone. What about dead hopes and dreams? What about dead expectations? Dead and departed fears? What have these things given us? What have they cost us? It might be good to acknowledge them. Not that I've ever been that organized about celebrating anything.

My favorite Samhain thus far was pretty simple and haphazard, but meaningful enough. That was the year I was banding saw whet owls, and that night was one of the few I was at the banding station unsupervised. Chris had given me a whole pile of candy, and I'd toasted myself some pumpkin seeds. I think I had some raisins, maybe some nuts. I put some of each out in little wooden bowls and built a fire in the wood stove. I sat on the floor drawing pictures in between checking the nets for owls and bringing back bags full of the patient, feather-headed beings, their bodies soft and sweet-smelling as human babies. I always wondered what they felt and thought about being measured and banded; I fancied I saw thought and feeling in those immobile faces, those lantern eyes. I thought I saw everything from long-suffering patience, to bewilderment, to understanding, but I know so little about birds, I was probably projecting mammalian prejudice over their essentially alien but obviously intelligent minds. They flew off into the night and vanished, like ghosts.

It would have been so cool to have a small party there. The bander I worked under traditionally has his Thanksgiving Dinner at the banding station, and his children spend their holiday along that raw and wild beach. Some years they swim there then. I would have liked to have founded a similar Samhain tradition, but with whom? My friends are scattered, and their migratory paths do not cross over Assateague much.

It's odd to think that I did not know you then.

-best, C.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Out In the Eye of the Storm

Hi, there,

I write this hoping that you and yours will be ok over the next few days. You do not live in a particularly at-risk area, but I believe you could have some effects. More to the point, I understand that there are people you care about who live in areas that are in some danger, so I am thinking about them.

This is the second hurricane I've been under in so many years, and also the second one ever where I've been so close to the eye. As far as I can tell from the Internet, Sandy's eye passed just to the north of us this afternoon, and has just now passed my mother's house, close on the east. Neither of us have seen very serious conditions, but it has been interesting, and we are not in the clear yet. I think Irene's eye did pass over us, last year; it was predicted to when we went to bed that night.

I had watched Irene approach with such dread; the storm track was to go right over our heads, and at one time it looked possible for it to pass over as a Category 2 storm. The scary thing for me was the thought that by the time it was upon us, we'd be committed to staying put, with nothing to do but survive until it passed. But, the storm weakened; it passed over us very much like a nor'easter, with lots of rain and tossing tree-tops. We never lost power...and I was slightly disappointed. A major storm would be something to see. We set the alarm for when the eye was supposed to pass over, but the alarm didn't go off. We did wake up at 4 AM, about an hour and a half too late, and I opened a window and looked out; the trees were tossing grandly against the dark, grey sky while millions of toads and crickets and what-not sang their desire in the strange, wet world. That is my lasting image of the storm.

I told you about my brush with Irene at the time, but I did not, oddly enough, tell you about the hummingbird. We'd taken all our feeders down but one, because the weather people said to take in anything that could possibly become airborne and hit a window. That one we left up because it was right next to our front door, and we figured we could grab it if things got really bad. I'm glad we left it up, because this hummingbird kept coming to visit it, over and over every couple of minutes, even as the winds picked up and up and band after band of rain moved over us, each one growing gradually and steadily worse than the last. Still she kept coming through the gusty, green air, wet and warm and leaning as it was. I imagine she had holed up somewhere nearby, but could not or would not go to sleep during the day, so she had to keep eating, and to eat she had to fly out to the feeder. I understand hummingbirds can starve to death in a day. What an incredibly strong little bird. I was glad we kept the feeder up.

Then, when I started this blog, sometime later, I wished I could include a letter-entry about the storm and the trees and the hummingbird, but it was too late; Irene was already several weeks in the past, and I could think of no way to make my comments topical. This storm has given the story a second chance.

I've often wondered what you make of this blog of mine, all these stories addressed to you in absentia (the ones addressed to your presence do not need this blog, obviously). If it had occurred to me at the time that a blog like this might strike the addressee as weird I would have asked your permission before starting, but I do so much that is weird and I do not realize until I see other people's faces. I do not see your face when I write this blog, so I do not know if you think it is weird. Perhaps, like my storm story, I will accept a second chance and ask you now?

Maybe it will make your status as muse seem less weird if I tell you you are not the first such muse, nor will you likely be the last. The way it works is if I am mentally composing a series of letters to someone, the letters sometimes capture my internal monologue the same way that a river, meandering, sometimes captures the waters of another river, changing the course of each. Then, for a while at least, my thoughts become addressed to somebody, and sometimes this address serves as an interesting focal point for my mind. I see the world as though on behalf of someone else, thinking look, look, look! I want to show you something, this thing, here, for you.

My thoughts are no longer addressed to you, except when I'm preparing to write a blog entry or an actual email to you. The mood passes, but I like this way of writing. I like what I think and what I see when I am looking to show you something. So I keep on with it.

Fifteen years ago or so, I was addressing my thoughts to the headmaster of my boarding school, he who had just kicked me out, a decision I did not resent him for. At first I thought he must be right, because I was used to thinking he was always right, both morally and in terms of his judgment. Later I came to see that although he made mistakes, sometimes serious mistakes, that decision of his was the right one for me even if it was right by accident, as it may have been. And so I wrote letters to him in my mind, letters about the strange, wide world to which he had sent me. I forget if I ever sent any of those letters. I remember that I intended to, but even if I did send him some letters, I did not send him all of the ones I thought up. I may never have even written them down. I might have started a blog of those letters, if I had known about blogs back then. I barely knew about email. But I don't think that blog would have had the depth or breadth that this one sometimes does, because he and I were never exactly friends, and I do not know what, if anything, we might have talked about had we ever simply chatted. I'm not sure we had much in common.

I remember I wrote letters in my mind also to my fellow students left back at school, and these I know I never sent, for reasons that would take too long to explain here. But I did hope to report back to those people, if I ever saw them again, so I thought about what I might say. Often, my words took the form of a Jimmy Buffet song, one I'd always liked and which suddenly seemed entirely appropriate;

I've had good days and bad days and goin' half mad days
I've tried to let go but you're still on my mind
I've lost all the old ways, I'm searchin' for new plays
Puttin' it all on the line.

And now that same song is again appropriate, though for a completely different reason, for the chorus goes;

If the phone doesn't ring, you'll know that it's me
I'll be out in the eye of the storm
If the phone doesn't ring, you know that I'll be
where someone can make me feel warm.

You and I do not make each other's phones ring much, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that we both hate phones. Keeping in touch is complicated, more complicated than it should be, for even in this age of instant internet there are people I care about and hardly hear from, people I miss, though we are only a send icon apart. People are strange, you know that? I no less than anybody else. There are people I stop talking to for no good reason at all, and I am not even aware of any bad reasons. I just stop. But I like the idea of a silent telephone, or perhaps an empty inbox, as a greeting. I like the idea of an intimacy where a phone not ringing communicates someone specific not calling, and also what that specific person is doing. The idea is somewhere between insanely presumptuous and gently sweet.

When the phone doesn't ring, I'll know you are out in the thick of your life, a life that is largely opaque to me but for the occasional glimpses you allow me, like gaps in the bands of rain. Perhaps you are like that hummingbird, small and strong and feathered, flying off to I do not know where, somewhere in the busy green twilight. But I know, too, that there are those who would and could warm you, should you need it. I have met one such person, and I have seen your face fill with sunlight when you held her, you free, for a moment, as clouds.

And for this reason, and others, I will hope she is safe and that you are with her and that, like me and mine, you can lie together in the dark tonight and listen to the wind in the wild night.

-best, as ever, C.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Small Worlds

Hi, there!

It was good to see you the other day. It always is. I had been on the point of writing you anyway, to ask you how you are, but circumstance beat me to it and I saw you in person. So, now I know how you are, more or less. Possibly less. There are some people whom I know well enough that I can take their silence on a subject as a statement itself. My mother, for example, has not mentioned plans to go to the beach this weekend, so therefor I know she is not at the beach. I know enough about her life, and enough about what she normally tells me, that I can fill in the blanks and put her comments in context. As I said, there are a number of such people for me, but you are not one of them. You could be at the beach right now, and I wouldn't know.

I'm not complaining. I have no need to pry...and you seem to tell me more when I do not ask. Some poet (I forget which one) famously said no man is an island, but I rather think some men (and women) are--not utterly isolated, just as real islands obviously are not, but distinctly bounded, defined, in part, by distance. Their intimacy is first with their surging sea, and they touch other lands only indirectly, their shadows reaching across the straights at sunset. I think, perhaps, that all men and women are actually islands, in the sense that the first, last, and most important thing we can ever know about each other is that person is not me.

Fine, then; be an island, and I will be a bird. I'll be a gannet, I'll circle round your shores and cry warning to any unwelcome colonists, if you want me to, and my feet will never once touch land.

Anyway, our surprise visit has only been the latest in a week of meetings. You were preceded by several friends, not a few species of algae, and a very large spider, her body splotched and speckled dull orange and black in almost exactly the same way as the granite face behind her unfinished web. I've been visiting an island, Mount Desert Island, in Maine, and I have only just recently returned.

I was camping there with my husband and also with a dear friend of ours, a musician who does not like camping as much as we do, but he does like us, so he puts up with the wet and the cold for our sake. This was our second such trip as a trio--I'm kind of hoping it becomes a tradition. And oh, how it was wet, not as wet as last year, but wet enough, days of rain and nights of trying to sleep in a wet sleeping bag underneath a pair of wet dogs. But at least the day I set my alarm for tide pools dawned dry and clear enough, though still grey and drippy.

Why an alarm? Because of the two low tides that day, one was in the late afternoon, when I expected to be getting ready to go watch my friend play in Bar Harbor, and the other one was just before dawn. The alarm did not do a lot of good, for I rolled over and went back to sleep for a bit, and the sun was already well up by the time I got down to the water, the tide rushing in, but at least I was in time for some exploration.

Have you ever been to MDI? Right near Blackwoods Campground is a little path to the top of some dramatic cliffs with ledges and pools sloping away to the sea forty feet or so below. You have to go down a service road and cross a street to get there, but you come out of this spruce forest, quiet and dark as a Grimm fairy-tale, walk a little way and right there is the crashing sea.

There are a pair of rough wooden benches there at the top of the cliff, half under the shade of spruce, balsam fir, and one red maple. I hardly ever see anyone sitting on those benches, but there are often people near them, and that day as I approached I saw a man and a woman standing there, looking out at the sea together. Convinced I was interrupting something, I almost turned around and left, but they turned around first, and it turned out I knew one of them. You know him too--my thesis adviser, though I don't suppose I can call him that anymore, being done with my thesis. I had not expected to see him there, though I had known he would be in that part of the state. He was probably even more surprised than I, since I don't think I'd told him I was even going to Maine. He introduced the woman with him as a colleague--he told me her name and her research interests, and she shook my hand. Curiously, he did not introduce me to her. Even more curiously, I did not introduce me, either, and I cannot tell you why I didn't.

The three of us stood chatting for a few minutes. It turns out they were on a mission very similar to mine, having come in search of tide pools. Unfortunately, while my interest was casual and flexible, theirs was professional and therefor precise. The specific pools they wanted to look at were already under water, so they turned and walked back up the little path and vanished out of my sight. Why had they been there of all places? There are a lot of tide pools all up and down the coast of Maine, some more convenient to get to, I would think. They did not explain and I did not ask and I do not know where they went afterwards. I continued my journey down to the water, pausing only to take off my shoes. I find bare feet are really the best traction on slick rock, though no one else seems to think so. It was on the way down, from ledge to ledge, that I saw that spider. I saw a lot of webs, strung from overhanging rock ledges or a twisted and crouching red spruce, all the orbs facing in the same direction and visible because beads of clinging fog. Only in the one did I notice a spider, and only that web seemed unfinished, all the spokes complete, but the spirals that would make the web work were missing.

My own web being complete, spokes and spirals and a check sent off to the bindery, what do I call my former thesis adviser? Other than his name, I mean, which I don't want to draw public attention to here without his permission. I was thinking about this as I climbed down. I could call him my friend, since he certainly is, but I have a lot of friends and the reader would not be able to tell which one I meant. It's odd to think, but from here on out, our meetings will be much like that one chat on the top of the cliff--not necessarily surprising or brief, as that chat was, but unenclosed by any defining institution. That was the strange thing for both of us, I think, not that the meeting was unlikely, but simply that we weren't at school. Within that one context, we knew each other thoroughly, the way one knows one's own house thoroughly, the way one can find the dining room table in the dark if the power goes out. But with his signature on a form, we erased the walls of that house and from here on all our meetings will take deliberate effort or astounding chance.

I started with the tide pool closest to the sea and found it rimmed and clotted with sea weed, brown and green. A claw moved briefly in the weeds, surfaced and subsided like a dream, and I did not see it again. Above the waterline, the weeds were of two types: a brown being of flattened fronds and swollen tips; and what looked more than anything like green cellophane, almost certainly sea lettuce. Below the water there were two green species, one a threadlike tube and the other flat as grass blades, plus a brown, branched creature, its tendrils thin as roots. None of these plants are much bigger than my hand, but so thick I could not see anything else. And the tide was coming in, so I had to move.

The next pool I visited had almost no seaweed at all, except for a brown strap that may have been a detached piece of kelp, its ends whitened with the geometric crust of bryozoans. The first pool was shallow but this next one dropped straight down several feet, its walls sheer and angled, like someone had meant to install a chimney here but forgot. Besides the kelp and its cargo, there were snails and also a chiton, striped purple and gliding along so smoothly I almost could not believe it was really moving. Most striking were the dozens, or maybe hundreds, of barnacles all beating their feathery fans along the vertical face. Barnacles, as you may (or may not) know, are actually shrimplike creatures who glue themselves headfirst to a rock at maturity, grow themselves a boney case, and there spend the rest of their lives sifting the water for food with their feathery feet. I read somewhere that barnacles actually practice internal fertilization, much as mammals do, but mammals are not glued by our heads to wherever we happen to be at the onset of adulthood. I suppose barnacles must simply love their neighbors, if they are lucky enough to have neighbors at all. I am glad I am not a barnacle.

The third pool was again shallow, and hosted clumps of some branched, pinkish, boney thing, probably colonies of hydroids. A third of the pool's bottom was red and a third was pinkish white and between the two was bare, natural granite. Some kind of living crust, obviously, but I could feel no difference in texture between crust and rock when I put my hand in. Once my hand was in the water I could see waves rising from my fingers, like heat distortions above a took me about a minute to realize that of course, it rained the previous night, so this salt pool bore a layer of fresh rainwater on top. When I put my hand in, the layers mixed and swirled visibly. Did the little flealike beings I saw crawling about on the bottom feel the fresh mix burning, like pool water up the nose? I withdrew my hand.

Each of these worlds has its own residents, its own water conditions, and its own vulnerability to changing conditions. Some of them receive trickles of fresh water from rivulets moving across the rock. Before the tide comes back, they must go almost fresh. Others, I'm sure, become hypersaline from evaporation on sunny days. All these rooted plants and animals must cope with changes none of us would choose. First pounding surf, then exposure to sun and rain and the feet and fingers of the curious. Who can cope with what changes how often determines the exact composition of each pool, that and the mixture of choice and chance that brings the wanderers, baby barnacles and mobile snails, small fish and smaller plankton. Each pool is a world apart when the tide is out, bounded at the top by an unbreachable boarder of air. Each of the wanderers finds itself committed, for a time, to a community defined by water quality and size, but also by the more established creatures who live there long-term. For the established, each tide cycle brings in a new mix of creatures to deal with, to get along with and to know. And then the sea comes. I headed back up the cliff, out of the water's way.

My Chris and our friend, the musician, were there with the dogs. I sat with them on the rocks above the cliffs, near clumps of plantain and goldenrod past flowering and bearded white with seed and poison ivy bearing white china berries like toxic grapes. Together we watched the sea surge over the rocks, waves tearing themselves to green jade foam between the spires and outcrops and uneven orange ledges. Gannets flew by, mostly going in the same direction, some going the other way. My tide pools were all covered by the sea, lost in the churn, the wanderers freed to make their meetings wherever they happen to find themselves next, the walls of their islands erased, become mere dimples in the wider world, the common sea.

I like that I bumped into my adviser, and not only because I enjoy his company. I like the astounding chance of the meeting, and I like the idea that I might come down a trail and see somebody I know. I like the implication that the world is cozy, that keeping in touch may not be so hard. I liked bumping into you for the same reasons. I'm not sure if I'll see you again before I head south for the winter, for you and I are more dependent on chance than most and even the internet is not our common sea. If I do not bump into you again before I leave, then I hope to see you again when I return. If I am, indeed, a bird, then you will know how to find me.

-best, C.

Thursday, October 11, 2012



Fifteen years ago this week, I got kicked out of boarding school. It's strange to think it's been that long. You might ask how I could get kicked out of anywhere, since I am obviously well-behaved by temperament. Knowing you, you would be more likely to make some wisecrack about what I might have been doing to get kicked out, and the actual story is far less entertaining than what you might attempt to embarrass me by imagining. I will spare you the details but, in brief, it became obvious that although I was not ready to graduate, the school was no longer doing me any good. I was on a need-based scholarship at the time, and the money and effort being expended in my direction could be better applied to some other kid. They did not put it like that to me. My boarding school’s culture was bizarrely insular and single-minded, and the official line was that anyone who wanted to graduate could, and therefore the only reason why anyone would not want to graduate was bad character. Not that anybody put it like that, either, but I got the message.  You can imagine my feelings, I think, upon being kicked out. You know how attached I can get. 

Several years later, I wrote several haiku, one of them was about that October 6th, long ago. None of my haiku were accepted for publication, so I will finally give that one its due now;

The day I left them
The trees burned orange, the sky
Blue all the way down.

I’m fond of it. Do you like it? As the poem describes, it was one of those gorgeous fall days when only good things should happen, and in retrospect getting kicked out was a very good thing for me, though it felt like crap at the time.
And now I am leaving another school, under very different circumstances. As I told you the other day, I am done my thesis, and now need only wait until the next conferral date to get my degree and actually be a Master of Science. I can hardly believe it. It has been a long time coming, yes, plus I am one of those people for whom failure seems more real than success. It’s not that I don’t think I’ve earned this; I have. I got excellent grades on my thesis itself and I was pleased but not at all surprised. But it’s like how I experienced the seasons at boarding school. I arrived there in winter, right after a heavy snow, and that first winter was long and cold and lined with white. The first bear I ever saw was walking across the tennis courts on campus in the snow that year, right at the beginning of Easter break, looking very thin. And ever after that, though I spent five summers at that school, the green and warmth of a New England summer has always felt like an illusion.
This week I’ve been engaged in preparing my thesis to be printed and bound. It isn’t a difficult process, just a couple of forms to track down and sign, but I was bizarrely anxious about it. It took me a good whole minute to get up the gumption to fill in the name of my adviser on one of the forms, because I was afraid I was going to get his middle initial wrong. Now, I’ve known his middle initial as long as I’ve known yours. While I don’t know what his middle initial stands for, but I know perfectly well what it is. I’m just being twitchy. Psychologically, I seem to be something of an amphibious creature.  I tend to think details are important, just as you seem to. Unlike you, I am not very good at thinking about details. I am very good at thinking about abstract concepts, and I’ve got the good grades to prove it, but then I get all hung up worrying I’m going to get this or that detail wrong and they aren’t even the details that matter. So what if I got my adviser’s middle initial wrong? Somebody would notice and I’d feel embarrassed and then the sun would come up the next morning and everything will be fine.
Fall is falling. I went for a walk the other morning, to take the sense of the season. Mushrooms grey and brown and round as coins sprout from the grass or the softened wood of old tree stumps. Ferns pale to a translucent straw color or bronze down like cherry wood, depending on species. It was wet that morning, it’s been a wet week, and the white pine needles were clumped up like the fur of a drenched cat.  Birch and maple leaves drop gently through the dripping air. The plants have begun their strategic retreat from the cold.
The sun is leaving for the year. A friend of mine just left the country, also for the year. I’ll be heading south myself in a few weeks. I am migratory like the geese, I and my mate with me. My friends and I scatter like old, yellowed pine needles, blow away separately in a stiff, raw breeze. But the pines and birches and maples will all wake to the same communities again in the spring. A tree is as much an intersection of relationships as it is a thing in its own right. A goose paddles on a pond whose location can be described in terms of distance, so far to here, so far to there. Where is a context. Who is a location in a web. Even if I migrate back to this town in the spring, I will not come back to here, this school. I can no longer say who I am as graduate student.
Do not get me wrong; I'm pleased as punch to be done with this and go on to the next thing. I no longer attach to whole schools in quite the same way as I did when I was younger. I'm also entirely confident that a lot of people like me, and that some subset of the people who like me will remain in my life for a long time or a little, and I am comfortable with that. It's just that living things belong somewhere and have some role in the system that defines them, and right now I don't know what mine is.
best, C. 

Monday, October 1, 2012



What squeaks at night in the fall? I know, that sounds like a joke, right? (the answer would be “a Fall Night-Squeaker”) As written, it’s an impossible question, and though I can elaborate, I don’t think I can tell you enough to enable you to actually answer. But I think if you heard the sound, you might know it.You might think it was obvious.

I like listening to things, especially at night. Once, weeks ago, I not only listened to, I actually saw a cricket, or whatever kind of insect it was, playing the violin of its tiny wings at night, a rough, two-note song. This is the only time, so far, I've managed to it because insects are such private singers. They stop as soon as they realize you are trying to find them, and then without the sound they are worse than needles to try to find in the grass. This time the song came from a bush, about eye-level, one of those shrubs near the bike rack on campus, I think they are dogwoods, the singer hidden effectively by the dark. So I used the light from my bicycle. I've noticed some animals ignore artificial light, probably because few predators have carried flashlights throughout evolutionary time. I and my flashlight were out of the range of this insect's experience, irrelevant as starlight, and I shall not tell you what I saw in that light because it felt less like invading some unwitting insect's privacy and more like receiving a deliberately offered grace. It was a grace, and I'm not sure I will ask for another.

Today I’ve been listening to the rain on the roof of the trailer, steady and long and wet. It’s a very cozy sound to hear, when one has the privilege of being dry and warm. Sometimes there are more mysterious sounds: the bonging of distant church bells tolling the hour late at night; the gallop or whinny of horses in the next field over, animals we never see and which Chris does not believe exist; the conversation of owls…I hear barred owls over in the trees by the river sometimes, one or two calling back and forth. The other day we heard something else, another owl, deeper and with a different pattern. A great horned owl, maybe? I've heard them before, though not here, and not often enough to be sure I'm remembering properly.

The other night, Chris suggested keeping the windows open so we could hear any crickets. This was not a self-serving move on his part. Chris likes sleeping with a fan going, for white noise. Twenty years of rural living has left him unable to ignore traffic sounds, and he cannot hear the crickets anyway. I do not like the fan; I grew up between a big university and its football field, so I can ignore almost anything and still hear crickets underneath. Except I cannot ignore that fan.  I think it’s interesting that Chris can hear a faint buzz and know not only that a plane is going by, but also what kind of plane it is and what it is doing, but he cannot hear the horses or the crickets. This goes beyond selective deafness for the sake of sleep; he and I live in different worlds, it seems. His world includes planes and cars, trucks, human beings and most of their doings (he knows who all the other people in the campground are and what they’re doing, and I don’t know how he knows it), and also birds. When we were riding our bikes down the bike trail this summer, he would say “witchity-witchity!” which means he has heard a common yellowthroat, a truly lovely bird, I decided, when I finally saw one. I still couldn’t hear its song, even knowing that it is supposed to say witchity-witchity, but I can hear Chris. And he can hear me.

Listening to human beings does not come easily to me, for it involves not talking, a difficult thing for a writer to do. We are creatures of monologue, fundamentally, whatever else we are. But a writer who cannot listen soon runs out of things to write about, runs out of readers, runs out, I suspect, of companionship. Without Chris, who would tell me to drink water when I forget? Who would anchor me when I drift off? So I do my best. And at least half of the time, I let Chris keep his fan.
I have been married not quite two years yet. I have known my mate just five years, plus some months. I’m learning. You know more about these things than I do, for better or worse, and what you know of these things are among the many things I cannot ask you about. I am not asking you now. There are a lot of questions I’ve thought to ask you at one time or another, and probably will not get to. What is that squeaking at night? Do geese fart? When the swallows left our mud bank here by the river, did they head south, or did they only disperse to hunt bugs over other fields now that the kids were up and gone? Most of these questions I suppose I could ask, if I only had the time. The problem is that when we talk next we will likely talk briefly about other things, and then it will be time to go. We just won't get to them. But there are questions I won't ask, not because I intuit any embarrassing answers, but simply because I think you'd rather not answer, and you'd rather not have to say so. There are things I don't want to talk about, after all, even with you. And, honestly, the inner workings of my marriage are probably among those things. 

We are all like crickets who stop singing the moment they realize someone is looking for them.