Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Hi, my friend.

Well, I'm officially sick; I have a cold. I don't get sick very often. I think the last time I had a cold I was a first year grad student. I remember Chris was up visiting for the week, and I couldn't take time off schoolwork to be with him, so I organized my week so that while he was up all my homework involved being outside with him. I wasn't sick the whole time, but I remember one day I went out to the airport bog to look for maleberry for my twigboard assignment, and it was all snowy and drizzling and grey and I couldn't get a good look at anything and I think I was running a fever stumbling around in the snow. So Chris took me to the little Indian restaurant in the airport and fed me tea and hot, savory stuff whose name I cannot remember except that it was green, and then for dessert these little spherical cakes floating in rose-scented syrup. And we sat and ate together and looked out at the wet snow.

So that was a very lovely way to be sick.

This time both of us are sick. Chris is sicker than I am, and has been for several days. He's coughing and spitting and blowing his nose every hour or so. At least he doesn't seem to be running a fever anymore. I have a milder version of the same thing. I don't consider myself sick just because I cough a little, but only when I have to change my habits to take care of myself. Today I felt all fuzzy and distracted for a while and my lungs hurt, so I think that counts.

In what is likely more interesting news:

The silver maples are flowering here, and have been for weeks now, since right around the time of the Climate march on Washington. Elms, too, though I haven't seen one lately. The daffodils are up, though they're slower than they were two years ago, when Chris and I used daffodils upon daffodils to decorate our wedding. A neighbor says a group of bufflehead ducks on the tidal creek have declined to migrate so far. He doesn't know why. For a week or two on every walk I saw a great blue heron in exactly the same part of a short canal, along with a group of ducks, but since then the heron has gone elsewhere. The ducks haven't. They still fly off when they see me. Once I saw what looked like large whitish birds dancing as a pair in the water. I've seen documentaries where birds dance on water side by side like that, but I don't know which of our birds do that and I didn't get a good look. I'm not even sure what I saw, just white bodies, dancing.

I am sure that I saw a pileated woodpecker clicking low down on a loblolly pine tree near the house where Kayla, the chocolate lab, lives. I don't know the names of her people. Kayla was not out at the time, but my beagle spotted the bird and strained at her leash at the bird, who flew away. I know, too, that I saw a bird's nest, I'm not sure what kind and I don't think it's in use, tucked inside a mailbox in front of a house listed for sail. Some junk mail lays on the doorstep of this nest and the mailbox is half, just half, way open.

I want to spend more time outside, being physically active. I used to live and work in the woods. Now I mostly live and work online. And I like writing. I really like writing. I just don't like all the sitting it seems like the different necessary parts of my life won't all fit in the same life at the same time. Maybe I just have to swing from one partial objective to another slowly over time and find in constant change what cannot fit in stasis., but I don't know what my next objective should be. I am glad we humans often get such long lives to lead.

Long life to you, too, my friend.

-best, C.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Hi, my friend,

How are you? How is your daughter? I've never asked after her, and you rarely tell me what she is up to, but when you do your voice softens, a comforting, vocal gleam. I do not know if anyone's voice softens for me like that; my own father has a different expressive style than you do, I guess.

I'm thinking about fathers, about parents, especially at present because I've just come from the home of my sister and her family, including my newborn my niece. She is small and round and pink and blotchy, and when she cries she makes the most extraordinary shapes with her mouth, rounding it, squaring it, extending her lips forward, pulling them back into a grimace; it's like she doesn't yet know what to do with her mouth, other than make noise with it and suckle with it. Her face was immediately and unaccountably familiar to me. A trip to the family photo album to inspect old baby pictures reveals that she looks a great deal like my mother, so no wonder. My niece seems both more demanding and more affectionate than her brother did at that age.

Not that my nephew is not affectionate. My primary job these past few days has been to keep him occupied, and he spent much of this evening alternating between leaping into my arms for great big hugs and attempting to feed me pieces of his toast. But he is also fairly self-contained; he can occupy himself when need be, he is generally obedient and helpful, and he is at once entirely sure of what he wants and entirely confident that demands are unnecessary. He is an extraordinary little boy, and his affection seems more a generosity of spirit than any emotional neediness on his part.

I've been learning to play with him and learning also to answer his questions, most of which consist of asking the names of things. He is in that semi-verbal stage in which he can understand what is said to him and use a few words correctly to communicate, but a stranger would not understand any of his words because his pronunciation is terrible.

An emphatic "Da!" with a single nod of the head is "yes."

"Dis!" and "Da," without the emphasis or nod, are "this" and "that" respectively, and he uses them, with pointing, to ask for things to be named to him, or sometimes given to him.

"Go" or "do" is "goat," which means both "goat" and "animal." Any animal he does not know the name of is a go, although the animals he can now name more specifically include a "graf," or something similar-sounding,which means "giraffe." There is one in one of his picture-books.

"Da da da" also means "Daddy," but I have not yet heard him say "Mommy," or anything equivalent.

"Dis!" he says, pointing to a pile of books.

I pick up one. "This one?" I ask.


He sits in my lap and we open the book to the middle. It's a reference book on singing insects, written for grown-ups. He points at pictures.


"Cricket! That's a cricket!"


"That's another cricket!"


"That's another kind of cricket--a MOLE cricket!"


"ANOTHER mole cricket!"


"Oo!, That's a TRIG. I didn't know about trigs. And look! According to the map, we're in its range! Maybe this summer you'll see a trig! Or hear it! It goes trr trr trr." I trill like a cricket as best as I can and he laughs. If this kid doesn't turn out to be a nature geek it won't be for lack of support from me.


"Oo, that's a CICADA! They're very loud. They're just this big and they make a huge noise," which I imitate and he laughs, "they're only this big, but they make a noise THIS big, bigger! It just fills up whole trees, you wouldn't believe such a big noise could come out of such a little bug. And the earlier in the day they start making that noise, the hotter it's going to be. My Daddy taught me that."

He tires of the book and flops on his belly and looks at me and grins.

One of my favorite things has been explaining things to him. You'd think answering such simple questions as "dis!" over and over again would be boring, but it really isn't. I don't get bored because we are engaged in a process I fundamentally can relate to, the process of finding all sorts of things out. I like talking about live things and I like teaching, and I'm just as happy to do that with a toddler as with adults older and generally more experienced than I am.

We go for a walk and I name for him grass, sticks, other sticks, moss, a small piece of moss. I stop to investigate my own mysteries: a flattened and dehydrated stink bug; a fallen maple flower; a very cold and slow fly.... A turkey vulture drifts overhead, fairly low, and catches my nephew's attention. "That's a vulture," I tell him, "a vulture. Isn't it pretty? I think the way the sun comes through its wings is so pretty." My nephew watches the big, honey-dark bird intently until it soars out of sight. It astounds me that he probably doesn't remember the green of the growing season, when trees had leaves on them and the farm fields were full of vegetables and he was still too young to walk. Spring is coming, and it's going to be a truly amazing thing.

Back inside and the baby is crying. She does that a lot, while awake, for when she is neither eating nor bothered by something she mostly sleeps. Her father swaddles her tightly in a big square brown shawl and lifts her. She's hardly big enough to fill his hands. He puts on classical music and he dances with her. My brother-in-law is an accomplished dancer and his feet move through the complicated steps of some kind of waltz, back and forth across the dirty, toy-strewn floor, to an instrumental version of "Once Upon a Dream," from Sleeping Beauty, and the child quiets, calms, looks around, her eyes dark and star-filled as the ancient night.

I know you, I danced with you once upon a dream

I hadn't known I knew the words, but they spin themselves out from the spool of memory in my head,

I know you, the gleam in your eyes is so familiar a gleam

The little pink beauty in her father's arms begins to droop; her eyes shut. This kiss sends her to sleep, but my brother-in-law keeps dancing, mindful that she might wake if he stops, and he is enraptured by the music, too, perhaps, as his feet keep the intricate patten, back and forth and turn and step, gallant and tall upon the toy and blanket-strewn floor,

I know it's true that visions are seldom all that they seem,
but if I know you, I know what you'll do,
You'll love me at once, the way you did, once upon a dream.

Sometimes, watching him, I think of you, for you were once also the father of an infant, young and inexperienced and probably harried. You've told me nothing of those years, just as you've told me almost nothing of what your daughter is doing now, and little enough of your own life. What little I know of you is not fodder for my writing, not truly. If I am unavoidably a journalist even among my own family, I am not so with you. You are as inviolate, as camouflaged, as the heart of an old tree with its cargo of owlets, just hatched now, in the grey of early spring, and I shall not even search the somber trunks, though I heard the adult birds calling in the winter and I know they must be there. But I know you well enough to guess that you have been harried, long ago, by a newborn's squalling, sleep-deprived and frayed, and that once a newborn fell asleep in your arms, to the sound of your voice.

-best, as ever,

Monday, March 11, 2013

Remembering Girls

Hi! I have news!

My first niece was born last night! So now I have a niece and a nephew. She was a large baby who debuted after a relatively short labor, and I know her name but I'm not going to use it here.

She doesn't know it, but she's been born into the family of a writer (technically, several writers) making her life the subject of public art from the beginning. I have mixed feelings about doing this, but obviously I'm going with the part of the mix that says to do it anyway. When she gets old enough to read her Aunt Caroline's writings, hopefully she'll feel warmed and welcomed by my attention. I always have by my father's writings. I don't know if he's written anything about his grandchildren. He doesn't have a blog.

She. A girl. The only thing I know about her, other than her name, is that she is a girl, and therefor a first for her immediate family, even if a somewhat less momentous first than her brother, who was the first grandchild on either side of his family. It's an odd thing, but although I am generally more socially comfortable with men than with women, and most of my friends are male, boys, male children, are something of a mystery to me. Perhaps it's because I had few male friends as a child, so I don't really know how male children work? But then, I had few female friends as a child, either. Part of it is certainly that when I think of maleness in the abstract, an exercise that must run to stereotype but might still have some validity, I think of things very much at odds with my idea of childhood. Largeness, for one; you people are nearly all bigger than me, and you have these big voices, and that does not fit very well with my idea of a baby. I do not personally look to males for protection or provisions, though neither do I generally fear male violence yet I am aware that boyish symbolism runs heavily to guns. I've seen the boy's sections of toy and clothing stores, and they are full of the symbols of violence. Guns, ninjas, superpowered red-caped fists, and the less obvious violence of fast cars, big machines, and bold, dark colors. So what is a boy, then? Abold, protective  warrior in training and yet at the same time this sweet little person who initially wanted to call all animals, even fish, "goat"? I realize that such stereotypes have little to do with actual people, and I do not fall prey to them in my dealings with adults, but with a boy whom I had just met a little over a year ago, what else had I to go on? I knew no more than "boy." And now there is a girl, of whom I, equally, know nothing.

One in and one out. Last week a woman I knew as a girl, when we were in high school together, died. She had fought hard and long against brain cancer, and she leaves behind a ten year old girl. She was younger than I am. Her funeral was yesterday, though I did not go. I hardly knew her, and I remember less than I once knew, but her death is unsettling nonetheless.

I do not take it personally that she was younger than I--I mean, that her death is not a creepy reminder of my own mortality. I already know that I am mortal, and that while I do not expect to die any time soon, and I make a point of trying not to do so, I am aware that people can die in their thirties. I mind only that she did not have very much time, and that she left behind such a young daughter. I'm going to try to do something for the girl, not like it sounds as though she needs anything we can give--clearly she mostly needs something we cannot give; she needs her mother back. But the gesture might be some small comfort, and anyway the people I went to boarding school with persist in being a sort of enduring club, something like, perhaps, the bond that forms among veterans. Ours was a weird school, and ours is a bond of shared experience that no one else shares, and so it persists across decades. And so I think it might be good to turn this bond and face it forward, not back, to try to begin a tradition of sticking up for each other. This little girl will not be the last child of our diaspora to need help.

I did not go to this woman's funeral, but I was pleased, even comforted, to have the option. It bothers me sometimes that when I do die, the people I went to grade school with will not likely hear of it. I had very few friends as a child, as I mentioned, and those few I had have all drifted away now. I contributed to that drifting, and for the most part I do not miss my old school mates, nor do I suspect they miss me. But I grew up with those people, they were the boys and girls I knew, the people I saw every day, except on weekends, most of the weeks of my childhood. And I do not now know for sure that any of them are alive. I assume that at least most of them are. It would be strange for a few dozen people from the same school to all die young. I do not miss them, but I feel...less substantial, knowing that so few people who knew me as a child know me now. But at least there are people who know me now who knew me as a teenager--not many of them liked me, either, and while I think somewhat more like me now, that's not really the point. I'm not worried about people liking me, because generally people do these days. The point is that I do not want to be dependent upon being liked to me known. So if someone thought to tell me that this woman I barely knew died, perhaps someone will think to tell other people when I do.

Closer to home, and apropos of very little, I miss you.