Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Late Bloomers & Caught Leaves

Nearly October, and butterflies flit around as though the autumn leaves were flowers. I’m sitting on rain-soaked wood, enjoying a balmy afternoon that feels like summer but looks like fall. Morning showers left the ground saturated with dampness and color. The rain knocked off hundreds of maple leaves, and as they dry the edges curl. Dragonflies dart through the air and perch on the hydrangeas, which retain some of their summer pinks and blues but sag under the metaphorical weight of the season and the literal weight of rain. The potted red impatiens has seen better days, too. It looks garish and weary, an odd splatter of red against the yellows and oranges. Here and there in the yard a flower blooms – the last of the year, stragglers By all rights the summer flowers should have ceded dominance to the chrysanthemums, but one purple clematis climbs the trunk of the sumac, one primrose shoots a flower six inches into the air, the myrtle lets off a single violet star and one last rose taunts us with its tight fist for a week – will it, won’t it? – before bursting into aromatic dimension. I’m in love with these late bloomers; I check on them every day and pray they linger. The rose is so delectable I want to eat it like a coral-colored lettuce, but I content myself by just sticking my nose into its soft center. As I do, a gust of wind brings leaves and raindrops down upon me, and I see a pair of white butterflies twin and swirl in an updraft like scraps of fabric caught in a local tornado.

Everywhere, leaves get caught. Cradled, impaled, stuck – impeded in a hundred ways on their course from tree to ground. I see one maple leaf crucified on a dried out lily stem, several plastered to the mailbox, one twisted in some cable wires, several hung like laundry on a resilient piece of spider web. Everywhere leaves catch other leaves. They collect on the roof as though waiting for a sign; the sign is the wind, which sweeps them to the deck. When I walk across that deck the leaves catch in my sandals, flapping like clown shoes until they dislodge. I’d like to keep them near me – paste them to my arms and legs, tattoo myself with them. I’d like to be an autumn leaf magnet, and as I walked they’d drift to me, cluster around my ankles in eddies like land crabs. I’d like to live in this liminal zone, the zone that is both summer and autumn, literal and metaphorical, early and late. I’d like to live in a world where I could fall… and be caught.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Summer is giving way to fall, and although autumn is my favorite season, it’s hard not to lament, just a little, the cliched lazy days of summer as they slip into the loose weave of memory. Today is a blend of seasons, as though time itself, weather itself, can’t decide on identity, is having trouble moving on. The air is warm, in the 80’s, and the sky clear. But in the yard already-dried leaves skip across the driveway, scratching at my feet while above the trees rustle in the balmy breeze. If I stayed outside long enough my skin would burn, but the morning will be chilly enough for a sweater.

I’m in love, today, with the various weeds and mosses that insist on growing where they’re not wanted. I love the dandelions that push up through fissures in concrete, the moss that continues to carpet a crucial stone step leading to our deck. Years ago I’d mow around tall and flowering weeds in the yard, leaving oases of overgrown grass to protect what had been, arbitrarily it seemed, designated pest when they could have just as easily been called flower. Who decided? I didn’t know, but on my own acre I could reclassify and shelter.

My brother missed the turning of spring to summer; he missed the summer; he missed major time markers in the lives of his wife and kids. Christopher held his first summer job, working with animals in a no-kill shelter. Jordan entered high school and made the soccer team. Jess seemed to grow a full inch taller and read so many books she can’t recall them all. Cassie learned to horseback ride, and my brother’s wife, Lori, figured out how to get the kids, week after week, month after month, where they needed to be, figuratively and literally. Every night the whole family sat in front of the big computer screen and talked via Skype. It wasn’t much, but it was something, a way of keeping in touch, a way of saying everything’s okay even though everything’s different.

My brother missed a lot, and his family missed a lot but they – we – are lucky. The kids’ father, Lori’s husband, my brother, my mother’s son… he’s coming home. He’s out of Iraq and, I think, on a brief layover in Europe.* In 48 hours he’ll be in the U.S. Lori will pick him up at the airport and take him home. The kids think he has another week in Baghdad; they each arrive home from school at slightly different times, so they’ll be surprised sequentially. Part of me wishes I could be there, just hop on a plane and miss a few days of work, witness the reactions of the kids as their father’s presence registers. But another part believes they deserve their privacy, deserve to freely respond with tears or laughter or disbelief or who-knows-what. Military families contend with absence all the time, contend with hardships most non-military families don’t. My brother and I disagree on almost every political issue, but we agree on this: his work is important and he does it well. He’s proud of what he does and I’m proud of him.

So here’s a little thank you for that which persists. Here’s a little thank you for the oasis of family, to naming that which is cherished, to the quiet shifts of season that tell us time is passing and we should pay attention. Here’s to Rob and Lori and their kids…

Although I know it won’t happen, can’t happen, hasn’t happened, I wish – I deeply wish – that all families with loved ones far away could say, sooner rather than later, welcome home.

*This was written a few days ago but couldn't be posted because of the planned surprise. Major Robert Scott is at home with his wife Lori and their children.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

On a Tuesday in September

Far as I’m concerned, America is home to Muslim, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Confucianist, atheist, agnostic, short, tall, thin, fat, brown, black, white, red, gay, straight, transgender, bi-sexual, the uncoordinated and the athletic, the fashion-challenged and the super model, nature-lovers, city-dwellers, southerners and northerners, those who hug the coasts and those who love the plains and prairies and deserts, the tired, the hungry and the poor, the wealthy and the middle-class, the employed and unemployed, the homeowner, the renter, the homeless, the student and the teacher, the uneducated and the self-taught, the Mexican, the Arab, those with documentation and without, the male and the female, the young and old, the Springsteen fans, the hip-hop fans, the classical music lovers, the jazz aficionados, those who drive SUVs and motorcycles and foreign imports, the pick-up driver and the Prius owner and the walker, the couch potatoes and the health nuts, the vegetarians and carnivores, dog people and cat people, those who prefer Pepsi and those who prefer Coke, the potheads and the addicts, the alcoholics and gamblers and risk-takers of all stripes, the cautious and the timid, the bold and the beautiful, the agoraphobe and the horder and the aesthete, the poets and the artists and the scientists and the mathematicians and the secretaries and the chimney sweeps and the construction workers and the lawyers and those with children and those without, those who love the real Jersey shore and those who are left-handed and the right-brained, the Democrats and Republicans, the insomniacs and those-who-have-yet-to-awaken. Come on, people. Walk the walk. Get out and vote. Say hello. Open the door. Grow up.