Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Light Upstairs

A lot of people who live in my area go to bed early. I know this because I drive home from work in the dark every night, and I see a lot of dark houses. They could be empty, I suppose, but I don't think we have that many weekenders—or at least not that many weekenders who don't put their house lights on a timer.

If I'm very tired, the dark houses have a certain appeal . . . I envision everyone asleep, no one needing to do anything or be anywhere. They're all in what my mother called "Bunkyland." They went to Bunkyland, and I've got my foot on the gas pedal and my hands on the wheel. My eyes strain to see deer at the edges of the dark, winding road.

The occasional house is all lit up. I'm convinced these are happy homes. Nothing bad can happen in all that golden light. Don't tell me the lights are on because someone's being chased through the house with a baseball bat. I just know the family members are moving from room to room, offering food to one another, sharing a joke, perhaps singing a song. These are the Irish and Italian families I idealized in my youth, the ones who spent all their time with their arms draped over each other's shoulders, singing, laughing, and eating. That was my made-up version of a perfect life: singing, laughing, and eating. I guess it still is.

But the houses I'm most drawn to on my late drive home are the ones with a single light upstairs. Only one person is still awake, and he or she will soon turn off the light. Once again, it's the yellow light that pulls me in; blue lights from TV screens don't count.

Although the shades are drawn, I can tell you what those rooms look like. They are sparsely furnished, with very little in the way of decoration, but they invite sleep. A braided oval rug lies at the side of the bed. The bedclothes are always white, and the beds are always soft. The occupant may be reading in bed, or seated at a small desk, perhaps writing a letter in the fashion of Rebecca de Winter, but at night, and in far more modest surroundings.

As I get closer to home, the percentage of dark houses rises. The hour is later, of course, but also I am surrounded by farmers who get up very early in the morning. For a while I was leaving my house dark as well, using a flashlight to walk from the car to the porch and into the house. I was unwilling to face the receiving line of moths that always show up this time of year in the presence of light. But after a home invasion took place on my road last month, I've been leaving both porch lights on plus a lamp in the living room.

One of these nights, when I've closed things up and only my bedside lamp is lit, I'm going to slip down the stairs and out the door. I'll navigate the porch steps, pass the old well and the flower beds, and walk out to the road. From my position in front of the house I'll look up at the yellow glow of my bedroom window with its drawn shade and tell myself the light is mine to do with as I wish. What I will probably wish is to turn it off and go to sleep.

My sheets aren't white, by the way. But my bed is soft.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

What do I do with my car?

This evening I was reading a delightful blog having to do, more or less, with parking spaces, and thinking I haven't worried about where to park my car since I left NYC years ago. Then I realized I have a parking issue coming up next month.

I'm having an in-and-out minor surgical procedure done, and it's the in and the out that's presenting a problem. I have to be there at 6:00 a.m. I live an hour from the hospital, and no way will I ask someone to drive me in at that hour. Why I've been asked to come in so early is beyond me. I think the surgery is scheduled for 10:00. What do they plan to do with me for four hours? Maybe it's a clinical trial . . . maybe they want to find out how long it takes my back to start hurting on their new gurney. Maybe they want to see how low my blood sugar can go. Or maybe things are a little slow early in the morning, and I'm their entertainment.

Anyway, I'm arriving in my own car, and I'll park it at the hospital. But I can't leave it there. Nor can I leave under my own steam. The hospital won't discharge a surgical patient, even when it's minor surgery, without a designated driver. The driver has to show up in the flesh; you can't try to pull the old "My driver's waiting outside with the engine running" flim-flam.

So Lizzie will probably come and get me, and we'll go home in her car, and . . . well, you see my problem. I'm thinking this is one of those things that someone under 20 could solve in no time. Lizzie is 19. My current plan is to put it in her lap and forget about it for now. Maybe I'll start thinking about it next month. I didn't agree with everything Scarlett O'Hara did, but sometimes the girl made sense.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Sign in the Old Well

Sorry if my title sounds like a Nancy Drew book. Maybe that's why I like it . . . Nancy was my constant companion when I was little, and when Gillian was in first grade her teacher would let her read Nancy Drew books at the back of the classroom while the rest of the class had their first reading lessons.

I wrote the following in 2004:

For the past three years—more than three years, actually—I hadn’t the heart to do any gardening. Gardening was such a shared activity in our family. Even if all hands didn’t pitch in, there was a shared spirit, a mutual appreciation for the blue blaze of a delphinium in the sun, or a bowl mounded high with tiny perfect yellow crookneck squash. Joe taught me how to grow a garden, and Jill and I put our heads together over the seed catalogs every year. Then I was the one left to do everything, and for a long time I did nothing.

Jill loved that I planted our old well with flowers every spring. The well is a round opening about two feet in diameter, surrounded by a slab of rock. Filled with flowers, it was always a bright spot under the Winesap apple tree in front of the porch. When I stopped planting it, weeds took over quickly. It depressed me to look at it, but there it was, in sight whenever I left the house, and when I came back.

Last year a plant I recognized sprung up at the far edge of the slab. It came literally out of nowhere, as I hadn’t planted one like it in more than a dozen years, and never in that area. I mowed around the single plant, and it grew and bloomed. At the end of the season it fell over onto the well, seeding it. This spring, the well was transformed. Gone were all the weeds. In their place was a profusion of blue and white flowers: forget-me-nots. They were so clearly from Jill. She would never have to ask me not to forget her. Instead, I think she was saying, Don’t forget the joy we once took in this. You can still love growing things. We can still love them together.


In the six years since I wrote the above, the forget-me-nots have proliferated, showing up all over the property. I took this picture of the well last month. One of my favorite sights a couple of years ago was about 100 feet down the road, where a ring of forget-me-nots encircled a sweet-rocket plant.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

A Nature Tale

Yesterday I spotted baby robins in the nest above my car, and took some pictures of them. They were so cute, with their mouths wide open, just waiting for their parents to come along and drop something in. They looked so trusting, although I suppose trust, at least as we know it, wasn't part of the picture. Like the parent robins, who react to the sight of the interior of the babies' mouths by inserting worm, the tiny birds were operating on instinct.

Apparently something else was operating on instinct, too, because when I went to my car this morning I found the nest on the ground, the babies gone. Poor little things. All I could hope was that they died quickly.

Snake? Raccoon? Hawk? It doesn't much matter, because there's nothing I can do to prevent it from happening again. Next time will arrive and proceed on schedule, whether or not I'm aware of it. And I hope I'm not. I hope it happens deep in the woods, although robins probably don't nest there. So in that case I hope it happens on the property of my neighbor, who wouldn't know a robin from an ostrich.

"Nature is cruel." We hear that all the time. We forget that we have a place in nature. Human nature can be cruel, too. Sometimes our nests are destroyed. And sometimes someone goes and finds a nice sturdy ladder, manages to carry it without tripping, and makes an effort to put things back where they're supposed to be, as best she can.