The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Five Hundred and One October 21, 2014

This is my five hundred and first post. I hadn’t intended to pass up post number 500 on such a mundane subject as Spam, but very anticlimactically, there you have it. It seems the tally of my published posts was one behind, causing me to miss my landmark. But then that’s not so very important as is the fact that I’m still at it, over three years and five hundred posts (and dozens of unpublished posts) later. The result represents several thousand hours of writing, editing and re-writing. And while I don’t yet deign to claim that I’m a professional writer, I do however, with a small amount of confidence, now identify myself to people as a writer. Not a blogger. I’m a writer with a blog, not a blogger who writes just to generate content. (Lord knows generating content has never been my problem. !)

Bloggers enjoy making entire paragraphs out of one single sentence for effect.

Not me. Well at least not yet. Never say never.

That’s precisely what turns me off when I visit other blogs. That silly, truncated format, those tiny look-how-clever-I-am paragraphs, that sing-song, cutesy tone. Just doesn’t do it for me. Kinda like the Dead. You either dig them, or you don’t. The typical blog format either works for you or not. A particular style of music can either fill your heart with joy – or make you want to rip the radio out of the dashboard. Me, I don’t write in order to have a blog; I write because I’d probably go nuts if I didn’t have an outlet. To be entirely honest, I’ve come to rely on you guys. Having an audience – dare I even say a family? – with which to share my ruminations and experiences is what has motivated me to get out of bed on many a morning.

I don’t think my writing is necessarily great stuff (no false modesty here, I really do think it’s improved in some ways), but I believe what gives it integrity is that I actually write down the things that run through my head. I don’t believe that I’m terribly different from most folks – I just think aloud, that’s all. But in that lots of people get a kick out of watching other people’s tiny dramas – or in some cases rubbernecking at their worst train wrecks – I figure at the very least The Hillhouse offers up some form of entertainment, if nothing else.

Elihu and I went to see comedian Steven Wright the other night (first time I’d popped so much money on a ticket in my entire 51 years on the planet. Hope the kid treasures the memory, at least I know that I will…) and in the days that followed I began to think more critically about what made comedy compelling. What made writing compelling for that matter. And while it may seem simplistic, it seems to me it’s mainly about the truth. Why are some things so goddam funny? Why is some writing worth reading? Because either you’ve already thought the same crazy thought yourself (and thought it was just you thinking it) or have never heard a certain situation expressed before in such an obvious, truthful way that it gets your attention. It’s either been your truth at one point too – or at least you can feel the truth in it. You get it. And that’s why I’m here. Because I need to know that you’ve been here too. Or at least that somebody else gets it. I don’t have the immediate feedback of hearing your laughter, but I do feel the presence of somebody else in the room, and it feels nice.

I’m so glad you’ve stopped by here at The Hillhouse to share in a tiny portion of our life. You’ve given me such a gift in your audience, in your emotional support and input. It continually blows my mind that we’ve had visitors from over 170 countries now, many now regular readers (before this experience I wasn’t even aware that there were so many countries in the world!). I still wonder at who many of you are – expats lonely for home, far-flung childhood friends of mine, people who arrived here on a late night Google jag…? Just who, I wonder, are you? I do know one thing: you are my friends, wherever you are, whomever you are, and whatsoever brought you here. And in exchange for your love and support I send you my energetic good wishes for a life as free from emotional stress and strain as possible, and for many wonderful surprises in the future.

My grandma taught me that the best way to accept a gift is with sincere thanks. And so tonight I thank all of you with my very warmest regards, five hundred and one times over.

 

Wonderful Spam October 11, 2014

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Seriously, I don’t get it. What is up with this crazy spam? Who in hell generates these messages? What are they thinking when they write this stuff? What makes them think English readers will understand them, let alone take the bait and respond? I’d like to think I myself would never take the bait, but I guess I finally have.

I remember a time a few decades back when I first became aware of the gorgeously bizarre ways in which English could be used by folks who didn’t know the language… I saw t-shirts, greeting cards and pencil cases from places like Pakistan, Indonesia or China with crazy slogans, sayings and jokes that were nonsensical in ways that could only be achieved by people who had no clear idea what they were saying. Often the intended vibe came across – but there could be no literal understanding made of the near-gibberish. These pieces of writing were both exceedingly creepy and irresistible all at the same time.

In the beginning, when I started to write this blog, they came only occasionally in the comment queue. But before too long the spammers began growing in number until they surpassed the amount of regular subscribers. And in the beginning, I was naive. Some messages were almost coherent; they almost seemed like genuine attempts at communication. I would hesitate for a moment, wondering at the intent of the clumsy messages… But then I’d see a pattern begin to develop… Similar messages came in, differing from each other by only a couple of words. At first I felt duped that I’d even taken the time to read them, but then, the sillier they got, the more entertaining they actually became, until I finally decided that they’d at least earned the honor of being published. They went phishing, but I ended up getting the catch…

Whether your Spam arrives in a tiny tin can from the supermarket or poses as urgent correspondence in your inbox, neither one is particularly good for your health, yet each beckons your indulgence with its own unique form of seduction. I suppose you might say that I’ve succumbed to a guilty pleasure in that I’ve come to enjoy the stuff. Both kinds. Yes, I admit it, I like Spam.

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Cecil Departs October 7, 2014

Saratoga Springs’ beloved banjo man, Cecil Myrie, died this morning. While I haven’t heard directly from his family yet, what I gather is that he was likely asleep when he passed, as for the past few days he’d been heavily medicated to relieve the terrible pain he was experiencing. Earlier this past summer, Cecil was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a type of bone cancer, and the pain he felt at times was excruciating, as his very ribs themselves were fracturing from the cancer. He was one tough cookie though, because even while uncomfortable he still wanted to play music – still had it in him to pull out not one but two banjos at our last visit – plus the bass box too. I’m not a string player by any means, but he coached me as I stumbled my way through the three all-important chords. Bless him for giving us that last precious hang. I wish we’d heard him one last time on the street, but I’m grateful we were able to hear him one last time at all.

Over the past week we visited him a handful of times; sometimes he could barely open his eyes, other times his face would light up and he would try to talk to us. But recently, with the morphine, plus the dryness of mouth that the drugs were giving him, it was even more difficult to understand him. And hey – it was hard enough to understand him to begin with on account of that thick Jamaican accent of his! On one visit I had a moment alone with him, and I leaned in and stroked his head. I told him he was loved by so many, and that all of his friends and family were thinking of him. I told him that I was sure he would soon be in a much better place, that soon he would enjoy that perfect freedom… I’m not as scared as I once was about talking about death with the dying, so I pressed on, hoping for some insight into the thoughts of one who is so very close… “Cecil, are you afraid of dying?” I asked him. “No, no, not really” he said, in a thoughtful way. Then he went on to say more, but try as I did, I couldn’t make it out. He was obviously elaborating on his answer, but I would have to be satisfied with what I got. No, he wasn’t afraid. Good. Cuz I can imagine a lot of people are. I wondered what he was lingering for then, were there any family members yet to see again? I heard he was caught up with everyone. Maybe it’s just hard to let go of your loved ones, maybe one lingers so as not to break the hearts of those left behind. Who knows. As wonderful as the next world may be, there are still a lot of wonderful things about this world that might be hard to break away from.

Yesterday I’d had a flash of inspiration. I looked into my music closet and found my grandmother’s ukelele, now almost a hundred years old. I figured out three chords and quickly jotted down the lyrics to a couple songs, played through them through a couple of times, then with Elihu and his djembe, headed to the hospital to play for Cecil. How happy he would be to hear someone sing for him, I thought. When we arrived, he was in a peaceful sleep, with a CD of his from the old days in Jamaica playing softly, and the article from the weekend’s paper had been taped up on the wall for him to see. We lingered a moment, and looked at him. What to do? We both knew it made no sense to wake him. Elihu cautioned me not to kiss him lest I wake him from his rest. So we just stood for a moment, and watched him sleep, the soft calypso music gently filling the room. The song playing was the last on the CD; fittingly, it was Jamaica Farewell.

Today we returned to the hospital, again ready to play for Cecil, but my heart sank to my knees when I saw the cleaning cart in front of his room. I knew what that meant. We entered the room and were surprised to find our own next door neighbor there. She worked in the housekeeping staff, and was just finishing up with his room. She’d known Cecil too; she always knew the patients. A week or so ago we’d told her about having a friend in the hospital – and she now learned who it was we’d meant. Wherever Cecil went, he was known and loved. He possessed an understated congeniality; pleasant, low-key and friendly to all.

I want to thank you Cecil, because you’ve got me excited to learn a stringed instrument now! More than that, you’ve hipped me to a whole new world of songs, and you’ve opened up a new way in which my son and I can play music together. I’d never thought that I could learn anything new at my age, and with my arthritis, no less. But you’ve got Elihu and me looking eagerly to a new musical future. There’s not a soul who can take your place, but we hope it makes you happy to know that a piece of you will continue to live on in us and all the music we’ve yet to play.

My love and wishes for peace and healing go out to all of Cecil’s family and friends in this deeply sad time.

IMG_4951My last picture with Cecil, just day before yesterday. I hope it didn’t hurt when I made him laugh.

IMG_5048A beautiful fall day on which to leave us.

IMG_5437We thought of you as we dusted off our old, almost-forgotten banjo.

IMG_5486Elihu can even make some good sounds on it already.

IMG_5482It’s a sad day, yes, but we think Cecil would want us to enjoy ourselves…

IMG_5530Lying on our backs in the leaf pile, we look up to the heavens and think of our friend.

This is the song Elihu sang for Cecil on one of our visits.

 

Falling Fast

The scenery starts to change in subtle ways at first, a slightly pinkish hue to a leaf here and there, an olive cast to a tree, maybe a highlight or two of yellow in a sea of green… In the beginning, especially when the weather isn’t always cool, and sometimes can be even a mite too warm – it seems a bit of a stretch to think that in relatively short order all the leaves will no longer be above our heads, but under our feet. It’s a rather massive transformation, and once it’s underway, it can be a little surprising to see how quickly the trees become November-bare.

This is the month when my parents chose to be married (on October 10th, in 1959), so that they might take advantage of autumn at its most colorful peak. Happily we’ve had a wonderful fall thus far in 2014, but I’m wondering if the leaves aren’t leaping to the ground more rapidly than in falls past on account of the lovely sunny, warm weather we’ve been having lately (save yesterday, when it rained; a personal gift from Nature to me, I’m fairly sure of it, as I was sick and needed a day to stay inside and sleep, guilt-free). Or does it work the other way ’round? Does a nippy fall encourage the leaves to leave? I dunno, it just seems to be happening quicker this year. Maybe everything just feels faster to me. Perhaps my age is having a greater effect than before on my experience of time. I’m reaching the autumn of my own life now, and I got here a lot sooner than I thought I would.

No matter, can’t be sad, nostalgic or backward-looking for long. I need to be fully present for this gorgeous time of year. I need to fully savor the scents, linger over the ambers and golds and bright blue skies. It’s a heady, sensual time – very much like spring in many ways, I think. One can smell the earth again in a renewed way, one can just sense the moisture clinging to the rocks and trees, and in spite of the sun’s warmth, there’s a sobering, cool edge to it all which has you digging out your light jackets and sweaters again. For me, this time of year is the most dream-like of all the seasons. The countryside has a mystical feel to it. Scents hang heavily in the air; wet, moldering leaves, browning roadside thickets and still-thriving mosses, fields shrouded in mist… I’m enjoying the feeling all I can, because before long, autumn itself will have fallen away like the leaves.

Some images from our beautiful property here on the hill…

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Here’s a past post about October, which includes a poem I highly recommend everyone read this time of year…

…and here’s last year’s post recognizing my parent’s 54th wedding anniversary. This year will be mom’s first without dad.

 

 

One Gone October 1, 2014

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Yesterday I lost an earring. It was one of the pair that I’ve worn nearly every single day since I left Illinois, now just over six years ago. They were a lovely pair of ‘little nothings’ the shopkeeper and I had agreed when I bought them as a memento to mark the beginning of my new life. Tasteful, elegant, simple and understated. A pretty pale blue, a color that might match the water or the sky on any given day. Perfect little accessories; always there, always giving me the confidence to feel put together and tidy, even when I mostly wasn’t. You’d hardly even notice them on me, yet still, they did their job, and when I went without them, I always felt unfinished. Those sparkly little nothings did their thing just as they were meant to. Except when all of a sudden one was gone.

Somehow, either while planting the new trees at the end of the driveway, or more likely, while getting a quick shower in before running out to teach, one had silently freed itself from my ear. Instantly, the one remaining earring had become completely useless. Instantly alone. All of a sudden this thing that had always been there, was not. These earrings weren’t given to me by a friend, they hadn’t been in my family for generations. They shouldn’t have meant so much – and truly, after all the loss I’ve learned to accept over the years it really is nothing – and yet, still, they meant a lot to me. As a pair. But that one, lonely remaining earring had no purpose anymore. All it did was make me sad. It reminded me of what was gone, of things that can never be retrieved. How perfect things had been, and how perfect they no longer were. How things change in an instant. How one thing can make all the difference. This musing launched me into a new line of thinking and I began to miss other things too; landscapes, homes, bands, people – things that were once here but are now gone. Things I miss still. I’ve been missing my dad a lot this past week, and this one remaining earring makes me think of him again. One thing without the other. Ich.

We’re about to lose another precious thing right now, as Saratoga’s beloved banjo man, Cecil Myrie is in his final hours. His bone cancer has accelerated rapidly over the past few weeks – just since Elihu and I popped over for an impromptu visit and short jam last month. We both feel very lucky that we were able to sit and make some music with him one last time, because it would be our last opportunity. Our jam was cut short by acute pain in Cecil’s chest, and we left him in hopes of taking him out to play on the street one more time. When we called next, he was feeling much worse and declined to go. I was relieved to hear that some of his friends had been able to catch him on a good day and did in fact get him out on Broadway for one final performance. I just can’t get it through my head that we will never again hear strains from Cecil’s banjo floating over the Saratoga streets again, the backdrop of that town for the past three decades. For as long as I can remember – either while living here or visiting – Cecil was always present. He was as dependable and permanent it seemed as the buildings themselves. Slowing to a stoplight on the main drag of town, windows open, there he was. Singing out “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and accompanying his song with that signature, folksy style that shouted Cecil’s name alone. My son had grown up knowing him, and in fact, as I think back on our relationship with the man, I recall something special… The first two dollars that Elihu ever made busking were given to him by Cecil, from his own banjo case. And we have them still. Above Elihu’s bird collection, tucked away in his closet, are those two dollar bills, kept as a reminder of this very generous gift, one which essentially started my son’s career as a paid musician. It was certainly an inspirational moment for Elihu. For us it really was the beginning of an era.

A now here we are at the ending of an era. It’s so sad, and it makes us feel that we feel we need to do something. But what? Hoping to create some way of honoring our friend, Elihu and I come upon an idea. When one thing ends, another thing begins, right? It seems a good idea, so we make some plans… After Elihu’s bass lesson today, we’re going to head over to the hospital to say our goodbyes to Cecil. Elihu is going to ask Cecil for his blessing to play banjo and sing on Broadway. Elihu and I have been wondering lately how he might increase his musical offerings, and this seems a natural fit. Elihu sings loud and well, he’s gifted with stringed instruments, and Cecil had been his first mentor on the street. Certainly Elihu can do this with love in Cecil’s memory with or without his blessing… But just maybe it might mean something to our friend. It’s one gift we can give to Cecil before he leaves us. He’s given us so much; it lifts our hearts to think we might be able to give something back to him.

Who knows, maybe one day we’ll hear those familiar songs brought to life again in a new way over the streets of Saratoga; a living remembrance of that one, cherished voice that we’ll always miss so dearly… the one that’s gone.

IMG_0889Bringing flowers from our garden to Cecil, not too long ago.

IMG_0903Cecil shows Elihu the bass box.

IMG_0934Cecil gives me a little lesson.

IMG_4850The last time I saw Cecil out on the street, he was in a wheelchair being pushed by his wife – they were passing this vacant lot in their neighborhood when I waved and shouted hello to them. A perfect place to pick some flowers for him.

IMG_4848Sunflowers for Cecil.

IMG_4856A very sad time.

IMG_4866Marianne and her son-in-law Prince, both from Cecil’s church, come to pray for him and say goodbye.

IMG_4867Nurses do God’s work on the planet. Dan’s own young sons have grown up knowing Cecil and his music.

IMG_4855A view to the south from his windows.

IMG_4928Cecil’s youngest son Josh.

IMG_4930Elihu sang a beautiful song for Cecil and told him that he loved him. Hard to believe that Elihu’s known Cecil for more than half his life. Cecil even tried to speak and opened his eyes while we were there. We know he was with us, even if he couldn’t communicate well.

IMG_4852Some of Cecil’s discography on display.

IMG_4853Now this is how we all remember him. Our banjo man on Broadway.

Goodbye and thank you, Cecil Myrie, we love you so, and we’ll miss you dearly.

And to use Elihu’s parting words to his own dying grandfather, we’ll ‘see you shortly’.

A video of Cecil playing Don’t Worry, Be Happy (a little too dark to see him well).

A much shorter video of Cecil at his post on Broadway by the now-gone parking lot (here you’ll see him fine).

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Here’s a link to a post from two years ago in which Cecil played a part…

 

Dragons and Crumbs September 28, 2014

Yesterday the Waldorf School held its annual Michaelmus celebration at the local state park. The day was warm and sunny, and the children all had a wonderful time. (See last year’s post for more on the story behind the seasonal celebration.) With a large-scale enactment of Saint Michael (pronounced Mike ay El) slaying a dragon put on by the twelfth grade, a morning-long quest in the woods for the children in the Lower School led by the eighth grade, hearty autumnal stew for lunch followed by a round of games in the field, the day was full and satisfying for all. In the morning, while the kids were hiking about in the surrounding forest completing their challenges, the eleventh graders helped prepare vegetables while a few members of the faculty worked in the shelter at portable stoves to cook the soup. Elihu was in such high spirits afterward, that he and three of his happy classmates talked me into an impromptu after-school gathering at our house, where in spite of the incredibly beautiful weather, they preferred to spend the better part of their time playing rounds of Pokemon. They’d had such a good day of outdoor activity, I easily acquiesced. It made my heart so happy to see them having such fun together. My son went to bed that night a very contented boy.

Earlier in the week we’d had a few small adventures; catching a beautifully colored turtle by the local pond, relocating a few of our frogs to a safer wintering spot, getting some trees to plant in front of the new construction house at the end of the driveway plus other various and sundry pleasantries that come with an unscheduled life in the country. Like finding odd-looking, misshapen eggs in the nesting boxes, or dining on squash that emerged from our compost pile, or taking a walk in the woods to discover a trash pile from well over a half century ago languishing in the leaves, filled with the bulbous forms of antique car parts and other, more mysterious unidentified objects rusting away… And still more surprises – finding a praying mantis, getting to rumble down the road in a neighbor’s borrowed truck, learning how to play a chromatic pattern on the piano complete with a left hand part and visiting with two grandmas in one day.

When Elihu was five, we stumbled upon the Rosh Hashanah celebration taking place in Saratoga’s city park, and since then we’ve made it an annual part of our own family tradition. We’re not Jewish, but we love the idea of tashlich. It’s the act of casting the crumbs from one’s pockets into living, moving water, that the sins and transgressions they represent be washed away, giving one a chance to start the new year with a fresh, clean slate. This is personal business, as those casting the crumbs are mindful of what those pieces represent, and they do so with somber introspection. (And after the casting they then read from the book of the prophet Micha about repentance. Micha? Michaeal? Hmm…) In the Jewish tradition, it is G-d who sits in judgement of these sins, and who at week’s end – Yom Kippur – will offer forgiveness as He sees fit. Elihu and I like to believe that all people are always forgiven, as we would always endeavor to forgive others (successful or not, at least it’s our goal!). Furthermore, I do not believe in a Creator that condemns or forgives; a parent loves her children no matter what they do, good, bad – or even very bad. (I realize some of you may well feel differently.)

It’s a lovely practice to cast away ones sins and recommit to living in the world with a renewed sense of love and respect. And Fall feels a perfect time for this sort of inventorying of the self. After having shed the things that no longer serve us, be they leaves or sins, we can now turn inward and give our full attention to the big changes ahead.

The slaying of dragons, the falling of leaves and the casting of crumbs tells us that fall is now fully underway.

IMG_4313The colors are here.

IMG_4259Early in the morning the teams assemble for their treks in the woods.

IMG_4284Preparations are being made…

IMG_4281Lots of soup…

IMG_4303…for lots of kids.

IMG_4290It takes a lot of help…

IMG_4326…and a little decoration, too.

IMG_3937The dragon has rehearsed its part…

IMG_4271…which is now acted out on the enormous playing field.

IMG_4337My foley station – sound effects for a rural village (cows, sheep, cowbells and birds) plus the battle and slaying of a mighty dragon (timpani and cymbals) and finally a happy recessional (tambourine with voices). Lots of fun to do this little bit.

IMG_4386Soup’s on! The tenth graders help serve the younger kids.

IMG_4347Elihu and pal Roger.

IMG_4353The teams added a colored band to their staff for each challenge they met.

IMG_4391Somehow, there was enough for everyone. No one left hungry.

IMG_4398Sweet Sadie.

IMG_4407Our friend Cally, a talented young horsewoman and singer, too.

IMG_4441Time for games!

IMG_4452The girls, adjusting their pony tails in unison as they head back to the bus.

IMG_4474Driving back to school on the Spa State Park’s iconic Avenue of the Pines.

IMG_4504And after school, a pickup game of Pokemon. Perfect!

IMG_4520Sweet little eggs from our youngest hens.

IMG_4245I love my mod duvet cover. Got it a while ago, but happily just rediscovered it. It refreshes the spirit to have something new around, doesn’t it?

IMG_4228Something else that refreshes my spirit: trees to provide a natural barrier between us and the new house at the end of our driveway.

IMG_4106And this is how we got em there… thanks to Stephanie and Zac for lending us their truck. Ah, the feel of a diesel!

IMG_4068 The praying mantis we found on the new trees.

IMG_2937This guy’s lived in our plastic pond all summer, now we need to move him to the muddy creek bank where he can hunker down for winter.

IMG_4032And the beautiful Eastern Red Belly turtle I found trying to cross the road. Apparently they’re not terribly common, so we were really lucky to have seen her up close. Look at those striking markings! And the red was so very vibrant. Her eyes had lines that ran right through them – altogether a stunning creature.

IMG_4040Saying goodbye.

In an instant, the turtle slips away into the pond.

IMG_4165We like to visit this lovely pond in Congress Park on Rosh Hashanah.

IMG_4182I don’t know why, but I like to know there’s a local Orthodox Jewish community here in Saratoga. Maybe it’s nostalgia for my old home near West Rogers Park in Chicago.

IMG_4192While some cast crumbs for their sins, some cast em more for the ducks. !

IMG_4202This one is pretty young…

IMG_4207She’ll need to migrate soon – but how can she with these tiny pin feathers? Hurry up and grow!

IMG_4220Elihu meets Esther.

IMG_4216And shares his duck with her.

IMG_4243Now we’re enjoying an evening at home with the emerging colors of fall outside our window.

IMG_4061Some lovely hydrangeas I picked from the cemetery on the hill.

IMG_4126The maple’s beginning to glow… see how the ripples in the window tint look almost like rain…

I love the shifting moods that the changing colors create. There’s a melancholic feeling in the air, and yet there’s also a bright little spark of hope for what lies on the other side. For now we’ll savor the scented air and enjoy listening to the final evening choruses of crickets before the world slows down to its long, cold sleep.

 

Fall’s First September 23, 2014

IMG_3978

How does the burning bush know that today’s the first day of fall? I mean really, how does it know? Somehow, it seems to. Yesterday there was only a vague, pinkish cast to some of the leaves, but today they have burst into a rich magenta, the berries into a vibrant orange. And the maples too, just how did they know? The ones on our driveway were pure green just day before last; today they have begun to turn yellow. The grand sugar maple (which my mother claims each year with great authority to be ‘the most beautiful tree in all of Saratoga County’) has also turned on a dime, showing patches of orange and red where this past weekend the whole mass was nothing but green. It happened so quickly. I guess I just never noticed how quickly before. I know it’s probably not so, but it feels accelerated to me this year. Feels like it’s picked up the pace. Not like in years before. Is it me? Am I only just getting it now? Wow. Makes me think. Makes me wonder about other things….

IMG_3976

I begin to think of my son’s growing up. Tonight I found myself looking with growing nostalgia at some videos we’d made in our first few years here, and I cannot bring myself to understand what’s going on. I’m pretty sure time’s moving at the same rate of speed as it ever has, but all of a sudden, it feels a lot faster. Summer is leaving us just as fast as my son is leaving his childhood. He’s perfectly fine without me now. He comes home from school on his own. He takes care of his responsibilities, he does his work as I do mine. It relieves me of a great workload to be sure, but with the freedom comes a sharp, sentimental sting. He eases me into it, still saying “I love you” for no reason at all, he still hugs me from out of the blue, and we still enjoy lying on the couch together in the afternoons, chatting about our day. Everything’s fine, I know. The leaves must turn, my son must grow up. But must they do all of this so quickly?

This morning my son embarked on his first ever bonafide camping trip. We two have not turned out to be the types for whom camping and summer go hand-in-hand. Although I’d not planned on his growing up this way – I myself had logged a fair number of hours in a tent by the time I was eleven – it’s just the way things worked out. It’s not that we haven’t been outdoorsy folks – ours has just been a different sort of outdoorsy. The kind that stays out all day long – but that relishes the comfort of a big, toasty bed at the end of it all. Camping, in, well, a tent, especially in the chill of autumn’s first night – that would be a new experience for me too. And here the kid is, getting it all in at once. As I sit here writing, I try to pretend I’m not wondering what he’s doing at this very moment. There are plenty of things to think about – Lord knows I’ve been up since 4 am just thinking about all of em – but now, all I can think of is Elihu.

It’s dark out now. Are they telling ghost stories? Singing songs round the campfire? Did he finally get to paddle in a canoe this afternoon? I hope so. Did I pack him warm enough clothes? Enough layers? It was a challenge collecting all of the gear he needed – and I hope he’s got everything he needs to be comfortable. How will he sleep in this cold? There is not one thing I can do for him now. He’s old enough and smart enough to figure out whatever he needs to. I know he’s been apart from me for great stretches of time, he’s slept in all manner of places, in all manner of situations. Being the son of a traveling musician, he’s logged a lot of life experience. But somehow, this is different. It’s a first for him in many ways.

We’ve turned a heavenly corner as the nights grow longer, the cold deeper. The leaves are changing colors as they have for ages, and children are growing up as they have for thousands upon thousands of years. But for me and my child – this growing up thing is still a first.

The Big Red Rooster Is Gone

 

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