The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Waypoint October 14, 2021

I love maps. I can spend hours looking at a map, imagining the topography, envisioning the reality of being in those places, and trying to more fully grasp the relationship between here and there. Landmarks are, of course, essential to figuring out where you are – and how to get to your destination. These days I feel as if I’ve arrived at another one of my life’s landmarks, and the time has come to plot my next course.

In an ongoing effort to distract myself from the realities with which I now must live my life – an eye injury which challenges me daily, extra pounds which do not come off my frame as easily as they have in the past, and a clinging sense of sorrow that my best days may well be behind me – I am trying to keep moving. I am trying to keep busy.

Of course I continue to teach piano, and in spite of a recent heartbreaking setback, I am still looking for a musical partner. I run the Studio’s Airbnb. These things are routine and familiar parts of my life. But they have not been enough to keep my spirits from sinking. This, I can now see, is going to take some effort. And while I can honestly say that I’m not pining for my son, and while I deeply appreciate not having to make a full dinner every night and drive a twice-daily shuttle to and from school, I have to admit that I do miss him. The house lacks a certain energy now, it lacks a certain animation. My son challenged me, he taught me things and encouraged me to think more critically. I sorely miss our wonderful daily conversations. Somehow, for as much as I treasure being alone, it’s not feeling quite as blissful as I’d previously imagined it might.

When I look at my mother’s life as it is these days, it saddens me. I see the parallels between our lonesome lives, and it makes me sadder still. Mom lives by herself, and she doesn’t have the benefit of students and their families coming and going. Her world has grown smaller as her strength and mobility have diminished, and now her only companions are the wildlife she feeds outside her window, her television and her emotionally dysfunctional adult son who speaks very little and almost always leaves her guessing as to what’s on his mind. But even so, he is her son, he is the one who gives her a reason to keep daily rituals in place. She pays his bills, buys him food, makes him dinner, and often speaks about the goings-on at her place using the plural pronoun “we” – when in truth my brother is hardly her companion in the true sense of the word. Sure he fixes things around the house on occasion and he joins her most nights for a meal – but he is moody, unpredictable and often angry about something. Many days he utters not a single word to her. But he is her son, and somehow that is enough. Yeah. I get that part.

We’re all fond of saying that life is short, and that you must live life to the fullest because you never know… And of course this era of covid has brought that message to the fore of our collective mind, yet how often do we actively heed this way of thinking? How often do we challenge ourselves because we know tomorrow isn’t promised? Me, I’ve usually been the one to try shit out. I’m usually the one to take the dare, the one who’ll do the crazy stuff. On some level I have always felt like it was now or never. So I get it, and I’ve tried to live it. But I admit I’ve held back. Especially during my tenure as a single mom. I put a lot on hold, and justifiably so. But now that there’s space and time before me, I feel an urgency about getting back on the horse.

I can honestly say that there is some bone-deep, existential shift taking place inside of me these days. I’m thinking much more seriously about the stuff that I have always thought I might do “one day”. And my new awareness is born of two things: the deaths this past year of several peers (who were also dear friends), and the magic of reaching this certain age. I can’t consider myself middle-aged now. That’s not really accurate. Even if 50 is considered to be the new 40. Fuck that. OK, so maybe our current culture affords us a slight advantage – after all, do your remember how a woman in her 50s just a few decades ago seemed like a dried-up granny? That’s certainly not true now – but the possibility of dying still looms, undeniable and ever-present. Cancer is everywhere. Covid is real. And accidents happen. For me, these days, life feels like a roulette wheel. So I gotta get going.

A few days ago I saw a neighbor’s post on Facebook. She and her family – including two young boys – had climbed a mountain. She’d raved about the gorgeous view, and stated that it was not a difficult climb. The day that I saw the post it was midday and sunny. I had no students coming, no side jobs, no Airbnb turnover. My day was wide open. I did a quick search for the mountain, downloaded a trail app, and within minutes I was pulling on my hiking boots and filling a backpack. Inside of an hour I was at the trailhead (if I’d known ahead of time how long and narrow the wooded road to the mountain was, I might not have gone. I’m grateful to now know about these ancient carriage roads; they won’t put me off in the future). I was off to somewhat of a late start in the day, but I was comforted by the sight of a full parking lot when I arrived. I’d be safe, at the very least, if something should happen.

The ascent was a challenge, inasmuch as my heart was pounding so hard I began to wonder if it wasn’t actually dangerous, and I was virtually gasping in air through an open mouth for much of the upper part of the trail. When I reached the summit, I was drenched in sweat. But as anyone who’s climbed a wooded trail can attest – the sight of light from above and the expanse of rock that meets you when you reach the summit restores your body and your spirit as few other experiences can. I think this is why people get hooked. I think it’s why I climbed another mountain a day later. And, in spite of how horrible I feel when the ascent becomes almost torturous, it’s why I hope to climb again soon. Tomorrow, in fact, if all goes well.

Not too long ago I began taking a Tai Chi class. It’s an expense that some might find imprudent when my means are so modest, yet it’s something I feel that I have to do. I love moving. I love dance. I love working on balance. One day I hope to teach a dance class at the Y – but for now this is how my love of movement is going to manifest. I don’t know much about Tai Chi, but I can’t let that stop me. What I do know is that it feels good.

And speaking of getting back on the horse – that’s on my list too. I have a few friends who ride, one of whom, like me, is missing her daughter and companion, and so I hope to go riding with her. It’s been decades since I’ve been in a saddle, and I remember how sore it made me when I was young, so I have no illusions about how it’ll feel. It’s gonna hurt, I know. But how many things that are truly worth it don’t require some discomfort at the start? I can’t think too much about it. Yeah, things can go wrong. And you can get hit by a car crossing the road to check the mailbox. No reason not to try.

When I crewed on a sailboat in the Atlantic many years ago, I also decided to go without a whole lot of mental preparation. I mean, how can you prepare for open-ocean sailing when all you’ve ever known is sailing a dinghy on calm, summertime waters? It kinda amazes me now when I think back on it: the captain had emailed from a port and asked me to please bring some baking supplies with me, so my modest rolling suitcase contained huge zip lock bags of flour and sugar… No one in security so much as batted an eye (different times to say the least). I had in my pocket a scrap of paper with the name of the harbor where I was to find the boat. I did not understand a word of Portuguese, nor was I fully understanding the logistic challenges required to get from the airport to the tiny coastal town. But somehow, in a pre-cell phone world, I made it to the boat after two days of travel. And before I could quite comprehend the scope and nature of the adventure before me, land was long out of sight and I was taking our bearings and writing them down on a chart. In spite of my inexperience, I was soon piloting a large boat and plotting courses. I just had to go step by step. I knew close to nothing when I began, but I’d learned a lot when the trip was over. Through some pretty rough storms, torn foresails and stalled motors we’d made it to our various destinations.

Whenever I hesitate to try something new, I try to remember the boat. I recall how not overthinking was key. I also remember how important it was to know where we were – and to know where it was that we wanted to go next.

I know where I am. I know that my body is not what it was. I also know where my body will go if I live long enough. No one can evade the physical reality of aging, no matter how healthy they may be. So while I’m alive and able, I owe it to myself to get on the boat and go.

I owe it to myself to check the map, chart a simple course, and head for the waypoint.

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elizabethconant.com

AeroCraft

Elihu’s Music on YouTube

 

Defeat, Distraction and Divots July 12, 2014

These days I tend to think of my life as being empty. Void of the things that made it fulfilling and enjoyable a decade ago. And certainly, in some ways it’s true. The nature of my life now is completely different; back in the day I lived in a bustling metropolitan area and was always involved with several creative projects at any one time. I enjoyed the great privilege of producing and hosting my own radio show, of performing in all the great venues on a regular basis, and most nights of the week were concluded in the company of friends at a restaurant eating great food. I shared my world with people who also lived their lives inside a whirlwind of creative endeavors. Yeah, it was an incredibly enjoyable time in my life. And while this chapter might not be as thrilling, it’s really no less busy, no less full. I have to remind myself it’s just different. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing, it’s where I’m supposed to be. I’m constantly faced with new challenges, both physical and emotional, and I learn from every one of them. It might not be as flat-out fun as the way I seem to remember my old life as being, but if I take a step back and observe things as objectively as I can, it appears I am not living an empty life at all.

Actually, my life in the country is chock-full of tiny events, and I am still a busy woman, only it’s a different kind of busy. In fact, I sometimes wonder how many years it will take me to find myself moving again with more regularity and less urgency. How long til I reach a point of equilibrium? Of balance, of true contentment, of peace and ease? When will the need to put out small fires cease? I suppose my feelings of discontent are partly due to the Studio and my apprehensions about all the unknowns before me, and I suppose things will only get more demanding on that front. But that’s ok, I have a suspicion that that sort of work is likely to bring more contentment than trying to trap raccoons, finding ways to keep the water out of my basement or dealing with less-than-forthright neighbors in sketchy real estate deals.

I am grateful that my partner, artist and teacher Ceres Zabel, has just successfully concluded her first week’s class at the Studio. All the kids had a great time, they learned a lot and came home with beautiful pieces to show for it. This weekend we have more work before us as we tidy the main room and turn what is currently a construction zone into a tamer, cleaner version of a workspace. More elbow grease. But that kind of work feels better than any other. I can’t wait til the classes are done for the summer and I can begin to get the insulation in and the sheet rock cut and back up – with my own hands. Until this whole experience I never would have considered doing some of the labor myself, but I’m discovering that it doesn’t hurt to try and learn how to do things yourself (plus a lack of funds kinda motivates as well. !). There hasn’t been a husband or partner around for the past six years, so I’ve had to suck it up and figure things out for myself when shit’s hit the fan. And this Studio experience is like more of the same – only on a larger scale. I have learned so much in this adventure, and it’s barely begun. So much yet to learn.

Actually, learning things is was makes things interesting. I can thank a recent heartbreaking and shady sale of the adjacent property for a quest which turned into a day-long hunt for maps, deeds and property descriptions and had me driving all over the county to collect information. I learned some interesting things along the way, some of which had absolutely nothing to do with the business at hand, but hey, isn’t that what makes life more fun? It wasn’t an errand of joy necessarily, but it turned out to be a joyful day of sorts. If nothing else, a nice diversion from the stay-at-home grind of chasing chipmunks and chickens and comparing quotes from contractors.

And then there were the lovely, impromptu visits over the past few days with neighbors, and the moments of pause they provided in my busy life. My house is cleaned out, now only the organizing remains. The field at the end of the driveway (thank God not Crow Field – the big one where the Woodcocks return each spring) will likely see the building of a too-big-for-the-lot house by fall. After penning letters giving both the seller and the buyer a piece of my mind, all that’s left to do now is to get back to building my own life and business. A couple of diversions have taken my mind off of the changes – both welcome and unwelcome – that are appearing on the horizon, and now it’s time to get my eyes back on the path directly ahead.

Diversions keep it all possible, they prevent the reality of life from becoming too daunting and dark. Thank goodness for kids and frogs, unexpected visits from neighbors and tiny, impromtu outings. Oh, and thank goodness for calls from your own child who tells you that he’s driving ‘right now’ down the strip in Las Vegas and then says ‘oh my God I have to go now Mommy cuz there’s too much to see…”. I am happy, happy, happy to know my son is enjoying himself and seeing the places I can’t afford to show him myself. I’ve already seen them, now it’s his turn. He’s in the middle of a great summer, and my heart lifts to know it. Knowing that makes whatever hardships I might be feeling in the moment so much easier to take. I miss my son, but  I know that he’s living a summer he’ll never forget. And in my own way, I guess I am too.

IMG_7961Less than an acre, but soon there’ll be a four bedroom house squeezed onto one of the few remaining fields in Greenfield.

IMG_7960What saddens me is that this field is next to my driveway. What angers me is that the owners asked that I pay to have my driveway moved so that they could sell their lot. (My ancient right-of-way makes the lot too small to develop – legally. That doesn’t seem to have stopped them in the end.)

IMG_7964Here is the tiny bit of disputed land – make a triangle from the rock on the right, the white plastic jug in the driveway, and the right rear tire of my car. But hey, if this is what it takes to prevent a house from going up, so be it. It’s the law, but the law doesn’t seem to be working. As long as I don’t have to move my driveway (more like a road really), than I’ll just have to accept the unwelcome change.

IMG_7981Neighbor Ryan stopped by for a little frog catching. Just when poor Stanley (the frog) and his family thought they could relax. Ha!

IMG_7993Mom Boat Tailed Grackle gets ready to feed her ‘baby’. (Big baby, huh?)

IMG_7995I’ve got a primitive and slow camera, but look at this! Love it.


IMG_8004The juvenile is gray with dull, gray and brown eyes. Adults are black with iridescent greenish-blue plumage and have strikingly contrasting yellow and black eyes.

IMG_8146Elihu will be bummed he missed the annual blooms of our rare Canada lily.

IMG_8148Time for art camp at the Studio!

IMG_8324Ceres has been running her Odyssey School of Fine Arts for over twenty years – its new home is now in the Studio.

IMG_8326After a short lesson, the kids get down to work.

IMG_8307Today they were given magnifying glasses to help inspect the details on the blooms and leaves they were to draw.

IMG_8329Here’s Mason’s final product!

IMG_8351Miakota’s had a great time this week.

IMG_8306Tom gets started…

IMG_8331…and here’s his final drawing.  Nice shading!

IMG_8344Much trickier than it looks.

IMG_8023Now to peel back the many layers of  the property line mystery…

IMG_8032We may live in a virtual culture, but there’s still plenty of paper hidden away in the vaults.

IMG_8039It’s details like this that I’ve come to the department of Public Works to see for myself.

IMG_8030Ah, the crazy language of property description.

IMG_8046Course I’m a bit of a map freak, so this was very exciting. Here’s a local map from over a hundred and fifty years ago.

IMG_8052Here’s a town that doesn’t even exist anymore – it was built around an old glass factory, just north of Lake Desolation. (I love the way each building has its owner’s name written beside it.)  It’s kind of like the East’s version of a ghost town. You can find bits of glass and pottery in the woods on the site but not much more as humidity eventually claims everything. When the industry collapsed and the town was no longer needed, some of the houses themselves were moved down the mountain on rollers and re-constructed in Saratoga Springs – a good ten miles away. Impressive and amazing to me.

IMG_8073I’m a great fan of all things modern and mid-century, and I’ve always loved this lobby of the county building, complete with lamps made of the same granite as the table upon which they sit, and dig those original (and sadly kinda shabby) metallic gold lampshades!

IMG_8066Now onto a title insurance company. Bit of trivia for Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford fans: this is the site of some interior restaurant scenes from The Way We Were.

IMG_8063Disappointingly, there’s not one single detail left that would even give you and idea for the soda fountain it once was. (Also a disappointment was finding no deed or title description to be found that mentioned my driveway and thereby proved, on paper, of its existence before we bought the place.)

IMG_8067More movie fun facts: the scene in which Bob ties Barbra’s shoes in the moonlight was filmed here at the historic Medbery Inn in downtown Ballston Spa, New York in 1972.

IMG_8374I stopped by Zac and Stephanie’s and before I knew it, I’d tagged along with them to the local Polo grounds to see my first game. Saratoga Springs is a horse town, and this famous Polo field is a mere three miles from my home, yet I’ve never been. (Maybe cuz it’s $30 a car, and I’m usually traveling solo.)

IMG_8441The ground rumbles when the action gets close. All that prevents the ball from flying out into the onlookers is an 8″ tall board on the perimeter of the field, and the incredible skill of the players.

IMG_8443There they go!

A short bit of live action on the field (which is I hear is the size of nine football fields).

IMG_8449Wow! One of the kids in our group actually got a ball!

IMG_8437The half time tradition of ‘stomping the divots’. The horse’s hooves leave footprints, some of which are pieces of sod that can be stamped back into place. One must be careful to tell chunks of dirt apart from other, similar-looking mounds before stomping. !

IMG_8368I haven’t tailgated in decades – this was a multi-generational party with lots of kids. Grandpa Phil (in blue) chats with son Zac (in yellow). These guys are my saviors – they helped fix the Studio up so we could open, they’ve helped me catch varmints, close up my chickens, fix water pumps and more. This is Annabelle in the pink sunglasses, she’s the big sister of three.

IMG_8208At the end of a full couple of days, I head back home down my beautiful and peaceful driveway. I’ve never taken this rural landscape for granted, but there’s never a good time to see it go. I’ll miss this field terribly. But on we march, into the unknown of the future, grateful for what still remains.