Monthly Archives: July 2020

By the Side of the Road

photo by Paul Mayer

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

I have been joined by fox on my walks recently. They’re always singular, stepping out onto the country road before me. Red fox, black fox, silver/black fox, we keep an eye on each other as I walk toward him. But before I get too close, the fox jumps back into a culvert along the road or back into the thick of the woods. Since this has happened frequently, I think it must mean something but I’ve no idea what. I do know this however, according to Stephanie Rose in Interpreting the Spiritual Meaning of Seeing a Fox, “as a spirit animal, the fox reveals itself during times of great and unpredictable change.”

And that it is.

Queen Anne’s Lace has begun to bloom on island in fields, meadows, along beaches, and roadsides. I can’t tell you what that wildflower means to me. My first marriage was in a church built in 1846 on an elevated site in Suffield, Connecticut. I had no affiliation with that church, I just liked the look of it. Small, white, wooden, and with the exception of four Doric columns across a portico in front, the church is quite plain, almost chaste. An interior without  ornament, without electricity. A hand pumped organ, a lectern, and pews. And on that day, upon every window sill, homemade arrangements of Queen Anne’s Lace. A young bride in a long white cotton dress—I wish I could stop her, but there was no stopping her. It was all very hurried and quite mad.

Queen Anne’s lace smells like carrots, by the way.

Just beginning to appear, right behind Queen Anne’s Lace, is the wild lavender/blue flower I mistook for an aster my first few years on island. In fact it’s Common Chicory, a woody perennial herb in the dandelion tribe. It was at the Master Gardener Demo Garden that I stood corrected, and I remember shrieking with joy that this little flower, all over San Juan Island, is chicory. What came to me then, and what comes to me now every time I stumble upon it, are memories of a couple days spent in The French Quarter in New Orleans with my daughter. Dishes to die for—“first you make a roux,” bougainvillea growing to extraordinary heights on wrought iron balconies and gates, folds of old velvet drapery in deep reds, spider webs in chandeliers, the texture of crumbling brick walls, squares and courtyards and patios, street musicians, the smells of mossy trees, gardenia, and sweet olive, and the distinctive taste of the coffee. The ground root of Chicory was used as a coffee substitute in The Depression, and still today in New Orleans, as a matter of preference, it is mixed with dark bean coffee.

One glimpse of the pretty Common Chicory and I am there, at Café du Monde, powdered sugar on my fingers and upper lip.

And growing in sunlight where everything else gave up ever trying to grow, for they seem to come out of rocks, the California Poppy. Distinquished as the state flower of California, but native to the entire Pacific slope of North America. A flower so small and demure, with a vibrant explosion of yellow/orange color, the California Poppy expresses the optimism and free spirit of the state, reseeding itself if happy. Flowers that close at night and on cloudy days. I experienced that when I first moved to California from New York. I was continually calling people too late at night, not realizing that Californians more closely follow the sun.

Come fall, I am going to sow some.

I have completed the loop and am coming home from my walk. This is where I turn in: a shrubby lot by the side of the road and by the side of the sea. The tide rolls in, the tide rolls out—and everything comes back to us. It never leaves. A great state in a seed, two days in New Orleans pre-Katrina, a brief marriage, and a knowing fox.

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The Nest

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

A hanging fuchsia basket recently sold at Julie’s Nursery on San Juan Island and was promptly returned when the customer found a nest in it at home. The nest was built in a hollow at soil level and contained three little eggs. Julia exchanged the basket, and hung this one where it had been hoping the mother bird would not abandon it.

“Sure enough,” exclaimed Julia, “soon there were four eggs!”

Four eggs, it turns out, is the normal clutch of eggs for a Junco, who usually lay one egg per day. Thanks to swift observation on the part of the customer, the clutch is now complete and Julia watches over the nest in her nursery today.

My childbearing years are behind me, but I will always equate nests with homes.

Once I lived in a perfectly beautiful house in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. How we got there I haven’t a clue, for we deeply loved the town in California we had to leave for Bryn Mawr, and were as happy, settled, and committed as we had ever been, anywhere. Then the next thing you know we left this perfect house because my husband’s job was moving us west again, this time to Seattle.

It was at this point that a friend of mine gave me Louise Gluck’s poem “The Nest,” torn from the pages of The New Yorker. I carried that poem with me. It worked its way into my very being. “The Nest” spoke to me so much it was as if I had written it. In the end, that poem was a springboard or prompt for a memoir I wrote. A memoir that has everything to do with nature, homes, and moving.

 

A bird was making its nest.

In the dream I watched it closely.

 

I mention this because my youngest sister in Boston is looking to move. No one’s job is requiring it, for they both work remotely. They just want to find a place where they might like to retire. Which is what we did on San Juan Island from Seattle, and now I can say I live in a perfect place. And having written a manuscript about new starts, I am trying to help her with this.

 

It had it’s task:

To imagine the future.

 

So how is it happening that I am falling in love with Cape Cod? I’m smelling salt air, suntan oil, seaweed, and lobster, all swirled into one. It’s knowing that all those barns on 6A are filled to the rafters with antiques, a browser’s paradise year after year. And all the writers and poets and artists who migrate to Provincetown. Perhaps the grass really is greener… Afterall, Annie Dillard moved from Lummi Island, Washington to the Outer Cod.

 

I had nothing to build with.

It was winter: I couldn’t imagine

Anything but the past. I couldn’t even

Imagine the past, if it came to that.

 

This is exactly what gets me every time: this desire to change my life. I think, what am I doing here when I could be there? Or there? Or there? Sometimes it scares me. And it should really scare my brother-in-law because before we knew it, our other sister was seeing herself on Cape Cod as well. The three of us residing in a community of small shingled cottages just steps from the beach and just steps from each other.

We had it all worked out, aging together. Our younger sister would get a foothold in the first cottage, and let us know as other cottages become available. We’d start our own book group there, opening it to others as we met them. We’d help each other out with guest rooms when one was experiencing an overflow of guests. In time, we would come to be known as “the older sisters” in our new seaside town.

 

And I didn’t know how I came here.

Everyone else much further along.

I was back at the beginning

At a time in life we can’t remember beginnings.

 

What our husbands were going to do, I don’t know. Fish?

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