Tag Archives: Boston

The Flight of the Hummingbird

Photo by Paul Mayer

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

 

“I can’t do this,” he said.

My father was a smart man. He may have figured it out. Coronavirus was sweeping through his assisted living facility outside Boston, and everyone was being tested, residents and staff alike.

A modest man, in his own quiet way he was extrordinarily accomplished in his life. But at ninety-six years of age he wasn’t up for something unknown that no one knew how to treat. That much he knew. He read The Boston Globe daily.

“Life goes on until it ends,” that’s what dad always said when he was trying to help me with my inconsolable grief in losing others.

Deeply worried about him, yet unable to be there, I ran off to the nursery to fill three large hanging baskets. I needed something to do. Tired of looking at last summer’s geranium mummies, I’d start over with fresh soil, and—on the drive to town I saw it clearly—hanging fuschia. A nectar producing plant with tube-shaped blooms specially adapted to accommodate the long bills of hummingbirds, my father’s littlest friends.

It was there at the nursery when I received the call. Hospice was by dad’s side now and this was my only chance to say goodbye. I think I said, “I’m at the nursery, daddy. You’d be here too, if you were with me, and we’d be extraordinarily happy.” Something nonsensical like that.

Looking back, purchasing plants at nurseries may have been one of my father’s only indulgences. Together we could spend half the day there filling our wagon, and often did.

I was crying so hard, I was grateful to be masked.

At the same time, my project remained important to me. Julie of Julie’s nursery helped me load trays of twenty-four fuschia starts, eight for each basket, into the back of my car. She advised peat be mixed half and half with potting soil, and an organic flowering fertilizer which looked a bit different than my organic fertilizer at home, so I purchased that too. Julie could have sold me the moon that day, anything in the rush to grow my beautiful baskets.

We set up the planting operation on the picnic table at home. The table Bill Maas built when we first arrived on island. Eight fuchsia starts per basket, hung, and watered gently. They looked so lighthearted and promising beneath the eave. In the evenings we covered the baskets with clear plastic, for it’s still cold. And every morning, the unveiling. There is something in that ritual too.

There are two species of hummingbird on island: Anna’s and Rufous. Native to Western coastal regions, Anna’s Hummingbirds are increasingly found here year-round, living in the branches of our coastal scrub. Rufous Hummingbirds, on the other hand, have the longest migration of any bird their size. Wintering in Mexico, spring in California, summers in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, and zipping over to the Rocky Mountains for fall before returning to Mexico. Feisty and territorial, the visiting reddish brown Rufous try to chase off the resident emerald green and gray Anna’s each year. So we just keep putting up more feeders and more nectar producing plants to accommodate every one.

When we moved onto San Juan Island, mom and dad’s place on The Cape was very much on our mind. Shingled cottages by the sea. Ragtag fleets of boats by the water’s edge in summer. Clams in the muddy sand. And a writing hut where Dad had had a garden shed. The baby mice that once fell onto the brim of dad’s hat when he was puttering around in the shed. He cared for them too.

Dad has always been with me in writing, in gardening, and now, birds. He wrote his memoir, which prompted me to write mine. He explained Master Gardeners to me as “missionaries of the gardening world, Jesuits for all their knowledge,” and I became one. He led by example in the garden, and now he’s got me loving birds.

“What we care for, we will grow to resemble. And what we resemble will hold us, when we are us no longer…” Richard Powers

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Coronavirus, death of a father, fuschia plants, hummingbirds

Wrong Number

Last night over dinner in Seattle a friend floated the phrase, “Urban Amish.” That’s me when I think of my relationship with the phone. Then this morning on Facebook another friend described attending an event at USC where all the students’ heads were down, and how she wanted to stand on the quad and shout, Look UP!

“I felt like I was in a zombie apocalypse,” she said.

I feel like that every day.

There was a time, I suppose, when I waited for the phone to ring. It might be a boy. Most likely it was a girlfriend. It could be for my mother, and that would tie her up for awhile. The phone hung on the kitchen wall then, and in my way I seem to have left it there.

I’ve upset everyone around me by not bonding with the cell phone.

“What, go for a walk without your phone?” exclaims my husband like I’ve forgotten my pants. At best I’ve left my phone at home charging. But it’s never with me. That is not the way I want to walk. I have a different purpose in walking in this world. I want to notice things. And to think my own thoughts. Call me crazy.

My sister in Boston jumps into her bright red Prius every day and drives it like a phone booth on wheels. All wired up with Blue Tooth, whatever that is, she conducts her calls with both hands on the wheel. She talks with her daughter in NYC, her son in NYC, her husband in the attic—he has recently moved his office into their remodeled attic—our mother, our father, our other sister, it’s magnificent really. And me if she could reach me. Probably not. Her entire drive is a chain of calls. Sometimes she’s got to go from one call because another call is coming in.

I know because I’ve flown out to be with her in Boston and ridden in her car. Sitting in the passenger seat and listening to her calls, I have to wonder, whatever happened to personal conversation? Or listening to the radio.

Silence doesn’t bother me either.

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Save the Rail

2456somewhere_west01-1After her divorce, my sister moved closer to the center of town. I like that it’s more pedestrian, a walk to everything. Her street is a cul de sac primarily of duplexes, inhabited by highly-educated, multi-ethnic, mixed-aged residents, both married and divorced. This is where she now rents, and where she has found a real neighborhood.

Here neighbors know each other, walk with each other, and say good day and good night. As my sister describes it, “The houses and yards are close and run from one into the next. We support each other with advice and chores. There is always someone around who will listen or talk. We get together for wine, coffee, game nights, celebrate birthdays together, and Seder dinner for Passover.”

My sister formed a tutoring company with two other teachers in the neighborhood. The couple she shares a duplex with are an attorney and a grant writer. Her neighbor in the next house over is a child and adolescent psychologist. Asian, Russian, Indian, multi-religions.

“In the summer,” she continues, “we sit around fire pits under the stars. Sometimes it reminds me of a campground because in warm weather you can smell smoke and food from cook- outs, hear laughter and conversation.”

Not everyone’s experience of a neighborhood anymore.

A small creek runs behind her house, visible from her kitchen sink. And just beyond the homes at the end of the cul de sac: train tracks, where a commuter railroad goes whistling through, connecting ‘burbs such as hers to downtown Boston. The sound of the train gives me comfort. I like to sleep to it and wake to it when I am visiting. During the day, it’s a type of clockwork. Everything seems to be working as it should, as on a model train.

I know I derive more pleasure from this than my sister, for train trips filled many of my early vacations. But by the time she was born, our family was flying.

Back out west now, driving  the highways and freeways and sharing the road with monster trucks, I float back and forth between model trains on a table, my sister’s neighborhood, and the big picture. This works with trains; up and down in scale, they don’t really change. In my mind I “lift” all the containers off the road, all across the land, and set them down on railway cars. All the long hauls to be done by rail, enabling us to drive freely about in smaller, more fuel- efficient cars. A safer and prettier world I should think, where the towns are green and peopled, and trains run around them or through, whistling now and then.

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When Life Imitates Art

The first time I visited Santa Fe, New Mexico, I approached the city by driving up from Albuquerque. “Land of Enchantment” passed me by on every license plate, as I was fixed to all the landscape in my field of vision. Face glued to the window, fogging up the glass with my breath and smudging it with my fingers, I was having one of those ecstatic moments–there really ought to be a word for it–when life imitates art.

life-imitates-art-thus-paint-your-dreams-brightly2

I was seeing a place where I had never been through the eyes and handiwork of Georgia O’Keeffe. This woman whose life story I knew so well and whose art I had loved for many years. She was out there still, everywhere, in the desert and sagebrush, red rocks and purple hills, on the mesas, trails, and in the enormous clear blue skies, painting it all. I could taste the dryness in the air and smell mesquite burning in the distance. Like the child in Walt Whitman’s poem, “There Was a Child Went Forth,” everything I saw was familiar to me, and I knew a part of me had always been, and would always be, there.

Oh, how I wish I had the word for it, when life and art collide. Paintings, poetry or prose, these are the moments most worth living for, in my experience.

Recently I was handed another one. Again, I was in a moving car, this time through a snow covered landscape, making our way like a sleigh to Logan Airport in Boston. I had been visiting my parents’ in their retirement village on the South Shore and my mind was elsewhere.

Turning to me, the driver said, “Nice place there. Every morning I pick up a Mrs. Blessington and take her to visit her sister in Plymouth.”

“Lulie!” I cried, before I could catch myself.

You need to know that I had recently written a novel, Black Angels, in the course of completing my MFA, and had named one of my main characters Lulie Blessington based on two of my parents’ friends: one named Lulie and the other by the last name of Blessington. I had never met Mrs. Blessington, but I loved the sound of the names together and thought it worked for the feisty up-from-the-South character that was my Lulie. You need to know I had been living in that novel for years, and in that instant, she was practically before me. Well, not exactly before me, but let’s just say the seat was warm with her presence.

There was a young child went forth every day;

And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;

And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many

years, or stretching cycles of years.

….

These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who now goes, and will

always go forth every day.

Walt Whitman

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Aboard the S.S. Retirement

Whatever I was going to blog about went the way of the dial phone when I found myself flying to Boston to visit my folks in their retirement village this week. Now I can’t even remember what my topic was going to be. I’m here to help out in any way I can. The last visit was to help with the house, this time the theme seems to be gardening. They see me as strong and quick and capable, exclaiming “why, you can do in two hours what would take us days….” But when my husband calls me from his office in Seattle and I mention that I’m ready for bed (9pm EST), he remarks, “I see you’ve fallen right into the culture….”

You’ve got to. This is their time. We do a lot of sitting around and it’s my time to listen. Oh sure, they want some stories of what’s going on out there, however they’ve got their own world here too. It’s a bit like seeing children off to boarding school, but the difference is that parents never have the opportunity to stay in the dormitory and see it all through their eyes. Here, you do. I’m living in their home among all their retired friends and neighbors, and for dinners we all have the option of going up to the dining hall together. The event is communal, the room is formal. Ladies dress and look lovely. Men wear jackets. And this, I’m afraid, is the end of an era. When Mom and Dad first moved here the dress code specified ties as well. Ties are gone, and you just know that jackets will be next. But for now the dining hall still has all the ambience of an elegant old cruise ship.

At sixty I feel young here. I also find remarkable role models for how to navigate gracefully through the seventies, eighties and nineties. There are always a handful of centenarians among them. Residents keep as busy, healthy, well-read, and well-traveled as possible. On campus, as on a ship, dinners are the main event. Cocktails and appetizers through specialty coffees and cordials. Starting at 5:45pm, such a meal can take hours and eat up the whole evening. Clubs schedule themselves to dine together, singles and couples make dates with each other, essentially everyone arrives knowing with whom they are dining each evening. At Mom and Dad’s table last night, a most interesting couple. He designed systems for air traffic control for major airports in his day, while she designed crossword puzzles for the New York Times, both Sunday and weekday, working with Will Shortz. Oh my. I don’t know why but I challenged her to a game of Scrabble. And the reason I’ve got to get to bed at 9pm: big match in the morning and she will be formidable.

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