John Clark posting late today. Internet in rural Maine is often flinky, particularly during bad weather. We got at least 20″ of snow and birch trees are bent like ancient grandfathers everywhere you look. the red gazing ball is completely buries as is the giant trash can we left by the back garden when cleaning up last fall. Our new metal roof has serenaded us with intermittent avalanches for two days and backing out of anywhere is an adventure.
I really miss Wolf Moon Journal. For the several years it was published, I enjoyed the freedom to explore a different kind of writing, mostly essays about aspects of life that were particularly personal. Over the course of 2014, I’m going to share my favorites beginning with Zen Sunday. I hope you like it.
Our house was silent and the lawn mowed. I was going down to the farm the next day to work with my sister, but today, something was telling me to make an extra trip to the farmhouse overlooking Sennebec Lake.
Mom died in late November. We had a memorial service a couple weeks afterwards, but not everyone in her wide circle of friends was able to make it. Life is like that when you write, garden and mentor for 50 years. We planned to have a memorial picnic this summer to give those who were not able to make the service another chance to say goodbye to the lady who lived behind the Orange Mailbox. Somehow, neither my sister nor I could muster the spirit to set a date; postponing things in the middle of grief has an almost narcotic appeal.
A couple weeks following the service, I received a letter from a woman in Oregon who had known and respected Mom. Laurie had met my mother through their mutual friend Karen Van Allsburg, one of the nicest folks ever to walk the earth. In her letter, Laurie said she very much wanted to come east and be part of Mom’s final picnic.
As spring flowed into summer, I would come across that letter and have another twinge of guilt because we were no closer to setting a date than we had been back in December. The people in the midcoast area could adjust their schedule for an upcoming picnic, but someone on the other side of the country would have a much harder time.
As I drove south on route 7 the hills seemed sleeker and the sky just a bit bluer. August gives us days like that, perhaps as an apology for preceding September with its first frosts. Sennebec Hill Farm overlooks the pond whose name it bears. Surrounded by fields sprinkled with goldenrod and wild asters, the house evokes mixed feelings every time I come there. It was my home from 1949 until I went west to attend Arizona State University. I’ve cleared field creep, gotten married by the lake and hunted the hill across the road. Much of my inspiration as a writer has come from memories of growing up on that farm. Every time I pull into the driveway and see it empty of life and full of memories my emotions go into a perilous state.
The little shop vac I brought did a stellar job of turning the room over the garage from an intimidating jumble of crap into a somewhat orderly array of boxes of minerals and old bottles. The long unused, but still sturdy doors and storm windows go out to lean against the famed orange mailbox above a sign that says “free for the taking.” Since we took all Mom’s markers on a previous trip, I made do by writing the sign in dark pink lipstick that probably cost a pretty penny thirty years ago when purchased in the fancy New York store whose name adorns the side of the still gleaming tube.
I was carrying the next to last pair of windows across the driveway when a car slows and pulls in. The driver rolled down the window; “Are you John Clark?”
I gave my standard response, “I was when I got up and probably still am,” and felt a funny sensation creep down my spine, even before she identified herself.
“I’m Laurie, Karen’s friend from Oregon. I’m on a pilgrimage back east. Can I stop for a minute or will I interrupt you?”
I welcomed her, adamant that her arrival is no imposition and that it was time for a break. We sat on the front steps and talked about losing loved ones, how grief changes the way you look at the world, what we remember of Mom and Karen and the farm. Laurie mentioned that part of Karen holds a place of honor on her mantelpiece. She asked if she could walk through the house and then visit the swimming area below the hill. I told her to take as much time as she liked and went back to get the final set of windows.
As she walked toward the lake, I looked over at the unopened box containing Mom. Something my mother said several years before her death echoed through my mind; “The hardest thing about being old is that so few friends remain.” I made an impulsive decision, realizing that Mom would find it the sort of thing she would do herself under the circumstances. First, to find the right vessel. In the living room is a small rose-green tinted bottle that will do. I opened the box, filling the tiny bottle with some of my mother’s ashes and seal it.
When Laurie returned I asked, “Would you like to take part of Mom back to Oregon?”
Her eyes lit up. “That would be wonderful.”
We talked a bit more about Mom and Karen and their friendship. We hugged and she returned to her pilgrimage and I to my cleaning.