Kate Flora: Yesterday would have been my mom’s birthday. She’s been gone for years
but I still miss her every day. She was a writer–and my inspiration–and also a gardener, a baker, and a keen observer of the world around her. (She has kindly lent her observation skills to Joe Burgess.) Since I am thinking of her, I decided to share another one her posts from her essay collection, From the Orange Mailbox. This one is about interacting with her grandchildren. Those grandchildren are now about to leave their thirties, but still remember their adventures with, as my boys called her, Maine Grandma. This essay is from the chapter called April.
The important harvests of this farm are the impressions given to children who have lived or visited here, the memories they carry from their times upon these acres.
Last fall, my two-year-old granddaughter, Sara Beth, called my attention to a daddy longlegs she discovered in my living room. Then she pointed out a mommy longlegs and a baby longlegs. However, she soon announced that there were too many to name and wanted to know why I had so many of these creatures in my house.
I didn’t have an answer and not a reference book in this house provided any information on these eight-legged invaders. Last week, just before my grandchildren arrived to help me celebrate my birthday, Judy Hawkes’ book, My Daddy Longlegs, came in at the bookstore. No sooner had it been read than Sara Beth and Jacob, aged four, used for an escort for a trip through the cellar.
Armed with a flashlight, a plastic glass, and an old postcard, the three of us descended into the dirt-floored, cobwebby basement, stalked and captured two active specimens.
Back at the dining room table, we shared the magnifying glass to count the joints and knees and observe the second pair of legs which the daddy longlegs uses for hearing and smelling. Turning the plastic “cage,” we could see the lookout tower on top of the body with an eye on each side. We still needed more information because the body shapes of our Sennebec Hill daddy longlegs are not like the illustrations in the book. And when we have more time, we’ll build a daddy longlegs box so we can watch them eat and dance use their amazing second legs.
Jacob lives in a four-year-old world, part real, part make-believe, where every path has signs, “What if. . .?” On my birthday morning, we followed the spring run-off water down across the fields to the pond shore. Behind the kitchen garden where the small stream comes through the culvert, the water ran clear. But in the field, twigs and grasses had been pushed by previous run-offs into small dams holding the water in pools. With our sturdy sticks, we cleared the channels and watched chocolate swirls as the free stream surged forward. With his new waterproof boots, Jacob could wade and splash and watch mud settle on his black toes.
We meandered as the run-off did, back and forth following the contours of the land until we reached the lower field. Here we stopped to examine and pick at the matted mounds piled up by the force of water when the big snows melted. Soggy white patches like a scattered box of tissues wet down to earth caught our eyes. All along the swamp edge of the feel, we found flattened weeds whose slim mahogany pods (like small snap beans) had burst to spill masses of white, like the down of milkweeds. I stuffed samples into my pocket.
Between the lapping waters of the pond edge and the firm mound of matted reeds and twigs left by the high water, the ground was scoured clean, the dark soil unlittered by a single leaf or twig. “It’s very quiet here,” said Jacob. “This is kind of a secret place. Maybe dragons lived here once. Or a trillion years ago some dinosaurs.” Then, looking back the way we’d come along the shore, he shook his head. “No. Dinosaurs couldn’t get between those trees. They’re much too large. But if a giant shark once lived in your pond, he could swim over and see this place. What’s that?”
“That” was the leaf-littered hollow between the barrier berm–built up by drifted-in plant parts–and the oak-bordered bank. Wider than grandma’s garage, the acidy water full of tough-fibered oak leaves discourages growth and looks like a quivering quagmire. We out-spooked each other with scary stories and beat back all the monsters with our magic swords.
Late that afternoon, Max, my younger grandson, became excited by something he was seeing. Kneeling down to his ten-month-old toddling size and following his eyes, I saw the sample weeds from the pond edge–now dry–exploding into miniature seed-carrying parachutes. Just the air currents of passing people were sending the bits of fluff up into space above the desk. The seeds, shaped like the eye of an embroidery needle–clung to individual feathery bits determined to find a place to root and grow more dogbane. We had identified the damp weed stalks and matted silk but had not expected the aerial display.
Daddy longlegs, dams, dark pools, and dogbane. What will my grandchildren remember from this April visit? And what farm excursions will their parents’ memories prompt them to suggest next time they come?
Brings back a lot of fond memories.
What a wonderful, lyrical, essay
A wonderful education in teaching children to just look.
And a great reminder for us to just look.
Your mother may be gone, Kate, but she is definitely not forgotten.
I had a copy of the book of her compiled columns but who knows where it is now?