of canvases, coronavirus, and cocooning at home

Tucked into a suitcase on a shelf, in the closet where I hang the coats and jackets, hides a stash of my grandmother’s needlepoint canvases.

Some of these canvases are ready for professional finishing. Some are brand new and “un-stitched.” Then there are the partially finished canvases, the ones where she began to stitch and at some point simply stopped. Evelyn Byers Miller was a skilled and creative fiber artist, so after her death it took a long time to gather the courage to pick up a canvas with the aim of finishing her work. How wonderful it would be, I imagined, if my stitches could complete her own?

Each canvas was stored in its own plastic bag with fiber and needle, ready and waiting for my hand. But here’s the thing. With each piece I picked up, I discovered a problem. Somewhere in that once-begun canvas, there was a knot. A tangle. Some kind of glitch. As I moved through the canvases I found one nearly imperceptible obstacle after another, none of which I know how to undo or fix.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a potential solution to each of these problems, with the exception of the canvas on which she apparently spilled tea. That one is a lovely floral design in blue and white. The stain is heartbreaking. I don’t blame her for not throwing it away, though. Who could bear to discard something so lovely and ruined?

If Gram was capable of overcoming the maddening quirks in these particular canvases, why didn’t she? Of the hundreds of canvases, quilts, and ornaments she finished, why did these ones end up in my hands, imperfect and incomplete? Was it a case of good intentions unfulfilled or did she simply have more pressing things to do?

I’m thinking about those canvasses as we journey through this ninth month of pandemic living. We work from home, Jane and I. We study from home. We say no to gatherings and outings and vacations. We have each other; we have our work. It is enough.

In our South Dakota city, though, much goes on as usual. People gather, some cautiously, some with abandon. Restaurants are bustling, though we haven’t sat down for a meal anywhere outside of our own kitchen or quiet park. We’ve visited one or two backyards, and we’ve dashed through the bookstore now and again. We snuck in a movie this summer, when there were six moviegoers spread throughout the theater, all of us hushed and masked. It was our one spectacular indulgence — and worth it.

I’m not particularly weary of staying home, though there are things I miss, people I miss. I’ve had family and colleagues and friends fall ill, and it’s been painful to not be there for them in any meaningful way. I’ve felt selfish at times, lost at others. Mostly I’ve embraced the clarity that comes from cocooning at home and letting the non-essential drift away.

My occasional self-righteousness is shadowed by persistent self-doubt. How long will these tiny knots of isolation be woven into the canvas of our lives? What is waiting to be finished? What has already been damaged or lost? How would we even know?

The death toll continues to rise around us. Hospitals are overwhelmed, doctors and nurses exhausted. And so we continue to do what we can to keep our community safe, even when no one seems to remember that’s what all of us are supposed to be doing. I remain grateful and patient and content, except on the days when I am restless and indignant and disgruntled. We stay home those days too.

Meanwhile, I pack away these tangles to be tended to at a later time. I suspect I may never loosen every knot of missed opportunity or unravel every relationship glitch. No matter. Most things I began before COVID are beautiful in their incompletion and imperfection. Others are lovely and ruined.

For now, I have more pressing things to do.

 

leaves, like grief, like stories

Today is the anniversary of my father’s death. 

The day is cold and has decided to rain, soaking the leaves that still cling to the grass no matter how often I rake them toward piles and toss them into the oversized yard-waste bin — which is not often enough, it seems. 

When my dad was alive, he would drive over in his truck after packing the bed with leaves from his own yard. My family would awaken to the sounds of his rhythmic raking, raking, raking. By the time we raced outside, clutching our own rakes, he would almost be done clearing our humble rectangle of lawn. 

My daughter, Jane, would race out to see him, and he would toss her into the bounty with instructions to stomp those leaves down, making room for more. She did this with enthusiasm, even as he showered her with more, especially as he showered her with more. 

A child holds herself in a certain way when her grandpa is about to pick her up and place her into the leaf-filled bed of an old pickup truck. She doesn’t raise her arms high as a toddler might. She stands, straight and tall, arms slightly spaced from her body — just enough to demonstrate he can hoist her under those arms without undo squirming. She knows she is small and must be easily lifted. When airborne, she raises her knees at just the right moment to clear the edge of the truck bed. She takes the stomping seriously. If she does the job right, he will trust her with it again. 

For 16 years, I was married. My husband wasn’t much for yard work, though he embraced all forms of fitness. My dad never understood the disconnect. Why would anyone seeking a workout avoid raking leaves and shoveling snow? He kept moving, my father did, and had little respect for those who couldn’t see taking care of responsibilities as rewarding exercise. 

So it is with mixed feelings I watch the rain soak the remaining leaves in the yard. My father is gone. I have no pickup truck. I pay an exorbitant price for a yard-waste container that never keeps pace with the volume of autumn. I rake and I rake, and then one day … I stop. I let whatever remains remain, let the rain soak and shrink it. I take comfort that I will have another chance to get it right, though not, this particular day reminds me, unlimited chances to get it right. 

Our leaf-clearing days end, so I have learned, and often before we are ready. 

I am unlike my father in the sense that I don’t feel compelled to pick up every leaf. I don’t feel driven to stay ever in motion. I am aware of my yard-work inadequacies, but not troubled by them. I’ve been responsible for all of it for some time; there is only so much perfection available these days. Plus, I find autumn leaves a rather pretty carpet.

Jane is so much more than the child holding in her excitement to gain entrance to the leaf pile. She is 19 now. Ivy League. She focuses on her academic and creative pursuits late into the night, stomping down the fluttering obstacles to make room for each new swirl of abundance. 

And I am still here, sitting quietly with notebook and pen, wrapped in a blanket given to me by my older brother who is freshly gone from this world. I am watching the leaves (like grief, like words, like stories) pile up before me, soaked and seasoned. 

Perhaps today I shall hold a few of them in my hands, turn them over and over again to see what’s on the other side. Raise them to my ears and listen for what, if anything,  they have to say. 

on rebellion, illusions, and reading in trees

I learned to read in the nook of a tree.

My brother and I both had reading trees of our own; his was more naturally suited to climbing and reclining, a low-slung cradle of smooth branches. My tree took effort. It was a second child’s tree; you had to work harder and accept a measure of discomfort to claim your prize.

But still, a reading tree it was. I spent hours perched perilously, knees scabbed, hair knotted, book open, thinking.

I read then as I read today, which is to say slowly and with lingering pauses. I have always been inclined to wandering. If Lindy, Tom, and Ben popped through the mulberry bushes to Whangdoodleland, then I would gaze into the nearby lilacs, scanning for an opening. When Richard Bach levitated a feather using the power of his own mind, I stared hard at a yellow pencil on the floor, just in case. This is the kind of reading you don’t do amongst company, unless your company happens to be a tree.

I have few memories of reading in school, which is not to say that I didn’t. But I don’t remember those books, mostly because I was required to do things with them like turn pages and write summaries. (Thus fell Johnny Tremain.)

I read quickly now, usually because I must, but sometimes because I might not get another chance. Go, go, before they find you, read before the light fades and the leaves cool and you no longer see the ground beneath the branches.

But when you learned to read inside the pit of a giant peach, on the porch at Villa Villa Kula, thumbing your nose at Bokonon, “reading fast” tends to fade. Increasingly, defiantly, I am reading slowly again. Outside. In the company of trees.

Maybe that’s what reading has always been for those of us who love it: A quiet rebellion against a world determined to call us inside, too soon, for supper.

has writing become a luxury?

I haven’t “updated” my blog substantially for more than year now. A new job and slightly revised life has turned my focus elsewhere, often for the best.

And yet.

There was a time when I called myself a writer, mostly because I could. When people ask these days (they rarely do, it’s a question that seems to have gone out of style) I tell them I’m a radio host and journalist. Sometimes, through the flow of conversation, I reveal I used to be a writer. And lately I’ve been troubled by what that mini-confession says about the condition of my soul.

“I used to be a writer” is a fairly straight-forward way to express my transition from writer-paycheck to public-broadcasting-paycheck. It’s not a transition I regret or plan to undo. I adore hosting “In the Moment” on SDPB Radio. I love the deep conversations. I love the rhythm of thoughtful pursuit of truth and connection. I love the moment when the headphones block out the rest of the world and it’s just me and a guest and the listener, unseen. Magic.

But I admit there are days when I feel I am slowly relinquishing one of the finest parts of myself — the part willing to spend a few blissful hours crafting a more beautiful sentence.

Before you remind me (and oh, how people love to remind me) I do write for work. Every day. But at work I write quickly, fervently even, in order to dodge the tumbling boulders of daily deadlines. Stand still and you are crushed. At work I become the writerly waterbug, skipping along the surface, never pausing long enough to descend into the cold abyss.

I’ve created some good work this way, and it’s taught me much about focus. But I find that no matter how hard I try to convince myself otherwise, something is missing.

And then, earlier this week, I found myself puzzling over a decision. I received an email reminding me to update the annual payment for my blog before deactivation.

Update or delete?

Refocus or allow this online presence to fade into the Internet oblivion graveyard?

Write or wither?

As you may have surmised by now … I have decided to write.

(No, I’m not changing anything about my actual job. My “In the Moment” focus is stronger than ever. I’m just refocusing my personal time to include more writing.)

There are days I look at this blog and realize there isn’t much here. A few scattered thoughts on a life well lived. A middling online scrapbook. It could be so much more than it already is. It needs to be so much more than it already is.

Other days I discover, in previous posts, glimpses of the person I was sending messages to the person I am today. I am deeply grateful for her. Perhaps today I am writing for my future self. Perhaps I’m writing for you. Perhaps this correspondence is enough.

We don’t need our creative expectations to be set even higher than our professional expectations. Expectations are already too high. What we need — what I need, at least — is simply the time and the permission to slow down and enjoy the scratching of pen on paper, the swooshing of paint on canvas, the clicking of a camera shutter.

Permission granted, if only for a little while longer.

 

raising a child with Ursula LeGuin

We discovered Ursula LeGuin’s “Catwings” when my daughter, Jane, was quite young. She was drawn to the book’s cover with its detailed art that hinted winged cats were the most natural creatures in the world. Since one of the books in the series featured a black cat named Jane, we wanted to read them all.

That realism mattered a great deal. You held “Catwings” in your hand and entered the story before turning the cover. The color palette was melancholy, promising delicate stories about delicate lives. On the other hand, as delightful as cats with wings might be, there was part of you that didn’t want them to exist. You knew — even children knew — such creatures were at risk in a world such as ours.

It’s a classic anthropomorphic motif: Small animals make their way in the world, encountering cruelty and stumbling upon protection, struggling through misunderstanding and learning to accept affection. This is what it means to be a child, of course. Every adult you meet has the potential to harm you or heal you in ways you have yet to imagine.

While it is true that children identify with the vulnerable, shy-yet-adventurous cats (All the better that these cats are unique and misunderstood; so is the reader!) it is also true that children see the cats (simultaneously, this is no contradiction) as “other.”

The Catwings do not inhabit a fantasy place. They pad and flutter about in our place — a place with car exhaust and barking dogs and honking horns and stomping feet. Readers recognize what we have created and see it as it is, especially to those encountering it for the first time.

Noisy. Confusing. Dangerous.

Ursula LeGuin isn’t writing about wonder and adventure, though there is plenty of both tucked into the pages of “Catwings.” Ursula LeGuin is writing about empathy.

When cats Thelma, Harriet, James, and Roger at last meet the children, the author lays out an eloquently structured mirroring of thought, word, and action. Cats begin to trust humans and humans process how to be worthy of trust. The children speak to each other about their own responsibility and the importance of secrecy. They are not only inclined toward kindness, they are determined to be kind.

And then, the deeply satisfying final lines:

“Oh Hank,” Susan whispered, “Their wings are furry.”

“Oh James,” Harriet whispered, “Their hands are kind.”

When I read “Catwings” (again and again) to my daughter (she was maybe three or four when we first discovered it) she identified with the cats. She intuitively knew the world beyond our reading chair was a broad, complex place filled with mother owls and rainstorms, as well as shelter from mother owls and rainstorms. She pretended to be a cat — one who could flit away from danger with a flick of feathers.

And yet she knew she was also a child, and so she became watchful. She navigated the world with an eye to the sky in hopes of sighting a flying cat. Her hands were kind — to kittens and to mice, to delicate flowers, to pages of books.

I read “Catwings” aloud to Jane recently, after we heard of LeGuin’s death. At 16, Jane saw an additional allegory, one of refugees and border crossings and the power of compassion. Is that what the book was always about, she wondered. Was that always hiding within the pages?

The best children’s literature features the most sumptuous syntax, the most memorable characters, and the most essential stories of who we are and who we are capable of becoming.

Before she learned Calculus, before she learned Rhetoric, my child curled herself into a ball, leaning in as close to me as she could reasonably get. With this task in hand, she leaned in to every word, and that is how she learned empathy from Ursula LeGuin — one of many children’s authors who do the important work of raising us all.

When this child flies away, she carries this with her.

braiding, memory, and the landscape of a simple vacation

 

I took some time away.

On Friday, setting down the yoke of daily deadlines, I turned from work and toward my own vacation.

It was easier than I thought, this transition. I didn’t worry much about what would happen while away or what might be lurking in my email inbox when I returned. I slipped silently into the promise that whatever lessons awaken from this absence, I intend to receive with grace.

And now I stay home.

No travel. No adventures. No expectations.

Waiting for me is time. Time with my daughter as she prepares to shoulder the yoke of another school year. Time to sit outside and allow the trees to remind me who I am.

There are books to be read, notebooks and pens waiting to marry. There is grass I have decided to walk barefoot through rather than mow. Tasks unfold in their own time instead of wedging into an exhausted weeknight.

Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass” comes alongside. Here is the first, luminous line:

“Hold out your hands and let me lay upon them a sheaf of freshly picked sweetgrass, loose and flowing, like newly washed hair.”

As I read the first chapter, my child, 16 years now, asks if I will brush and braid her dampened hair. She offers her locks to my palms and stands patiently before me as I twist shimmering strands into place.

In these hands I hold memories of hours of brushing and braiding. This girl has always sat without complaint as I brushed out the leaves and sticks and petals that inevitably traveled with her, clinging like offerings to the hair that tumbled to her waist.

I remind her that her hair is like spun chocolate. She reminds me that mine is spun gold. We laugh at this ritual of language that pairs with the physical ritual of braiding. She has brushed and braided my hair as well over the years, her designs growing more intricate and elaborate along with the imaginings of her remarkable mind.

I consider, for a moment, how her father enjoyed braiding her hair too — pulling firmly so the finished braid read like an accomplishment. The result mimicked a sailor’s rigging, perhaps. Or rope worthy of rappelling from a tower. He would show off his effort and declare “a nice, tight braid.”

It occurs to me that he never braided my hair, or brushed it, and I wonder if this was a harbinger of our eventual divorce. I consider briefly how his gaze was captured by other enchantments, laid upon the palm of his hand. Or perhaps it was that my hair defies tightness. It is perpetually loosening, slipping all bonds to become, again and again, undone, and therefore … unsatisfying.

These thoughts are probably unfair, and they pass quickly through my mind. Perhaps hair braiding rests firmly in the domain of women (or parents) at least in my cultural memory. No matter.

What matters is this:

I am still welcome at the ritual of braiding my child’s hair.

I can still become captivated by the first sentence of a book.

I can love my job and still drift unapologetically over a new landscape that unfurls itself before me. I slip the bonds of work and linger in this place called “time away.”

The view is lovely.

on whangdoodles, leadership, and putting oneself in the way of love

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My daughter was given a PEZ dispenser.

Plastic. Delightfully silly. A small piece of novelty to contain and release tiny bits of candy.

I remember PEZ, the girl wonder muses. It reminds me of the Whangdoodle.

The memory is this: Her on the couch, snuggled up next to me. She is eating chocolate PEZ, because chocolate PEZ is her favorite, and she is savoring each individual piece, because that’s the kind of girl she has always been.

She is one-who-lingers, even with candy.

Central to this moment, this vivid sensation of chocolate and warmth, is the memory of me reading to her. I am reading “The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles” on the couch, while she savors the sweetness of sugar and story.

I remember this too, of course, though I had forgotten the PEZ.

If there is anything I did right as a mother, if I can admit that now, it was reading aloud. I read to her as an infant, for hours. I read to her whatever I was reading at the time.

Poetry. Novels. Newspapers.

I read to her as she grew up, whatever she was into at the time.

Poetry. Novels. Newspapers.

I think I read the Whangdoodle book three or four times. And “James and the Giant Peach.” And every single “Jenny and the Cat Club” book. We stayed up late many nights, sometimes to one in the morning in order to follow a story to its thrilling and sweetly satisfying conclusion.

We read outside, under the canopy of backyard trees. We read in bed, propped up on pillows. But most often we read on the couch, her gazing out the picture window. She folded her body next to mine. We cried, when the books invited us to cry. We laughed far more often than we spilled tears.

One time, I remember she looked up and noticed a female finch dangling by her neck from our bird feeder outside. We dropped the book to curl the bird’s delicateness into our hands, ease her to freedom, release her again to the lightness of the air.

If we hadn’t been reading right then, we told each other … and we shook our heads, too shaken to finish the sentence.

When we read, we let the phone drop to voicemail. We didn’t answer the door. Lunch was whatever we could eat from bowls in our laps as we read and turned pages. Dinner went unplanned. Work, undone.

Maybe this reading habit bordered on irresponsible. I have been told I was irresponsible, for what it’s worth. I don’t agree with this assessment, but I’m willing to let others have their opinions about parenting and about earning and about housekeeping and about life.

To be fair, I didn’t know what I was doing — I had no goal, no master plan. I read because I wanted to know what happened next. I read because I love books. I read because I love my daughter.

There didn’t seem to be any harm in all that loving.

When we went to see my Gram, I would sit with my child on the powder blue couch and read, and Gram would come and make sure the fire was going well. Then she would sit down and listen as I read, no matter where I was in the book. She might stitch a little or she might just sit with her hands folded in her lap.

Listening.

The dog would sneak onto the furniture and nuzzle Gram’s hand. Gram would pet her head.

I’m calling this an inheritance.

I still read aloud, though these days, most often to the dog. This does not sadden me (it is only my current season of life after all) but it does make me joyously happy that my child, now 14, would recall fondly those long days of reading.

What am I doing for her now though, I wonder — now that her evenings are filled with homework and music, play rehearsals and her own quiet moments of reading and drawing, writing and thinking?

I don’t know. I don’t know where I’m leading her now, as a mother. I am only loving her, fiercely and clearly and, more often than not, quietly.

There doesn’t seem to be any harm in all that loving.

The other day I scribbled a note on the chalkboard that hangs in our hallway.

“Put yourself in the way of beauty,” I wrote. I pulled those words from a book. I wanted to see them every morning when I woke up.

On Saturday, I went to work. My daughter stayed home. It rained that day. November rain.

She texted me, asking if she could open the windows, sit by the picture window, listen to the rain, and read.

Yes, I replied. Yes. A thousand times yes.

Neither of us said it, but I suspect we both longed to be together that day, under a blanket, reading in the rain.

When I came home, I found a message, chalked underneath my words in her handwriting.

“I’ll just follow you mum.”

Today I have no goal, no master plan.

I am only loving.

I love because I want to know what happens next.

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on brokenness and soup

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On October 5th, I broke myself.

What happened was this: I went running.

Actually, I’d been running injury free since July, and things had been going well. Three miles turned into four, and the splits on the clock began to look promising. Everything seemed possible with my running shoes laced.

I felt good.

I felt so good that I started remembering my days of running across the state. I remembered long runs on the bike trails and how after I passed the “Happy Face Bridge”  (my father called it that) I always knew that six miles had fallen away and my brain could finally turn off.

I could relax and just be.

Maybe I could get back to those long runs, I told myself. Maybe I could do another half marathon — a goal for springtime even. Maybe I could run long and well enough to finally call myself a real runner.

An athlete.

Long ago I used to train with a lot of people faster than I. They’d say — not entirely unkindly — that it hurt their knees to run at my pace, so they’d sprint ahead and I’d push to keep them in sight. Frankly, this didn’t used to bother me, but all of a sudden it does and so this year I decided to push my pace. All at once I needed to eradicate the memory of girl outpaced, girl left behind.

I decided to run faster.

You can probably guess what happened next. My shin started to ache. I took a few days of rest paired with a few doses of Advil and then got back on track. It hurt again. I rested it again.

I ran again. It hurt again.

And then I got sick of it. I got sick of waiting and I repeated to myself what I have been told countless times over the years: Sometimes you just have to push through the pain, no matter the consequence.

Listen: They are wrong, the people who tell you such things. It turns out there are precious few times when you should push through physical pain. I once walked around with a ruptured appendix for three days before admitting I needed a doctor. This experience almost killed me, so I should know better by now.

Why does it take me so long to learn my lessons?

On Monday, I ran until I could no longer walk. On Tuesday, I limped into the doctor’s office. I hobbled out on crutches.

For an added dose of idiocy, I didn’t tell anyone I was so badly hurt because I was afraid my friends would show up at my doorstep clutching containers of autumn soup in their hands.

This secrecy makes no sense whatsoever because the good people of South Dakota make excellent soup, and why would anyone decline the opportunity to have such delicacies delivered to your door by people who care about both you and soup?

Anyway.

I am broken. Limping. Aching.

Humbled.

Healing.

This beautiful fall week has been lived mostly in bed. When I drop my daughter off at school, at orchestra, at play rehearsal, I don’t get out of the car.

I wave and I smile. Waving and smiling is enough.

The world rushes by swiftly when you can’t walk, I have noticed. During this week of mandatory rest, I have also noticed that my dog can no longer leap off the bed particularly well. Sunset fades more quickly in the fall compared with the lingering of summer. It’s been a long time since I dusted the ceramic birds perched on my windowsill that once belonged to my gram.

I have been unfocused, it seems. Distracted. I wonder what else I have missed.

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Most significantly, I noticed that my hiking shoes are beaten and worn and faded and repaired, but they held their own on the trails this summer … unfaltering. My running shoes, on the other hand, are obnoxiously bright and new-ish, but will need to be replaced in a few months all the same.

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And so I made a decision.

I put the running shoes in the closet.

I set the hiking shoes by the front door.

My shin will heal. And when it does, however long it takes, I know what my feet need this season. I know what my soul needs this season.

In the meantime, I probably ought to figure out how to make soup.

in the company of bees

First, this …

My father used to say you could tell when summer was ending because the bees were out looking for new homes.

Then, this …

A friend texted this morning to remind me:  Today is the final day of summer. Enjoy it.

And so, this …

I take my work outside and flop onto a blanket under the trees. I wish my dad was sitting beside me. I wish my friend was sitting beside me.

Instead, I find myself in the company of bees.

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We are never truly alone, are we? I lie here in the grass, sun warming the soles of my feet, because someone who cares about me turned my gaze to the gentle passage of another season. I lie here in the grass, a handful of leisurely bees hovering about (and I, hoping they find what they’re looking for) because someone who cares about me taught me how to be in the world.

They are both with me now. My father. My friend. More so because I have scribbled their names into my notebook. I close my eyes and my blanket overflows with beautiful company.

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This morning I took a walk with my dog. Her paw is infected, I’m nursing a shin splint. We explored slowly, gingerly.

The neighborhood was wrapped in fog … a parcel bundled in damp gray paper. I half expected to stumble upon a white loop of string binding us all together. Yet each time I glanced at my dog, fur graying, limping slightly, she appeared as if inside a bubble of clarity — no fog pressing upon her at all.

She stops for every smell — this dog who knows her purpose — every taste, every texture. She turns to look at me, check up on me, smell me, as if to say, “Are you still here? Are you still yourself? Are we still on this journey together?”

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This is what we do for those we love.

We walk with them. We share their stories and their sunsets and we hold their hands on the last day of summer. We love their gray hair and worn away hairs,  their slightly battered bodies, their lines and their scars.

We close our eyes and hope they are capable of knowing us this much in return —  that this unconditionality will somehow continue to make us real.

It’s been almost a year since I had to say goodbye to my father. I haven’t seen my friend in more than two decades. My dog is graying, yet I have not yet begun to gray. Sometimes I swear she notices this injustice, notices this inconsistent aging process between human and canine and it bothers her as much as it bothers me.

And so it goes.

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At my dad’s funeral, one of his friends told me: “How you feel about your dad  — the way you looked up to him, the man you knew he was — that’s how your own child feels about you.”

I replied, simply, “I find that hard to believe.”

I am not my father. I am not that resilient, that indomitable. In some ways, however, his friend was right (of course).

And so I am left to wonder. Will my own child remember, long after she is grown and living on her own terms, to sink into a blanket in the grass with a journal and an afternoon stretched before her?

Will this girl, born on the vernal equinox, remember to pause and see, really see, the nuanced changing of a Dakota season?

Will she close her eyes and wonder, “Are you still with me?”

“Are we still on this journey together?”

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today, we had rain

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Years ago, I read an essay by Anna Quindlen, where the author’s daughters headed into the woods for an explore and Quindlen casually mentioned that her own place was on the porch, watching her children follow their wanderlust.

Though I liked the essay, I disagreed with Quindlen about sitting on the porch, even to write. If there is exploring to be done, I, as a general rule, like to be in the middle of it. My daughter was four (or so) at the time, and we had already done a good deal of forest work together — building fairy houses, examining toadstools, pretending to get lost among the trees and refusing to find our way out again.

In some ways, I couldn’t imagine doing those things without my child — or her without me.

She is 14 now, this wonder girl. Today, when a light sprinkle began, she collapsed her weary body onto the grass and faced the sky. I, tucked into a deck chair, knees folded to my chest, smiled for a moment and prepared to join her.

All at once the seam in the sky split and the firmament loosened its flood onto her face, her t-shirt, her bare feet.

She laughed.

Even the rain has nothing on that laugh.

It was at that moment — the moment I hesitated — when I understood what Quindlen had been talking about. This girl didn’t need a playmate. She needed rain. And lots of it.

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She moved through it. Drank it. Swam through rushing rivers of it in the gutters.

Screen doors slammed and other girls came dashing into the deluge. The dads across the street, bare chested and tattooed, beer cans in their hands this Sunday afternoon, sauntered down the street side by side, supervising and ignoring their kids at the same time … the way only fathers can do.

Today there was mud and flooded streets and long tangled hair flecked with leaves and seeds from the air.

I stood under the awning, hugging myself. Soon the dad next door launched his three-year-old into the storm and stood next to me, both of us dry. We talked about politics and forgiveness and what it means to raise girls.

And as we settled into the quiet, I thought, for the first time in a long time, of my mother.

I was 18 years old and leaving home. It was June. Raining. I went outside and made ‘rain angels’ in the middle of the flooded street.

She stood inside and smiled at me from behind the screen door.

I loved her. I would miss her. But I didn’t need her at that moment.

I needed to believe that I had invented this — rain angels, abandon, delight.

I needed to explore, alone and with friends, the outer reaches of joy and love and heartbreak.

Today, we had rain.

Today we had rain … and I stayed dry.

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