Today Indi is 18 months old. I suppose it means he’s not really a baby anymore (although he still nurses like it’s going out of style and he only has about eight teeth). But it also means it’s taken me a year and half to write his birth story.
I was 23. I had been living in San Francisco for close to a year and I had come home to Vermont for a month to smooth down my feathers.
August 5, 2000
Quiet, glassy, night water. Friends floating happily. Stars shooting. Seen. Unseen. With a head full of memories, like a house full of lovely sleeping people, I can breathe new into old. Being now, I am sad to grasp onto the time. Don’t tick. Please stop to leave me where I am. Hooded sweatshirt comfy and warm. Sitting up in the middle of the bed. Sniffly dogs, clacking paws but delicate (they are small). But happy being here now on a quiet glassy lake. Ready for sleep.
Aug. 7, 2000
I made the perfect cup of tea and I drink it outside between showers of rain. The lake is calm again. A breeze mattes the water soft. Breathing air that’s thick misty warm. The bubbling murmur of a distant boat engine. The calling birds. The drops of water dripping from the eaves onto the wet deck wood. The smell of my laundered towel. A waft of inside air. And I can smell a hint of the dinner mom cooked on Saturday, Memories collect now in every corner. In the corners of my eyes. In my curled hands as I sleep.
I drifted down the Otter Creek with Keri yesterday. In a tippy canoe. We went slow. We talked long into the day.
It’s getting harder to write these birthday letters, to stand back from here and try to pick you apart into your likes and dislikes, your charm and challenges, your highs and lows over the last year. You are complex, changing and growing by the second. You are simple as my beating heart, which you are.
When I hold you and your skinny limbs are wrapped around me, you feel like a big kid, baby no longer. One day you’ll pull away from our hugging. Although it hasn’t been easy, you’ve embraced being a big brother. We see glimpses of a friendship forming with Indi. When it all comes down to it, you love him so dearly. You sing Twinkle Twinkle to him when he cries. You tell us how cute he is, that he is your “best baby.” You have also embraced becoming “galooten free”!
You say things like, “Oh my gosh, I’m SO excited.” And, “I asked her to play with me but she doesn’t want to be my friend.” Last night you said you didn’t want to ever be dead. You think in terms of family. Everything is a mommy or a daddy, from boats and pancakes, to cats and elephants. You can spell your name. You can recite entire books. You love to be cozy and make nests. You prefer to wear my t-shirts. Your obsession with vehicles has morphed from excavators and combines, to rescue helicopters and paramedic trucks. You count everything. You are really into the Berenstain Bears books, and you love listening to Peter and the Wolf (narrated by David Bowie).
One of the highlights of the year was swim-lessons. On the first day, you told your swim teacher that you were “a little bit scared.” But shortly after you were jumping in and swimming across the pool on your own, your big eyes full of wonder and saline. This winter you went to your first ballet (The Nutcracker!) and you went downhill skiing for the first time.
The year’s biggest challenge was probably at school, where you were hitting kids for no apparent reason. The teachers, who adore you, felt they needed some guidance to help you. So they brought in a behaviorist to observe what was happening. She saw a bright, curious, kid. We’re helping you learn to recognize your feelings without physically acting out on them, and the school is helping you make friends more easily. Maya is your favorite friend right now, and we suspect your first crush. You often tell me to write this down:
You are the happiest person we know, always smiling. You are expressive and warm, curious and confident. For a while everything was “Isaiah” but now you say Asa, ice, Mama, Dada, tiger, doggy, cheese, agua, cracker, apple. You LOVE Asa and he makes you laugh (and sometimes cry). You also LOVE Lupe and prefer her over anyone when she’s here. You wave bye-bye. You kiss-kiss. You WALK. We play peekaboo with you, you cover your face so proudly. When you hear music you dance thoughtfully, bobbing your head a little and pumping your knees. When you want my attention you put your hand on my cheek and turn my face to yours. You are charming and bright, innocent and open. We call you Indi-boo and Dr. Jones. Asa says you’re his best baby. We love you dearly, our sweet littlest boy. Happy Birthday.
You’re just telling me to try harder because you don’t know what it’s like. I lost my flashlight, Innie’s* head is very wobbly probably because I dropped her on the floor 3 times while I was sleeping. I am really worried her head neck might give in altogether. And there is this girl in my bunk. Her name is Amelia. She just thinks she’s the head of the world. She’s always saying that people only like me because I am always homesick and crying. She’s jelous of me! Why should SHE want to be jealous of me!?
It’s not fair what you are doing to me. I feel like I am in a jail. You’re making me stay here to the point of making me even more homesick. I don’t want to work really, really, really, really, really hard at swimming. I am already in swimmers. It’s not like I’m going to be in the Olympics. I hate swimming here. I am older than everyone in this cabin by 1 year. You just don’t understand. You don’t know how I feel! I wake up every morning thinking I am at home. Do you know how disapointing that is? It’s awful. I CAN’T HANG IN THERE DAD!!!! I would feel ALOT better if I had Lisa or Sara with me. Believe me. I HATE YOU FOR MAKING ME STAY HERE.
Please let me come home! I don’t like it here. The horses are yucky and anyway riding makes me homesick. I want to come home!! Just let me come home. I don’t care about all the stuff you told me. I am crying right now ‘cause you won’t let me come home. You just don’t understand how I feel. Please! I mis Montpelier. (E. Montpelier)* I miss home. I promise I won’t be guilty when I come home early. Don’t you want me to be happy? If you do just pick me up and hug me and kiss me and say you love me. Then take me home to a comfortable bed. Please?!!!!
Who cares what my friends think?
p.s I WOKE UP THIS MORNING [THINKING] I WAS HOME!!!!!
We thought these were lost. A bundle of letters I wrote to my parents from Camp Betsy Cox in 1987 when I was 11. But they’ve been found.
In reading them, I was taken aback by the voice and self reflection of this little girl.
This is the first letter. I’ve settled into my cabin, Horrid Hamlet, I’m looking for friends, and searching for my place.
Dear Mom, Dad, and Timmy,
So far camp is really great. I don’t really have a true posotive friend yet but everyone really likes me. I have my I eye on someone but we are both kind of shy. Her name is Bonnie. She lives in Manhatten. One camper in our bunk still hasn’t arrived. Her name is Amelia*. In swimming lessons I am in Swimmers! And I am an advanced rider. Every Wednesday there is a trail ride. Bonnie loves riding too. Gotta go!
Thank you parents (who are amazing grandparents), thank you JetBlue for the good seats, thank you patrons of JFK’s restroom at Gate 20 for only offering me encouragement as my son had a tantrum on the floor, and then fell asleep there, thank you row mates for being so AMAZING and for sticking up for me when my son woke up abruptly during take off and had (yet another) 45 minute meltdown, NO THANKS to the grumpy lady in the row behind us wondering why I couldn’t “get him under control.” Thank you to the lady sitting in front of me for patting my arm when I started to cry. Thank you impermanence. Thank you organic, low sugar lollypops, thank you toddler headphones, thank you Sesame Street (and Feist, Adam Sandler, Amy Adams, Jack Black, India Arie, John Krasinsky, Emma Stone, and Bruno Mars). Thanks to everyone who told me to wrap up little gifts to be opened at various points throughout the flight. Thank you Play-doh. Thank you stickers. Thank you finger skateboard, thank you Elmo “cell phone”. Thank you lady across the row for telling me I am an amazing mother. Thank you Asa for being such a trooper. Thank you Lynn for picking us up and not batting a lash at the final meltdown of the day. Thank you AAA for coming so promptly to jump start my dead Prius and put air in Isaiah’s flat Golf tire. Thank you Sarah for bringing us dinner last night and ensuring me I was only having a panic attack, and not coming down with a dreaded flu. Thank you Asa for sleeping 11 straight hours last night. Thank you Gloria for the loving daycare. Thank you Los Angeles for this golden, soothing day.
As I waited for the guy to haul my two bales of alfalfa to the car, I stood in the shade by the paddock, giddy that places like these exist in Burbank. The smell of hay and manure, the way I imagined it would feel to trudge through it, right then, in mucking boots. Grain buckets, lead lines, tack shop leather. The horses themselves, perfectly beautiful beasts, the way their forelocks feather down through their ears, so cool. Their grace and power, to swish a fly, to fly themselves, around the ring, over jumps, through fields. It didn’t matter that I was probably the 11th person that day to stand there and flirt with the horses. I didn’t care whether the blacksmith was showing off, or shrugging off, I knew what he was doing and I was going to watch. And even when those two bare headed ladies swaggered up on their steed, my heart didn’t drop in envy (in fact my nose rose, what an inferior form, the western saddle). For I, am a horse person. Get me in a pair of jodhpurs. Strap on a velvety English riding helmet. I’m ready to canter.
Today on my way home I stopped off in the village of Echo Park for some fresh eggs from Cookbook (the loveliest little grocery store around). I parked in front of a small low-income housing settlement and as I emerged from my car, I heard the notorious yell of a mother. She yelled, “NO, you CAN’T have that!!” And her yell roared down the sidewalk, to me, and I cringed. Because, I yell sometimes too.
O Vermont how I love you. Your roads lined with wild flower bouquets, your woodsy smell, your green, quiet, gentle sun, gentle rain. How everything one needs is less than 7 minutes away. How everyone waves. How will I leave…
This morning I woke up in our house to singing birds and a cool breeze. I had a coffee from FIX, and fresh farm eggs from Cookbook, fetched and fried by Isaiah. I drank fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, from our tree. I sat at the top of our little hill and talked to both my parents while Asa climbed around like a goat. I contemplated bougainvillea. I bought a lemonade from a little girl’s stand on Echo Park Ave. I washed my feet off in the tub, several times. I washed Asa off in the tub, several times. We all laid out on cool white sheets, delighting in the glow of our bright white walls. This is how to live in Los Angeles. It’s a hot night, but we are home.
I easily settled into a routine at school. I played my last season of field hockey. I wasn’t a captain, but I did win an achievement award and my name is etched onto a plaque somewhere. All of my classes were directly related to my art major so my days of camping out in the library were thankfully over. We took study breaks at the Goose, the adored hole in the wall bar close to campus. We had dinner parties, keg parties, “tiki” parties (centered around a fruity cocktail concoction, wooden set of polynesian drink ware, rounds of toasting, and chanting “don’t eat the fruit, don’t eat the fruit”). We played cribbage and listened to John Coltrane. We took trips to Freeport (LL Bean) and ate lazy Sunday breakfasts at our favorite greasy spoon dive. Or when the snow was good we skied Sunday River and stopped for the most amazing mac n’ cheese you’ve ever tasted on the way back home.
We were all a little apprehensive to go back to school that fall, for one final year. We couldn’t imagine life there without our beloved friends who graduated in the spring. Maybe it was a certain configuration of rooms and roommates in Page Hall when we were freshmen and sophomores, or a certain dynamic on a soccer field, or the shared magnetism of a french teacher (rest in peace Prof. Williamson) but there was something between our two classes.
But arriving for pre-season in my new (to me) Toyota Corolla I found nothing missing. I was glad to be back, and my heart had been mended. There was an excitement and an anticipation that glistened off the dingy Lewiston streets. The off-campus apartment that I would share with my two best friends, Alex and Annie, was nothing to write home about. But it was home, we made it so with our plants and fairy lights and coffee brewing.
That year we were part of an off campus society of friends occupying various apartments around town that had been passed down from class to class. Living off campus was a welcomed step up into “real” life, while still dwelling comfortably under the umbrella of college life.
By the end of that summer in Maine I had fully settled into a routine of life, just in time to leave it for my final year of college.
I worked at the bakery, but also for Elmer and Allison who owned a restaurant called The Burning Tree. To eat there was an experience of flavors and textures, and a constant effort not to ooh and ahh and mmm too much. It was the best. I was the errand girl. In the morning I would meet with Allison in the kitchen and she would go over the grocery list. Then Elmer would tell me which fish to go pick up where and I would cruise around the island in their early 1980-something beater Toyota pickup truck, running errands. The clutch was clunky, and the guys at the bottle redemption center bristly. But, I enjoyed it and I still think of Elmer and Allison and The Burning Tree when I’m picking through artichokes looking for the best shape, or peeling back the husk of an ear of corn to test for crispness.
I was living with Annie, Alex, and another friend, Sarah, in our very own rented little ranch style house in Northeast Harbor. There was solidarity, and a little strife. We went for mountain bike rides and hikes through Acadia National Park. There were sunsets and dinners cooked. We drank beers and talked about each other.
I got a job in Bar Harbor, at the Morning Glory Bakery. I was the front girl, second shift. Kate worked the first morning shift and she had lots of regulars and a jar full of tips. Sometimes we would overlap and listen to the Beatles and I would admire the lovely patina of her leather clogs (and her in general), but mostly it was just Ralph and me, two of us riding nowhere… Ralph owned the Bakery and I think I had an innocent crush on him bu it was more like I wanted to be his best friend. He was soft spoken and fair and kept his light hair pulled back in a low ponytail. He usually wore a dusting of flour, like my mom with the smudges of clay on her forearms. Months after I left Bar Harbor for school, he sent me some flowers for the opening of my senior thesis show. The card was signed, “From Ralph and the Morning Glories.”
I left Italy without much of a plan. I flew in to Boston and went straight up to school, to be there for my boyfriend’s graduation. A couple of weeks later he broke up with me, which wasn’t surprising, but painful nonetheless. My closest school friends Alex, Annie and Matt were staying in Maine for the summer, near Bar Harbor, and I decided to join them. We lived with our friend Kate for a couple of weeks, in a round house she was taking care of. The owners’ bird, Graham Greene, lived with us too. The house was filled with books, plants, and lovely light. It was the epitome of home and I envied it. I desperately wanted to feel okay, but the truth of it was I was heartbroken, and once again everything was dripping in sad. My body felt heavier with my heart in it, and I carried that thing around from proactive task to proactive task until eventually a lightness came back to me.
The last thing I did in college was an independent study in photography. It was during the beloved Short Term, when for the month of May students take only one class and spend the rest of the time, as I did, in a constant state of anxious celebration, gathered around kegs of beer, embracing soon to be long lost friends, frolicking on the Maine coast, in total denial that four years of living in this blissful, collegiate, bubble were soon to be over.
Somehow, during this fuzzy, angsty month I managed to produce a small body of work that was, is, more meaningful to me than even my senior thesis (several large charcoal drawings) which I labored over for the previous semester. I was the TA for the Dark Room that year so this independent study was an obvious choice. But, I didn’t fully contemplate the impact of showing such work until I was installing it in The Commons during the last week of school. Everyone saw it on their way to the Dining Hall or the Mail Room or the School Store. It was like I was saying, “this is really me, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
In the 2nd grade Sarah moved to Cabot and so ended my safe and sound two person best friendship with Carrie (not to be mistaken with Keri). This was a pivotal time. These were early lessons in human behavior, and early displays of my most inner little self. Grooves were set and emotional memories made.
When I was little I worried that I might never grow up. I wanted to grow up but things like paying taxes, scheduled car maintenance, and health insurance seemed intensely complex. The idea of meeting a man, getting married, and having kids was terrifying yet I hoped very much to someday be ready for those things. I hoped one day I would feel ready to leave the nest. The nest, the nest.
Now I grumble about my car maintenance and health insurance like most other adults. I married a man and his accountant does my taxes. Our son cries out for us in the night and when I climb out of bed to go to him, I am sometimes overcome by a sleepy self reflection. I am the mom. I am the comfort. There is a new nest.
I have a memory of being in the car with my parents and brother. I am maybe eleven. We were starting out on a long drive, it was night, and we were leaving New York City on a sweeping bridge, the city lights glittering past us, their reflection in my window moving the other way, a plaid of light. Our car, blanketed from the cold winter air by the dark expanse of the night sky, was warm. My brother and I were quiet in the back. On the radio played this song:
This memory may not have happened (I very much doubt my dad would have driven us home from New York City in the dark). Or it may be a mash up of nostalgic instances joined together to create this memory of a young girl, in a warm car, with her family, in the night.
I started having an interest in meditation and buddhism, going to places like Spirit Rock, and public talks with teachers like Sogyal Rinpoche. I was searching for a connection, an understanding, but I didn’t know to who or to what. Isaiah was sitting in on classes in Buddhist philosophy with Steven Goodman at CIIS and he would come home and I would sit in his room on his futon couch, his little gas heater burning, drink peppermint tea with soy milk and honey, and he would explain excitedly to me, about what Goodman said. Or about how one time he came into class with a boombox blasting, Burning Down the House. I didn’t understand most of what Isaiah relayed to me, but I felt it was important for me to listen anyway, and I hoped that maybe someday I would get it.
That first year in San Francisco was magical. And it was not easy. It was the beginning of a lot of things. If college was about trying to fit in, that year was about acceptance, and working out how to accept acceptance. We were all just finding our way, navigating through our early 20’s searching for questions to ask. What will we do? And with who? You bring yourself where ever you go, so I was still feeling a sadness. But I seemed to be using it like a tool to break my habits. San Francisco was an intersection of new and old. New and old, people and ways. I was constantly pushing myself to go beyond comfort. I was drawn to the new, but it also frightened me. I remember one time I was driving from Ocean Beach back to our neighborhood. I think it was all the roommates in my car, plus a friend of Isaiah’s who was visiting from Santa Cruz, or Mt. Shasta or some place like that. He and a bunch of other traveling circus hippy freak out band of free loving traveling experience junkies had come to stay with us for the weekend. I found them to be ultra intimidating and I turtled into myself. So, there we were in a caravan and I was driving up one of those streets near the beach and a can of paint became clearer, sitting in my lane. In the seconds I had to react, somehow I decided that slowing down and going around the can would seem uncool, so I just continued on, hit it, and had a splash of white paint on my bumper forever after to remind me of my own ridiculous self doubt.
I wrote a lot that year, trying to work it all out.
The house (after it was painted). Ours was the door on the left. Courtesy of Google Earth.
The apartment on Broderick Street was cold. There was a long hallway leading from the front door all the way to the back of the house where Isaiah’s room and the kitchen were, and it seemed to funnel the foggy street air right in. Off the hallway to the right were three bedrooms: Sasha’s, mine, and Sarah’s. We would often be shut away in our rooms, busy doing our doings with our doors closed to keep any heat in. Or we would huddle together in Sasha’s or Isaiah’s room because they both had built in gas heaters. This was surprising to me, to be so cold in San Francisco. Mark Twain wasn’t lying. But it was only the temperature of that time that was cold. The molecules of my life were exciting and vibrant, vibrating faster in love, and I was warm. I was in love with this situation, in love with this city and these people in this cold apartment.
I think on some level I always knew I would live in California. As a small girl growing up in Vermont I was drawn to the state, even beyond the appeal of Malibu Barbie. I can remember gazing at those big classroom maps of the United States, the kind that roll down in front of the chalk board. There was little Vermont in the corner, and way over on the other side was California and for some reason it just felt right. Like Joni. She has her Canada, but she has her California too…
It was the eve of our departure from France and I was sitting in the 300 year old Chateau de Siregand not far from Toulouse. In times past I might have been sad on such a night. But on this night a steady realization rose up in me instead, and besides there’s not a lot of time for sadness or any other extreme emotion these days. It’s kind of nice…
I’ve been going through my old stashes. I am a pack rat, it’s in my blood. These are some of the things I’ve found:
~ A doll that I made when I was around 12. Her jumpsuit is made from an old thermal shirt. A likes to play with her now.
~ My first bra. In 7th grade I was desperate for a bra. When I asked my mom to take me downtown to shop for one I was hoping for that quintessential moment when a mother sees her daughter unfurling into a woman. But instead she said, “Why? You don’t really need one.” She took me shopping anyway and we picked out the tiniest little bra you’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s a 30AAA. Looking at this small contraption now, I guess I see her point.
We went for a walk in the woods. We walked down the long driveway and out to the main road, hopped a stone wall and cut through a field into the woods to the shady trails. The August crickets were singing their hazy song. We walked under the maples and along the fern lined paths. No one else was there. We saw a fuzzy white caterpillar, stylish with its black details. We saw a deep red-orange mushroom, more vibrant for the dark ground it grew from. There was Queen Anne’s Lace, Purple Clovers, Black Eyed Susan’s and Maidenhair Ferns. We walked deeper into the woods to a grassy clearing that in the spring time is a vernal pool. We listened to the Thrushes sing.
This is what I always long for.
Like a wild animal I want to roll myself all over but instead of marking my place I want the place to mark me.
My mom has pulled out all the boxes of family letters, papers and notebooks. I don’t have the time anymore to get lost in them like I used to, but I skimmed the surface and this is what I found. Mom is Jenny, and she was nine.
October 29, 1960
To Whom It May Concern,
My name is JENNY BOYER.
I live at Teatown Road, Croton-on-Hudson, New York. My telephone number there is Croton 1-4457.
I am taking the train which leaves Ossining at 11:05 and gets into the Grand Central Station (lower level) at 12:10 PM.
My daddy has told me to go to the gate at the head of the platform, where my sister, Linda Boyer, will meet me.
If Linda is not there, my daddy has told me to wait at the gate for fifteen minutes. Then I am to call my grandmother, Mrs. Philip Boyer, at the Hotel Dorset, 30 West Fifty-Forth Street, New York 19, New York, Telephone No. Circle 7-7300. My grandmother will tell me what to do.
I am supposed to lunch with my grandmother and then to go with her and Linda to see “The Sound of Music.”
I went away to summer camp when I was ten and got really homesick. It was a heart wrenching, all encompassing, sticky grip of sadness. I remember lying in my top bunk in my dark blue sleeping bag which smelled like home, hugging tightly my only friend, Innie the doll, looking out into the brisk darkness of the cabin, sobbing, just wanting so badly to be back home.
It was Camp Betsey Cox, and I was there for the first three week session of the summer. I was excited and nervous to go. I checked off everything from the packing list they sent me, folding and rolling all of my things neatly into my dad’s old camp trunk. I was excited about the travel size shampoo my mom got me, and the name tags we had printed to sew into all of my clothes.
But once at camp, with my parents back at home a couple of hours north, my knees got wobbly along with my confidence. Even the gnarled and worn roots of the trees sticking up in the middle of the path to the lake made me sad because I remember looking down at them as I walked behind my parents on the tour before they left…
Harold and Lillian on their Honeymoon, Miami, 1939.
Lily and Harry grew up in the same tenement building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. They were both the youngest of their large immigrant families, and the only ones born in America. They met at the age of five.
Lily’s mother, a smart and headstrong woman, died when Lily was around 8. Her father was an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi. He got remarried to a younger woman, who was illiterate and very pretty. Her older sister Anna became her mother figure, changing her name from Lena to Lillian, a less Russian sounding name. But everyone called her Lily.
These bottles were found in the St. Lawrence Rincer, in from 6 to 10 feet of water, during the late summer of 1965 by Jenny Boyer and her cousins. It is believed that originally the bottles contained Perrier water, and that they were kept in an upright position by being placed in silver receptacles. The occupants of Grindstone, Papoose, Whiskey and Club Islands disposed of them by throwing them in the River. We think they are from 80 to 100 years old.
It would be fair to say that I carry around some degree of homesickness with me, at all times. I’ve learned to live with it for the most part, but sometimes I am struck by an overwhelming feeling of wrongness. It could be news of an old friend moving back, or a certain smell like cut grass, or even someone else’s struggle with their own notion of ‘home’ that brings it on. Lately I’ve been thinking how tragic it is that Vermont is over there, and I am over here.
This has been the longest stretch I’ve ever gone without being home. It’s for good reason, possibly the ONLY thing that could keep me away for so long. In a few weeks I’ll go back with A. I’ll bring my baby to my childhood home…
Growing up in Vermont I have high standards for what a pretty place is, but also a remarkable sensitivity for the details. I only just came to this realization in the past few years, when on a walk I was struck by the quiet gorgeousness of a dead stalk of Queen Anne’s Lace, against a brown field. A cold and fading day in November, in Vermont, may not appeal to most, but to me it can be stunning. I love pretty places, even in the dead of winter.
Yosemite Valley, June 2010.
One recent early morning, driving through Yosemite National Park with Isaiah, the baby asleep in the back, I wondered: How Have I Never Been To This Place Before? Me, collector of pretty places (that brown field, Cinque Terra, Chanteloube, the Four Seasons Ubud, Elysian Park…) had never been to Yosemite?
Yosemite Valley, June 2010.
Upon entering the park from the south, my eyes fell in love with just looking. The quality of the light on a leaf against the shadows. The wild flowers and low bushes on a hillside, pristine. The meadows of green grasses. The stands of Redwoods and Sequoias. The rushing crystalline waters. And then once in the valley, all of it in a divine composition laid out under unfathomable rock faces, rising up in grandeur. I wanted to become part of the land. I wanted to be the water, or at least to get in it. I wanted to be the grey shine of the rock a thousand feet toward the sun. To be the lucky bright, green blades of grass rippling in the breeze through the valley, or at least to run through them.
I understand why Ansel Adams became obsessed with the light here and capturing it.
Yosemite Valley, June 2010.
In this time of oil spills, corporate folly and melting ice-caps, I’ve become a bit depressed, disillusioned. But Yosemite in all its magnificence, has excited my appreciation for the simplest of details, and the hope that a small boy could one day draw from its inspiration too.
My call for drama was answered by way of a ‘super-delux’ bus from Siliguri to Calcutta. Hot sticky long cramped dusty bumpy ride through the night watching late night poor Indian village activity as the moon crescent hung above us. Or, the epic Hindi film on the small screen (this was a super-delux after all). Super-delux also means AC but instead they kept all the windows opened to the dusty night air. This was the worst possible time for me to be traveling on an overnight bus, in terms of female related timing. Anything that could have gone wrong did in that department, and I’ll leave it at that…
Persephone (or Sephie, left), John, Bridey, Granny, Ezekial (or Zekey, who was Cassie’s pup), Josh. On Whiskey Island around 1964.
My grandparents were very good friends with John Cheever. They all lived in Westchester County, New York in the fifties and sixties. They spent many a cocktail hour together, they all loved labrador retrievers, and were prolific and loyal letter writers. At a certain point John started writing letters in the voice of Cassie his dog, the daughter of my grandparents’ dog, Sable. And they began writing back. Some of these letters are published in a book called "The Letters of John Cheever" but my family has many of the originals. We read through them all during our last summer at the River. I specifically remember reading this one with my mom. We laughed ‘til we cried just like when she read me "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day" in the school library when I was about six…
The India Journals: Gangtok to Kalimpong, Longing to Feel
Ginger in Kalimpong.
June 19, 2001 Kalimpong
We went to visit Khandro again before leaving Gangtok for Kalimpong. This time we just sat for a short while in her room which is even more lovely than I remembered from the time before. The walls are a dark jade green with intricately painted details. We went back again the next day to offer her khatas and some good nuts but she wasn’t in so we left them with her attendant and circumambulated for a while…
After high school Keri and I parted ways for college, but time and space would bring us back together again, even living together on a few occasions.
The summer after our sophomore year of college, we lived in my family’s little ”camp” (as summer houses are called in Vermont) on Lake Dunmore. It was a short drive to Middlebury (where Keri went to college) so we got waitressing jobs at one of the local restaurants in town. I don’t think I was a very good waitress. I enjoyed the logistical challenge of trying to be as efficient as possible (and also plating the “mud pie”), but that didn’t leave me with the energy it would require to be a people person. Keri was good, but she probably wouldn’t call herself a people person.
The best shifts were the ones we were on together. Keri softened the sharp corners of the restaurant world. The owner’s watchful eye felt less intimidating, the dropped tray less mortifying, rolling hundreds of sets of silverware less tedious. And there was always the solace of the air-conditioned bathroom where we could discuss the night’s plan with great anticipation while straightening our awful half green half maroon polo shirt uniforms.
At the end of a long shift it was a relief to go back to that little house…
Keri and I met at Lotus Lake Camp when we were about 7. We started this cool trend of hanging out in the same sweatshirt, our heads in the neck hole, my left arm in one sleeve, her right arm in the other. It was the 80’s, big sweatshirts were the thing. We were exactly the same height. It was easy.
We didn’t reconnect again until we left our respective elementary schools and entered junior high. We were placed in the same “TA” group. I remember seeing her that first morning and feeling relieved. She was sitting behind me in the same row of those half-chair-half-desks. Thank goodness she asked me to be her locker partner, I was too shy to ask. We shared a locker every year after that…
My mom once told me that because of her children she has felt her highest highs, and her lowest lows. It took having one of my own to begin to really understand what she meant. Now I’m looking back at some of my own lowest lows…
The small monks in dusty robes at Pemayangtse have bitten ankles.
The prayer flags ripple in misty gusts.
Yesterday was one of the strangest days…
Having decided to leave Pelling we headed east to Geyzing. We took a jeep as far as we could but had to walk the rest of the way. It rained. We walked for about 4 hours uphill, carrying our big packs. We were met along the way by a nice boy (I think his name was Budda, not Buddha) who lead us here. This is Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche's first monastery in India, built when he was maybe 15.
Dzongsar Monastery. We stayed on the second floor. Prayer flag field in the background.
Only two monks stay here. It is quite small, peaceful and familiar. No one was here upon arrival so we sat with Budda and another older boy for a while. They told us about a new hotel just down the hill so Isaiah went there to check it out and get water. I stayed and talked.
Isaiah came back from the hotel with two others, carrying food and water. I was happy to eat, but slightly reluctant to so quickly leave the two boys sitting on the ledge at the edge of the prayer flag field where we had settled. The boys told us not to sit on the ground because of land leeches, which they described to us by holding up their index fingers, inch-worming through the air.
After a trip to the hotel we came back to the monastery and sat on the ledge waiting for someone to show up and let us in. The view was grand and so close like I could fall right into it. We saw the monks walking down the road long before they could see us (with the help of Isaiah’s Handicam). Red and yellow robes getting closer and closer.
We were shown Rinpoche’s old room and the shrine room (which we had already sneaked a look at via the camera - scope like) and were able to sit for a while. On the alter is a statue of Dzongsar Khyentse Chokyi Lodro.
In the shrine room.
The room is small. I’m in it right now. It is wonderful. So familiar. I could stay here a long while. The monks served us tea and crackers while talking in broken English/Nepali with Isaiah. They left us with some food, since they were going to be out for most of our stay. Goat momos. They were gross. The main monk whose name I can’t remember is sweet. In one of those serendipitous moments, the phone rang and it was Bir. They were calling to request that pictures be taken of the monastery.
We ended up going to the fancy hotel for the night (700 rupees a night including a 35% discount). TV, toilet paper. Very clean. Very hospitable. No privacy. We had dinner in the boat like restaurant. We had our choice of cassettes to listen to (one had the Tina Turner song on it) and were served Sikkimese beer. We ping ponged and watched BBC. Isaiah fell asleep while I grew sad. I am quiet. Quiet quiet. I can’t believe I’ve been in India only 10 days. Long.
June 15 Geyzing, Dzongsar Monastery
Strange dream about having a baby and lots of stuff and trying to get some where on my bike with him and it all.
I am so reminded of the River here. Mothball smell. The way the room we are in is situated on the 2nd floor with a porch across and steep stairs. It’s like the nursery room at Whiskey.
Stayed one day longer. Isaiah is sick. He drank the filtered water at the hotel while I opted for bottled. (Even filtered water is unfriendly during the monsoon though he blames the goat momos). He was SO sick, he could hardly even speak, or acknowledge the things I was trying to do to help him. I felt alone. Quiet day here. He slept. I slept some and read and let my head go off.
Two trips to the hotel - food and jeep reservations for tomorrow. I got us a huge stack of aloo parathas wrapped in paper napkins which I lived on while Isaiah was ill. He was too sick to eat.
Omze (that’s the older monk’s name) is so kind.
The buildings I photographed.
The leeches: Since Isaiah was sick, I ventured out to photograph the buildings of the monastery on my own. I tucked my pants into my socks and tied my hiking boots real tight. There were a group of abandoned buildings, part of the compound, a short walk through the woods. I felt like I was on a major mission to get these photos, and to avoid the leeches.
We both took final trips to the outhouse before turning in for the night. Omze lent the flashlight and an umbrella. On my trip, I managed to step only 3 or 4 paces on the leach infested grass, then onto the safety of the stone walkway. Upon return I diligently checked my feet and ankles, flicking off several of those ravenous inch wormy things. Later, when we were settled in the beds I took off my socks to discover another leech on my ankle (this one was very big, like it had been sucking my blood for a while). I speedily took off my pants to check for more. Paranoia spread. Isaiah double checked too. His face dropped as he peered down at himself in his sleeping bag. Think "Stand By Me". Now we laugh.
Reasons to like LA: The Huntington Botanical Gardens
In keeping with tradition, my parents bought us a membership to the Huntington Botanical Gardens and that little membership card is like my ticket out of here when I need it. I’m a country girl really and on top of that I moved here from San Francisco where 99% of the population loathes Los Angeles. So, it took me a while to get used to this place and even longer to admit what I’m about to say: I kind of like it here.
When we were preparing to uproot ourselves and resettle, I had daily panic attacks. We were living in a little rooftop apartment on Dolores street with a deck and views all around. It was the kind of place you only find after you’ve lived in San Francisco for 7 years, the kind of place that everyone envies you for. But after a while, we stopped even watching the fireworks that would often shimmer across the city lights view out our living room windows. That’s how it got to be for us in San Francisco…
When I was five I got easily frustrated. If I couldn’t draw the mountain as well as my mom, or if I messed up a sewing project, or if my pony tail was too bumpy, or if the tie for my Charlie Chaplin costume was not tied just so, well watch out. I could be a storm. I could tear everything out of my closet and throw it through the interior window in my room onto the stairs. I could open my second story window and dangle the lower half of my body out of it. I did that.
In the top photo, the freckles that I asked my mom’s friend Renee to apply to my nose with an eye liner pencil did not look real. Grr. But, I’m wearing my favorite “hoody-shirt”, a hand-me-down from my cousin, Isabel. And red lipstick.
The storm unfortunately was not isolated to the age of five. Later, there was the time I threw bananas and blueberry pancakes at my dad. And the time I ran away for a couple of hours (no one noticed I was gone). And countless others.
This was staged and taken by my parents’ friend, Dakron with a Brownie. It hangs framed in my dad’s office.
If only my parents had discovered my low blood sugar problem earlier in my life, I could have spared them so much anguish. And if only I didn’t have this problem my family and friends would have never, ever, referred to me as “Blanche.” I wonder if A has this “Blanche” in him. I’ll know what to do if he does.