Thursday, June 5, 2014

it can't be a mistake if I just call it change

Stay, stay, 
Until the hasting day 
Has run 
But to the even-song; 
And, having pray'd together, we 
Will go with you along.
--To Daffodils, Robert Herrick

Homecoming is very sweet, but also, like most sweet things, there's a hint of bitter in them.
Like my mother's bourbon candy, which is covered in a coating of bitter chocolate.
If it's consumed along with the sugary, pecan-filled inside, it tastes divine.
But woe to the over-eager helper who sneaks a taste of the chocolate while they're dipping the candies.
Their mouth will taste of cacao and it will probably appeal to their five-year-old palate about as much as wormwood would.
The bitterness of homecoming this time was when I went to put my suitcases down in my bedroom, and found all my little sister's belongings there instead.
This is called the circle of life, and it does indeed move us all.
And I felt quite whirled around and muddled by the circle of life moving me so swiftly.
But instead of Rafiki showing up to comfort me as I wrestled with the strange new movements of the universe, and the blow they had dealt me, my little sister asked me if I could shut the door ALL the way, so that the light from the playroom DOESN'T COME IN.
I performed the requested task (but could not resist a completely unnecessary but very satisfying: yes, mistress [murmured in an obsequiously subservient manner that did not in the least bit disguise my saucy intentions from the princess trying to get her beauty sleep] ), and retreated to the extra bed upstairs.
This extra bed upstairs was my old bed many moons ago.
But the room has changed so much, it doesn't remind me anymore of when my sister and I would keep each other up at night telling nonsensical jokes that had us rolling in our sheets with laughter, and when we would organize and rearrange the furniture in the room in a hundred new combinations and arrangements, or when I would hide for hours under the bed with the bandboxes and winter sheets, reading a book in sunlit peace, or when we would jump off the top bunk onto the door, and swing back and forth until we heard mom's footsteps approaching.
All the Peter Rabbit/Beatrix Potter has been washed out of the room, and now it is very much my sister's, filled with rosy light and delicate new light fixture, that looks like something out of Eloise.
My sister and I would have killed for a light fixture like that.
So, the next morning, I went downstairs after my little sister left, and ran my hand over the soft, silky cotton sheets of My Bed.
Every time I came home from college for a break, one of the best moments was the first time I would lay my head down on My Bed.
It is the best bed in the world. It has a firm mattress, soft pillows, and a rosy comforter.
I made My Bed--it is the only bed in the world I have ever enjoyed making.
When my sister goes off to school, I hope that she will enjoy coming home to this bed as much as I have.
And I thought of the bedroom upstairs that had been mine, and was now so thoroughly not-mine.
I realized that it was time for this bedroom to follow suit.
So I fluffed up the pillows, and straightened the comforter, and turned off the light as I left the room behind.

  Gradually along the range 
All things exchange their light 
For darkness. //
 And around us sounds 
Of things we cannot see 
Begin to rise:
--Night in the Mountains, Heather Allen

I walked through the woods in my backyard, to visit the playhouse my grandfather helped us build.
It was still there, so solidly and sturdily half-constructed.
It had braved windstorms and the worst kinds of polar weather.
The lean-to that we'd built of sticks, a veritable mansion made out of the forest's scraps and left-overs, had finally been dismantled.
I remember building it behind my father's green-bean-laced fence.
We'd assembled all the sturdiest sticks we could find throughout the woods, along the different paths that the neighborhood kids had carved through the treacherous poison ivy. Together, we hoisted those sticks together into a house: there was the spacious and well-swept kitchen and main room. Meticulously, we would sweep out that room, and beat the dirt floor down into a smooth and welcoming surface.
Then, the lovely hall led from the kitchen into the first bedroom.
The first bedroom was an architectural gem.
Not only was the leafy, mossy floor decorated with the small old rug our mother had donated to our little mansion, it was built against a vine tree, whose green leaves filtered light most becomingly into the delicate boudoir. It was divine.
Then, the fourth room was a sort of back entrance-cum-bedroom.
Mysteriously, this fanciful combination is a rarity in the world of grown-up construction, but I would highly recommend it you are building a forest mansion.
The only decorations in this house we'd built were those of nature.
Except for a collection of ceramic, anthropomorphic cows.
These feminine, gentle bovine figurines were dressed in pastel-colored smocks and were engaged in a variety of gentle womanly household tasks: baking, knitting, sewing.
They were tucked into all the different nooks of each of our house's rooms.
Except for the kitchen.
On principle, the kitchen must be devoid of frou-frou.
I was sad to see that the remains of the house had finally been dismantled by time and wind and nature.
But I could still see the beaten-down earth where the kitchen floor had been.
Honestly, I couldn't say the last time I'd walked through my backyard.
Also, I couldn't tell you the last time I'd actually looked at my dad's garden.
It had grown in smaller patches than it used to.
The only plants that looked very alert were the tomatoes.
Which, historically, have always taken to my dad and his green thumb.
They seem to flourish under his rule.
My entrance into the side-garden-yard was impeded for a moment by the large apple tree that was blooming like a sapling giant.
Stunned, I stroked its slender and smooth trunk in wonder.
This comely arboreal figure had grown into a saucy young woman of a tree.
I remember when my father first bought the twin apple trees and brought them home.
We welcomed to the family garden with much excitement.
When, I asked over and over again, are these trees going to bear apples?
I remember when we harvested the first tart apples from their branches (the ones that the deer hadn't managed to polish off).
I remember when that tree was no more than knee-high, and now it towered over me superiorly.
Wait. Stop. Rewind, I felt like saying to this tree as I examined its pale green leaves and buds.
You weren't allowed, I felt myself saying, to get taller than me without my permission.
I wanted to rewind through the years so I could notice when the apple tree's slow growing had occurred, instead of being blindsided by this sneak attack of growth.
As I held my hand on its trunk, I knew in my bones the callow apple tree was not going to listen to me.
Through my hand that rested on the tree, I could sense that the determined will to grow that lived inside that proud tree.
Flaunting her new-found independent will like a recalcitrant teenager, that tree was going to grow and grow, and I could do nothing to stop it.
So, I stepped back and reacquainted myself with that tree.
Sometimes, we dislike it when people or creatures mar our happy images of what they used to be.
We are content with our sweet memories of How They Used to Be, and sometimes the startling realization of What They Are Now is unpleasant.
And we, who are so comforted by our nostalgia, are displeased.
It is much nicer to love someone who lives as a kind and happy image in your memory than to love the grouchy human being that they are now, right here, in front of you.
We would rather write an offending character out of our script than learn to deal with him.
But apple trees grow, whether we're paying attention to them or not.
I don't know if there's a correct way to react to the growth of apple trees.
But I do know that commanding them to rewind is the wrong one.
The growth of apple trees marches on, and we are helpless to stop it.
That sounds depressing, and not exactly the note I wanted to end this blog post with.
(It sounds like Soviet agit-prop, or something: "The Proletariat will March ON! We cannot stop him! The Bourgeoisie are helpless underneath his iron tread! They cannot stop the Working Man Who Will Prevail!"
That, of course, is not exactly the tone I was going for.)
I suppose, what I mean is that apple trees grow.
And I think I keep harping on how sad it is to see a tree that you remember being knee-high is now a towering maiden-tree, dancing gracefully in the wind above your head.
But you know, now that I think about it, it isn't sad at all.
It's awe-ful.
It's quite wondrous, actually, that I can remember a time that I was taller than this beautiful tree.
It's magnificent to think of how long that tree will stay there and grow, and maybe my grandchildren will build a mansion of sticks underneath it.
And to think it all started with this little dwarf of a tree that my father brought into our garden one day.
That is pretty grand; and perhaps a certain sort of awe-filled sadness is--on occasion--an appropriate reaction to the sort of grandeur that accompanies Time's strange workings.
A sweet sorrow that slowly fades into something that more resembles sorrow's next of kin: joy.

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