musings from June 2019 after a trip Back East for my father’s 90th birthday.
I wake to rain. I am on my hands and worthless knees. I pry and pare back twinflower leaves, free the groundcovers—kinnick-kinnick, thimbleberry, and native wintergreen. Dig and prune. Command the dahlias to grow aligned with their bamboo stakes. My fingernails are crescents of dirt. All I care is to breathe, hidden beneath the reach and lean of these tall, tall western Oregon trees. Last night in the rain, the emperor gong rang decibels for a world gone further mad—and we’re still nine months away from COVID. But we can’t know that yet.
In Ellensburg, Washington, a woman named Jane gives away cellophane packets of marigold seeds she harvested the autumn before. I am spreading lovely, she says. I scratch the earth, trickle a trail of Tagetes Asteraceae slivers into a narrow trough after too many bruising days away in a brutal collision with the world. The jostle of airplane aisles, seats, every gate filled with gadgeted lasses and lads. The noise, the burdens of our beeping landscape with no sanctuary for those of us who prefer even require just the briefest interludes of silence.
I made my escape from the ugly and ramshackle, the blight where so many unquestioningly remain to return this spot on near the westernmost edge of this continent, a place where most hail from somewhere else.
One day when we were visiting in northeastern Pennsylvania, we took my aged, ailing father for a ride. Down Route 11 across the river where there was a pizza joint called Slice of Heaven in a church on the flood plain of the Susquehanna River in Mocanaqua. Not open for business until 4 p.m. (Somewhere in the archives, there is a photo.) We passed fraternal clubs for people of various ethnic persuasions: Polish, Ukrainian, Czech. Front yards were debris fields, front porches sagged under the weight of too much piled-up stuff. I think there is even a train track along those fertile bottomlands on that eastern side of the river.
Out the car window, I sought any vision of beauty—the green of trees in a park across from the nuclear power plant, the way the mountain roads climb, wind up then find their way back down again, the light as it bounces on the water, the river as it meanders slowly, assuredly past. My father seemed happy to be anywhere but home. He will leave this earth in fewer that nine short months, first day of March 2020, just as the pandemic began to insist on its relentless and devastating path. And I will spend the next few years here in this habitat—a backyard of green and shade thanks to maples and hostas and ferns, crawling around on my hands and worthless knees, weeding, pruning, seeking, maybe occasionally even finding. Trying to remember if there was ever a time when that previous life didn’t utterly enervate me so.
The public domain image above is of the painting, “A Ferry Scene on the Susquehanna at Wright’s Ferry, near Havre de Grace” by Pavel Petrovich Svinin. It was painted between 1811 and 1813.