Home, Sweet

Time moves faster in October. The abruptness of an overnight frost.  The sudden thud as the sun drops behind the sentry of pine trees lining the cove. The peach-gold light seeping from the sky. You know fall is here when the mice wake you up, scampering through the walls on a cold morning like they did the first winter I lived in this house. The clank of the baseboards, crisp morning air coming through my cracked window—a half inch on early fall nights but when cool gives way to cold, it’s closed for the season.

In the harbor, sailboats and docks are hauled in for the winter; only a handful of lobster boats and dinghies remain. Window shades in the island’s seasonal cottages are drawn: the eyelids of the houses slowly closing for winter hibernation. Storm doors replace screens. Porches cleared of vibrant canvas deck chairs and umbrellas.

I, too, will depart soon for my winter home and family, trading the timeworn cedar clapboards of this childhood home for the stuccoed Scottsdale landscape.

This week–my last on the island–is heavy with the leaden air of finality. The End. Of my solitude, when days passed with only deer, seals and seagulls to converse with. Of the silent disconnection that fueled creativity and inspiration to complete a year-long writing project and embark upon another. Of my frequent dinner dates with my father and how our relationship deepened over lobster rolls and New Yorker essays.

And it is the end of weekly visits to my mother, who, like the abrupt shift from summer to fall, changes from week to week. In this endless uncertainty, I have learned to embrace her dementia even if we must be ten feet away from each other, outdoors and masked.

“Away is good, but home is best”

This summer, I stepped into my mother’s past life, assumed her role as head of the household, baked her blueberry cake and entertained neighbors with iced tea on the porch. This island, this house, this state, have been a part of my heart for nearly half a century. Here will always be home. Yet in my ever-elusive quest for more, for the quality which cannot be named. I continue to search for what home really is.

Dispatches From a Pandemic: Between Breaths

Ahhh, Camp. I come Upta Camp, to the lakeside cabin in the North Woods of Maine every summer for a week with my not-quite family: step-brother and his wife, their two daughters and my step mother. This year, Covid kept them home. This summer, it was just me.

My serious commitment to writing started here, five summers ago, after everyone left and I was alone at the lake for two days. The new notebook at Bob’s Feed Store, grandma’s 20-year-old ballpoint pen, me sitting at the breakfast bar in the kitchen on the wicker stool that spins around, the stools my step-aunt does NOT want you sitting on in a wet bathing suit. It was here that I discovered the freedom of Morning Pages, journaling at dawn before the monkey mind takes over. It’s still a daily practice in my writing routine.

But this weekend I’ve promised myself a vacation of doing little or nothing and I haven’t written in three days. Quiet. Solitude. Eat, kayak, read, repeat. The stillness of life reflected in the glass of the lake, rippling with nothingness. No one at camp but me and the haunting call of a loon in search of its mate.

This weekend I spend between breaths. No date set for the return to my island, or on the distant horizon, the eventual return to Arizona. I give the lake my worries and sorrow. And with each stroke of the kayak paddle, the lake replenishes my hope.

Fritos, chocolate sugared donuts, Helluva Good onion dip, Cheetos…I’m here to enjoy, not feel. I take the peace the lake dispenses, its smooth bliss washing over me when I glide through the murky depths.

It’s an alternate universe here in the North Woods. Locals believe the virus (“The Cova” as it is called here) cannot touch this spot or is a hoax or both, each conversation starting with: “It will be gone after the election…”

Every house within a 5-mile radius of the Rod & Gun Club sporting a KEEP AMERICA GREAT: TRUMP 2020 sign in their dooryard. Every house is a rusted out mobile home with metal awnings. I guess everyone has their own definition of “GREAT.”

Even so, there’s a mad rush of out-of-staters buying up every square inch of lake property, every camp that’s been for sale for the past decade, even the dilapidated, boat-access-only, unwinterized camps. In March, an old friend who plows for the town nearly ran his snow plow into a flatlander blocking the Shore Road with his Mercedes. “How do I get into my camp?” the man asked.

“I’d suggest a shovel and a big breakfast,” my friend told him. Then, an aside: “I weren’t about to plow his ass out.”

Eventually I left the lake, bound for my island home two hours south and parental obligations. Ahead of me on the Dodge Ram, a bumper sticker: KEEP HONKING, I’M RELOADING. The only reloading I’m doing is this summer involves Fritos and onion dip.

Dispatches From a Pandemic: Small Bites

The down time of the pandemic has me doing everything in small bites: write a paragraph here, clean the kitchen. Edit half an essay, walk the dogs. Meditate on my purple yoga mat, write haiku. Balance my mother’s checkbook, read a chapter in another dystopian end-times novel.

I have found immediate gratification editing in small bites. The recipe goes something like this: Combine all elements of the first draft, let simmer for a while. Assemble the pieces in the right flow. Leave out to rise, the sourdough starter of a story. Punch down. Revise. Print, read, revise.

As writers, we already tiptoe along the emotional tightrope between self-doubt and the manic euphoria of inspiration. It’s summer. It’s a weird time in our lives. Let’s embrace our short attention spans. Let’s lose the “shoulds” and accept what is.