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This is the second installment in my three post story of  my vacation with Alice. If you missed Arriving, you can click the link and catch up there.

Day Two

I awakened at dawn to a huge splash. It wasn’t light enough outside to catch the culprit. I had lain awake in the middle of the night looking out at the sky. There is no moon or light pollution so the vivid pricks of stars on the blanket of black feel very close.

More routines have emerged. Alice and I walk before it gets too hot. I take a quick, energetic paddle around the little pond. The beaver dam shows signs of activity and is not breachable from the water. I have not felt the urge to portage over it.

The air is dense with late summer heat, though every morning I notice more trees beginning to change to Autumn’s dress. Fans and a slight breeze keep the house cool. My spots to write include the breakfast nook and the patio. Both of these sound grand but the reality is far less luxurious. In truth, I no longer see the shabbiness of the lawn or the barrenness of the house. I focus on the smells and sights, the feel of the air on my skin and Alice’s incessant search for squirrels. She attempted to join me on the hammock. It didn’t end well.

Alice is used to the smooth boards of the deck and her own padded deck chair. The grass is stiff and prickly, bugs bite and the shade shifts rapidly. It would be good if she could figure out the hammock.

I took Limonata out twice, testing my strength and speed through the channels between the weeds. Alice was itchy. She harrumphed from spot to spot.

We retired to the house for an afternoon of reading on the couch. Slow rumblings of thunder made their way into my consciousness. I looked north to the mountain and saw the dark clouds shadowing her ragged peak. Suddenly a stiff breeze blew south across the front of the house. Trees began to sway. the channels grew wider as the lilies were pushed aside, the dark water caught the wind and danced before it. The rain never came beyond the mountain, but the air freshened and blue sky showed between the clouds. Narrow your focus…

Day Three

We woke a dawn to the sound of something splashing along the shore. Camera in hand, I slipped out the door. Alice spotted a dreaded squirrel and chased it up a tree where it sat chattering abuse as she cursed it in Shar Pei Chinese from the ground below. Nowhere in history have dogs been able to climb trees but she insists it is possible.

A long-legged gray heron preened amid the lilies just out of range. Thick, fog clouds rolled down the pond, obscuring the opposite shore and softening the rising sun. We sat as my coffee cooled and the light shifted, trying to capture the bird as it stalked breakfast.

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So what is learned in my three days of solitary writing?

  1. Words come when they want. Flowing freely from a thought that bubbles to the surface, or being wrenched from my gray matter like a worm from the ground by the early bird on the lawn.
  2. The space of thirty years made writing down my life easier the first time. The project of a second book is fraught with memories still too raw and painful to share with the world and those who lived through them with me.
  3. Alice and I can NOT share a hammock.
  4. Nature will inspire or irritate me with its self-centered flow.
  5. A kayak is only as stable as its occupant.
  6. I could see the lawn as being in dire need of mowing. That fact could ruin my enjoyment of the moment and cause me to stew. Or I could revel in the late summer burst of green growth that will be a memory soon. It hides crickets that thum and sing. It waves in the slightest breezes that rush across the pond, blowing down from the mountain.
  7. Time cannot be controlled no matter how many false segments I employ; hours, days, years. Instead of looking at the clock and saying, “It’s 10am and there are still dishes in the sink!” I should look at the sky and light for what inspires me next. I have carved this time out to erase the limits hours put on me.

I will sharpen my focus…

Moments lost in thought as the hammock gently sways. The breeze lifts the leaves overhead as I gaze without seeing. I am in Jamaica, the hammock house on the cliffs at Lighthouse Park. Those hammocks were cocoon-like, rough marine ropes that required a towel lining to ward off the prickly fibers. This hammock is smooth cotton stretched wide on either end offering a taunt bed.

thumb_DSC_1421_1024A sudden crash brings me back to the moment as Alice bolts across the lawn after a squirrel, dragging a chair I’ve anchored her lead to. “Damn it! Why did I bring you?!?”

Feeling the need for total solitude, I tried leaving her in the house. Safely settled with familiar music and a fresh bowl of water, fans cooling her, I thought she would be calm. She cried and muttered, running up and down the stairs. Give it time, I thought. Soon her chattering stilled. Like a reluctant toddler put down for a nap, I waited for her to tire. Moments later her sad complaints began again. Seeking relief for both of us I released her into the yard with me.

Later, I pull on respectable (by summer standards) clothes and drive out to the farm stand I saw on the road in several days ago. It was bustling with people picking up their CSA baskets laden with tomatoes, kale, fresh melons and all sorts of veggies. “Are you CSA only?” I asked.

“No, just give me a minute and I’ll show you where everything is,” smiled the owner, a pretty young mom in her 30’s with kids streaming behind. Pink, plump, heirloom tomatoes the size of my fist, a bag of fresh salad greens and a wedge of smoked mozzarella went into my basket. I looked around for her when it was time to pay and saw another shopper dropping cash in a locked wooden box. I guess there must have been a system to make change but I rounded the price of my purchases up to the amount in my hand and caught her smile as I left…support your local farmer!

A fire is lit in the outdoor grate, the crickets are chirping and clouds sail over the mountain top reflecting the setting sun. Somewhere down the road, a car door thumps closed and I imagine someone coming home from work; weary, and hot, breathing in the smell of pine and smoke.

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I’ve listened to nothing but Trace Bundy’s guitar solos this entire time. Softly repeating without intruding, in the background, creating the soundtrack for this particular chapter.

Maybe it just takes 48 hours for the human and canine body to shed the stress of change and find peace. Tonight, that is exactly what has happened. It is only 7:30 pm but Alice has gone to bed.

A massive thunder-storm rolls through in the night. I turned out the lights and was taking deep breaths, slowly relaxing from my toes to my scalp when a flash of light illuminated the lake and the mountain beyond. I counted slowly and the thunder came five seconds later. I imagined the storm was five miles away though I had no sense of direction. Another flash, my counting stopped at three and the sound of rain hitting the tin roof drowned out the music. Glorious, erratic bolts of light played across the water whose surface danced with an onslaught of drenching drops.

For a full fifteen minutes, the world was a symphony of storm. I thought, “how fortunate to have a front row seat from my bed.” Narrow your focus…

22 comments on “Being…

  1. Doppleganger says:

    Your trip sounds lovely. It reminds me of a creative writing course I took where the teacher paired up off with another student. One day I wore a blindfold and my “partner” lead me around outside and ultimately sat us both down under a tree. We were supposed to “observe” our surroundings. When we got back to classroom, we were to write what we “observed”. the next day we reversed roles and I led her around blindfolded. The fascinating thing was, that the length and descriptions of our observations were much richer and much, much longer from the blindfolded days than the ones where we used our eyes to observe. Interesting, huh? the blindfolded descriptions were so much more detailed, showing acute hearing, feeling (breeze, temp), and feel of what we were sitting on and under. You might give the exercise a try from your deck and see what happens. Obviously, that exercise has stuck with me all these many years as something life changing and wonderful!

    1. Sensory memory and attention is magical my Doppleganger. You are so right!! The hardest part is tuning in and if it takes a blindfold, I am willing to give it a try. Thank you!

  2. cheryl622014 says:

    Hammocks and thunderstorms…vivid memories!

    1. Aw, thank you Cheryl. Your recent poems of travel and memories reminded me of how common threads run through our lives.

      1. cheryl622014 says:

        funny old world…! small and huge all at once…love it 😉

  3. And a thunderstorm with a tin roof. Difficult to imagine better

    1. Thank you Phil. It certainly had it’s good points though I think travel requires more of Alice and I these days than we are perhaps ready for…

      1. Funny how even “getting away from it all” changes isn’t it? Enjoy! (Grab some smiles and store them up for later. HA HA)

  4. Touring NH says:

    I love the things you learned (especially #3), but my guess is they were things you knew all along and had just forgotten or put to the back of your mind. I also love the idea of narrowing your focus. So much time is spent of the what-ifs and what-nots, we often overlook what is. Rain on a tin roof – perfect.

    1. Thank you Laura. I thought of you as a photographer and how narrowing one’s focus can bring a whole different perspective and state of mind…

  5. I love watching thunderstorms but have never been able too from a bed. That must have been nice!

    1. Most of the camp was oddly uncomfortable but that bed…

  6. julieallyn says:

    Martha, what I love most about your writing is your keen ability to observe your surroundings and translate what you see and hear and feel and touch in the most mesmerizing collection of words.

    Lessons learned: #1 is spot on. Numbers 3 and 5 made me smile.

    Transitioning from narrowing to sharpening — yes!

    Nicely done, girlfriend.

    1. Thank you Julie. Your kind words mean a lot to me.

  7. julieallyn says:

    Maybe it just takes 48 hours for the human and canine body to shed the stress of change and find peace.

    I may well have to test this concept!

    1. Maybe it takes longer, or shorter, but it will come! Thank you Julie!

  8. badfish says:

    I truly like the way you weave your surroundings and your thoughts and actions into a fine and thoughtful piece. And I just love this line: “vivid pricks of stars on the blanket of black feel very close.” How very poetic. Keep these stories coming. Alice is a big thing, eh? You could get a bigger hammock?

    1. Thank You Badfish! Honored to have struck a chord. Alice is a bit tubby at the moment, not sure a bigger hammock would make a difference!

  9. Marie Keates says:

    I can just imagine poor Alice struggling with the hammock. The storm sounds wonderful too. As for writing, it seems to me it sometimes comes easy and others it’s a wrench to get the words on the page. There are many things I don’t think I’d want to share but I guess, as the writer, you get to choose.

    1. Thanks Marie. I loved watching the storms at night. As to words, they come when they want to and no amount of coaxing will make them good.

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