Wedding Day

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I always wanted to get married at the farm. From the very first summer after we bought it. When the wildflowers and the mountain laurels burst out that first spring, and the ferns came out of nowhere with their fragile, curled fiddleheads pushing through the still-cold ground and towering toward the sky.  This is the place, I thought, where I want to join another person’s life.  I will gather an armful of wildflowers as I walk to meet my future husband.  The orange of lilies, the creamy white of Queen Anne’s lace, the vibrant gold of black-eyed Susans, the lavender of wild Phlox.  Maybe I will weave a crown of flowers to wear around my head as well.

I will to stand at the “crossroads” of the farm for the ceremony —  the patch of sloping lawn between the front and the side of the house,  the small patch of grass that links the orchard, the meadow, and the path that leads to the copse of old pines. And beyond the pines, the wide lawn that leads to the creek.  The ramshackle springhouse stands at the lowest point of this patch, built over the natural spring that feeds our pond.  Ungodly amounts of intestine-like tubes of tadpole eggs appear each spring, another astounding harbinger of life.  Of rebirth.

The crossroads-lawn is a mere few steps from the house, so I can be barefoot.  I will feel the grass underneath my feet, the blades that I will tamp down with the soles of my feet; but they will stand again.  They will feel the sun’s rays, and they will grow.  I want to be in touch with the ground, with the earth, when I marry.  I want to be tied to the world, to connect with the nature of the things – with my feet touching the grass that is rooted in the dirt that is the top layer of the earth that is part of a universe.

And now here it is, it’s today, it’s today.  I am getting married.  It’s my wedding day.  I will marry Eddie, my Eddie.

I look at myself one final time in the little mirror on the kitchen wall.  I grab the orange and white and purple and yellow bouquet of flowers that Eddie picked first thing this morning.  He surprised me, tickling me with the tallest flowers while I still slept, then handing me a cup of coffee in my favorite crazy, chipped mug.  I ran to the kitchen and put the wildflowers in an old mason jar filled with water and ice to keep them fresh.

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I look down at my bare toes.  This is so much like I always pictured it.  How did I get this lucky?  How did I  find a man to love, to love me back. A man who not only fell in love with me, but with my childhood wish to be married at my family’s farm?  Who got a tear in his eye when I told it to him, who kissed my hand and said: how could I not want to honor this dream of yours?

Eddie, my Eddie.  I step across the threshold between the kitchen and the porch, and I get my first glimpse of you.  Our families are scattered about the lawn.  I hear low voices, laughter.  Your brother clears his throat and coughs into his hand.  My brother pats him on the back.

As if you can sense my presence, you turn your head.  You see me.

I will step off the porch and I will feel the grass underneath my feet and I will say the  words and you will say the words and our eyes will stay locked to one another’s and we will be a woman and a man who are united.  With our families and the universe watching, we will be united.

I take a deep breath.  One last look the scene before I am in the middle of it.  Woo picks up his violin and starts to play.  It’s time.

I swear I see movement at the edge of the orchard.  Moving away from the gathering. Like someone was here and decided to leave, but who in the world would do that? No one; that’s who.  I must be more of an anxious bride than I thought.  The old scaredy-cat me rearing her ugly little head.  Wait, is that fringe I’m seeing?  Long fringe, like from a jacket, fluttering every which way?  I know that fringe.

But Woo is playing.  And I am imaging things.  It’s time.

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Each of these excerpts from my novel The Rocky Orchard is meant to be a stand-alone snippet that piques your interest.  Like the majority of my writing, the past and present intermingle freely; memory and “reality” can be indistinguishable. It’s not meant to be a jigsaw puzzle to figure out, but rather, an aperitif to whet your appetite for more.

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Void

Another excerpt from the novel I am currently writing, tentatively titled “The Rocky Orchard.”  Also an homage to Mary Oliver, and all those who find the natural world transformative.

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The following morning, Mazie looked out the kitchen window above the sink to a dense, gray nothingness.  She filled the ancient aluminum coffee pot with cold water and strained her eyes, but the fog was pea-soup dense. That was what they called it in that neck of the woods, as Mazie recollected, and she had not seen a fog of its like in a long while. Looking out the window, she could not see to the edges of the farm house.  The walls faded and bleached into nonexistence, vanishing into the gray.  Fog as thick as this drank up all sound, except for the intermittent plops of water, the humidity so high that droplets condensed out of thin air and fell heavily to the ground.  It reminded Mazie of being in an airplane, flying through an impenetrable cloud bank, surrounded by an utter void, feeling as if she were being propelled deeper and deeper into nothing at all.

Mazie fretted that she would not be able to see the older woman when she came walking through the orchard.  Or, Mazie thought, the woman may well decide to bypass the orchard altogether, as she would not be able to see the treacherous rocks endangering her path.  In this kind of fog, people and things appeared out of nowhere, without hint or warning, when they came close enough to emerge from the fog’s grip.  They disappeared just as fast.

Mazie wrapped a light sweater around her shoulders and grabbed her coffee cup from the porch table.  She held the screen door and closed it gently behind her, barely making a sound.  The door’s usual slam seemed like it would be an intrusion into this silent, featureless world.  Mazie wandered the short distance to the near end of the orchard, where the ancient apple trees appeared out of the gray, one by one.  She ran her hand along the craggy bark, ran her finger in the grooves between the bark’s scales.

Mazie took a couple more steps into the orchard.  On one of the low-sitting but jagged rocks, she made out the faint remains of white paint.  Even in dim and fog, the old paint produced a chiaroscuro of light and dark in the deep crags.  Her father had painted a number of rocks throughout the orchard, a warning for himself and anyone else riding one of the family’s ride-on lawnmowers through the obstacle-course orchard.  Mazie was fairly sure she had never mowed the apple orchard, never wanted to try. But her father approached it as a challenge, a game, to see how fast he could go, careening around, turning sharp corners, timing himself.  She could picture him in his perennial work outfit – a plain white tee shirt and light blue pants – perched high on one of their two mowers with a whisper of a smile on his face.  He hit various rocks many, many times.  Mazie could never forget the sound.  The noisy, constant engine halting in an instant, giving way to the thunderous scrape of metal against rock that seemed to shake the surrounding woods to their core, then stop dead in abrupt silence.

One time had been different.  The metallic crash was not met by silence, but by the continued whirr of the engine and within it, the sound of her father screaming “Help!  Help me!” with panic in his voice.  On one of his daredevil sharp corners, the mower had tipped completely over, on top of him, and the blades had kept on turning.

Mazie shuddered, though her father had been fine.

She wandered back toward the house, and climbed the path to the dirt road.  Mazie looked in both directions, taking her time, in case she might see the older woman walking along the road.  She saw a slight movement at the very edge of visibility the fog would allow, but it vanished.  It may have been the woman, Mazie thought; but she could not be sure.

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top photo: Ben Woodward

A Report on the Natural World, 6/24/13

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Scout is the third dog that I have had in my adult life; thereby, I am on my 24th year of having a ready-made reason to get outside every morning.  We go to the large park at the corner of my block most days.  When it is below zero, my fellow dog owners and I bitch and moan and compare the relative warmth of our boots.  When it is well above 90, we bitch and moan and say that we really must be getting home, pretending that it is our dogs who can’t stand the heat.

Scout is a meanderer. I call her the Ferdinand of dogs, as in the children’s book where the ferocious-seeming bull wants nothing more than to sit in the field, and smell the flowers.  Scout wanders the park each morning, slowly, thoroughly, nose to the ground, not willing to miss one single thing that might be infinitesimally different from the day before.

Each spring, we experience an alarming wave of birds’ nests falling from their tree homes, or perhaps they have been helped along by squirrels, cats, raccoons, possums – any of the variety of wildlife we have.  Each year, for a time, our parks, yards, sidewalks are littered with tiny, dead baby birds.  Some are brand newly hatched from their shells, others are feathered and nearly fledged, one hair’s breath away from spreading their wings and living a life.

Considering that we have experienced an influx of fox and coyote – surprising considering that we live within spitting distance of the third largest city in the United States – I am always taken aback that the bird bodies are there at all, and so many.

A nest fell from one of the tallest trees in the corner park, and the carcass lay right against the trunk.  The first morning Scout and I came upon it, the parents mounted a riotous, all-out demonstration of their protective agony, complete with shrieking, wing-flapping, diving and swooping.  Each morning Scout nosed the baby gently.  We witnessed the body progress from its state of newly-fallen perfection, to being covered and consumed by teeming maggots, to becoming strewn bones and feather, until the morning when there was no remaining trace whatsoever.

It has been more than two weeks since we found the baby bird, more than a week since there has been any remaining sign of its life.  Still, every morning the parents shriek and wail.  Every morning they swoop down and peck the back of my very confused, 87-pound yellow lab.  They follow us part of the way home.

Do animals understand death?

Do we?

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