Wild Geese

 

WildGeese

Just this time last year the world was frozen and deeply, softly, quietly covered with snow and Ann Marie was here, snowed in, I hoped, forever, but really only for a few days. We left the embrace of the woodstove and went out to the spring-fed pond, a small park nestled in a deep valley, to stretch our legs and rosy up our cheeks and be like children or wild animals for a hot second and revel in the just-being-outsideness of it. We went when the sun was getting long in the sky, that slanted winter light that—even if just for the single minute of 4:36-4:37 pm in February—is richer than any Provençal golden hour, perhaps made even more precious by its fleeting gilt. The little park has miles of trails, most of them impassable in the snow, so we just took the one that circumnavigates the pond—spring fed and running, but frozen solid nonetheless. Cold. Out on the ice, 30 or so wild geese sat all facing the same direction in the sun, like chess pieces, utterly still, utterly silent, and we could see them through the trees from our various vantage points around the water. As time passed, the sun gilded the ice, the snow, the geese, covered in that thin winter gold. We made it almost to the very end of the loop, around towards the back of the pond, immediately opposite the setting sun, at that exact moment that it began dipping under its ridgeline, the bones of naked trees stark against it, that all at once and definitely by some mysterious and ancient signal the geese took off in a collective rush of feathers and, once they reached altitude, put their harsh and joyous cries out into the stillest cold. AHHHHH. Time goes, wonder stays, this year it is lush and green instead of still and cold, but the geese still call overhead, wild and mysterious and constant like the sound of the high lonesome trains in the distance, and I am always reminded of this, from Mary Oliver.

Wild Geese
Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

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What we need is here

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As the months pass quietly, ever-quicker, and the light went slowly, slowly, slowly, and then all at once to the fireworks of the thick-lit 3pm sunset into early, hushed dark, as family ebbs and flows out of our house like a warming tide, as small, fancy parcels intoxicatingly marked perishable and hand-hewn boxes of tiny lovelies ready to be gifted land on our porch as tokens of our far-off loves, and as we just polished off the last of the ham…Just this quick and quiet thought on need, want, and gratitude:

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

– Wendell Berry

#johnmillering

Meags came to visit last winter and we went to the dark old bar in our quiet small town which had polished up its mahogany and learned a new trick: live music on Friday nights. Sweetheart was sitting in with the band, and Meags and I were together at the bar in a golden pool of light, the dark beers of a dark season in front of us, trying to fit months of what had happened (a move! a marriage! a thousand dinners and tiny stories and facts and wonders!) into the companionable space of one jukebox evening. Somehow we lighted on the topic that though we’ve had many adventures together we’ve never traveled just the two of us, that though I’ve been cross country a few times, she hadn’t ever taken a road trip majeur, and, that after moving from New York to DC to Florida to Colorado and most recently to Portland, Oregon she really wanted to explore the volcanic wonders of the pacific northwest, as outlined in a science book called “Living With Thunder” given to her by her own sweetheart (GEOLOGY=ROMANCE). A few beers, Townes covers tinkling from Sweetheart’s banjo up front, and the wanderlust spark: let’s do it.2015.6.12PictureGorgeDates were picked, flights were booked, docs were shared, maps were drawn up and carved down, we discussed what we really wanted to do (put our naked bones into every hot spring we possibly could=me/drive donuts in the deserted desert listening to Kyrie by Mr. Mister=Meags), what we wanted to see (geologic evidence of THUNDER/birds), how we wanted to travel (fritos + road rosé starting everyday promptly at 3pm), a meeting of the minds (camp when it is safe and comfortable), a clearing of the schedules (see ya). Oh, ain’t life grand.2015.6.12ChangingaTireA thousand miles later, on a deserted stretch of BLM road paved with, of all things, obsidian shards (great idea, Nevada, pave your road with arrowheads), we got a flat tire, which we changed, pas du probleme, but which did flip our trajectory from “camping another night in the deep wilderness” to “limping into the next town we can make it to and treating ourselves to a motel”. 70 miles back to the nearest paved road, 45 more to the next little town. A motel with a hot spring inside it. Dinner at a Mexican restaurant. Margaritas as big as our heads. Shangrila. We sat next to a super talkative older couple, traveling together from Idaho to see their daughter in California, and they asked us the usual, where we were from, what brought us here, what we were doing. And we told them of the night at the bar with the spark and that, lo and behold, here we were. And the man said:

Let me tell you a secret. You think you have all the time in the world, that there’s lots of room for someday. But the future will be here before you know it. Someday is basically today. You can say you want to take that trip, see that person, someday. You can’t just say it, though, you’ve got to do it. And you know how you do it? Put it on the calendar. Any given day there are a thousand reasons why you can’t do or go or see, but if it’s on the calendar, then there it is. Now, you ladies ever find yourselves in Idaho Falls, you look us up. The Millers. John and Sally. You girls have a nice night.

We were doing it. This was someday. There will be a thousand other somedays. And we’ll put them on the calendar. #johnmillering.

A Bird in the Hand

IMG_0768Yesterday morning, just as the kettle began to rattle and sing for coffee, a bird came into the house. A little sparrow, a melodia, a song-sparrow, the kind with the delicately tiger striped tail feathers, the kind that came in the house last time when we had the downstairs window open all day to run the wire for the new antenna on the roof facing into the mountain shadow so Sweetheart and I could watch Jacques Pépin on the free PBS channel whose mascot is a dancing paper bag (oh the thrill of our bear muffin lives!), the same kind that Nipsey the cat caught in his mouth in 2.5 seconds like a jungle beast, the kind that Sweetheart liberated from the cat’s mouth while I squeezed shut my eyes and hopped in a circle almost crying saying “please fix it, please fix it” (and he did, the kind of bird that lived), you know, that kind of bird. In the house. He made a few mad circuits of the dining room and kitchen as I wildly shut the cat out and opened all the windows and doors and gently and firmly intoned “Bird, Bird, this way, this way”. The bird does not answer to Bird. The bird landed on the windowsill of the last closed window, sat there, and let. me. pick. him. up. I held the bird, with no birdlike tremor, just a tiny and soft warm little parcel, how brave, in my gentle paw for only as long as it took me to open the window, the screen, and set him on the porch in a patch of shade. I did not take his picture, for he was very real. He sat there, very still for a very long worrisome moment, and then took a deep breath and swooped off into the hedge. They are singing right now outside, the song sparrows, their wonderful looping and cascading trill, call-and-response. Is one of them him? The bird who I held in my hand? I do hope so.

The Tree Farm

ChristmasTreeGeese Back in the sun-drenched wilds of August, I met my dear friend Jennis at the brewery just up the road for a beer. It was one of those slant-light-hot-in-the-sun summer’s end late afternoon that feels endless and magical and lovely and surrounds everyone who basks in its light with an aura of possibility. Jennis had brought a friend and her partner and we spoke passionately about the proposed natural gas pipeline that will probably be destroying our valley soon and about history and land and watersheds and adventure and how to ride in a truck with dudes so they’ll take you seriously (good advice to have in one’s dungaree pocket) and somehow the conversation wound its way around to the family business in the wilds of the valley west of us: a Christmas Tree Farm! What an enterprise, what a place to grow up… what magic! So, we sat in the setting sun surrounded by good vibes lifting our glasses and saying: when it comes time for Christmas (which is most certainly impossibly far away) we’ll have to go to your farm to get our tree this year. And, as time moves ever swifter, this past weekend the moment was nigh, with a chill drizzle in the air, for us to hit the roads and head to the great river’s headwaters and grab bow saws, hanging all in a row from wooden pegs, and walk the fields full of soft-needled, bushy white pines (my favorite, and somewhat of a rarity), Jennis and her sweetheart and two excellent children, adept with saws and ideas and silent stalking like ninja-elfs (see below), discussing the necessary merits of the ideal tree: must not have too many holes (but cannot be too perfect), must be somewhat scraggly (but not too scraggly), must have adequate spots for larger ornaments, must also have adequate room for many presents, bonus points for a birds nest. Geese overhead, the air grey and misty and magical and lovely in its own blustery right, merry Christmas, and god bless ye hairy gentlemen, it’s time for hot toddys.

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The Good Light

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This is the view of the table from this past hen weekend. Birds, feathers, leathers, crystals, palo santo sticks, essential oils, craft supplies, champagne, and the dear paws of my best friends. Perfect timing for this, from Mama:

“The best friendships are like mirrors that show you in exceptionally flattering lighting.”

Thank you, dear ones, for always being my 6pm golden hour sunlight and never being a compact fluorescent.

 

The Hen Do

Fairy-Party

Ann Marie will be here any minute and we will depart today for the southlands. We’re heading to the deep lowland coast, hoping to find it dripping with Spanish Moss which will in turn be dripping with Champagne. I find myself, ahem, a Bachelorette. When we celebrated dear Meags, she sent us this article, comparing the British “hen do” with the tequila-shot-fueled furor of the modern American bachelorette party. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love tequila, I love the vibe of that article, and, most of all I love the thought of being able to use the fact of my bachelorette-hood as a fulcrum with which to reunite my most favorite ladies, to draw my dear ones like tides from various corners of the world to swell up together towards the moon and crash against the sandy shores of the low country. And the ladies got together without me and made a manifesto. So we will surround ourselves with wildflowers and crystals and bones and cook and eat and revel and wear feathers and eat peaches and swim and tie dye and anoint ourselves with oil and celebrate love and each other and, well, me I guess. We will hold the lion’s paw:

 

I hold the Lion’s Paw
Whenever I dance.

I know the ecstasy of the falcon’s wings
When they make love against the sky,

And the sun and moon
Sometimes argue over
Who will tuck me in at night.

If you think I am having more fun
Than anyone on this planet
You are absolutely correct.

But Hafiz
Is willing to share all his secrets
About how to befriend God.

Indeed, dear ones,
Hafiz is so very willing
To share all his secrets

About how to know the
Beautiful
One.

I hold the Lion’s Paw whenever I dance.
I know the ecstasy of your heart’s wings
When they make love against the Sky,

And the sun and moon
Will someday argue over
Who will tuck you in at
Night!

Hafiz, 1389

 

ever lovin’ Mama found that amazing image of the fairy party, I think it will be exactly like this, drinking out of flowers and toasting to the sky while a bug brings us refills.

Le Petit Déjeuner Sur My Lap

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After we piled the insane amount of things we brought across oceans into our absolument tiny Fiat Canc Cent (yes, people of Cannes, we too travel in a Yacht, a Fi-Yacht), our very first stop in France was one of those crazy-Euro-mall compounds that sells absolutely everything. Though these stores are sort of nightmarish and not at all the authentic-ancient-crumbling-stucco-boulangerie feel you hope for in France, they also have everything you need in one place (excellent if you require camp stove gas AND saussicon) and boast 500 foot long aisles of nothing but rosé.rosefordays

Our first shopping list was this: camp stove gas, corkscrew, sausage, cheese, bread, peaches, a strange spicy watercress, water, wine, and 4 small tin mugs for morning coffees and sodas de route. Armed with our tin cups, the corkscrew, and my trusty opinel, we proceeded to picnic our way across the countryside, spreading the tie-dyed towels Rav had sent us in a gay ladies care package to precede her arrival, breaking out the bread and covering absolutely everything in a fine scrim of baguette crumbs and sausage ends. Slanted sunset mugs in the backseat full of champagne and an antire wooden plateau of honeyed peaches in les Hautes Alpes, brimming with funky cider at 10 am, the perfect breakfast with the three cheeses in ascending pungencies (le goute!) purchased straight from the farmer in Erveden, dusky red wine with the hazelnut sausages of Dordogne, and all the beautiful baguettes we could stuff in our baguette holes. Nage tous le jours y Vive le pique-nique.cheesepeppercornsresearchpeachplateaucarchampagnefromagethreecheesemountainbreakfastpicnic2baguettedejunerdegorgeabbeypicnic

 

Les Filles Américaines Nage Tous Les Jours

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A very good song to sing when you are dipping your toes for the very first time into the surprisingly warm bright turqouise waters of a clue in the Hautes Alpes Maritimes or when you’re doing the run-in-a-figure-8-high-five-then-book-it-into-the-freezing-ocean that we first perfected on the beaches of Maine (but is equally as necessary in the chilly waters of Bretagne) or when you’re in a valley of waterfalls flowing under an old Roman Bridge or diving into a saltwater pool above Cannes or crossing a river of blooming flowers to get to an Ophelia cave… a good little chant to do with your ladyloves is this: Les Filles Américaines Nage Tous Les Jours. Sometimes chanted to the tune of Citizen Cope, sometimes spoken lustily in the style of Serge Gainsbourg, this is our mantra: The American Girls Swim Every Day. An ode to our friend, Daniel Start, who wrote the best book, Wild Swimming, that dictated our route every morning, our map annotated with places to swim and to sleep, the resting locales of ancient megalithes anointed with red wine and confirmed with a finger trace.

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Les Filles Américaines Nage Tous Les Jours. When your agenda is only dictated by whether or not you have time to go to the farther swimming spot or not before it gets dark (at 11pm) to get to the bar on the ancient stone square in time before it stops serving its savory crepes filled with caramelized onions and topped with an egg (at 10pm) and you need to set up your tent while there is still a shred of light (12am), then that is a day dictated by the good and pure impulses of the world indeed and you thank your lucky stars that you’ve chosen to live by the mantra (Nage Tous Les Jours) and that you’ve surrounded yourself with those of like mind (Les Filles Américaines) who are on your same page, who are most happy when wet bathing suits and plateaus full of ripe peaches and tin cups full of vin rouge festoon the backseat on the way to adventure. Les Filles Américaines Nage Tous Les Jours.

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many of these photos are from Mlle. AMR and Mlle. McKay, immortalized here.

Toujours.

tentvacheBACK. BACK. BACK. BACK. Oh la la and oh my my, mama, mama many worlds I’ve come since I first left home! Back in a whirlwind to New York, picked up by Sweetheart at the airport, immediately to New Park Pizza for the city’s most iconic slice (when you find yourself in Howard Beach…), and home to Virginia on the wings of a sailing sheepskinned jet lag, home to find the house totally overturned in anticipation of “holy moly we’re getting married, like, NOW, we’d better get this joint fixed up!”, the garden: NOT DEAD! and yielding 1 tomato, 1 yellow crookneck squash, and 1 costata romanesca squash. Heir. Loom. Cukes and Peppers greening and golding up, weeds and dust and vines covering everything like a redneck Miss Havisham. Infinite adventures to recount between now and then (and we’ll get there) but in the meantime, just want to send L.O.V.E. to this cow that McKay hired to wake us up in the Haute Pyrennes so that we could go swimming in that utterly freezing glacial snow-melt lake before coffee (watch the video here. BON JOUR!). photo 3As Ann Marie says: If Lac, Then Nage. And L.O.V.E. to these ladies, these women of adventure and grandeur who are at once so different than I and also so very much the same. It is one of the most sincere joys and pleasures there is to crease the map against its folds (I promise), eat the red diamonds, run through the crowd holding hands, be re-taught stickshift, receive energy barefoot in the farmer’s field, cover the car in flowers and honey, and make bread and wine and saussicon in the crumb filled scarf strewn backseat of a Fiat 500 with you all. Nage. Tour. La. Jours, ma biches.