Remembrance of Things Past – The School by the Park

I hope everyone is having a merry time visiting family, traveling and relaxing, as we round the turn to the closing of the year. I too have been enjoying this time. Simultaneously, I can’t help but think about all the people I love – family, friends, loves – who are not gathering around my table any longer. I do miss them but I am blessed to have the memory of these exceptional souls.

This feeling was solidified when I was searching The New Yorker website for an article, and accidentally came upon a wonderful piece by Muriel Spark. She was the Scottish writer best known for the novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The essay is entitled “The School on the Links,” and it is a non-fiction look back at the girls school and teacher who inspired Spark’s book. Like all her work it is flawlessly executed, beautiful, funny, poignant and wise. It’s definitely worth reading. Spark describes the school and her friends, recalling the thrill of learning new things, and the fascination and speculation of her teachers’ private lives, particularly her exhilarating Miss Kay on whom Jean Brodie is based. 

I went to a small private girls school, eons after Muriel Spark and it wasn’t in Scotland, but here in the States. It also wasn’t on the links, but it did face an exquisite historic park. Even so, there are elements in common that are eternally true: school “chums,” everything and everyone seeming, to us, to have a sex appeal charge. Most importantly, the appreciation, even while young, of the “grown-ups” in our lives and their endearing qualities. I think of what was once my somewhat large family: high-spirited, vital, courageous, trail blazers, smart, funny, and dare I say it – quite glamorous. Of course none were perfect, not by a long shot. But I do know this, the world isn’t as interesting with them not in it. They all added more than a splash of sparkle to the world. I think too of my one true love, the love of my life – my immortal beloved who left this world too soon. One by one they passed over, some way too young, some after long illnesses, and some at a good old age.

A number of years ago, at that point it was just my father and I who remained. I remember we were outside in a parking lot or someplace random. I think we had run into each other (we lived in adjoining towns), and we were chatting about this and that. I think I adored my father most of all – he had such lovely ways about him. As the conversation, which I cannot remember, wound down my father was laughing and shrugging his shoulders, wearing his sweet shy smile that was completely disarming. And then he said, “Let’s face it Clare, you’re the last of the Mohicans.” I thought it was amusing, and now, at this vantage point, those words echo often in my mind and I see how true and how right he was. 

Ram Dass says, “We’re all just walking each other home.” I like that. But as I look at the road forward, I can’t help but at times look back. Over the past few years my memories have taken on an appropriate hue, and I can think about all that was and smile, laugh and be so deeply grateful for the knowing of them all. What I owe the ones I love is beyond evaluation.

In The New Yorker article, Spark wraps up her story, “It was sixty years ago. The average age of those high-spirited and intelligent men and woman who taught us were about forty; they were in their prime. I cannot believe that they are all gone, all past and over, gone to their graves, so vivid are they in my memory, one and all.”

Clare Irwin

Summertime & Driving Barefoot

Old Tracker July 2016

Old Tracker July 2016

There’s that end of summer feeling in the air. The sounds and colors have adjusted themselves, the birds are quieter, and the green of the trees is less intense — a little faded. I hear more crickets, cicadas and katydids than birdsong. I discovered a beautiful green grasshopper on my porch yesterday afternoon. Soon I’ll have a cricket in the house; they always manage  to sneak in. I love this time, I appreciate more the preciousness of each sunny day and clear blue sky. You can sense the fleetingness of it — that it’s nearly over. It’s getting darker earlier. We had a glorious orange moon last week  — a harbinger of autumn’s harvest moon. I know there is still summer left, and with a little luck we’ll enjoy an Indian summer well into September and October. The vibe has changed too. You see more kids around, families are back from vacation, and the schools supplies are bursting off the store shelves.

Black-eyed Susans 2016

Black-eyed Susans 2016

I relish the flowers of late summer: black-eyed Susans, dahlias, phlox, and asters. It’s been a banner summer for roses, which were earlier in the season, and lately for hibiscus the largest I have ever seen. They are the size of Frisbees! I’ve seen some wild flowers I haven’t seen in ages: lady slippers, blue bells, foxglove, oxeye daisies, honeysuckle.

Bluebells & rustic chapel 2016

Bluebells & rustic chapel 2016

I was talking to a friend of mine who lives in Greenland and she sent me a photo of Artic Poppies — I didn’t know there was such a variety and they grow wild there.

Artic Poppies

Artic Poppies 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the cooler air approaches and sandals and flip flops are no longer practical I am really going to miss driving barefoot. This used to make my father crazy. My mother did it, and then with each female of the family acquiring her driver’s license the magnetic attraction of feeling the metal of the pedal was just too great to resist. I’ve noticed over the years that a few of my women friends do it too. Maybe everyone does it, I don’t know, but often they sheepishly admit to it. Why, I wonder. But once everyone cops to it, it’s like we all know the secret handshake — our little club. Driving barefoot, and going barefoot is a part of summertime, the tactical sensual pleasure of feeling things under your feet — the gas or brake pedal, the clutch, cool grass, the sand. As children we went barefoot all the time, nothing bad ever happened. I guess we were lucky. It was nice being free of shoes, it was another layer of the structured part of the year that we could shed.

Sunrise on Lake Placid 2016

Sunrise on Lake Placid 2016

The end of summer makes me nostalgic for past summers, joyful, carefree times. As the season rolls up I would like to think that we can put a drop of summer in our pockets and carry it with us through the ensuing seasons.

Clare Irwin

P.S. Zinnias, and Nepeta (catmint) — banner year for them as well….