The Last Time

Today marks the autumnal equinox and we’ve had a glorious September. Every ushering in of the early fall finds me in a restive state. This year I feel downright restless. I have stayed close to home and spend peaceful hours outside with my old girl, my 16-year-old cat Lizzie, watching her sunbathe. When it’s quiet – no lawnmowers, no electronic sound, we listen to nature. And Mother Earth is loud! The cacophony of crickets and cicadas and their music is mighty. How humbling to know that creatures so small make great noise.

This late summer/early fall I hear them saying to me: “Last time! Last time!” Their refrain fills me with an itchy feeling — it’s time to move on, go put down roots in a quieter cleaner place. The “last time” feeling also makes me think of Lizzie; I wonder is this the last summer we have, the last time we will sit and do nothing in the sunshine. She has days when she mostly sleeps and is low-energy, and then there are days when I find her jumping up on high window sills to watch the birds or the world pass by. It pulls at my heart – we are so fragile and so resilient at the same time. A mass of contradictions.

The clear warm sunny days with turquoise skies also remind me of the last early fall that my mother was still well enough to do things. I traveled to see my parents and we decided to go raspberry picking at a local farm. It must have been a weekday because we were the only ones in the fields, and the rows were situated to provide a wide vista of rolling hills and low mountains. I stood up from picking and looked at the view: my mother and father intent on their task. I knew that that would be our last time. The last time of normal fun activity — our remaining times revolved around sick rooms and hospitals.

I was corresponding with my friend MK who traveled by car cross country to return to college in California. He took his time and had the “experience.” His photographs are a beautiful travelogue. I shared my wanderlust feeling with him, and my science friend wrote this: “I believe everything will work out fine. I trust the universe, and its mechanisms. Ever since my move to the US it has always been by my side, bringing me one success/accomplishment/acquaintance after the other, and you are one of them. The one thing I do to make sure this rhythm stays in motion is wake up and take a few seconds to be grateful: for my feet that get me out of bed, hands that prepare my food, eyes that see, family, roof that houses me, etc.”

Well put. Here’s to a benevolent universe and to last times — and first times.

Clare

My True Ghost Story – I

I will describe, as best I can, two events that happened years apart which defy explanation. The common denominator is they both took place in a remote area of New England, in the same town, and they occurred in the month of October — one on Halloween night. It’s Native-American ground up there, you can sense it, and I don’t know if the town’s founding fathers respected that. I need to channel Stephen King; I cannot do it justice. He is the master. I’m thinking about the Mi’kmaq burial grounds in his writings. The names of places in my story are all Native-American too. We would find arrowheads in the woods, which we gave to the historical society; if a tribal elder was passing through, or we had an address, what we found was returned.

I was not a child who was afraid of the dark or had any issue with ghosts or monsters or things under the bed, so I tend to trust that my memory is reliable, if not definitive. I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other about believing, or not, in the supernatural, I am open to the idea and certainly there are things in this world that are mystifying.

The first encounter happened when I was around 10. I had come out to the town to visit a family I knew and Halloween fell during my stay. So, I went trick or treating with my friend Sara, her little brother Eddie, and her older brother Andy as our “escort.” There was a fair distance between houses, no lights on the road and it was pitch dark. Halloween began as one would expect, knocking on doors and getting candy. Then the weirdness crept up gradually like a music crescendo. By the fourth house, which was rickety looking – the local gossip was that the older couple who lived there were odd and creepy – an unearthly feeling fell. No one was home. Candy was left with a note on the porch, but everything was a mess like a creature had run riot. We surveyed the disarray and decided to leave without partaking, when we sensed that someone was watching us – that someone was home in the dark house staring. Even so, we shrugged it off and continued.

Next was a house we knew. A lovely restored barn owned by a glamorous couple who weren’t around much. Above the front door was a beautiful carved horse’s head – smooth and elegantly realistic. We were familiar with the aesthetic because the couple had a marvelous swing that went over a steep hill, and in the summer months we would play there. We rang the doorbell, there was no answer and the house was dark. All at once we looked up at the horse’s head which appeared to be looking at us and at something in the distance; the pale moonlight gave it an eerie cast. That was when we started to get jittery.

We set out to the next house which was far away. The back of the country club golf course was between us and our point of destination. We were walking on the side of the dark road where the soft hills of the golf course were and a fine mist was hovering. On the other side of the road was dense wood. Not a house in sight. We were walking, talking, goofing around. Simultaneously, it seemed, we all looked towards the golf course and saw a silvery tall and slender figure of a man in leather skins – in profile. I can still see the image – no color just the moiré effect of silver/grey that defined him. Andy yelled, “Run!” And we did. As we turned to look, the figure was running parallel to us with long strides and keeping up with ease. As this point we were frightened and we kept on running until we got to the next house (which was owned by a woman who locals claimed was a witch – I think that was because no one liked the family much and they had strange ways). When we approached the house, Eddie asked, “What was that?” No one answered him. As we reached the door it opened and spilled out a flood of light. We scrambled in and were greeted by the witch mom. She seemed to sense we were rattled and she had an slight smile at the corners of her mouth (did she know?). She made us welcome while Andy called their mom to come pick us up.

We never spoke of it. Ever. And we remained friends and in touch over many years, until our parents fell ill and passed. They moved away and started their adult lives. I often wonder what it was we saw. I am convinced it was not a person trying to mess with us, but what was it?

In the last couple of years, I have gone back to visit the town and other people I know there, and I hear from them and the local teenagers that there are still strange occurrences. One girl told me that due north, where the woods are even deeper and there are no houses at all, there is a “Suburban Legend” that has been around for a time. The land is owned by the state and there are reservoirs and nature preserves so it’s virtually uninhabited. Except for one abandoned house. The legend is that a family of “melon heads” lurk there. “What do you mean melon heads?” I asked. A head like a melon with no face, no eyes, nose, or mouth.

She was on the cheerleading squad and told me that they were heading to a game with one of the mothers driving a Suburban 10-seater on this stretch, and the car just stopped. Dead. For no apparent reason. Cell phone service there is spotty at best, but they survived unscathed. I can imagine the piercing screams and shrieks that were coming from the car as they were stuck there.

Now that would have scared off just about anything.

In respect to indigenous peoples, to the land they hold sacred, to the unknown, to the fact that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

Clare

Coming Soon – My True Ghost Story II – Housecleaning. And I don’t mean vacuuming!

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.

Black-eyed Susans 2016

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 school supplies are bursting off the store shelves.

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

Arctic Poppies

I haven’t seen in ages: lady slippers, blue bells, foxglove, oxeye daisies, honeysuckle.

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

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 too great to resist.

Bluebells & rustic chapel 2016

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….