We round the bend toward Flagstaff – or so it seems – and the gorse and fur of the dessert plains suddenly rise into a trio of blue mountains. We pass through them and it is as if that little ridge has buffeted the sagebrush and behind its fortress they have learned to grow into towering pines. The alteration in the landscape is remarkable; as strange as the moment the red, clay cliffs and round green shrubs of New Mexico gave way to the pale, flat lands of “the big country” as Connie-the-injured-cowboy called it. Winding farther on we are suddenly in the midst of a full blown forest, then a clear mountain lake and then our campsite tucked far and away, so serene that when the wind bends the tall trees it makes the music of the ocean.
Yesterday I stood on a bluff in the hill country of Texas and surveyed the stark reality of a forest trying to recover from the fire it sustained half a dozen years ago. I took a picture of bright green leaves growing from the center of a charred stump and felt a lyrical grief for the spirits of the trees. They were so graceful in their creamy baldness, as if they had survived chemotherapy and lived to tell about it. Beside them, an adolescent deer blinked at us from the side of the road as we headed down into camp.
Earlier that day, in the city of Austin, I watched a proud grakle perch himself on the metal railing next to our table; he was shiny and dark, with a magnificent tail and a crooked left foot that jutted, unusable, out to his side. Then today, a huge buzzard flew over the long rolling road of red and green, encircling a road-kill raccoon; I could see the definition in its fur.
Life and death, it would seem, flourish simultaneously all around me.
I noticed this today, more than others perhaps, because of yesterday’s tragic news. Our son’s fiancé is a nanny and one of the little girls she has nurtured over the past year was in a tragic drowning accident and will not survive. I don’t know any of the details because my soon-to-be-daughter-in-law was not present, but the reverberations of their pain have washed over me like the hot, dry wind that blows us westward.
I have given birth four times and have attended others as a doula and I can tell you that births hold a mysterious connection to death. The scent of blood and amniotic fluid mixed with the low guttural groans of labor give way to that miraculous moment when a child emerges from the dark recesses of what seems like death. I have also attended deaths. Two. And the midwifing of a soul into the next life is a miracle akin to birth. But though life and death seem inexorably intertwined I simply cannot fathom what it would be like to lose a child. It is out of order. Nonsensical.
Todd and I are loving our son and his fiancé from the road, checking in when we have internet and trying to be a grounding force in the midst of this storm; we have plans to meet them in the Rocky Mountains in a week or so, but we have no idea what will happen now. For the most part we have carried on with our trip. I have taken photographs and posted our adventures in unfamiliar places, but the shock of this loss for my daughter-in-law-to-be has left me with a keen eye for the other deaths around me. Death is everywhere. As is life.
I believe we are created as eternal beings for whom death is simply an egregious error—and yet the cycle of living and dying permeates the very nature we belong to. Winter precedes spring; death, new life. It is a curious dichotomy, this rhythm that shapes us. It has been said that we cannot know light without first knowing darkness, so perhaps these deaths, that suffering, those losses, offer a foil for the light of our eternal beings.
Tonight the forest sings it so.
Somewhere In The Middle Of Nowhere In Louisiana I Thought Of You
Sugar cane, white bungalow gone grey
a shack. I turn
the page in the story I read your father
and there you are
perched like a picture in someone else’s book.
Words scrawl sideways across the pale in disarray
as if the poet meant it that way
I’m sure he did
Southern humidity hangs
weighted with summer. I imagine
you and your girl
sliding those silver Rockies down to the bay
pink with sunset
planning your tomorrows
beside that marble mansion. Candy clouds
close the chapter
childhood sinks, you rise
break the surface with your breath
nimble feet pump, kick. Laughing and proud
swimming like the weeki-wachee mermaids.
Softer than a siren she sings
calls your name in a way
only you can hear from sea-green eyes
only you can read.
I read it too
somewhere in the middle of nowhere
passing Abbeville, stopping for bacon at a quick store
photographing the swamp, the cypress knees, the moss
and just like that I know for sure you are gone.
The book of literary wonders, long forgotten, sits slack in my lap
I watch your father drive
through fields of sugar cane
sweetness on every side. I finger memories
of him at your age
how he turned when I called his name
swam to me
through pink waters beneath the moon.
…so I left you last with a musing about “the reality of the yes” in which I wondered how Todd and I would fare on our month-long wilderness adventure (okay there’s a bathhouse at our campground and a/c in the tiny trailer). Those of you who know us well know our love story and our compatibility and how we partner in everything from parenting to fiction writing, but I am a champion when it comes to anxiety…and so we had to make a stop at my therapist’s before leaving town. “Well,” she said about my anxiety over how we would handle conflicts on the road, “We’ll find out.”
We rolled into St Andrews State Park on the bay of Florida’s panhandle last night at 6pm. Plenty of time to set up camp on a beautiful site, right on the water.
Trailer situated. Check. Galley set up. Check. Firewood. Check. Attachment for the pahaque tent that perfectly connects to our tiny trailer so that we can leave the door open for our 70lb golden retriever so that he does NOT share the queen mattress that takes up the entire floor of the tiny trailer….not included.
We bought the tent used from the nicest guy and he just forgot the other bag in his closet. 450 miles away.
At this point the Florida bugs are making an appearance, a storm is approaching, and we have a gaping hole in our trailer/tent system. A windy squal whips up and Todd and I jump into action without hesitation. Together we jerry-rig the $300 custom tent ($450 new) to our tiny trailer door. Working in tandem, with nary a cross word, we finagled, suggested–and together, we improvised a way to make a place for Bo beside us. We were a dance.
Later–after grass fed steak, risotto, and a salad of local cukes and tomatoes made from the back of our trailer–as we lay side by side inside this month’s home, I let myself relax and breathe, with Todd, with myself, with god.
Last night could have held an argument from which we recovered, but the touch of the divine was gentle–it chose to offer me a tender start, one that made it impossible to forget that Todd and I have been doing this for 31 years. Working together. Making a home. Dancing under the trees.
…from my “musings” page on stacybarton.com you can hear about our travels in the tiny trailer – however, for pictures Tune in to @bartonstacy on Instagram or bartonstacy on Tumblr!
…was something my friend alice and i started saying some years ago. it’s the gulp-that-comes-after…that feeling of “oh shit, now what?” the reality of the yes.
today’s yes–one of them–is that my husband made it 30 years in the school system and we are blessed with the yes of his retirement as a school teacher. with politics and everyone certain our failing education system is the fault of the teachers, i wasn’t sure he’d make it and was half afraid he’d drop dead the day he retired. but as it turns out, he’s fine. so we bought a tiny trailer and in a few days we head out west for nearly a month “to look for america.” in 31 years of loving, living and raising four kids, we’ve only ever had one, week-long vacation alone. our 20th wedding anniversary when our baby was 10. she turned 21 this year.
that’s great, right? so many people have said, “you’re living my dream.”
one time, years ago when the kids were little, i was attending a PTA sponsored “boot scootin’ bbq” on the lawn of the elementary school. a woman with acrylic nails and palm-tree pants responded to my comment that when todd and i retired, he’d be fishing and i’d be writing. she said in disgust, not knowing that was much of what we already did, “you’ve been reading too many nicholas sparks books.” i hadn’t, in fact, read any, and it took a day or two to realize she thought i was in la-la land.
fast forward a decade: todd is retired and we are traveling america while i write in the shotgun seat. a few disney scripts, some treatments, a travel blog and certainly some human-geography-inspired fiction.
the reality of the yes. i made it to today. to this yes. i’m 52. the kids are grown and gorgeous, making their own way, finding their own paths in mind, body and spirit. todd and i are finally alone. heading west. seeing america like a couple of teenagers in “eddie the love wagon.”
herein lies the gulp. what will that be like?
todd and i are delightfully compatible. we can sit in the quiet, talk about life and words and things of the spirit. but we have never spent a month, day-in-day-out, alone in each other’s presence. straight up. no ice. just neat. and on the brink of this new adventure i wonder if the reality of the yes will not be neat. perhaps it is bound to be a bit messy, a little like those early years when we fought over how to tie the garbage bags. a couple of kids starting over, heart to heart, wading even deeper into the reality of the yes.
so todd and are about to embark on a nearly month-long road trip in our little eddie…our own version of a tiny house…and i thought i’d take a poll to see what topics ya’ll would like to hear me muse over while i am away. all of my thoughts seem to center around the words of simon & garfunkel, “all gone to look for america.” but here are a few other ways to focus my daily log:
- road tripping with our golden
- “tiny trailer” camping escapades
- story recipes from local fixings (in eddie’s back-hatch galley)
- poetry inspired by unfamiliar lands
- spiritual visions and meditations recounted
- flash fiction based on new locales
- …other ideas?
and now i will hit “publish” and see if i successfully set this site to transfer to my new little pet blog which i THINK you can find under bartonstacy on tumbler.com… let me know…or if it is easier to just post it here and FB…
I’m sitting still; they are talking. I see their mouths move, but no meaning comes. I am quivering. I want to jump from my seat, yell, maybe run. At least hop on one foot. But I sit and try to take a breath. It is small, as small as I. I. I worry about things: the siren, the rain on the street, what everyone else is doing in the world. Somewhere someone is starving; someone else is writing a song; on the corner a homeless man waits. I am sitting at a white table in an aqua chair. I forget if I have a body and tremble like a spirit instead. I am just a vibration, an idea, a small bit of fear. Darkness hovers; I should do something. Get busy. Hurry. Be useful. I go into the kitchen and unload the tiny dishwasher. It is easy to find where things go. I wash the skillet from breakfast, put our dishes in the washer, wipe the counter with my palm (we used the last paper towel yesterday) and stand. From my bubble I wonder what is happening, why I feel this way. Through the clouds their laughter comes and I return, scoot my aqua chair and sit again. I count my breath in threes, like a waltz, and slow my core vibration. Their words slide into focus. I join them. We talk and laugh but my inside self still feels like bands of rubber breaking.