The Journey Back, and Forward: My August Confession

And the starlings, they were flying earlier today

Doing their maneuvers, clouds of feathers on display

Makes me want to kneel in prayer, but I’ve forgotten what to say

I’ll just name all the birds in Ohio.

-Over the Rhine, All Over Ohio

August is a month of perseverance. People wait for drawn-out change: for school to start back up, for the heat to break, for one season to wind down and another to begin. In many ways September feels like the start of a new year, more than January.

In early August, we drove across the country. We took a new route, and went slow, stopping at most of the places we wanted to along the way. A freshly vacuumed, wiped and organized van gave way to chaos and crumbs and stickiness. Energetic parents slowly lost their steam. Kids came up with more energy. This is how August goes.

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We crossed Ohio and sang along loud with Over the Rhine, in honor of their home state, with the added goodness of rain on the windshield.

We slipped down into Missouri and spent a few days in St. Louis, gazed at the view from the top of the Gateway Arch, splashed in the fountains at City Park, ate gooey butter cakes from Park Avenue Coffee and chugged gallons of water to keep up with the humidity.

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We played the audio version of Little House in the Big Woods in preparation for a trip to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s house in Mansfield, Missouri. I stepped through her house, which we learned was built over seventeen years, beginning as a one-room cabin with no windows, and enjoyed all the expressions of beauty throughout. How did people come to know that if you embroider a red bird on your pillowcase, it will add value to your life? Or that a well-placed window can change the course of your day?

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The kids would not have any of my slowness as we toured the property, so I took it all in quickly and tucked it away, and ode to some of the magic of my childhood. The tour guide mentioned that Laura, at least in part, probably had such skill in describing things because she had to be her blind sister’s “eyes and ears” from the time she was a young child onward. I think she also probably learned the value of beauty, which requires paying attention, from her parents. Visiting her home felt like a sweet pilgrimage, and I remembered listening to the words of all of her books in my mother’s voice, all of us propped up on pillows at bedtime. Some books are more than stories; some books shape how you see the world.

After Missouri came the drive across Kansas. I expected it to be long and tedious but it really wasn’t. The rolling grass and repetitive cornfields were comforting and even, beautiful. The sky took up more space than before.

Then, down into Colorado, for a visit with my brother who’s stateside now and starting a new chapter of his life. It is a joy to watch him be an uncle to my children. They have fun, and I just stand back and watch, and it’s good. I can’t imagine a more perfect place than Colorado for him. He introduces me to good beer and talks about his many outdoor adventures, and I am happy to see him this way.

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After our visit, it’s down down down into New Mexico. The forests get scrubby and the terrain gets rough, and we need shoes on our feet now because the weeds fight to protect themselves. Grass is pokey, but it finds a way to survive on very little water. We meet friends for lunch in a park in Albuquerque and talk about all the new things that are happening.  We crawl into the driveway of Ricky’s mother’s house late that night, met with hugs, kisses, beds and cold water. The kids are thrilled about having a pool in the backyard and use it almost every day.

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In the days to come, we have to find a place to live, make final arrangements for schools, and try to adjust to the sun’s brightness (this still hasn’t happened, completely). Nicky begins fourth grade; Silas and Aimee both begin preschool. We wake up early, drive an hour and a half to drop everyone at his and her school, Ricky finds a place with WiFi to work (homes of generous friends, mostly). This is a whole new world, and it includes mornings to myself. It occurs to me that I haven’t had any consistent, predictable time to myself in over eight years. It feels odd but I have no complaints.

Even with errands and the usual moving headaches, I have more time to be still. I start coloring and sketching out mandalas, inspired by a friend’s beautiful work. My freehand mandalas are for my eyes only (mostly they’re bad) but I enjoy seeing how they take form. I buy an instructional drawing book, and start making my way through the lessons. Nicky and I do this together a lot; it becomes a ritual I look forward to. We surprise ourselves with good drawings and with really bad ones, too. I learn about proportion; I am just beginning.

There are a lot of “I’ve always wanted to” ideas floating around right now. There is the fleeting newness and sense of possibility that fades and so must be used while it is there. We find a charming adobe house for rent downtown, walking distance to many things. I go to the gym and stop by friends’ houses for lunch. Ricky signs us up at the food co-op and talks about hiking. I see him riding his bike one day, coffee cup in one hand, and he doesn’t see me. This sight makes me happy, makes this feel right.

Moving back was a hard decision, one I’ve second-guessed many times in the month of August. The desert is so much brighter than I remember. I borrow very dark sunglasses from my mother in law, and that helps my headaches. We are tired on many levels, but we lie down under fans in darkened rooms, and that helps. Ricky and I sneak out for ice cream after the kids are asleep, and the night air helps too. The daily beauty of mountain and sky and greened-up desert helps, and the feeling that we’re all in this together helps, and dreaming about what we will do here helps.

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And, naming helps. All the trees in my backyard, all the people that I love, all the mountain ranges I see, all the shades of blue in the sky.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Journey Back, and Forward: My August Confession

  1. Norissa

    Hey, Em, just wanted to say I enjoyed reading about your trip (Yay for Ohio! I miss it much…) I am craving art, too, these days. I just want to spend my days creating…but if I can get five minutes in, that’s good. You’ve inspired me, as well as a book I got at the library–Everyday Matters, by Danny Gregory–it’s a graphic memoir compiled from his sketching journal– he talks about how drawing helps him really see. Makes me think of the naming.

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