Nana L died this summer. No no- you don’t have to screw your face into that expression and you can uncock your head and stop murmuring but thank you, I appreciate the sentiment. I grew up with Nana L, and when I said “my parents” I meant her and my mom, but as a late adolescent our relationship became fraught and difficult, and eventually as an adult settled into distant and polite. She became ill very suddenly and died within a few months. When I left for Alaska I was reconciled to never seeing her again, and spent the months between my arrival and when I flew home for the wake dealing with that, and all the other complicated emotions that arise when a difficult parent dies and you are far from home, and when she died I didn’t feel surprised or socked in the gut or anything like that, just a wistful relief that she wasn’t in pain or confused any more, that her anxieties were finally put to rest.
Grief often doesn’t come at once though. Weeks or months later it has a nasty habit of sneaking up on you and walloping you over the head.
Among other things that I’m doing, and other grand schemes I’m trying to realize, I have a house sitting/dog watching gig at a house right down by the water, and every day it affords me dozens of observations she would have loved, and which would have been safe topics of conversation.
For instance, almost every day when I’m walking the dogs I see a blue jay that seems to favor a particular bank of bushes. The woman, though an ornithological bigot, dearly loved birds (as long as they were not pigeons or crows.) I can hear her asking about the blue jay years later, and a lump rises in my throat.
I thought it would be nice, then, to write some observations she would have enjoyed, and hope that you, (or your nana) will enjoy them too.
I am sitting at the dining room table and to my right is a big picture window. The day is fading from dusk into gloaming so nothing is very distinct, but I can still make out the white caps on the water, and where the water meets Gravina Island, which is directly across the channel. The tops of the hills on Gravina are more or less obscured by fog and the sky is gray. It is one of the enduring mysteries of this place that it can be both blustery and foggy at the same time. A jetty pokes out into the water; it’s low tide and the bottom rocks are covered with a yellowy-brown seaweed called fucus. Tide differentials are commonly 15-20 feet in this part of the world, and since land drops sharply into the sea, quite a lot is exposed during low tide, and it’s a good time to go starfish spotting. It would be too dark now, though. As I write it’s gotten so dark the only things I see clearly are the tree in the yard- the wind is gusting at 30-40 miles and hour and the branches look in danger of ripping themselves off- and a lone gull playing with the thermals, who’s been going up and down but not forward or back for the past minute or so. In the gloaming light the gull seems to glow.
Sometimes from this window I’ve seen humpbacks out in the channel- a blow, or a fin- or what could be a sea lion or seal head. It’s hard to tell and I am not an expert.
The dogs I’m watching are a Husky bitch and some kind of Australian herding dog. They’re both rather elderly for their size, but, especially the herder, have a lot of energy and need long walks every day. The Herder, we’ll call him, should be given a small flock of ducks or something to tend, because he spends his days in a state of frustration, trying to herd me and his sister. He won’t let me out of his sight- I have to be quick with the door if I was to go to the bathroom by myself. As for the Husky, the other day I was quietly reading on the couch and I heard an unholy racket in the basement. My immediate thought was “Intruder! No, drunk intruder!” and I ran downstairs. An improperly closed door had flown open in the wind and a bird had gotten in, and the Husky just sat there on the floor, surrounded by feathers, with bits of bird smeared all over the room.
I walk them down the street once a day and around a lake once a day. At least, that’s the plan, but it’s all weather dependent. The trees that turn are just starting to turn and are very pretty, but fall colors are few and far between as Alders, Spruce and Hemlock are the dominant trees. I noticed as far back as September, though, that certain mosses turn orange and brown in the fall. There is a Japanese Maple in front of a house down the lane that makes me think of home. The days are mostly very grey and dark now, and against the dark green shrubs that surround it, under a low sky and in underwater light, its red leaves seem to be lit from within.
It’s dark now, and all I can see from the window is my computer screen, and a desk lamp under a bearskin on the wood-paneled wall behind me, and the Herder on a couch he knows he’s not supposed to sit on, so I’ll go.
Yours as ever,
(What follows are various views from the porch and the yard, and one very naughty dog who seems rather proud of her misdeeds.)