Sunday, February 27, 2011

Facing the sun

This morning I look at my hands and think of all the things they've touched, all the things they've held, and I wonder how it is that I came to these riches, to this fortune in experience.

This cottage lies on an east-west axis: the front faces south, the back north. Two different climates, two different worlds. The front is bright and dry -- the roof is clear of snow and ice, the gravel driveway is wet with melt. Bare azaleas and lilacs peek through the shrinking snow bank abutting the road. A couple of weeks ago, a red-tailed hawk snatched a squirrel off the maple stump near the living room window and flew off across the lake as crows protested in the limbs overhead. This morning, cars go up and down the short block between County Road 638 and Lakeshore Drive West, as neighbors in wool caps walk their dogs and wave. Across the street, Sweet Lou is out assessing the damage to his roof from last Saturday's windstorm. The flashing around the chimney was torn off and some tiles are missing. Human beings are always doing something worth watching.

The backyard is cold and private. It lies in shadow -- on that side of the cottage, the roof still carries its burden of snow and tall icicles hang off the sagging gutters. They will need to be repaired come spring. I cleared a path off the deck around to the front walkway, but the rest is under at least a foot of glazed snow, hard-packed, impossible to budge.

It's not a big back yard -- let's say forty by a hundred-twenty -- but it never ceases to show me a new face each day: the oaks and locusts, the end-of-winter woodpile, the raccoon and deer, the stone wall with its ever-widening crack. The magnolia, the winterberries, the frozen birdbath. The metal hammock frame greener than a pine tree. Sometimes a curious jay will perch there. The canoe lies partially covered in sunlight at the far corner of the yard, out of shadow -- while in my mind, I glide across the sunlit water of June. I like to watch the wind get caught in the tarpaulin-covered patio furniture and the view of the lake through the pergola.

Now that the little red house on the adjacent property beyond the back fence is vacant, there is no human activity to be seen or heard. The young family who lived there were renters, they left more than a year ago and no one's moved in since. The squirrels and chipmunks prefer it that way. So do the cardinals, titmice, blue jays, and sapsuckers. And, in some ways, so do I. For no one can see me, lost in my thoughts, sitting at the window, just breathing. No one cares whether I have any thoughts at all.

I have tried hard to avoid the oncoming simile, but what else do I have but language to grip reality with? It's true, I am like the cottage -- wearing two faces, one outward toward the world of men, one inward toward the enclosed world of mind. I've tried not to make too much of a mess of it, the knitting together of these two dimensions, hoping to wear the appropriate expression on the proper occasion, depending on the direction I'm facing. But for you, you who have seen me in shadow, for you I have tried to turn and turn again, and face the sun.

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