It’s easy for me to forget what things were like a year ago. But the uncertainty and fear came back to me today when I went to the Cambridge Co-op to work a monthly shift after not being able to for over a year.
It was just yesterday, that the Co-op along with many businesses in New York State took down their mandatory mask signs.
I remember at the beginning of the shutdown, shopping at the Co-op and crying, thanking Kelly and Stephanie for being there. I didn’t even know what the new manager’s face looked like under her mask until today.
Things are different than they were the last time I worked. But that’s not unusual, the Co-op is always shifting and changing. A year ago I would have been running the register, chatting with all the customers. Today I was packing out the weekly order before the store opened.
It only took me a few minutes to feel at home there again.
Working alone in my studio, I appreciate the few hours a month working with other women. I told Pam I missed her cackle (she has the best cackle I’ve ever heard) and I loved being able to work alongside Kelly who has grown into the Co-op with an ease that I haven’t seen many people do.
As I walked into the Co-op this morning I thought about how last summer I sat outside the back door under the umbrella, using pebbles to keep track of the five people allowed in at a time. For a long time, I’ve felt a special connection to our Co-op, but that connection has new meaning after the past year. The people who work there demonstrated a commitment to the community that was heroic.
I don’t need to relive the fear I was feeling a year ago, but I also don’t want to forget all the people who worked so hard to help the rest of us stay safe and have food to eat.
Sweet is the word that comes to mind when I think about Friday night at Bishop Maginn’s Prom.
A month before Sue asked me to make sure that Jon would be there. I didn’t know what they were doing but did know there would be a special thanks to him and the Army of Good for all the help they’ve given the school.
And then when Sue announced that Zinnia would be the prom queen there really was no choice but to be there.
Because of covid restrictions, the banquet was held outside. A big tent was set up in front of the school in Albany. There were tables with favors at each setting. Some of the families made the food. There were chicken empanadas and sweet plantains, enchiladas, barbeque meatballs, and macaroni and cheese.
There was dancing in the gym.
Jon and the Army of Good raised much of the money to make this prom happen. They also raised so much of the money that kept the school going during the pandemic.
And it didn’t go unnoticed.
Although Zinnia was in the spotlight, the appreciation from the teachers and the students to the work that Jon, and the Army of Good did was an important part of the evening. Sue presented Jon with a yearbook, signed by students and teachers. On the first pages were a dedication to both Sue and Jon and the Army of Good.
But the evening was special beyond all of this.
It was the feeling that surrounded the small school and its students. It’s in the way the students interact with each other and the teachers. There’s respect and appreciation for each other and their differences. There is a sense of all being welcome and the kindness was visceral.
Sue will once again have a summer art class at the school so the kids have a place to go if they need. One of the things they’ll be doing is make a quilt, which I hope to help her with. And Jon is going to teach a blogging class.
I still get choked up when I think of Friday evening and how sweet it was. I’ve never experienced a school like Bishop Maginn. My whole life I’ve heard horror stories about Catholic schools from the kids who went to them. I’m sure there are good ones, but, being raised Catholic, I never imagined I’d be associated with one.
If I’d held on to my prejudices about Catholic Schools, I would have missed out on knowing the very special teachers and students who make this school possible.
The dedication to Jon and the Army of Good from The Bishop Maginn Year Book…
“Mr. Jon Katz. We would also like to make a special dedication to Mr. Jon Katz, his service dog Zinnia, and the entire Army Of Good. The combined support of Mr. Katz and the Army of Good have given us so many opportunities and access to supplies we otherwise would have gone without. From classroom supplies to social events and helping support student’s personal interests and lives, they have never left us in need. Their generosity and support serve as role models for all of us in living our faith. Last school year, Mr. Katz gave a writing seminar to help students learn the principles of creative writing and unwind with Zinnia in the middle of a hectic school day. We cannot thank him enough for the knowledge he imported and the stress he helped alleviate. Student’s days are always brightened with Mrs. Silverstein announces that Mr. Katz and Zinnia will be coming! There is an incredible light that Mr. Katz always brings us and we thank him for all his support, generosity, and kindness during our time at Maginn.”
Fate and Zinnia run under the Japanese Honeysuckle ahead of me. It’s the perfect height for them, but I’d have to crawl to get through it. I’ve been ducking under that bush for years, it’s one of the archways that lead me further into the Orphaned Woods. But now it’s lower than usual.
When I get closer I see the dead branch that fell on top of the bush pushing it down. It’s only as I reach to remove the branch that I see the robin’s nest and four bright blue eggs.
The blue is like neon among all the spring greens that color the woods. I can’t take my eyes off them. For the first time, I wonder why they are so blue. Then I snap out of it. The mother must be nearby, waiting for me to leave. I take a picture and walk carefully around the bush.
That was a few days ago.
Today I’m laying on the couch spending my time reading and sleeping. My stomach is queasy and I’m too tired to do much more than feed the animals and throw the fabric that Judy and Fran sent me into the washer and dryer.
I tell myself that if I rest today, I’ll feel better tomorrow. And I believe it.
I’m halfway through Suzanne Simard’s book Finding The Mother Tree, Discovering The Wisdom Of The Forest. It’s a memoir about Simard’s discoveries of how the trees in the forest are connected by a network of fungus that transport nutrients, minerals, and water between them.
I don’t get all the science, but I do get the essence of what she is writing about.
It’s because of this book that this year I planted the ten saplings that I got from The Arbor Day Society in the woods close to other trees instead of in a clearing as I’ve done in the past.
The place I chose for them is in a grove of young Hornbeam trees. Their smooth bark is so like the stretched muscles of an athlete that they always seem to be in movement to me. The soil beneath them is moist and rich. I planted a couple of the seedlings in the humus of a fallen birch.
I never thought of how seedlings grow in the shade of the trees around them. That they need sunlight, but not a pounding sun. And now I know that the saplings have a better chance of surviving when their roots grow mycorrhizal fungus which connects them to the roots of other trees and helps nourish them and even find water under the ground.
It is this network of fungus that all those mushrooms that I found in the woods last year grow from.
As I lay on the couch, reading about the old-growth forests in the mountains of British Columbia, I’m thinking of the woods behind the farm.
Tomorrow when I’m feeling better and I’m watering the saplings I’ll be wondering if they’re growing that life giving fungus on the tips of their roots. And I’ll be thinking about the world below my feet as well as the one above.
Good company, cake and singing. That’s what Jon Katz Day at The Mansion was like.
There was a homemade cake for us people and homemade treats for Zinnia. Debbie played the piano for the first time in over a year and we sang along, through our masks to songs like You Are My Sunshine and Blue Moon.
Not everyone could attend at one time because of social distancing, so people came and went in shifts.
I got to see Madeline for the first time in a long time. Madeline, who is in her nineties, is a singer and although her memory can be fuzzy, she knows all the words to all the songs.
There was no ceremony or speeches, just a sweet coming together of people, Mansion style.
My allergies work me up early this morning. It was easier to get up than stay in bed sniffling and sneezing.
Also, we got our first delivery of wood last night and I was on fire to move last year’s wood into the woodshed so I could stack this year’s wood as it comes. We get it delivered a cord at a time and I don’t like it to pile up.
I didn’t get all the old wood moved, but I got a good start.
I’ve come to really enjoy stacking wood. I have a running story that goes through my head when I do. There’s no plot or narrative, just moments in a woman’s life who lives alone on a small farm. Unlike me, she keeps to herself and doesn’t fret over her decisions. There are things about her that I admire and some things that I find sad. Often I put her in situations that I’ve had to deal with to see what she’ll do.
She’s always braver than I am and more detached.
I guess this running story is a way of contemplating my own life, and it also gives my mind something to do as I stack the wood.
Everyone who wanted to hear a story was outside on the porch when I got to the Mansion yesterday. Even though I wasn’t going inside and everyone was wearing masks, I still had to have a rapid covid test. Once the results came back negative, I too sat on the porch and Zinnia laid down next to Claudia.
Usually Jon reads at The Mansion on Tuesdays, but he had an appointment so I was taking his place.
Earlier in the morning, I scanned our books looking for something to read. I’ve noticed that most people like stories about animals, and they spark conversation. And I know I’ll read a story better if I’m interested in it too.
First I chose Helen MacDonald’s essay “Nothing Like A Pig“, about wild boars.
It had some interesting facts, was light and at times funny. After that I read Mary Oliver’s poem “Riprap“.
That was met with silence.
Maybe it was too long and winding, but it had a rhythm like a Walt Whitman poem which to me moves like a stream or a gentle wind so maybe people were at least lulled by it.
The story I read from “Pioneer Women” by Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith about Mattie Silks, a Madame in the late 1800s in Colorado got the most response. Everyone had something to say when I read that she and another woman had a duel over a man and the man was the only one who ended up getting shot. He survived and then Mattie married him.
I’m not sure if these were the best choices of books to read. But Jon always says that what really matters is that someone shows up. That it means something to the people who live at The Mansion and don’t have families who visit. That we keep coming back.
I used to feel guilty about going to The Mansion but not visiting my own mother so often. I still feel the echoes of that sometimes. But mostly I believe that we all have to do what we can. I don’t go to The Mansion out of obligation, but because it’s a good thing to do and I enjoy it.
If I can show up for someone else’s mother when they can’t, maybe someone will show up for mine when I can’t.
The hot air is soft and round. It rolls past the open door of my studio and I want to open my windows and let it flow in from all sides. But that would mean taking off my storm windows and I want to concentrate on getting my Koi quilt finished.
The chicks peck the ground and rest in the shade in their crate outside my studio window. I can’t see them, but I know the sheep and donkeys are in the shade of the polebarn.
A fly urgently hums in my window. Bud reaches for it with a snap of his teeth when it buzzes past him out the door.
Seeds surf the hot breeze, the pollen attached to them swell my eyes and make me sneeze repeatedly.
Summer is over a month away. Summer is here, at least for the day.
My studio is still cool because my windows are closed. I pull the needle through the three layers of cloth on my Koi quilt again and again and again. My long stretches of yarn and punctuation where I’ll knot them seems to mimic the space between the cars passing by on Route 22.
Eventually, all the dogs find their way into my studio. Stretched out on the cool floor, they doze, their breath even and silent, compared the prick and puck of my needle and yarn poking its way through my Koi quilt.
“Those who have a chickadee as a totem will learn to express the truth in a manner that heals, balances, and opens the perceptions. Truth is shared in a manner that adds cheer and joys to your own life and the lives of others”. Ted Andrews “Animal Speak”
The little wooden birdhouse was on my studio when I moved in. I always imagined it was made by Harold Walrath who had a workshop in the old School House after it was moved to the farm in the 1960’s.
One year, a bird made a nest on top of the birdhouse and hatched a bunch of babies. But I’ve never seen a bird make a nest inside the house.
I was working on my Koi quilt when I heard some noise behind me. There on my studio window, sitting on the rock between the little carved donkey and howling wolf was a chickadee. She was holding some dried grass in her beak. The bird looked so natural sitting on my window sash, the same size as the wooden elephant on the opposite end, for a moment I thought she was there intentionally.
All it took was the slightest movement from me to spook her into trying to get out through the glass window. She only bumped around for ten seconds or so before finding her way out the open door.
By the time I got out the door myself, the chickadee was already sitting in the doorway of the birdhouse on my studio, the makings of a nest still in her beak. In a moment she disappeared through the small round hole.
Whenever an animal enters my life in an unusual way, I turn to Ted Andrew’s book Animal Speak, to see if I can find meaning in its visit.
I read that the chickadee’s black cap is associated with thinking and the bird itself with truth. Andrews writes “…it also enables us to express the truth more joyfully within our own life”.
That idea struck me.
It made me realize how I often associate telling the truth with being difficult, as something that will inevitably hurt someone.
Recently I told my mother a truth that I avoided saying for so long because I knew it would hurt her. But by not saying anything, with my silences and excuses, I was hurting her in another way.
“I don’t know which is worse,” I said to her through tears. “To tell you or not, but at least what I’m saying is the truth”. And then I let her know that I didn’t visit her more often because when I do I suffer terrible panic attacks. She didn’t ask any questions and said she only wanted me to be happy and she appreciated my phone calls.
I was grateful to hear that.
I don’t know if my truth-telling was better for my mother or not. But for me, speaking my truth freed me of an obligation that had become unbearable. And as sad as that truth is, now at least we could talk more freely, the question of how often I visit, no longer the elephant in the room, an unspoken secret.
Speaking this truth was a way of me putting myself and my needs above my mother’s. It was a way of protecting myself and after I had done it, I felt both a strength and a softening inside of me.
I don’t have to be on the defensive or silent anymore.
And perhaps I can be more honest in smaller gentler ways instead of big dramatic ones.
For Mother’s Day, I sent my mother a card with flowers on the front and inside the words “I couldn’t have picked a better mother”. I never would have sent a card with that message in it before, because I wouldn’t have meant it.
But this year I did mean it. Not because she’s perfect, but because my mother, being who she is, helped to make me who I am.
And for the first time in my life, I like who I am.
This doesn’t change the past or how it affects me today. But because I’m more accepting of myself, I can be more accepting of her.
As I was writing this I found a thin piece of grass on my desk that fell out of the chickadee’s beak when she flew out my door. Is this truth-telling mother, making a nest for her chicks, an affirmation of my own truth-telling?
Perhaps it’s time for me to change the way I perceive and express the truth. Because now I know that the truth, though it can be painful, can also be healing.