After arriving at the airport at four-thirty in the morning, checking my over-packed bag, saying farewell to my spouse and settling on the plane, I waited for nervousness to expand and conquer. The plane ascended and my eyes soon found the rim of the world in its dawn beauty. I had barely enjoyed two hours’ rest the previous night. I fell asleep. Five hours later a flight attendant’s clarion voice announced an imminent landing at Washington Dulles. The sudden report snatched me from slumber. This was the trip I wrote about in “Becoming Bolder: Disclosures of a Somewhat Reluctant Adventurer” that would later become Freshly Pressed. I was thankful I had been deposited on the other side of our land without incident.
I did wonder how I’d locate my daughter within moving clots of people crowding baggage claim. Via her well-timed text, of course. There Naomi stood waving at her blinking, unseasoned traveller- mom. Her wave and smile were enough to encourage easy forward movement. So far, everything bode well for the coming days and nights. Until we stepped outside and August humidity pressed down on me like a heavy dampened wrap. Reality check: not in the Northwest anymore.
After a good, quick visit with my older brother and sister-in-law in near Washington, D.C. we proceeded to the town where Naomi had lived and taught for five years: Williamsburg, VA. Historical, stately, dominated by the College of William and Mary (second oldest public college in the U. S.) and the grand tourist attraction, Colonial Williamsburg. We arrived at the Alice Person House, bed and breakfast accomodations. We had reserved an attractive suite for three nights since Naomi’s old apartment had been packed up weeks earlier, after which she’d attended two artists’ residencies. Now there was the business of moving to complete. And warm farewells to friends and colleagues. I knew she had a running list of “to-dos”. I would not be an impediment but a cheerful support. I had come without expectations, on a whim because she had asked me to come.
The next days are a kaleidoscopic memory. We completed tasks or, rather, I accompanied her on errands. But we had relaxing hours as well. A favorite time was walking at dusk in Colonial Williamsburg, the authentic old shops closed and streets nearly emptied of others. The evening was a symphonic presentation of cicadas rasping, tree frogs chirping and crickets fiddling. Bats swooped like dancers in the twilight. Plainly designed, wooden and brick seventeenth century buildings were imbued with remnants of people and events. It was easy to imagine life there so long ago. We talked quietly, mostly observed the surroundings. Fireflies cavorted, a sight that made me giddy. The sky showed off clusters of stars. Horses nibbled at grass. We felt peace. I loved walking with my daughter. We both walk rapidly, with an appreciation of how all the parts move in concert, minds emptying and absorbing at once, a meditation.
I was inserted into her world in ways that had not occurred before due to the distance between us. I met many of her friends, big-spirited artists. We shared meals, enjoyed easy, thoughtful conversations. Although welcomed, at times I felt at a remove, as if watching film gaining definition as it develops. There was a gradual, startling awareness of a whole life utterly separate from my own, a history that did not include me. Naomi’s friends and experiences enriched a world that had been beyond my realm for years until these moments. I heard her congenial but rapid discourse, her quicksilver laughter, her humorous sound effects. I observed her lovely, strong hands create eloquent gesticulations. Her vigor and warmth flew outward and it landed, then boomeranged. Her friends gave her love. This grown up person was something, I had to agree.
Born a two and a half pound infant, far too early for this earthly atmosphere, she preservered from the start and surprised us. I felt charged with caring for an almost otherworldly being, she was so new. A naturally shy person, it was years before she ventured from the profound introversion that governed her thinking and doing. One of the memorable events of her early life occurred when she was just two. Naomi began to sit for hours and build with blocks, silent, absorbed, happy. Carefully she placed each geometric form, then scrutinized and changed configurations. She wasn’t speaking more than a few words–her favorite was “moon” which I, a young poet, suggested was a “silver balloon”. She always sought it in evening skies, blue eyes riveted. But words weren’t needed to create things that foreshadowed a future as a sculptor.
Another daughter, Cait, joined us for most of a day and we explored the Jamestown Settlement, caught up on news, shared meals together. Watching them I couldn’t help but recall their early years together. Though unlike each other in nature and work, Cait a dedicated chaplain and Naomi an artist and professor, and despite not being blood-related, they remain sisters at heart. It filled me with peace and pleasure to see it but I so regretted Cait couldn’t stay for the duration. What late night gabs we could have had, popcorn and tea and chocolate times!
The last morning in Williamsburg we shared a hot breakfast with a chic couple from New York and the garrulous proprietress. Then we packed up and left with the moving van. The drive through Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York was punctuated by anecdotes, long stretches of comfortable and tired silence, music on the radio. She softly sang along as I smiled at her melodious soprano, sometimes singing a little with her. We talked about her flute playing days, the music that’s carried in our blood. We talked about her father’s family. Her missed grandparents. Memories unfurled like magic flags. But, too, stillness comforted me.
The oppressive heat of the Virginias dissiapated as we entered Pennsylvania. The summer countryside was verdant, a horizon rimmed with mountain foothills. I had explored the nearby Adirondacks as a child, leaning out my parents’ sedan’s back window, my head inclined toward trees. But this landscape was languid and sensuous. The blue sky beamed. Hours slid by. Although we were pulling a large trailer stacked with her art work, making the truck sluggish on hills and slow to pass others, I took the wheel. It wasn’t very hard to maneuver. I loved the sound of her SUV as we chugged up and over country roads. We took a break for a otur of caverns that was cheesey but educational. We stopped to visit a New York friend of Naomi’s where I enjoyed Ithaca’s own root beer, a fat deli sandwich, chances for more photographs. This world is full of odd stuff and fascinating people.
We arrived two days later at a crossroads. Here her new home awaited. Evening fell about us like a cool tent of fragrant air. Farm animal-fragrant, tinged with wild grasses and scents of water, mineral-rich. We unpiled things, lugged them inside until it was late. From the back yard we could see a moon throbbing in the luminous blackness. The new landlord ambled over to ask if the moon there was different than in Oregon and I laughed and nodded, maybe, yes. It beamed a fine beauty at that moment, a country sort of welcome. A rendering of mystery. Promise of more curious things. Naomi made a camper’s bed on the wooden floor and gave me the luxury of an air mattress in another room. We slept well enough the first night. Frankly, I slept better every night on the trip.
What can I tell you about helping to make a new nest with my daughter? We worked first and last. Scrubbed, unpacked, swept, ordered, tossed, shopped, rearranged. But we also walked old streets and nodded at strangers on enviable porches who would pass the news of our arrival soon. We visited waterfalls and enjoyed a hike, strolled along sinuous rivers. We danced–I more than she–to sometimes edgy, sometimes elegiac music. Hummed and whistled as we organized. I was inspired to sketch a half-empty hotel on the main street; it was fun and looked okay. We admired all art unwrapped, fingered a collection of objects with names she’d given them–a Marlene cup, Todd mug. A pen and ink drawing that recalled her four siblings swimming. Her making of art, her love of it–is sacred to her, I saw more completely. It is full of Spirit and longing and hope, of compassion, boldness and risk. I took a cup she had made and made it safe for its ride home.
When she took me to her big new office, showed me the new campus where she will teach, I felt satisfied: this would be her landing spot. She will give and grow much. I mused on the coming winter of this territory, something she hasn’t known for some years, how it may blind her with pristine fields, its bitter and sweet starkness, perhaps change her fair cheeks to a rouge-pink. She will trek her way across the landscape. Seek the heart of warmth. Throw snowballs that transform into water again, cook up food and ideas. She is a builder, a person whose vision requires daring as well as a sound center of gravity.
We smiled for our cameras but I don’t really need a picture of us. It’s all vivid in my mind’s eye. I have both of them, Cait and Naomi, right here, hold them close inside my motherness, deeply, deeper than ever. Even as I say farewell quickly at a Canadian airport so I do not cry, pass through customs with a backward glance, I carry them within like secret, priceless cargo.
As I packed up my bags I realized all the things I’d worried about–chancy food, unfamiliar sleeping arrangements, time changes–had had little impact on the big picture. The trip had ended well; it had offered more of many good things. Maybe next time it would be less so, but so it goes.
On the way back to Oregon I gazed out a plane window. I always take a window seat; I want to see where I am going. Storm clouds towered as we skirted them. We floated between two seemingly separate layers of clouds and a bright line of light parted the striations. I loved those clouds, that breathtaking light, even though the ride was bumpy awhile. I will be flying again, somewhere or other. Thanks for the invite, Naomi!
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