Days become open, elongate
as tenderness seeks each flourish of light,
finds roadside bud and petal,
graces bough and wing inside chill wind.
My body like theirs tilts toward sun,
struck by expectation, how it thrills.
Adornments of earth trumpet
caregiving Mind of God made visible,
how it scours and sloughs off wintry rags,
conjures rustle and sigh of life spun, released.
This hidden skin of mine, fluff of milkweed
covering elegant spine and capable wrists,
bright collarbones, coiled arches of feet–
my soul flies on the trapeze of body
in higher places, an homage to each spring reveal.
It has long been noted that nature’s cycles of life appear to mimic human passages: birth/creation-recreation; youthful abundance and verve; hearty richness of maturity; and a gradual slowing down, a blurring of many sorts of acuity, contemplative and completed before shedding sentience. But we all, despite our years on earth, feel and respond to the ancient power of nature’s comings and goings, its surprises, cataclysms and miracles.
What is it about the turning of leaves that stirs us with creeping gold, rust and persimmon, that slow descent of sways and dips and lifts, landing again on earth? I am overcome with such beauty, its poignancy woven with liveliness. Though I do find I want to somehow hold off the dimming of summer’s sunlight. I’m not ready, I think, while the tug of autumnal ways pulls me a little more. It is not far off, peeking around the greenery.
Autumn. For some of us, a turning inward is initiated, perhaps a hint of melancholy shadowing thoughts. For others, a quickening deep within bones and blood gives rise to renewed movement, a good rousing. And still others grimly prepare for the chill that will define the air taken in, sharp and tingling, while winds haul their loads of precipitation: driven rain, ice, snow. The cold even determines daily decisions as we readapt. For doesn’t summer greet us with open arms? Such brazen light, heat slathering us with dampness, a glow arising from once protected, now tender length and breadth of skin. The hours of sunshine that elicit sharp shadows, vivid and sheer, now thin as a more variable light occurs, presaging a shift in season. Is nature withholding light, storing it away for another time and place? We may become ravenous for it during winter’s monochromatic scenes.
Whatever we are doing and wherever we live, if autumn visits our geography, it provokes alterations in feeling and activity.
I am just beginning to think about saying goodbye to summer, even though Oregon can tease us with bright skies for another month or so. But the neighborhoods are quieter as I take my daily walk; the children are back in school. There have been spatterings of freshening rain, foretelling deluges to come. Summer will hang on by a thread. Speaking of which, the spiders are busy spinning huge, extravagant webs while many are finding their way indoors. I found two in the bathroom and one on my bed’s quilt the past week…a sure sign.
Fall was usually my favorite time of year as a child in Michigan. Then came winter, that kind of holy mess and celebration of wildness deep snows brought. Spring was moody and fickle, often hard to count on or manage. But summers were hot, cloyingly so, the endless days filled with water activities and yard games with neighbor kids. There was a languor to it that didn’t occur at any other time, and it didn’t always well suit me. Sluggish in the morning, I’d tend to trick myself into getting out of bed. Sometimes the mouth-watering smells of breakfast were enough to move me but more often I’d have to remind myself: afternoon swimming, maybe early roller skating or biking before the blazing sun wants to kill me, but for sure kick-the-can after sundown. Oh, and a walk in the birch woods. And reading and writing in the maple tree after I eat. That brought me back to the edge of my bed; my list of options set legs in motion. I just had to plow through the heaviness left from yesterday’s heat and again gathering. Ignore, too, the uneven traces of sunburn increasing body warmth a notch. (Who wore sunblock then? We used baby oil to attract the sun’s shine.)
Some people seem built for more heat and the languid pace it instills. It’s like they’re supercharged with overamped solar energy. Though dense moisture of Midwestern heat is absent here, I’ll yet stretch myself to embrace midday outdoor activities. There’s only so much sun that can fall upon me before I yearn to fall asleep–unless I move faster. Lengthy exposure to temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, however, makes my repaired, regulated heart beat heavily. But I also luxuriate in being less swaddled in clothing, and count on dry paths rather than muddy as feet pound woodland trails. I relish sitting on our balcony in morning with mug of tea and a good book, feet bare. And in evening, air a silken coolness, the stars a bright mystical map. I know this will be harder to embrace after autumn arrives, as winter’s long rains tail close behind.
Summer time lake living is a whole other state of being, rife with such choices there is barely time to enjoy them all. I do miss that experience. My family didn’t own a cottage–I stayed at friends’ and attended many lakeside summer camps and also enjoyed family camping on wooded lake shores. But my husband, Marc, was privileged to visit his grandparents each summer at Bay View, started by Methodists in northern Michigan in 1875. It’s situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, on Little Traverse Bay. It was planned as a part of the Chautauqua movement which has continued to spread across the country, fostering cultural and educational experiences for lifelong learning. Operated from May until October–a usual “high season” for Michiganders–the Bay View community has four hundred-fifty cottages and two inns. It has the distinction of being a National Historic Landmark community. To say that it’s “pretty as a postcard” does not do it justice.
Sweet-with-a-dab-of-sour, Grandma Susie presided over a two-story white Victorian house with ease, efficiency and more than a little happiness. It stood on a quiet tree-lined street, three blocks from the bay. I visited many times after marrying Marc. Our children loved going as much as did we. Marc and his grandmother regaled us with stories of his youth, the daily sailing and swimming, fishing, camping, hiking, tennis playing, bonfires, dances, and the occasional fixes and scrapes he got into. He grew up there, he’s always said, and it made an imprint on him, is yet a vision of life he holds dear. Grandma Susie made certain he attended Sunday church services and community picnics as well as many classical concerts. (The music programming remains a whole other excellent aspect for Bay View homeowners and public, alike.) The village air was swamped with scent of pine and the musky smell of water and earth, the usual emanations of life up north. The great body of water of Lake Michigan is so vast it is like a fresh water sea, dangerous deep sooner than later and at some point a numbing cold. This stopped no one. Summers were Marc’s heaven-on-earth, as he tells it, and I am certain that is true. When they were over, the locking up and battening down for the upcoming snowy onslaught was a ritual everyone knew well, not completed without a bittersweet sigh.
The beloved house was sold at his grandmother’s death–the taxes had gotten so high, no one lived in Michigan, anymore–but the memories of those splendid times give us joy, even helped shape who we all are. What Bay View was for Marc, my time at Interlochen Arts Camp was for me, so I understand. It’s not surprising that our old northern landscape may yet nab the prize for summer season–it is strewn with 11,000 inland lakes and over 300 named rivers and is heavily forested. The next best thing is Oregon, we think, with over 6,ooo lakes and many wild and scenic rivers. And no humidity, at least where we live.
It’s been a rewarding time, this summer, compared with the last one. I had to stay off then hobble about on a bad foot for three months. I’ve made up for it in 2016, hiking and walking every week-end in a variety of places including Columbia Gorge, coastal forests or oceanside trails, wildlife refuges in Washington and Oregon, as well as tamer urban greenways. My gratitude is abundant, that I can climb (jump if needed), push myself, experience discomfort yet trudge on to that rewarding “zone” where life seems well aligned, deeply harmonious within and without. I would be thrilled to be even heartier; I’m not the wilderness backpacker I was in much younger years. I haven’t even been camping, sleeping on rocky ground in a tiny two person tent, for about five years. Maybe I should try again–you can’t beat coffee perked over an open fire and storytelling as the moon rises. Or am I romanticizing? Never mind, I suspect all wonderment has a few hidden flaws.
Ah, well, it seems I’m still caught by the distracting if waning spell of summer–while enchantments of autumn beckon me. The temperature slips downward bit by bit. I am wearing socks sometimes with tennis shoes rather than bare or sandaled feet. I sported a flowery scarf the other day just in case I got chilly. And–this is a real clue–drinking hot tea more, instead of iced. My soft yellow rose blanket is at the foot of the bed, readied.
On Labor Day we took one of our seasonal tours of Elk Rock at Bishop’s Close. I toted along my hoodie in case coolness lasted. There were clear signs of change-in-progress. Some grassy areas were now golden, partly due to lack of rain, but also because it is time. Leaves twirled down, laced pathways with lovely shapes and a hint of ripening colors. The trees shook their branches in the breeze; the sound was like rattles full of seeds, twigs or plant matter being shaken by unseen hands. There was a bright hush, silence filled with soughing. Scurrying feet and sudden cries of jays and crows marked our passage as other birds chirped and nattered. I could see from a hilly perch above the river the boaters, even a water skier and folks sunning on a rocky peninsula. The wind left a light chill and then sun managed to overcome it. We went on. Many flowers had seen their end with some replaced by different ones.
And then: a banded woolly bear caterpillar! I look for them each fall and there it was, hanging onto a thin stem above an algae-covered pond. This attractive black and rust-orange banded critter winters in its caterpillar form and pupates into an Isabella tiger moth. It is said that the wider or more black bands, the harsher the winter. This one was a typical specimen, auguring our usual temperate winter, if the lore is true-which it tends to be. It’s a delight to see them; it is that moment that it starts to feel that autumn is imminent.
I wait for it’s coming, for the slice and dazzle of wind, the sun rays blazing through fisted or galloping clouds before dimming again, the raindrops that will first mist, then inundate days and thrum the nights. The hours with knees pulled up in the Lazy-Boy chair, turquoise afghan my mother made draped about. Walks with rain parka hood covering most of my face, rain drumming my body, streaming over all not well shielded. That deep sky like a cup of grey and ebony that is a comfort so often, heralding time to retreat a bit more, to seek quieter moments between the moments I may have been missing. There are many virtues to extol regarding autumn. Getting cozier is only one.
But first, let the summer sun fade as might a bedazzling debutante and her elegant beau at the end of the party. I shall put on my mantle of age, marvel, hum and dance under blue skies or rainy. And God will commend to us this last spark and sizzle, then restfulness again.
I’ve never thought the weather makes a big difference in my perception of life or my activities. Not unless it interrupts or shuts down basic amenities, which I’ve sure experienced as everyone has. But I am not a person who gets seriously blue thanks to the Northwest rain-saturated greyness. I didn’t hate winter when I was growing up with dazzling yet inconvenient snow. Summer is special here, perfect for outdoor life though high heat can be taxing on my patched heart. Autumn has long been perhaps my favorite season: not too cold or hot, prompting another cycle of life that soon unleashes the nourishing (if relentless) rains. Every season heralds the might and mystery of superior designs emergent on earth. Who I am is shaped by seasons, sure. I adapt to them as needed, I respect their place in the botanical, animal and mineral kingdoms, and my place in theirs. But emotions don’t routinely get high-jacked by them, either, and for that I am thankful.
Still, I am taking a another look at this as I admire altered landscapes and temperatures once more. There are subtler effects that insinuate themselves into my life. I realize, for one thing, that I tend to become more internal when chilled rain descends. From late October to April, though walking daily and busy as ever, my attention moves ever closer to realms of mind and spirit. The natural isolation that develops in winter (especially as I don’t hunker down in pubs with much of Portland) leads me to more pensive states. Quieter ones. The rain is a constant background sound track. There is comfort in those drops splattering away as I read, write, pray and meditate, do chores, enjoy hobbies, socialize with others.
I suspect I am less materialistic during rainy season, perhaps more spiritually inclined. Or in a different way. My senses are turned down a notch when indoors. Winter pulls me to activity within–home, mind, spirit. If there is a touch of melancholia it arises from a natural sense of poignancy, of the bittersweet, not deep sadness (except last year when grief dictated much and then rain was a tender companion). I write without noting change from foggy light to a total lack of it. Often my husband comes home and turns on lights so he can find his way in. My mind is working hard. It pesters me to unearth ideas and spin stories, turn up the action on pages. It nags me to commune with God in all. In winter this is accompanied by a natural desire to delve into solitude. It is resonant deep inside. I pay attention.There are less distractions as shadows shift about me morning ’til night.
I have a different awareness of my body. It feels bulkier, slower and may be. I strive to stay warm and drink lots of hot tea, bring a blanket to my computer chair, wear half-gloves at the keyboard. Appearance matters less as rain and winds drench and whip about everything. The uniform is jeans, boots, sweaters or hoodies, an ever-present fleece. Slippers inside. It’s a monotonous but a necessary uniform. I like to stay strong so walks are long but faster in damp half-darkness, cold threatening to infiltrate a hooded rain jacket. Hiking, unfortunately, has to wait until things dry out. I dream of the deep woods; I so long for this one thing. It can be written about, at least.
So if I am less material, more ruminative in winter, there must be differences in spring and summer.
I notice shifts in energy, a rising in my blood like growing things must. It’s the sudden revelation of golden light and longer days. The neon blue of sky that blinds me the first weeks I am out under it, sans rain gear. I feel lighter on my feet. My head empties of more severe thoughts. I look outward into a jeweled palette of colors taking over the city, my neighborhood and country. Each sign is noted with eyes that hunger. Dry spells begin to intercede. Afternoons remain brighter and extend into early evening. Voices of children shriek and guffaw. Basketballs thud and bounce on street-courts. Cyclists off to work shed water repellent body suits. Walkers clad in shorts, t-shirts and Birkenstocks say “hello” with a smile. At the park I am prepared for marathon runners in training; I can feel the air pressure shift as they whiz by. And the dogs let loose–they are mad with glee.
So, then, it’s finally springtime if I am to take the sighting of a velvety royal purple iris as proof perfect. The divine scent halted my walk for several heady seconds. Charming daffodils began making their entrance in February. Tulips have been waving their brilliant heads about since at least early March. I noted an errant red rose, but surely it decided to warn its citywide companions to hold off. That iris assures me of continued forward motion toward balmier days and nights. There are so many colors my eye darts from one to the other all day long. I am drunk on the beauty of it all, and understand perfectly what is meant by “spring fever.” I was so overcome today during my walk that I felt compelled to dance down the sidewalk a moment, imagining a rendezvous was in the offing. Everything else is having fun; I can, too. I emailed a picture of the iris to my husband, which made him happy at the office.
I felt giddy, a tad younger, high on sunshine and the magnetism of the present moment. My camera was full of shots that told the story of earth’s bounty. Holy unveilings.
Aglow from the power walk, at home I yanked off tennis shoes and socks. I peeked into my closet, seeking sandals worn on the Monterey trip. They’d been tucked away but were untucked again, just in case it remained short sleeve weather this week. Spring means warm clothing is exchanged for light-weight so breezes get in and sunlight gets to rest upon patches of skin. Everything breathes differently, even the earth, even me.
I rested some, opened a new fashion magazine. This is a clue about another difference between winter and spring for me. I start thinking more about outward matters, material trivialities like my winter dry and bland skin, about clothes. Wearing fewer but more colorful, pretty things. I’ve enjoyed fashion all my life in some form or another, if usually on sale and for practical use. There have been a few exotic or pricier flourishes that remain special.
But as I perused the pictures, I was dismayed for the first one hundred fifty pages. Slouchy young women weren’t demonstrating individuality as much as how well clothing could just hang off frail shoulders. The frocks were barely inhabited. The designs and colors seemed….deconstructed, even wimpy. There wasn’t any variety in body type or hair style. The photos seemed tediously similar for all their high prices. Page after page showed faces askew with contempt, boredom, even challenge as if they wanted to fight. No one smiled. Come on, it’s spring, come alive! Insouciance was the impression–heedlessness, a lack of care. I flipped pages quickly until finally, there was a woman with hand by closed eyes, wearing a drapey, fiery red dress with black block heels, lying on the crimson leather back seat of a fancy convertible. At least I could relate to that–I love red, it speaks brightly, and I adore interesting cars and I can use more sleep at times. (I’ll take the whole ensemble, the car, too.) And after that, I swear the models started to smile a little from the glossy pages. Now we might get somewhere cheery.
I don’t know why I was surprised. High fashion tends to run off a beaten track, or thinks it does. My own fashion style doesn’t match up, a failure within such a perspective. I like tried and true mostly. The random or reckless I leave to exploration of other mediums–and far riskier stylists. (I may be reading the “wrong” magazines, but I find choice intellectual bons bons, as well.) I like to root out fresh, daring creativity in everything. Designers clearly have artistic visions they translate into clothing, accessories and more. Still, today I wanted frivolity. At the least. Floral, perhaps, looser lines that move with me. Gemstone and petal hues. But made with an older woman in mind so our well-worn softness or minimalist sharpness coupled with the appeal of wiser–we hope–faces are well and happily enhanced. (I am thrilled to see women in forties, fifties and beyond in ad campaigns more.)
Though Ferragamo, Escada (oh, that turquoise-with-a-touch-of-coral frock!) and Armani offer superior fabrics and elegant lines, I would be s low to buy them if I could. Simple, classic clothing, multi-purpose and meant to last are preferred: I’m an outdoorsy person who likes to dress up a little. There is less use for fussier or accessorized clothing as I am no longer a professional, a counselor who works at an office. I am not meant to impress anyone now, thank goodness. I just want something comfortable with a lively dash–and now springy.
So here I have landed soundly in the midst of those most material desires. Thinking of new sandals and rose polish on my toes, a vivid printed sundress. Thinking even about straw hats and gold hoop earrings. (Obviously, missing that California seashore where we were two weeks ago with our daughter and son-in-law.) I am ready to loosen things up and relax more. I want to play a little more. The iris showed me that the rain may soon give it a rest and let the sunshine flow like manna. It’s that time again.
Ah, I come back around to heart and spirit. Each spring when I see the first iris, I immediately sense my mother’s presence. Mom died in 2001 at 92. The iris was her favorite flower, complicated, graceful and sweet, gentling to eye and soft to the touch. She always told me that tulips came out of the hard, cold earth for me, as my birthday is in spring. But along with stalwart tulips, there were such irises of lavender, deep purple, yellow and white at my childhood home. After the harsh snowy winters, we reveled in each signal of springtime. It was such a relief. It was renewal at its best and God’s handwork in full glory. Those flowers filled me up with magic and delight.
On Easter I wore light grey slacks with a blue wildly patterned top. I hesitated over shoes– silver or black flats? Then I remembered my mother’s navy blue heels, kept in a box, rarely brought down from the shelf. She wore high heels until she hit her late eighties; I gave them up long ago. For years we had shared our shoes because we could. She tended to have the better ones.
I turned them over in my hands. They were in good shape, still attractive in a vintage way. The heels were not very high; I could handle them.
The sun graced me with warmth as it slipped through curtains. I started to sing as I got ready. Outside the window were splendid growing things, their perfume sailing on the breeze. Liveliness abounded. Like my mother, who loved to dress up, spritz on scent and had good shoes. Who had a heart that never gave up on others no matter what and a soul that was plugged into the Divine. So I put on her blue shoes. They still fit perfectly. And instantly I stood taller. I walked carefully, nervous at first, but soon I had the hang of it again. I felt more… something. Good. Joyful and profoundly grateful for life, for being loved by God, for family and friends. Certainly for another springtime. I wore those blue high heels all day long.
The robins wouldn’t stop their racket. I rolled over and pulled the coverlet over my head, pulled my pillow closer over my ears, and longed for winter’s snow-insulated quietude. The breeze snaking its way through the partly opened window was heavy with the scent of earth awakening, richly warmed. Spring had come again and I was not ready at all for its insistent, brilliant beauty. The exquisite unfolding of the new season felt painful. I dreaded its arrival, as I knew once more I would be doing battle with my emotions. Perhaps my life.
That scene arose from fifty years ago as I moseyed around my neighborhood. I was taking photographs, a happy outdoor activity, when the rain started. It had swept in from the east but it wasn’t a concern. My waterproof parka accompanies me six months of the year in Oregon. I am a rain aficionado, one who counts its varieties of music as some of the best. And if my jeans get wet, they will dry. So I kept snapping away, noting three sets of boys playing basketball in their respective streets despite the downpour. They weren’t the least bit fazed, either.
More blossoms had begun showing off in January; there are some flowers year ’round but not so many fancy ones. The temperatures rose in the past month, and now have held steady in the fifties or higher. As I framed camellias, daffodils, tulips and their jewel-toned neighbors for pictures it struck me that I hadn’t hidden from spring in a few decades. The birds sing just as loudly here and now and I fling open windows wider to see what they’re up to. In March or April the sun, like a forgotten love returning home, brings excellent tidings. I line up my sandals. dig up t-shirts and turn off the heat for good.
It has been decades since weather or season has really disappointed, daunted or weighed me down. I found my place and it fits me like custom-made attire. I know some folks move to the Northwest in sparkling blue summer and are dismayed when the rains arrive, but it wasn’t so for me. I first explored this corner of the country when I was eighteen, living with an older sister in a cabin on a lake just outside Seattle for a year. The moment I stepped off the plane it was as if my soul had found its earthly dwelling place so deeply did it speak to me. I was liberated. The topography and geology of mountains, ocean, lakes and rivers; the vast temperate rain forests; the active and inactive volcanoes that mightily redesigned landscape; the fecund valleys, high desert and seashore; greenness like a magic balm with its scintillating atmosphere…Well, it is easy for me to rhapsodize. The Northwest is where I returned twenty years later (and had longed for it all that time). I have stayed over twenty more, will die here if I have a say in it.
For some of us, there is a land that moves us, and a time that is right to find it. As a youth I imagined the clouds on mid-Michigan’s horizon were actually mountains and I instantly felt better. Any time my family and I traveled into higher elevations with trees and sky galore my pulse quickened. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the four seasons of the Midwest. Our lives were dictated by nature’s ways in autumn, winter, spring and summer. And I was attuned to them in some primeval way.
But spring. It was not welcome despite everyone else rejoicing when the last of dirty and ice snow melted in the gutters, when the lemon-yellow forsythia bloomed and robins again pecked the earth for fat worms. For me, it brought an up-welling of anxiety, lethargy, moodiness; being visited by loneliness and the specter of depression. Something inside me wanted to escape, to cry out, abandon sweetness and beauty, to seclude myself where no one could find me. But I went to school, I rode my bike, laughed and talked to friends, participated in after-school activities, studied the arts and academics–all the things a teenager might enjoy.
But I also looked over my shoulder fall day, even when I knew there was nothing to be concerned about. When I rode my biked over to a friend’s house, I rode hard to arrive faster. When I went to the little corner store where we all bought candy and soft drinks, I examined each car as it drove closer, then passed by. A walk in the woods alone meant taking a risk; fascination with nature was overshadowed by amorphous fears. And when back home I often retreated to my room and clung to all that kept me afloat–writing and reading, music, art, prayers memorized and created, fervent dreams of a safer, happier future.
There was a reason for all this. In warmer weather I felt the most vulnerable. For too long as a child I had been doggedly shadowed, picked up from the street, stolen from safety and comfort by a man who was my abuser until he finally was sent far away, never to return. But it didn’t matter that the past was gone. I lived a kind of double life as victims often do, a busy, engaged teen in public, withdrawn in private. Post traumatic stress disorder lingers and can turn poisonous without healing help. Thus, from spring until autumn I was on guard, unable to rest well, a long arm’s length away from sharing what I imagined could be a carefree life with others. The family doctor prescribed sedatives to relieve insomnia and nightmares, to soothe my daily life. And so, addiction’s subterranean lifestyle began. It did ultimately end–when I was ready and found the keys I needed. And as health and wholeness returned, spring came back to me in all its glory, like a creature who had blinders removed. It was surprising, a bonus.
This is not a sad story nor a tale of regret. I share a life that has turned and turned, has witnessed tiny and huge miracles, a life that has spun incandescence from the taut nerves of a rocky childhood and youth. I want others who may suffer from burdens to be assured there is relief, there is even the gift of laughter waiting. There is hope today in my living and being because there never was not hope. God still walks with me because God never detoured. I eagerly open my eyes to be shown Divinity in the most ordinary moments and within the lost and suffering. I am mesmerized by the solutions and creations of countless hands and hearts. And I step out each day without the old hyper-vigilance. I feel strong and sturdy within and without.
If you find spring temperamental or even a menace with its new beginnings, its softness and romance, its grace and charms like darkness upon your shoulders, hold on. We can make our internal weather fair or stormy. And times do change. Search for a way out of your cavern. Call out for a hand. Do not let the beauty of this world give way to the pressure of its pain. Find a place to start anew, to call your little spot of paradise. Make your country among the bravely living. Discover the constancy of wonderment as you lay down your fear. Let God’s love be your ballast and you will be steady throughout all seasons of your living.
Jonlyn’s bleary eyes rested on the last bright spots of color in her yard, then narrowed at the three crows–“the three cads”, she called them–that liked to aggravate her mornings with their carrying on. But no newspaper anywhere. She rubbed her cold hands together, then went inside and pushed the heavy door shut. What was the point of printing papers if they ended up in recycling before they even got read at her table?
She cast a resigned glance over the comfortable living room, pausing at the picture atop a side table. There was her granddaughter grinning, snuggled between her parents like a jewel in velvet. Long dark ponytail, cheeks bright as berries, burnished hazel eyes looking right at her. A smile that reached into Jonlyn’s world. But Iris was living in Brisbane, Australia with her mother, Fran, Jonlyn’s daughter. And her son-in-law. Dennis. The one who took them there, and also watched over them, she admitted.
She’d been there once. Clots of palm trees, traffic aplenty and some good shops, restaurants. Lively enough. The family lived in a small chic apartment then; now they had a house on the outskirts, close to the beach. Jonlyn wasn’t a beach person; all that sand got into places she would rather not have it. She liked forests around her. It was quite exhausting and expensive to fly there. Fran said they didn’t have time to come to the States. Well, years passed. Iris was six now. Fran was forty-seven. That made Jonlyn older than she ever imagined ending up. A trick had been played on her.
As if in assent, the antique grandfather clock chimed. Jonlyn patted it in passing, then got her jacket and gloves. It was Monday; it was nine o’clock on another grey day. With the colder weather fewer people romped about the park across her street, and Jonlyn enjoyed it just as much if not more. She’d experienced scads of seasonal changes on the paths and benches.
Hammerlin Park was like an extension of their yard, her late husband Ralph had remarked once as he was raking leaves. Only much better since they didn’t have to bother with upkeep. It had been their motivation to settle there, raise Fran. A park was a comfort.
By the time Jonlyn arrived, the dog owners, so possessive of their strip of torn up grass, had about left; the kids were in school. Excepting the ones who got kicked out or would rather skip class to smoke pot. Jonlyn walked by them at a good pace; they barely saw her so didn’t worry about being seen. She had reached that point in life. Somewhere before sixty you start to lose color apparently, finally fading into a surprising ghost. An advantage was that if she didn’t feel like dressing properly or doing up her straggly hair, she didn’t. Another perk was if she wanted to linger and eavesdrop by group, she could; no one expected she could hear much. She’d learned a surprising amount about people this way, though Ralph had cautioned about becoming a voyeur. Big word for being nosey, she’d laughed.
The ducks were quieter than she was. Jonlyn was about to take a seat and watch them glide like plump feathery ballerinas but she’d stepped on something. It was a rag doll with requisite red yarn hair, arms outstretched, a gay smile fixed on its pale face. The dress was a cheerful Christmassy mix of red and green and lit up with some yellow. A bit rumpled but in good repair. In fact, the doll was unscathed, not rumpled at all, as if its owner had just been there and Raggedy had slipped away without a fuss. Jonlyn surveyed the park: no mother and child, no errant strollers or forgotten diaper bags or backpacks. Jonlyn sat, then bent over and picked it up.
Raggedy remained at ease in her hands, unperturbed by the damp breezes that ruffled her hair and stirred the leaves. The two black polka dot eyes stared back. Jonlyn lifted the arms up and pulled them down, then tried the legs. Sensible black shoes, she noted.
“Silly doll, forgetful mothers”, she said. “If Fran had been given this doll she wouldn’t have let go of it.”
The ducks make a gabbled sound at Jonlyn and headed toward the little island, their rumps bouncing.
“Well, that’s not true, really. Fran never liked dolls much. Planes and blocks. I guess she was meant to be a pilot.” She shuddered. “Those little private planes…fancy and dangerous.”
The doll lay there, either agreeable or held captive by happiness with a red-stitched smile. A bit crooked, appealingly so. The person who had made this toy would be disgruntled it was so easily lost. Jonlyn mused awhile about sewing she used to enjoy, then got up, hesitant as the doll gazed up at her. Should she take it somewhere, the closed clubhouse, the restrooms were there was a wood railing upon which to lay it? She determined it was best to leave it, so she sat her up and left. But she looked back once, twice, and something about that doll pulled at her, made her feel old and sad but tender, too.
“Ridiculous,” she muttered. “I will not be undone by a silly rag doll. It’s just the holiday season creeping up on me. I can’t abide nostalgia!”
A teen-aged girl who was smoking by the edge of the pond shot her a look, then shook her head. The old woman was a sad case talking to herself like that. Jonlyn felt her dignity pinched.
The next two days she was busy with errands and an appointment but her thoughts kept retuning to the doll. The following morning she hurried across the street and along pathways. It needed to be gone, safely back in the keeping of the one who missed the doll. She saw a hulking man just leaving her spot so approached the bench. Someone, perhaps the man, had picked up Raggedy and abandoned her again with an offhand toss so she’d landed backwards and askew on the bench.
“Ah,” Jonlyn said and took the doll in her hands, setting it on her lap as she observed the ducks and a lone heron. “A bit messy, though. Not as bad as I expected, however.” She brushed leaf detritus off Raggedy’s feet and noted a smudge on her knee. It gave rise to the disorienting thought that maybe Raggedy had tried to get up and head home on her own.
“I used to bring Fran here every day. She chased the squirrels and wanted to fish the pond.” She chuckled. “But not Iris. She’s never had the pleasure. Maybe next year. There’s always hope, of course.”
The two of them sat there fifteen minutes, watching a couple amble by, a young man execute amazing tricks on a skateboard. A homeless woman, the one Jonlyn often saw, pushed her full cart down the walkway. A child younger than Iris came by with her father, chattering and kicking up leaves. She stopped and pointed to the doll and Jonlyn, heartened, held out Raggedy.
“Oh, here–did you lose this?”
The man shook his head. “She has a baby doll that cries watery tears and does other things we wish she couldn’t!” He laughed. “I haven’t seen one of those for a long time, though.”
The child got a closer look, then took her father’s hand as they moved on, but she looked back.
“You can keep her,” the child called out and skipped away.
Jonlyn set Raggedy on the bench and nodded at her.
“Well, you’re a popular sort. I can see why, despite your maddeningly unchanged expression. You’re soft and quite pleasant company. Wonder if you have more of a name. Tell me it’s not Ann, but something more curious like mine.”
The ducks paddled away and the wind picked up. Jonlyn left Raggedy seated on the bench and returned to the three cads and a bowl of leftover ham and bean soup for lunch. Two days of papers had come and she looked forward to reading.
The next day Jonlyn told herself she wasn’t going to check on the doll, and certainly wasn’t going to talk to it if she happened upon it. Parks attracted people like her, a bit aimless, lonelier than she wanted to admit. They were pretty microcosms of the city. Well, she was going dotty from increasing solitude–and the rains and cold were just beginning. It was not attractive to reminisce about “good ole days” that weren’t all that spectacular. Now her daughter was gone and Iris growing up so fast she might have to remind her who her grandmother was before long.
The clock chimed; greyness deepened and spread as the afternoon came to a close. She grabbed her jacket. Rain threatened; wind whipped her coat open. Dogs were running about and people were heading toward their cars. Her long stride hastened her to the favored bench but before she even got there she felt the doll was gone. She edged up to the back of the bench and took a look.
Empty. Raggedy had been picked up by a child who needed a playmate, or some creature, heaven forbid. Or maybe that homeless lady she often saw on her walks. That would be just fine, although she wished the young owner had found her. Who knew? She felt a huge raindrop splat on her forehead and then on her cheeks so pulled her jacket close and headed back. The lamps came on and lit the way around the park. Jonlyn felt relief come upon her and with it, a stirring of pleasure. The air was thick with a damp and leafy perfume, and a sharpness hinted at wintry days and nights. She needed to buy a ticket to Australia. And she knew just what she was making Iris for Christmas.
An imperturbable demeanor comes from perfect patience. Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune and misfortune at their own private pace like a clock during a thunderstorm.—Robert Louis Stevenson