on the way to Howard’s Station in Occidental for Eggs Benedict and banter with the wait staff we’ve come to love. It means checking on the river house, running down past the sauna to view the muddy swath of racing water, the feeder creek a white froth. Then sitting in Great Grandpa’s chair while the kids color on the floor in front of the fireplace, and the husband reads The Persuader (Lee Child, Reacher in trouble again), all five of us content to play house to the drumming of raindrops on the flat roof, the occasional sharp ping of a redwood frond hitting the skylights.
And....cruising Great Grandpa’s library: The English Years of Robert Frost, Into My Own, by John Evangelist Walsh, where I skim details from the time period when Frost moved in to the London suburb of Beaconsfield. Frost blames himself for some of the toll the move takes on his family (though don’t life’s difficulties beset everyone, writer or not?) And were any of us, in our later years, to put in one sentence the trajectory of our lives, it might sound as harsh. Walsh notes, of a trip Frost makes to visit the bungalow years later: The painful contrast between his lonely present, though filled with honors, and those far-off days when he had lived in obscurity on this quiet street with a happy growing family may well have been too stark for him to face. By 1957, of the five who had shared the bungalow with him, three were long dead—his wife from a heart attack, his daughter Marjorie in childbirth, and his son Carol by suicide—and a fourth, his daughter Irma, was confined in a mental institution. It was also in the bungalow, with his family, that Frost wrote both “Birches” and “Mending Wall” (in addition to others). These details, put forth in the prologue, remind me the life of the writer is one animal, and the work he or she writes is another.
But then I come across Sampo, The Magic Mill: A Collection of Finnish-American Writing, edited by Aili Jarvenpa and Michael G. Karni. (The title alludes to the Finnish epic creation myth/poem the Kalevala; the mill is one of its images). I breathe into these beautiful memoirs and poems—the descriptions of berry picking escapades in the woods, bears dwelling within reach (Jane Piirto, Blueberry Season), a story of a mother who couldn’t stop knitting (even while milking cows) and thus fell down a well with the needles and sock she was working on (Unto Seppanen, The Knitting, translated by Reino Virtanen). In Eeva Kilpi’s Excerpts from A Woman’s Diary (translated by Inkeri Vaananen-Jensen), I find a more accurate mirror of my experience of what it means to be a writer...and a mother, and how the two braid together, and are in fact, one noisy animal.
Kilpi recounts how an editor once called and asked her to write about how she would live the last day of her life: I would make notes all the time...I would clean at least one closet...I would go to visit my parents....[and] eat food that my mother prepared (perhaps it would be herring baked in cream, good, strong smelling food, food familiar from my childhood). ... I would prepare a good meal for my children...turnip pie, Karelian rice pastries, lingonberries, and pickled cucumbers...I would no longer grieve that many books would be left unwritten but regret that so many books would be left unread. ...I would look at trees. There is something universal in their shape and reach; they resemble nerves... (p.220)
which in turn was a seed, Eeva, for a lucid dream several nights ago: falling, hands outstretched, on my back, some 3 or 4 thousand feet from the very top of a redwood grove. My first impulse, fear. But when I looked up at the familiar green canopy and watched the thick red rivulets of trunk bark hurtling by, I relaxed. And noticed as well, each to their own foot-wide ledges at varying heights along the trunks, women in green tunics. How could one not be at peace in the company of another writer, the trees, and their silent emissaries.