I have been wanting to write about bamboo. Instead I find myself thinking about box turtles. Yesterday I came upon one on the path, dull-colored, it’s shell broken in one place, a scale fallen away and lost like a stray roof tile, a scuffed substrate beneath and I wondered how many more lay beneath that one.
The turtle was headed down hill. I approached it from above and stopped to look at it. I moved in front of it and sat down, off to the side. I thought it would pass to my left, staying to the center of the path but instead it veered off to go around me on my right and I made a little video of its approach, its detour, how it stopped and looked at me as it went around. And then I let it walk off the edge of my phone-screen.
I’ve been photographing the turtles I encounter for a few days now. I wish I had started with the first. Or maybe I wish I had photographed the third one in particular. It was small and brightly patterned, more gold than black with a gorgeous orange head and legs, red eyes. He looked at me. I thought – You’re so beautiful.
This all seems so bland. I don’t know why I am compelled to photograph the turtles, now including them in All Trails recordings of my walks so I will know where they were when I came upon them. I look forward to them. And yet right now I can’t discover meaning in them. There is no tiny event.
Perhaps I must get smaller.
There are always layers, like the cracked shell of a turtle.
You told me you may move again and if you do you will need to get rid of more – the dining room set, Jan’s clothes she’ll never wear again, research materials from years ago. But there will be a patio where you can sit outside and I thought – that’s good. And I in the side of my mind I wanted your dining room but didn’t ask about it, remembering your agitated assertion half a year ago that it would be auctioned. But you were different then. You have softened. I want(ed) the dining room set because it’s beautiful. And I want it, too, because it holds the aura of so many conversations: I remember sitting there at the table talking for hours, sitting past breakfast and still until lunch, and then still after lunch.
I miss the gone houses – not the one I grew up in after we moved from Hadley when I was 4. I miss Granny and Grampa’s house in Charlotte, which hasn’t existed now for half my life. And I miss Paul and Jan’s house in Bethlehem, though it hasn’t even been a year since the last time I was there, and less than that since they moved.
What is it in the light and rain today that makes me ache for my summer-bedroom in Charlotte where I lay awake beneath the white coverlet with the chenille bobbles waiting for the sky to darken because we were sent upstairs at 8 in June when the days went on forever. I have a photograph I took much later of that bed. It’s quiet emptiness makes me wish I had documented everything no matter how mundane it seemed to me at the time.
We take these well-known spaces for granted, fail to see them. And then we are barred from them forever as they are razed or sold, transformed one way or another, rendering the familiar strange. Every remembered moment becomes an artifact, an intangible that can’t be catalogued or stored except in the mind, the stingy property of faulty, patchy thoughts that can lie dormant for most of a life until the smell of mouldering magnolia grandiflora leaves pulls it out of us, the phantom smell of the iron smoothing Grampa’s frayed cuffs, the sound of ice in his glass (Scotch? No, Sherry) before dinner, the wires from the crown moulding extending down to the picture-backs in the dining room, the place-settings just so, especially Grampa’s. Granny (or was it Mattie? Maybe both) taught us where everything went – his salt shaker (was there pepper too?), his linen napkin in its silver ring, his water glass, the two spoons, one above his plate and one beside, the two forks, bone dish, knife rest (crystal; I have one), there was something else but now I don’t remember.
It’s like mourning. I want to weep for longing. For the place? It was long ago transformed. For Granny and Grandpa? They’re dead. For myself as a child? Is she dead? Is she gone? I am seeing this all through her eyes. Sometimes I can remember a feeling – shame, a kind of ache for understanding, a sense of injustice, boredom and sometimes fear, sometimes a pleasant hum of existing right there, right then, like when Nora and I would climb trees and sit quiet amidst the branches of the Cedar, knowing we had disappeared from this earth for just a little while (I am making that up. We didn’t know that. But we sat looking out and we did know that no one knew where we were, because we hadn’t said, but they didn’t know that because they weren’t looking), or walk into the bamboo to look at the concrete trough where Granny said my father learned to swim and I couldn’t imagine how; it was so small.
[The new nectar I made for the Ruby Throats must be lovely because they are fighting over it rather than visiting the neighbor’s feeder]