Sunday, April 14, 2013

Fields of Gold

Today is Sunday, and Laura is still sick with the cold she caught from me after I caught it on the plane on our trip to Ireland less than two weeks before.  I hate when Laura is sick on Sundays because it means I have to get out of bed to walk Roxy at 7 am, which might as well be 4 am.  The Boston Globe was on the front steps when we walked out.  At least it wasn’t raining. I heard loud chirping and looked up at the house from the bottom of the front stairs and saw birds in our gutters – pieces of nesting were poking up in two different spots, near two altogether different birds – one a robin red breast and one a starling, or something like a starling. I would have to clean out my gutters.  It never ends, this upkeep of a house. What I really want to do is separate my two-family house into condos and move to a quiet condo with a pool and a fireplace, where someone else does my landscaping and fence repairs and worries over the siding, the driveway, and birds in the gutters. 

Roxy pulled to the right when we reached the street, which was a bad sign.  She wanted to go to the park, and this meant a longer walk. I thought of Pavlov’s dogs. Laura usually takes her to the park on Sunday mornings, just after the paper has been delivered.  Did the yellow-wrapped over sized newspaper on the front steps signal to Roxy that this is walk-to-the-park day? I walk her there sometimes on my day off, but I didn’t feel like it this morning. I was barely awake, and I’d forgotten my Fitbit, a gift from my son at Christmas.  What a waste – to walk well over a mile and not have it register on my Fitbit.  I am not a morning person, and I wanted credit for this walk.

I made a last-ditch effort to steer Roxy off course and take the shorter route, but she stopped short and wouldn’t budge, staring me down with her plaintive cocker spaniel eyes until I relented and turned right, over the rocky, leafy overgrown lot to a path that slides precariously down to the railroad tracks.  Before crossing the set of double tracks, I looked both ways like my mother taught me more than fifty years before, and leaned into the steep incline of loose rocks, cheating a little by locking Roxy's leash and letting her strength help pull me up.  We turned right at the top onto a sunny footpath toward Beaver Brook.  I was not enjoying this. Blocked sinuses made me dizzy, and I was already planning the apology I would give for my sloppy appearance if I ran into someone I knew.  A bad habit.

We turned left and slid down the slope toward a stream that emptied out from two rusty and corroded half barrels poking up from beneath the ground.  Roxy was hastening my stride at the front end of the leash – what would the Dog Whisperer say about this? - and I found myself taking a deep breath and humming, “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go.”  It struck me, as it does almost constantly these days, that there is no longer a grandmother for my son or nephews.  We buried my mother, Charlotte, at the end of March, just before Laura and I left for Ireland to meet up with Noam.  After ten nights with little sleep, I hadn’t even dozed on the calm overnight flight to Dublin. I remember looking out the window and finding some peace watching the half moon hold steady in a clear sky, with a soft bed of clouds below.  At that moment I wasn’t afraid of death.  My mother had already passed over, and I felt that she, or her spirit, would be waiting when my turn came. This thought took me by surprise, as I had been too sad and angry after she died to feel spiritual. 

Heading toward the park, the song was still playing in my head, the words “grandmother’s house” echoing over and over, and I realized I was thinking like a writer again.  What’s the story here?  What’s the feeling, the thread, the theme?  My mother is gone, and I have been too numb to write about it, or anything, since my brother and sister and I summarized her life in a neat rectangular one-page obituary.

Roxy pulled me along and I braced myself for the chaos of the park.  She doesn’t play well with other dogs, and we usually take our own, circuitous route, which is fine with me.  The cool air and physical exertion were making my nose run, and I sniffed as I walked, having forgotten to stash tissues in my pocket. The small, familiar bridge appeared just after the crest of the hill, and a few ducks floated underneath us in the still, sparkling water.  Roxy didn’t seem to notice the ducks – she was too busy sniffing the base of a tree.  The park appeared pristine and sun drenched in front of us.  And something else.  There was nobody there.  No barking dogs, no people whistling and throwing sticks and balls.  The quiet, welcoming beauty was so surreal that I kept Roxy on her leash until we rounded the corner and took a good look, but it was truly empty.  I unhooked her collar, put my hands in my pockets for warmth against the damp morning chill, and watched her investigate the low-lying bushes.  Eventually we crossed the open grassy area and took a right up into another part of the woods, then scurried down into a valley, where we were forced to cross the brook again.  It was only four feet at its widest, and we found a muddy two-foot expanse to jump, climbing another small hill to exit the woods again onto another open field.  When did everything turn green, I thought.  Just weeks ago the ground was grey, and it surprised me to look ahead at small undulating patches of green.  I was trying to find the words for an Irish song about the fields of something, the fields of Dover?  Clover? But Eva Cassidy queued herself up in my head instead: “Fields of Gold.” I sang the words to myself, maybe aloud, I wasn't sure.  My first cry of the day.

Many years have passed since those summer days
Among the fields of barley
See the children run as the sun goes down
Among the fields of gold

You'll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley
You can tell the sun in his jealous sky
When we walked in fields of gold

Heading toward a welcoming circle of grass at the top of an incline, I recalled a conversation I had with a barrister/boxer/singer named Gary Daly in Dublin during the recent hazy days following my mother’s funeral. Gary impressed me by phoning his “Mummy” after having his picture taken with Noam, whom he had always admired.  We got to talking about music, and he told me that Eva Cassidy was extremely popular in Ireland.  I hadn’t realized Sting's wonderful song about the fields of barley was written about Ireland, but it’s no surprise that it’s running through my head now.  

I recall this version of the story: Eva Cassidy sent her music to a record producer who liked to throw arbitrary tapes into a recorder and listen while he dressed.  One particular morning he chose Cassidy’s tape, and after just a few minutes rushed to his phone in his stocking feet and called his office.  “We have to meet this woman.  Her voice is phenomenal,” he said.  But he was too late – Eva Cassidy had passed away some months earlier from cancer.  Many of her recordings were released posthumously, like one of my favorites, “Somewhere over the rainbow,” which I learned a few years back is often played at funerals.  Geesh.

My mind turns back to Ireland, where my mother’s dear grandmother was born in County Cork.  My mother, terminally ill with cancer and complications from chemotherapy, asked me a few weeks before to buy her a ring in Cork. I never imagined she would die just before the trip. 

At least the sun was out to counter my thoughts of cancer and death. Roxy and I had by now turned back toward the woods where we first entered the park, and I was about to re-leash her when she took off to chase a squirrel.  I heard the train before I saw the top of it just a couple hundred feet in front of us, and I noticed Roxy running ahead.  I pierced my own silence, yelling above the train, “Roxy stay!”  No, that’s not right.  “Roxy stop!”  Laura always warned me to keep her on leash.  Roxy finally heard me and waited for me to catch up to her and reattach her leash.  I was wide awake now.  The train passed and we scrambled back down the rocky path and crossed the tracks once again, on our way back home a few streets away, where the birds and the Sunday paper now welcomed us like a scene from “Our Town.”

My mother always told me to relax more, to take more time to drink a glass of wine, to walk outside and enjoy the sun.  I think I will use some of the money she left me to hire someone to clean out my gutters and replace a leaning fence section while I take more time to walk through fields, and breathe.  And maybe now I’m ready to write about our Ireland trip, where I hoped to find a sign, or proof, that we remain connected to those who leave us. 

I gained something personal on that walk, but I lost at least a mile land a half by not taking my Fitbit with me.  I will slip it into Laura's coat pocket before she takes Roxy out for her last walk of the night, and maybe I'll get back a half mile.  Better than nothing.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post, Bev. I feel the early morning resistance and quietude, and lack of grandmother's house. I still long to head over the field and through the woods for just one more visit with grandma/ma.