Summer House: Ch. 16


“This!” Sonya shouted, fist to sky. “This!” She yelled out over the cove, over the waves. The willets rose in a flock, circled, and as the echoes died down and the shorebirds settled, Sonya lowered her arms and sighed. I watched the tension flow out of her shoulders.

“He can’t take this from me,” she said, gesturing over the bay.  “He can’t take this.” She opened her arms to the edge of the forest along the bluff. “He can cut off our money. He can sell our house. He can rip apart my life. He can break our boy’s heart. But he can’t take this. He can’t stop me from loving this earth.”

I felt the dirt beneath my feet. We breathed in the smell of kelp and salt and the distant dust of the agricultural fields on the mainland.

“This earth,” she said. “I may be homeless. I may not know where me and my kids will be staying, six weeks from now, but I know this earth is my container. No one can keep me from loving this earth.”

We sat on the edge of the bluff, listening the waves roll over the pebbles, and the willets call back and forth to each other.

“I haven’t asked questions,” I said. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested. It just means I respect you and your need to work things out. I am here to listen to whatever you want to share.”

“I appreciate that,” Sonya said. “I can feel your caring. So, I knew why you were quiet.”

We were alone on the bluff. Elise was babysitting the Delgado kids at the other end of the bay. Shingo was teaching Bernard how to paint ducks, back at the house, and the three anachronisms stayed back with them.

Sonya and I had headed out to pick thimbleberries and huckleberries. The thimbleberries were for us, not for selling. They’re too dry to make a decent pie, and too scarce to cook up for jam or jelly, but a handful tossed over granola made one of the best breakfasts we could think of.

We had taken the long way back, through the north woods, for I had wanted to see if the pileated woodpecker still nested in the old Doug fir. When we emerged through the woods, and the sun caught our eyes, and the light danced off the bay, that’s when Sonya set down her basket of berries and cried out to the sky.

“It was nothing dramatic,” she said. “It was the opposite of fire and ice. You ever watch a houseplant wither? It was like that. No matter how much you water. How tender your care. It drops leaf by leaf. You don’t throw it out. You keep it, holding out hope. You think that it’s OK if it sheds its leaves. It will grow new ones, right? You keep vigil over the crooks in the branches, those intersects where the new leaves form, and sometimes, you even imagine that you see glimmers of new green.”

We lay on our backs under the late summer sun. I closed my eyes and the warmth descended. It’s impossible to feel a broken heart when the summer shines like this, so I let Sonya talk.

“I kept hoping, like Bernard, that he’d join us,” Sonya said. “But Elise knew better. He’s not her father, you know. She was two when I met him. Her dad passed. It was…” she waved her hand against a stray cloud. “Anyway, he’s not her dad. I kept holding out hope. You know, a break would do us good, right?”

I turned on my side to watch Sonya’s face. She tried to smile, but as she continued to speak, the light faded from her eyes. “It was when he closed the Verizon account that I knew he was done. For good. And we were on our own. We are on our own. And do you know why?”

Of course I didn’t. I couldn’t imagine what might make a man who’d had a child with this beautiful strong woman leave her, especially when that child was a bright and funny boy like Bernard.

“It must have happened years ago,” she said, “when those leaves started withering. Yes, I think it was after Bernard was born. You know, he told me a few nights before the kids and I left to come here that he couldn’t live without love. ‘You don’t have to,’ I said. ‘I love you. We love you.’ ‘Not like that,’ he said.”

I heard the pileated woodpecker drumming against the Douglas fir deep in the woods. “Listen!”

We listened for a moment, and Sonya smiled at me. “Your bird is still here!” she said.

We heard its laugh-like call.

Sonya turned on her side to face me. “So, you know what he said? He said he felt like he was dying inside. He couldn’t live without that spark. He wanted to be in love again, and he couldn’t live without it. For me, being a family was always enough. Even once it started fading, I could look at him and say to myself, ‘This is my family,’ and I would feel a rush of warmth that filled me with strength and patience to carry on. For me, that’s enough in life. That’s all I need. But for him, he told me he felt that he was dying. He needed that rush, like what we had in the beginning, and he couldn’t see a way to get that with me.”

I saw the pain in Sonya’s face, and my mind went intellectual all of a sudden. Analytical. I started thinking of the powerful chemicals of romance and infatuation. They’re addictive. I thought of the sociobiological reasons for a man to feel like that, to get hooked on that neurochemical, hormonal high. Sonya’s eyes were large and moist. I didn’t think she’d find comfort in my analysis.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“I am, too,” she replied. “I always thought that family was enough to keep us together.”

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Summer House: Ch. 15


I know where the birds’ nests are. Bernard and I headed out in the early morning, wearing our boots and rain hats, while the sun shone through fog and clouds. A hermit thrush sang, and we followed it through the stand of aspens.

“How do you find the nests?” Bernard asked in a whisper.

“Listening,” I replied, “and watching. Some return every year to the same spot. I’ve had lots of summers here to discover secrets.”

We followed the deer trail through the aspens to the bluff, and we sat beneath a granite outcropping. I pointed towards a scraggly cedar arching its branches over the bay. Near the end of the largest branch sat a pile of twigs: an osprey’s nest.


Within minutes, the osprey soared over the bay, hovered, and dove to catch a salmon. It carried the salmon in its talons up to the nest where two white chicks stretched out their long necks, opening their hooked yellow beaks.

When the osprey flew off, Bernard looked at me, his eyes wide. “Wow.”

He slipped in his hand in mine as we continued along the trail.

A winter wren darted into a thimble-berry bush. We heard its chicks and kept looking until we found a globe nest woven of lichen and Spanish moss.

Up in the pale green leaves of an alder sat a vireo’s cupped nest.

Cliff swallows darted out from the banks of the creek. We slid down an otter’s path to walk along the shore, so we could glance up to find the swallows’ mud-daub nests.

“How do birds know how to build?” Bernard asked.

“They learn,” I said, “like you learn how to write.”

“Does everything learn?” he asked. “I think everything learns. Everything learns to do what everything does.”

A frog jumped out from the cattails and landed into the pond with a splash.

“Oh, I bet there are pollywogs,” I said.

“I have never seen pollywogs,” he said. “I don’t think.”

We ventured to the edge of the pond.

“Look! There they are!” Tiny black dots with tails wriggled over the stones on the pond floor.

“I don’t see them,” said Bernard. We kept looking.

“What do you see?” I asked.

“I see the sky. I see leaves. I see that water skeeter. I see the shapes of branches.”

“You’re looking at the reflections,” I said. “At the surface. You need to look through that. Look beyond.”

He became still with concentration. I shifted my own glance from surface to the mid-level to the floor of the pond.

“Look for the stones at the bottom,” I said. “There’s a yellow stone with a black stripe. See if you can find it.”

He looked. “I see it!”

“Now keep watching. See what swims over it.”

A large brown bullfrog tadpole sucked the surface of the rock, slowly wagging its tail back and forth.

“I see it!” Bernard shouted.

We watched as water striders circled, diving beetles rose, and the tiny black pollywogs circled over the stones and mud.

“It’s like a magic world,” Bernard whispered.

“Can you see both the surface and the depths at the same time?” I asked.

“No. Wait.” We sat silently. “Yes!”

I heard a chewing sound and raised my gaze to see a cat-tail stalk fall into the water. I nudged Bernard and gestured with my chin, raising my finger to my lips so we wouldn’t say a word.

A muskrat emerged from the thicket of cat-tails to grab the fallen stalk between his teeth. He swam like a beaver, carrying his harvest, to the opposite bank, then, backwards, pulling the cat-tail stalk behind him, crawled out where he disappeared again into a low tunnel in the sedges.

“I never knew there were so many secrets,” Bernard whispered.

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Dove 4

A reply to: A letter from Dove


Dove! Congratulations! I have a million things to do, and I owe one of my other pen pals a letter, too, but after I received your letter, I had to drop everything to write!

I’m so excited for you!

Of course, it must feel very stressful. And I’m so happy that you have Maki there to help. Seeing what a challenge it is to raise a toddler on my own, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be the single parent of an infant. What a blessing that Maki would come into your life! Does she plan to be with you after the delivery?

And of course I’ll write! I can’t think of anything that would keep me from writing to you. Don’t feel badly about your decision to wait to share your pregnancy with me.  Isn’t it part of the Pen Pal Code that we get to choose what to reveal and when? I don’t think the code says we need to tell everything about ourselves!

I’ve heard of online friends even posing as someone else–I think that could be fun, too. Sort of like imaginary friends. Because even when we pose or pretend, we still reveal. There’s something of ourselves and our essence that gets transmitted even when we’re pretending to be someone else.

Congratulations on your promotions, too! Will you keep working after you have the baby?

I can imagine that it must feel very rewarding to have a job outside the home–a chance to talk with others, go someplace! Do something besides cleaning up after a little one.


Except for mild instances of stir-craziness, I feel happy with the lifestyle of stay-at-home mom. I’m focusing my career on my painting now, which I’m able to do at home, and my uncle has gallery contacts that have begun to express interest in my work. So, even though I miss the stimulation of going someplace every  day, I feel that, on balance, the rewards overwhelm any temporary feelings of confinement.

Jena is doing so much better. Her movement skills are developing, so she feels less frustrated now that she can get where she wants to quickly and easily. It keeps me on my toes, though, especially since she’s so independent now! She’ll get her own food whenever she’s hungry. (I make sure to always leave a plate of healthy snacks out for her.)

The other day, I found her sitting on her bed eating tofu tacos. She acted like it was the greatest thing.

When I asked her what she was doing, she said, “Bunny frog party.”


She’s starting to speak in English, and I’m starting to be able to understand her! It makes such a difference.

I’ve always thought of her as this miracle in my care. The other day, though, I felt a beautiful shift. As I carried her into bed, I found myself thinking of her as my daughter.


Well, Dove, soon you’ll be holding your own child in your arms. In fact, maybe you’ve already given birth!

Sending you–and your child–and lovely Maki–so much love right now,


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