A Quiet Morning at the River

slice-of-life_individualIt’s a quiet morning at the river. High overhead, a flock of birds flies by. The caw of crows drifts in from far off in the distance, and from a bit closer, I hear the faint rise and fall of a bird song I can’t identify.

Most mornings, the river ice groans and creaks with the tidal flow. There are intermittent cascades of tinkling shards as it shifts, breaks, and falls. Occasionally, it emits a loud startling boom. Today all is quiet. Perhaps it’s slack tide.

I wander along the edges of the waterfront park, watching the subtle changes in light on the horizon.  There’s no real path for me to follow, just the contours where the land meets the river.

I know to look down river to the tall pine, a favorite perch for local bald eagles. This morning two of them are there, silhouetted against the lightening sky. Another one flies in, then disappears into the nearby trees. I watch them for a long while. Sometimes they fly off as dawn breaks. Today, they seem content to remain where they are.

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Turning, I scan the point at the turn in the river. Earlier this winter I saw a fox there. I listened to its piercing cry. Today,  it doesn’t appear. I look back along the banks where at other times I’ve seen beaver and mink. A lone squirrel scampers along for a bit, then darts up a tree and out of sight. Nothing else stirs.

As I do most days, eventually I walk through the parking lot, onto the road, and then out onto the bridge. Beneath me, in the limited open water, the common mergansers swim, their colors muted in the low light. Some days they power through the water, diving over and over, amusing me with their energetic fishing. Today, they placidly glide through the icy water.

DSC_0514.jpgI take only a few pictures. Walk a little bit more. Look. Listen.

Everything feels slower down at the river today. There’s a peace and an intimacy to the hush.

as dawn tiptoes in
the river welcomes me
morning meditation

How to Bathe Your Baby

slice-of-life_individualI’m participating in Laura Shovan’s daily poetry challenge this month. Each day someone posts a prompt around the theme “Water.” Yesterday’s prompt was for a How-to poem that included a reference to water. I considered a few ideas and one by one, rejected them. Then my mind, in that random way it has, flew back to one of my favorite memories–the first time my husband and I bathed our son, Connor.

It’s a memory that never fails to make me smile. I look back and see us standing by the kitchen sink, Connor in our arms. We were so earnest, so nervous, so determined to do it right.

I had a book. (Of course I had a book!) It was probably “What to Expect the First Year” or some such thing. I distinctly remember we had read and reread the section “Baby’s First Sponge Bath” in anticipation of this event. I’m pretty sure I’d even read it aloud. (If I remember correctly, my husband didn’t even roll his eyes. In fact, he may have been reading over my shoulder.)

Now the time was here. The counter was littered with the requisite items: bath towel, cotton pads, Q-tips, washcloth, baby soap, and whatever else was called for. I may have actually had a thermometer there to check the water temperature.

I look back at us in that long ago kitchen and feel such a huge affection for the two of us, so young with this beautiful new baby. Oh, how we already loved him. Oh, how much we wanted to do it all right.

I distinctly remember the book, open on the counter, and reading aloud step by step through the book as we bathed him. My husband, who was an RN, made no protest. We took turns holding, washing, soothing. We were starting from square one together. Doing the best we could. 

How to Bathe Your Baby

Before beginning,
read the appropriate section of the book–
once or twice.
(Okay, maybe three times.)
Gather required supplies.
Place them carefully on the counter.
(Do you have them all?)
Check.
(Double check.)

Gently undress your baby
bit by bit.
Reveal small sections of his perfect skin.
Soothe his cries.
Marvel at his delicate fingers and
their gentle exploration of the air.
Press a kiss at the nape of his neck.
Smooth your hand over his head of dark hair.
Let your fingers linger.
Moisten the washcloth with warm water
Gently smooth it over his skin–
Learn the universe of his curves.

Follow the directions in the book–
step by careful step.
Handle him like fine china.

When done,
wrap him in a soft towel.
Cradle him between the two of you.
Keep working as a team.
Do the best you can.

©Molly Hogan, 2020 (draft)

Waiting for a poem

slice-of-life_individual

DSC_0950When I pulled into the parking lot at school early last Wednesday, I looked up to see the slimmest crescent of moon in the midst of corrugated clouds. It’s easy to forget that these moon phases are an illusion of sorts–that we only see a fraction of the moon, but the entirety is there, out of sight. On that morning, something about that slim curve of visible light struck me as so tender…so vulnerable. Something about it grabbed my attention and still teases me.

Since that morning, I’ve looked at the picture over and over again. I find myself remembering the scene at odd moments. Wondering about its persistence. What was it that intrigued me so? The contrast of shapes between linear clouds and crescent moon? The contrast of color–charcoal grey and glowing white? The impossibly thin fragility of that sliver? I’ve been tinkering around with a poem, trying to find my way into it, but the words haven’t come together yet despite my best efforts.

When something is this “itchy” though, I know it will happen. Someday.

I could write about…

slice-of-life_individualI could write about the text I got that morning at school. About the frantic follow-up phone call. About throwing things in my bags, tapping someone to cover my class, and racing out the door.

I could write about the drive to the Emergency Room. About saying aloud to myself over and over again, “It’ll be okay. Just drive carefully. It’s snowing. Don’t go too fast. Everything will be okay.” About how my heart was lodged in my throat, my hands gripped the steering wheel and my pulse raced. Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!

I could write about the large crow I saw as I drove past. Or maybe it was a raven. It sat atop an isolated tree by the road, hunched over, feathers ruffled, vaguely menacing. I swear it looked directly at me, and I actually wondered, “Is that an omen?” Then shook the thought off. Mostly.

I could write about arriving at the ER, seeing him, being with him, spending the day there. Hour after hour. Eight long hours. Beeping monitors. Medications. Scans. Tests. Fear. And once again, no answers.

I could write about going home. Waking to listen to him move restlessly from room to room. Watching him sleep. Listening to him breathe.

I could write about the next few days. The follow-up appointments. The ups and downs. An anxious early morning conversation with the on-call doctor. The support of friends and family. The ever-present fear. The ever-present questions. The bone deep weariness.

I could write about my first day back at school. How I felt sick to my stomach leaving. Terrified to be away. Apart. The ever-present visceral tug toward home–toward him–pulling tighter as the distance grew, knotting my stomach. About how at school I carried my phone everywhere I went, checked it obsessively. Jumped at slight sounds.

But instead, I’ll write about coming home after school at the end of that first day back. Driving quickly to get home as fast as I could. Then walking into the house and seeing him there–still breathing. Fine. Anxious, but fine.

And I exhaled.

Dropping my bags, I walked over and sat beside him on the couch. I pulled my legs up under me and tucked my head against his chest. He put his arm around me and pulled me even closer, resting his cheek on my head. I could hear the steady swoosh of his heartbeat, and it both unnerved and comforted me. We sat that way for long minutes, our eyes closed, leaning into each other. We didn’t say a word.

One precious moment carved out of all the chaos.

Yes, that’s what I want to focus on.

Wild Midnight Magic

slice-of-life_individualI’m still not sure which woke me first–Kurt whispering intensely, “Molly, do you hear them?” or the sounds themselves. Stumbling up through layers of sleep, I half sat to listen. Kurt leaned closer to the window. The air around us seemed to vibrate with yips and howls. I recognized the sound immediately: Coyotes. But, I’d rarely heard them so loud before. They must have been close. Really close.

I still remember the first time we heard coyotes after moving to Maine. How we wondered at first what they were. How they sounded to us then– like a pack of drunks spilling out into the streets after last call at the bars. Howling and yipping. Wild with revelry. I smile now thinking how our city life translated into country.

We’ve heard them many times since, and last night, decades later, we listened to them again.

“Just listen to them!”
“They’re so loud. Are they down in the field?”

We whispered back and forth, as outdoors, the volume rose and then stayed steady, never receding. I’m not sure why we whispered.  Was it instinctive?  A need to stay unnoticed by this roving pack of predators? Or perhaps we whispered in deference to the wild magic of that midnight moment. 

Still listening, I imagined the coyotes moving through the snow. Slipping through shadows. Their breath frosting in the frigid air. Their strong, lean bodies dark silhouettes. Loud, fierce and free.

And then, just like that, their calls stopped. As if a switch had turned. The sudden silence felt like an echo.

After a moment, I lay back down, pulling the blankets up around my shoulders. I wondered if coyote prints outlined a path across the field, or perhaps even a circle in the side yard beneath our window.

So close. So loud. So fierce and free.

I tumbled back into sleep, thinking of coyotes.

 

 

Entranced

slice-of-life_individual

IMG_4071.jpgI wasn’t planning on going down to the river yesterday morning. Then, I looked outside and saw the dramatic bands of red, purple and blue. How could I resist? I put down my pen and started getting dressed.

By the time I arrived, the light was still low, but the drama of the pre-sunrise sky had already dimmed. My friend, Roger, arrived shortly after I did, and bundled in our layers of down, we waited and watched the morning unfold around us. 

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Suddenly a loud cry filled the air.

“Whoa! What was that?” I asked, turning to Roger in surprise.

“An eagle?” Roger suggested hesitantly.

“I think it might have been a fox,” I said, looking down the river toward the origin of the sound.

The noise came again. Then, after a brief pause, again. It’s hard to describe a fox’s cry, but it is piercing and somewhat eerie. (click here to listen)

“That’s definitely a fox, Roger,” I said.

We both looked around us, trying to find the source of the call, scanning the opposite shoreline, following the repeating cries.

“Oh! Look! Look! There it is!! Do you see?”

“Where?” Roger asked.

“It’s over on the other shore, just a little ways in from the point.”

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I pointed and Roger followed my not-so-clear directions until he saw it as well.

Over the next few minutes, the fox lingered, calling repeatedly. Roger and I took photo after photo. After a bit, I moved to a different vantage point, slightly closer to the fox. Even as I took the pictures, I knew they probably wouldn’t turn out well due to the the dim light and the distance. When not taking pictures, I watched the fox move along the shore, periodically stopping and crying. What a beautiful creature with those velvet black legs, russet coat, white chest and lush tail! It moved so gracefully, loping along the shore, stopping, calling. Entrancing.

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After about 5 minutes or so, the fox slipped around the corner and out of sight. Not long afterward, Roger and I went our separate ways.

All day long my mind drifted back to that moment at the river. To the piercing calls. The far away silhouette. The beauty of that lone fox wandering along the icy shore at dawn. The moment still feels so big. So memorable. I’m flooded with gratitude for having been in that place at that time. It is nice to have a photo or two, even if they are a bit blurry. But really, I don’t need one. Not at all.

 

 

Feeling Stupid and Lucky

slice-of-life_individualDSC_1005.jpgDriving away from a dawn photo session by a local river, I looked over my left shoulder. The sun was just rising, and color streaked the sky. I pulled over to the berm to pause and once again admire the evolving view. It really was lovely.

Just one more picture,  I thought.

I grabbed my camera, jumped out of the car, and walked across the road. The power lines were in the way, so I moved a bit further away to avoid them. I crouched down, angled this way and that, and took a few photos.DSC_1010.jpg

Snap!

The sound barely registered as I focused on capturing the golden rays and the reflection on the river.

Crackle! Snap! SNAP!

Huh? What was that? 

SNAP! SCRATCH! SNAP! SNAP!

I turned to look, as simultaneously my neurons fired in nervous anticipation of the answer.

Oh, no!

Oh, yes!

I hadn’t!

I had!

I knew it before I even saw it. Dread trickled down my spine.

Intent on my photo op, I must have left the car in drive.

Sure enough, my car had already rolled down the road away from me. It had now begun a descent into the side growth, crushing bushes and twigs in its path. Even as I looked, my mouth agape, it continued on its path …

Snap, crackle!

SNAPSNAPSNAP!

I ran.

It rolled.

Finally, it stopped.

I kept running until I reached it.

I looked at the slant of the car. At the wet, wet ground below it from the 3 inches of rain we’d had the day before. At the tree that had stopped its full descent. At the morass of weedy swamp in front of the tree.

I assessed for about one second. Then, I jumped in, put it into reverse and praying, stepped slowly but firmly on the gas.

SCRAPE! SNAP! Crack! SC-R-A-P-E!

Moving….

m-o-v-i-n-g….

Scrape! Crunch! Crackle! Crack!

skidding, slipping….

regripping…

moving…

Slowly but surely my trusty little Subaru extricated itself from the pit of my stupidity.

In a moment I was back safely on the side of the road. The sun was still casting lovely rays. My heart was beating madly and my hands were gripping the steering wheel. This time I put the car firmly in park.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” I whispered over and over and over again, interspersed with “Oh, my God!” “Oh, my God!” “Oh, my God!”

After I’d settled down a bit, I took a breath and slowly steered back onto the road. I drove home shaking the entire way, imagining all the what ifs from bad to worse: What if it had been stuck? What if it had been damaged? Or totaled? What if it had gone the other direction and into the river? What if it had hit another car? What if it had injured someone?

“Oh, my God! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

I felt unbelievably stupid and unbelievably lucky.