On beach birds, and stories, and analog life… and also a poem

October 3, 2014 in North America, United States

Beach NC

I wish I knew what those birds are…

the ones signing in the palm tree beneath the balcony that sound like a trio of little kids who are experimenting with their first whistle-pop lollies. They are enthusiastically embroidering a melody over the long, low percussion of the Atlantic washing ashore. The crash of the waves is reminiscent of the crescendo of a timpani with the occasional unexpected boom of a big bass drum. The sun is reluctant this morning, like myself. I’m watching her rise above the steel grey sea with a yawn. She keeps rolling over and pulling the downy blanket of clouds up over her head in denial of the inevitable. We both know that this is the last quiet day we’ll have for a couple of weeks.

Writing hasn’t come easily recently. It’s not that there hasn’t been plenty to tell, there is always plenty to tell: Hannah’s conference went well and opened more doors for her. She’s in NYC now, studying and working. The boys have surfed themselves into the sand this week. The Man has been back and forth to NJ for work. I have been back and forth to the west coast, mostly for work. I climbed to the top of a spectacular waterfall and re-injured my ankle; I’m pretty sure it was the running I foolishly attempted on the way down. We’ve spent a week with “Uncle Chris” in a beautiful beach house on Topsail Island, part of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. There have been stories to tell.

Really, my absence here has been about time and my usual fall nesting instinct that causes me to start making lists and reevaluating my efforts in advance of the new year. I tend to spend the last quarter of every year in self assessment and strategic planning. Not just for work and family, but for the inside of my own soul as well. Fall into winter is always the time of year that finds me focusing on deepening analog life in a thousand little ways. I cook. I create things. I spend long minutes staring at the sea. I walk and meditate. I consider how my various gardens are growing, I pull a weed here; I water an unexpected flower that has sprung up between the rows over there. I evaluate what’s borne fruit, what I should plant more of next year, and what I can’t be bothered with any longer.

A boy has just emerged on the deck. His hair is messy. He’s wearing yesterday’s clothes, as boys this age are wont to do: grey surf shorts and his, “Alaska: The last frontier” shirt, which he procured up north earlier this summer. He’s got a nice ruddy sunbaked aura about him and the freckles that liberally spangle his nose and cheeks are a little darker than they were last week. When he was a baby we called those his “chocolate chips” and he loved the game in which I tried to nibble them off of his face. He sat  on the cracked white wicker chair and completed his morning assessment: the temperature of the air and of his mother. Satisfied that both are headed firmly towards “sunny and warm,” he’s headed back inside to scalp the last piece of pumpkin pie for his breakfast before any of the other vultures awake. As he pulled the screen door shut behind him my mind whispered, “Only six more falls like this… with birds in your nest.” Only six more falls.

Time is an illusion…

My friend Chris reminded me of this as we walked 12 miles of beach to celebrate October’s arrival. It’s a human construct used to measure things that should not be measured, merely lived. Those six years don’t exist. Nor do the last twenty, except in so much as we’ve created life in those moments and we have the memories to prove it.

Note to self: collect memories, not things. Spend time on people, those who share the moments and help create the collective reality, instead of stuff that doesn’t matter. These are the thoughts that frame my consciousness this fall. As much as I love the connectivity of the online extension of my life, it’s only useful to me insomuch as it deepens analog life. For me, being eyeball to eyeball, hand in hand and creating the same moment in time together is the marrow of life. 

And so, I bake pumpkin pies, and I walk barefoot in the sand, and I stand at the top of waterfalls and watch the way the droplets of spray sparkle, even on a grey and rainy day and count train cars whisking through the bottom of the valley. I watch my kids tumble ashore, tossed by a laughing ocean. I go vortex hunting with Chris, even though I don’t believe in such things. I sit on the balcony and watch the sun wrestle with the concept of morning instead of writing. I study the three black birds that have landed on the grey, weathered railing and I think of that poem from eleventh grade that captivated me, and that I always recite the first few lines of when I see birds that remind me of crows. It was the way the old Scotch bent my ear that has stayed with me forever, and Mr. Coffey’s rolling base voice reading it aloud that I still hear in my head…

As I was walking all alane,

I heard twa corbies makin a mane;

The tane unto the ither say,

“Whar sall we gang and dine the-day?”

There will be time to write and plenty of hours for the work I’ve chosen to dedicate the coming year to. In my absence here, know that I’m collecting stories, making memories, building relationships, thinking about old poems, noodling the big ideas and considering what it means to live and love as we plot the way forward together.

What are you thinking about this fall?