Sunday, June 24, 2007

on clyde pond

I always love going home to my parents' house. Going home to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont is like going on retreat. No one will ever find you there. And once you arrive, you can finally breathe. This is not to say that Burlington is the rat-race. Not by any means. But in comparison to sitting in a canoe on quiet Clyde Pond, it might as well be.

Going home also means going to church. That's okay by me, especially since it's my dad who does the preaching and he's the best in the world. And not just because he's my dad. You'll always walk away from service with some kind of little nugget you can use to tackle the week ahead with joy and grace. And so I did this morning. But instead of walking, I decided to run--all the way to the house about 50 yards towards the woods--so invigorated was I from the good words and the gorgeous sun shining down my back. As I galloped down the path about a hundred tiny red butterflies seemed to burst from my feet and fly up beside me like dolphins, diving in and out of my sight. They followed me all the way. Good omen!

My dad and I took the canoe behind the house and put in at Clyde Pond, an old reservoir hidden among the woods behind Newport. Only the locals know about it, I think. For human visitors are few and far between. We paddled upstream to the Clyde River and my dad pointed to a stretch of shore where just last week he had seen a baby deer and its mother. In a strange way, I still felt the ghost of their presence there and couldn't help but recall a poem I once read by Mary Oliver in her stunning book House of Light. The poem called The Deer, depicts timeless, ever-present nature--like two deer walking in long grass as though time doesn't exist. The poem speaks to the strength and reliability of the wild earth. But it also voices a fear for its fleetingness. We need the make the most of every minute with earnest devotion.
Each of us is given/only so many mornings to do it--/to look around and love/the oily fur of our lives,/the hoof and grass-stained muzzle./Days I don't do this/I feel the terror of idleness,/like a red thirst./Death isn't just an idea./When we die the body breaks open/like a river;

As I was thinking about this--I could think for ever on this quiet, isolated river--I gazed among a patch of lily pads, looking grand like a hundred emerald sun dials, and saw a white flower peeking up from the water.

"Look!" I said to my dad, "the flowers on the lily pads are blooming!"

"Yup, waterlilies," he relied. "That's what we used to call the sailors."

"Really?" I asked. "Why?"

"Because of those hats they used to wear. You know, those white ones."

"Can we get close to it?" I asked. We paddled towards the lone bloom. In my thoughts, I imagined a handful of earnest sailors bobbing up and down on the water like buoys. Not the same effect really. I thought of Monet's large old paintings of waterlilies that I was fortunate to see up-close over the winter at L'Orangerie in Paris. If you are ever lucky enough, like I was, to see these massive round panels in person, you'll probably notice that they're surprisingly drab, albeit breathtaking. The flowers themselves are barely noticeable in among the grass and ripples and brush strokes. I guess that's why the painting are so famous--you have to squint your eyes a bit. They're gorgeous, but they do no justice to the waterlily flower that, in real life, stands out against the deep dark waters like a bright star in the midnight sky.

We were now close enough to the flower to touch it. I wanted to take a picture. But the lily seemed to be playing a game with me, ducking in and out of the shadows, in and out of the water, and only peeking out long enough to say, "Here I am, and here I go." Fleeting and exuberant, as only a real-life waterlily can be. Finally I got a snapshot. A quick snapshot of the yellow pollen mustache, the pointy white petals, the game of peek-a-boo to remind me of this fleeting moment and make it timeless.

Leaving my parents' is as thrilling as it is to arrive. There is no room for sadness, because your arms and your car are filled to the brim with fresh flowers and produce from the garden, clean laundry--line-dried and smelling like sunshine, new plants to add to my porch pot garden (this time I have two mint varieties and borage, whose flowers garnish any summer cocktail with a colorful flourish), and my parents' home-roasted coffee tickling our noses (oh, how Au Lait loves the scent of coffee!).

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