Letters Along the Trail

From Me to you

Skagit Valley, March 9th, 2017

Dear M,

It’s late and the house is very quiet. I’m sitting by the woodstove, the cat sprawled on the couch opposite me looking uninhibitedly comfortable with his front paws folded over his eyes and his back legs curled up in the air. The motion sensor light outside just flicked on and I can see the back porch is bare and wet, from today’s rain, but the ground beyond it is still covered with about 8 inches of snow. Puffy, no-gloss snow that looks like marshmallow topping rather than the usual layer of icing we get when it’s colder. And drier.

Anyway, I’m almost ready for bed myself but I find I’ve been going to sleep thinking about you and waking up thinking about you so I decided to talk to you in a letter rather than just in my head. I’d call or text but you haven’t really been responding of late which leaves me in a bit of a quandary. It’s as if we were on this lovely hike through life together, enjoying each other’s company, and then suddenly you took a turn off the trail and didn’t let me know. And I’m standing where you left me, calling and calling, but your replies keep getting fainter and more sporadic. I know, of course, that you wandered off because you got a little lost – mentally not geographically – and so my quandary is whether I should keep trying to reach out to you or move on. Because I can’t keep standing here, wondering.

Letters seemed like the perfect solution. They’re my favorite thing to write and you’re one of my favorite people so there’s a certain syllogistic satisfaction in wanting to write them to you. Plus I can leave them on the trail, hoping you’ll find them and sit with them a while. And maybe, maybe even find a little of you in them.

Well, I really do need to go to bed now because I have a 9-hour flight to England tomorrow, along with an 8-hour time change, so I should probably sleep while I can. Especially since I need to get up early and pack before I can leave. When did I get to be such a last minute person, that’s what I want to know. Of course I have been totally consumed by my new novel of late, mooning over it almost, like a lovesick teenager. The upside is that I finished it on Monday and handed it over to a book club that wanted to be first readers; the downside is that we have no groceries, no clean clothes, we’ve been eating hasty meals and, oh yes, I’m not packed. But now I can go to England knowing that it’s out there, being scrutinized by others. I’m a firm proponent of Stephen King’s saying, “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open,” because I think that’s the only way I can possibly end up with something others will want to read.

Okay that’s enough for tonight. I hope you’re getting your mind around some of the things that are baffling you. And I hope you know how much I love you.

I will write again but there since there’s no way for me to let you know when, I hope you’ll keep looking for these letters. You never know when you might find a new one.

Till then, xoxo

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Balbriggan, March 16th, 2017.

Dear M,

We made it safely over to England and now we’re in Ireland, to watch our youngest perform with the PNW intercollegiate band at the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin tomorrow. We’re staying outside of Dublin, in a place called Balbriggan, right on the Irish Sea. The weather is lovely and yesterday we walked down to the water and watched kids in their school uniforms playing badminton on the beach. Well, not really badminton; more like hitting the ball back and forth with rackets as they chased across the soft sand.

We also took the train further up the coast to a town called Skerries, situated on a spit of land shaped like the head of a goat. It is said that St. Patrick himself visited Skerries, to proselytize the people, leaping from two small islands just off the coast and leaving a footprint in the rocks at the edge of the water, right by the goat’s nose. The footprint is still there and, again, it’s said that if you step into it, you can make a wish and that wish will surely come true. I wanted to step into that footprint so badly, thinking I might wish good things for you, but the tide was in and, even though the day was warm, the water was cold and I would have had to get my legs wet up to my knees, so I passed. I did wish from the safety of dry land, above the footprint, though.

Then again, I wish every day for good things for you and I wonder if that might soften your regard for me if you only knew. But you’re young and I think that’s a big part of why you believe you can make this journey alone, without help from those who love you. That might be true but I suspect it’s bravado on your part more than true toughness. A bravado you wrapped around your tender heart oh so many years ago to protect it from pain.

The thing is, that bravado is not made of the stern stuff you think it is. Instead it’s fabricated from filaments of shame that wound around your heart every time you assumed responsibility for something that wasn’t your fault. And the job of those who love you is to poke at those filaments until they shatter into millions of tiny particles, like dust motes, and disappear into the ether. And yes, it hurts when someone pokes those filaments, bumping up against your heart as they must, but once the filaments are gone, your heart will fill with a river of love. I promise.

Unless I’m just full of blarney, like the Irish. We also learned at Skerries that when St. Patrick visited the town, he brought a goat along with him, so he’d be able to feed himself from its milk. But the people of Skerries stole that goat and ate it, angering St. Patrick no end. My question is – really? The people of a town shaped like the head of a goat, also stole and ate a goat that belonged to their patron saint, thereby incurring his wrath? Hmmmmm, sounds a bit dubious to me. But it makes for a grand story to tell visitors like us, don’t you think?

Well that’s enough for today. I hope you have a great St Patrick’s Day and only hear stories that make you smile. Keep looking for these letters.

Meantime, top of the morning to yeh. xoxo

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Skagit Valley, March 23rd, 2017.

Dear M,

We’re back and had a fabulous time, which on the one hand shored me up with all sorts of positive energy, but on the other made me upset at you again because you’re not here for me to share all the stories of our travels. And I find myself starting recriminating conversations with you in my head when I really don’t want to. I’d rather find out why you’ve put yourself at such a remove but if you’re not telling me, how can I?

Communication can be so complicated. How many conversations have I participated in where angry words were lobbed around only to expose a much sweeter, and way more palatable, truth at the center? Why can’t we just start with that yummy center, that’s what I want to know? Or why can’t people at least be honest about what they want out of a relationship instead of masking it with deflections and untruths?

We were watching this episode of Shameless last night on Netflix. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that program but it’s the kind of show that you sort of don’t want to watch, because the characters are so depraved, but you can’t seem to help yourself. Like rubbernecking an accident on the freeway. William H. Macy stars and, of course, he’s just wonderful. In fact, his performance is a big part of why we keep coming back, even though he plays someone who is despicable and, well, shameless really. But the storyline itself is also a pretty well drawn insight into addiction and dysfunctional families, as well as into the handing off of both to the next generation, so we feel like we learn a little something while we watch it.

Anyway, in last night’s episode, the lead female, Fiona, tells her boyfriend unequivocally that their relationship is OVER, and that he should stop calling, texting or trying to reach her in any way! She is very angry when she’s saying all this and very believable. But when her boyfriend (ex-boyfriend?) stops calling and texting, Fiona is upset. She doesn’t understand why he hasn’t tried to reach her and she says so to a friend. The friend – who happens to be male – says, because you told him not to, so what did you expect? To which Fiona replies, well, not that!

So I guess my point is, I hope you’re not planning to turn around and find me exactly where you left me when you walked away because that’s not going to be the case. And the longer you wait to turn around, the further you may have to walk to make up the distance between us. I don’t want it to be that way, but I feel I have to do something to protect my heart. Or maybe that’s just my anger talking. I don’t think I really know anymore.

I do know that my chickens were very pleased to see me back. I cleaned their coop out a few days after my return and they were so happy they laid me seven eggs in one day. Seven eggs! I have eight chickens and one’s a rooster so the hens must have laid an egg a piece to say thank you. I think I’ll make pancakes for breakfast tomorrow.

Till the next time. xoxo

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Skagit Valley, April 27th, 2017.

Dear M,

It’s getting to the end of Tulip Festival in the valley where I live and it has it been a glorious, glorious season. Tulips are a hardy flower and like the cold, so that long, biting winter we endured was right up their alley. I’ve loved Tulip Festival every year that I’ve worked it but I have to say, this one really stole my heart. The flowers were taller, with bigger blossoms and bolder, more vibrant colors than I’ve ever seen before. And the rows of color seemed to stretch out forever towards the horizon, which just buoyed my spirit every time I drove past them.

Yesterday I found out that the bulb farmers who invited us to be part of the Festival, lo those many years ago, are coming up to retirement (or at least to becoming “farmers emeritus” as my husband would say). I stopped in to talk to their daughter on my way out to the barn, and we got reminiscing about “the good old days,” back when her parents would rent a field to grow their tulips and we would set up our booths at the side of the road and sell our wares. That got me thinking about why everyone seems to look back on the hard times and think of them as good? Certainly that time was much leaner for all of us financially, and the prospect of any of us being able to sustain our pursuits was extremely tenuous, so why the fondness? We were younger, of course, and I think that’s part of it, but I also believe that humans like the struggle. Maybe it’s the thrill of going up against something you’re not sure you can (or should) do. Like willing yourself to jump off a the high diving board; it feels so good when you actually land in the water that you can’t help but look back and think, Wow! But who knows.

On another note I wanted to tell you that I baked a cake the other day and thought of you. A lot. The first time I made this cake, it was in your kitchen, and I can still picture you bopping your shoulders as you poured melted chocolate and butter into a bowl while singing along to Dar William’s Are You Out There. Good times.

Which makes me wonder how we got to here, I have to admit. But maybe there is something even better to come out of this painful separation we’ve got going on. I had a yoga workshop in our guest space recently (which looks like a tree house, so we joked it was yoga in a tree house) and the instructor said something about some of the best things coming out of a place of pain. She said, “If you think back to some of the most difficult things you’ve gone through in your lives, you’ll probably find that to be true.” Which may be an answer to my earlier question of why we look back on the struggle with fondness. Maybe it’s because it leads to something better.

We can hope, can’t we? In the meantime, every time I think of you, I want to reassure you that this too shall pass. Actually, now that I say that, maybe I should reassure myself of the same thing. 🙂

Till the next time, xoxo

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