Does it really have anything to do with age, the sequence of reflections, the way you angle yourself before the mirrors of your life, the way you manage to completely rearrange the scenery and the cast of characters, gallop yourself into a new existential western unfolding under the mythic constellations of those wide open spaces you were longing for, and then, after a while, come to wonder if this Wonderland was worth the trade in long-left friends, and even the Pony Express of gmail, whatsapp, and instagram feels thin as threadbare blankets on a snowy Wyoming night around a campfire that's gone out and you realize if you fall asleep you just might wake up dead.
We come out here, though, for some good reason, these distances that stand in for a spiritual path, these ways of going away, backtracking to some fork in the road you must have passed in the dark, how many of them there must have been, and I, I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. I have a friend who lived in Robert Frost's house in Vermont for quite a while, and there was no way to visit her there without thinking that cliché, if only these walls could talk. But what I'd really want to hear is the mulling over of the melodies the poet found and polished like pebbles rolling in the river that ran past his door, the words we roll in our mouths like dice in a gambler's fat hand, blowing into them, casting our wishing spells, betting the ranch on snake eyes, putting your life in the hands of the High Roller who writes the scripts and passes out the parts, or so you like to think, in that moment in the mirror, He's got the whole world in his hands.
You always told me to tell it like it is, the way I say it when I don't care how it sounds. Like the cowgirl singing the herd to sleep, walking her horse in that slow circle in the dark, making up endless verses to that song, "Rain or shine, sleet or snow, me and my donegal are bound to go."
So here I am, darling. I'll just tell you what I hear out here. I'll just share this self-made exile with you, for what it's worth, some words that land in your lap as the copper leaves fall from the trees along your canal. I'm not out on the prairie, not on some palomino mare, not singing lullabyes to lowing cattle, not bedding down beside the fire. I'm propped up in my bed looking straight ahead at two shelves full of journals, going back to just about the time we met, before we became mothers, over thirty years ago. I've painted on each spine the year in white-out. And some of those years were white-outs indeed, snow-blinded by blizzards roaring through that vast landscape where we risk everything, gambling on love. And this is what I hear them say:
Don't be afraid to open me. Consider us your river. Come over, bend down, cup your hands and drink. It's only water, only water. Burbling on its way over the rocks. It's not polluted, it's just rain and melted snow. Maybe some cow piss leached in from an alpine meadow. But there are no factories along these banks. And who would ever demand that water be art? That's crazy. Nature doesn't think that way. Don't come climbing back up this bank with a roll of barbed wire and fence posts. Don't start posting No Trespassing signs on the trees. Be a friend, come in peace, there are birds here you won't see anywhere else. Be quiet and listen. They are singing the song of you.
I open one and remember. April in Amsterdam. White horse chestnut blossoms, like tiered wedding cakes for birds, blooming outside my third story window on Van Oldenbarnedveldtstraat – the old barn field street – as my daughter, born at dawn, sleeps on my chest. The tree is reaching its branches toward me, its leaves are deepest green, broad and serrated, palmate like giant open hands. In the center of each tiny blossom, shaped like a miniature orchid, lies a drop of magenta bright as a jewel. Everyone knows it is too early for the chestnuts to bloom, but only I know she has done it to celebrate my daughter's arrival. In this moment I see my reflection in the tree, and hear her whispering, "Welcome. You are one of us now."