Living North, Dreaming South

Where I live now, I look out onto pale blue curvaceous mountains. The undulating hump-back Green Mountains of Vermont never cease to amaze. I’m also amazed that I live in a place where flowers grow--big-headed wonders—peonies, poppies, hydrangeas (the size of babies’ heads!). From where I’ve come, flowers were impossible to grow—only vines and ivy could survive. I, also, could no longer survive the southern heat—because my body had rebelled—first asthma, then worse, a diagnosis of MS, which finally sent me packing North. 

I’d come to the Northeast, a corner of paradise in the Berkshires where I have friends who teach at Williams, who write books, as I once did, who hike, as I no longer can, who don’t talk with their hands or drink too much or bound over to their neighbors’ homes for some ice cubes, or cat food, or perhaps just a good cry. Not only is the landscape different, but there was a requisite rearranging of my mindscape, a tucking in, a tethering that suited me just fine in my sixth decade. 

I was born and raised where the horizon is one straight line, the sky, enormous and pearl gray; from a distance things come slowly into focus--herons and gulls, white against white, black birds like clouds that rise and fall from the rice fields. Or in the muddy swamp a sudden movement breaks a surface--the whip of a tail--the pebbled hide, other-worldly, alien.

photo of turtle by Dante Recknagel

Last week, while driving to Wild Oats, I got a text from my New England friends, Mary and Michael. They were on a walking tour of The Garden District in New Orleans. I’d forgotten they were going.

Holy crap, Mary wrote, It is hot! 

Any recommendations? she asked. She said they had a day, actually a day and a half.

I got an ache so exquisite that I pulled to the side of the road, sat and stared out at the purple mountains, as every neuron rapid-fired a sequence slide show of my beloved New Orleans. I could imagine Mary trudging in her Birkenstocks down sidewalks buckled from oak roots. I wanted to be her guide, to help in her search for the authentic, the "real" New Orleans. The Court of Two Sisters, I texted. The porch of the Pontchartrain Hotel.

Collage/Acrylic, by Marsha Recknagel

But then I thought-- Why on earth would they be out in the afternoon heat of New Orleans? I almost texted her to go back to her room--almost explained that "we" never go out in the mid-day heat. I almost wrote--Spend the afternoon with your husband in a darkened room, kick off your shoes, strip down to nothing, shower, fill the ice bucket, take the ice…..

Before I could text her anything, she wrote me: Everywhere I look reminds me of you, and of your art.

I stayed parked on Cole Street, looked at the picture book blue Berkshire sky and remembered naps in rooms—the Soniat, the St. Anne’s--- where yellow butter light came through the shutters, the cold air like a friend, a third person in the room.

Oh, Mary, I thought--"We" make love from two to five, the air blowing down upon our bodies, where afterwards, I wrap myself in a sheet as if it is a Roman toga, step out onto the balcony and lust for an Orange Crush, a Dr. Pepper, chilled Chardonnay with my oysters on a tray of ice. Hot and Cold. Cold and Hot. I’ll lick the sweat from my upper lip, remember the salt, the surprise of such a simple, common moment, lived.

To tell you the truth, I could not bear that they were there and I was not. It killed me. 

These days, really days I love, day after day, I wake at dawn, feed the dogs and cats, walk out into the meadow, fill the five bird feeders, cut some flowers, sit out in the yard until well past noon.

I texted Mary from here to there: Go to the Old Absinthe House--and suddenly I was there, the stone walls holding a cool dankness I tasted on my tongue. I’ve held my palm against that wall, once pressed my back for some cool relief from the heat from the hangover from the love I felt for this man who waited for me at the table, at the time, of the time when I was with the love of my life, loved my life, where life ran hot and cold and I made mad love until dawn, and then until dusk, and then another dawn.