Today the dogs and I went for a nice hike at Sugarloaf Mountain. The hike is this one from Hiking Upward, about a seven mile loop. I love a loop hike, because it makes me do the whole thing. No shortcuts! Despite being the first car in the parking lot (almost a full hour after the gate opened at 8), by the time we got back to the car there were probably a hundred cars parked in the two lots and along the road. The trail started getting crowded toward the end, but if I had gotten there when the gates open (or on a weekday), I probably would have only seen a handful of fellow hikers.
It was extremely foggy early, and didn’t clear up much all day. But it was nice and unseasonably warm, and the diffused light helped me get a couple photos I’m really happy with. Even though I brought my little Olympus point and shoot, my go-to hiking/fishing/travel/whatever camera, these two shots were actually taken with my iPhone 4S. The photo above is one of my favorite pictures of ‘Team Orange.’ Boy do they love a hike! I predict all three of us will sleep well tonight.
REVISED…I wanted to get one of those canvas photo prints done of that top photo, but decided to Photoshop out the leashes first. Here is the updated photo…
This is my favorite photograph of my Mother. In it, she is not looking at the camera. She is not even aware of the camera. Her face is almost entirely hidden, in fact. But those who knew her well would be able to see the smile in her cheek. I’ve given this some thought, the photographing of people not as they look toward me, toward the interruption of a moment that is my camera, my attention. But how much more meaningful it can be to capture a person as they look out into their world. In this image, we are lucky enough to see the source of the smile: my father.
It’s easy for me to imagine the moment captured here. A couple of friends in the back, open road ahead, his car freshly tuned and purring (of this I am certain), driving to a picnic and toward a bright but unknown future. Sure, I know how the story ends, and I know it ends far sooner than they could have imagined. But it seems a worthwhile exercise to look through their eyes and just enjoy this moment with them. Young people in love on a warm day with the top down. This was a good moment. Who knows, maybe in difficult times ahead this instant came to mind and brought a smile.
But it’s this smile in the picture that intrigues me. It’s not for the camera, or at a family gathering, or amid small talk at the office water cooler. It’s a smile, pure as can be, at the man she’s about to marry, at the man with whom she will soon have children, at the man who is now watching the road. The smile isn’t even for him. It just is. And I almost feel guilty for spying on it.
My mother, who outlived my father by nearly thirty years, died five years ago today. A few years earlier, I had written something for her as a Mother’s Day gift. She called me, crying, and said it was the best gift I had ever given her. By the next time I visited, she had gotten it framed and it was hanging in her bedroom. So it meant a lot to both of us, and with Mother’s Day nearly upon us, I want to share it with you. What started as a gift, is now a tribute. I call it, “Flying.”
I recently held a hummingbird in my hand. He had accidentally flown into a window and fallen, unconscious, on the ground in front of a busy doorway. He looked like nothing, upside down, his white belly close to the color of the concrete beneath. But something made me look closer, and when I picked him up he moved a bit.
I moved him away from the human traffic, and sat on a nearby bench. Alive. Stunned, but with no visible injuries. His eyes opened, and I gave him the opportunity to fly from my open hand. He politely declined, and with an invisible gesture asked for a little more time to gather his wits. I assured him – by holding my hands in a way that he was protected and secure, but could leave if he chose to – that this was now the most important thing in my day, and if he needed all day he could have it.
So we sat there. Him clearing cobwebs and me just thinking, how lucky for me to have the opportunity to hold a hummingbird in my hands. How lucky for him that I came along.
My thoughts drifted back many, many years. Back to the house I grew up in, back to an injured bird in the gutter in front of that house, and back to my Mother. A shoebox, some paper towels, a lamp. It was exciting, I thought, to have part of the natural world sitting here in a box on the dining room table. I asked her how long before the bird would be better. She was a nurse, after all. Clearly she knew how to fix a bird.
I wanted to name it.
When she told me that she wasn’t confident the bird would get better (it wouldn’t), I remember instantly distancing myself emotionally. I felt like I had dodged a bullet by being moments away from deciding on a name.
My Mother, of course, saw instantly what I was doing and we had what stands now as my Earliest Remembered Meaningful Conversation. She asked, as a nurse, what would happen if she stopped caring about patients who were not getting better? Patients who were going to die? They needed her more than ever during those times.
I was young, I don’t recall how young. And I don’t recall the words she used to express and make me understand compassion. And Lord only knows how she made it be a part of me. But that’s how it is with these things. You can’t identify how your Mother makes you who you are, exactly. But you know that she did.
And so now, on Mother’s Day, I think about how at many other moments in my life my Mother taught me. Showed me. Shaped me. Held me, protected me, and gave me room to fly away. And I hope she knows that I noticed. That I remember. That the only thing I really forget is to thank her, and for that I am sorry.
She will stop her chores to watch with fascination the comings and goings of a cicada wasp in the barn. Or a frog in the yard. Or a family of deer. And her excitement over these miracles, these brushes with nature that most people never take the time to notice, is infectious. I look forward to sharing things with her. An eagle sighting. A hummingbird nest found in the woods. A beautiful moth. An odd insect. A storm cloud.
She loves dogs. And those who are lucky enough to win the lottery that is being her dogs are blessed with a profound, unending outpouring of affection that begins the moment they meet, and does not end. Ever. The spirits of dogs past are still and forever bathed in the warmth of her love for them.
She has a way with horses. Once, in the middle of the night, we awoke to the sound of our horses in distress. We went out to find that five horses from the property a few lots over had gotten loose, and were rummaging through the woods adjacent to our paddocks. The sound of five confused horses snapping limbs, snorting and crying out was of course quite disturbing to our horses, who responded by freaking the hell out. What happened next was truly remarkable. In the dark, surrounded by nine very agitated beasts and one very nervous husband, she orchestrated a horse/space/time management plan. Our horses were carefully but quickly calmed and gathered and put in the barn in a sequence that would cause the least anxiety to those who remained out. Then, in the woods, the mare who she presumed the others would follow was corralled and led through dense woods around to a gate. The others frightfully followed. All the while she gave me things to do and told me where to stand to be safe. Everyone got in and separated safely, and it was one of the most impressive displays of natural horsemanship I’ve ever seen.
Long ago I read somewhere that you know you’re with the right person when you each want the others’ dreams for them more than you want yours for yourself. When I see her riding, or grooming or preparing for a show, or when I hear her enthusiastically talking to a friend about some riding problem she had worked out, or when I see the horses come in from the front field to meet her at the barn in the morning, I know it’s true.
As for me, these days I think a lot about my life and who I am. Maybe it’s the recent reconnecting with people from my past, maybe it’s just age, but I look back. I don’t dwell, or try not to anyway, but I look back. And when I do, the most amazing thing comes into focus: the only time I have ever really been comfortable, confident, truly happy with who I am, is the time I’ve been with her.
She didn’t change who I am. But she loves the best of me, and I like to think she brings it out. My parents made me who I am, but she is the one who made it possible to find myself. I’m lucky to have found her. I love you.