Fall will soon be here, the temperatures dipping down into the 50's last night. Outside, nothing moves, the morning pausing for the first ray of sun to break the trees, they themselves barely breathing. I like being the first one awake in the morning, the room completely quiet, the walls a dark forest of calm, the only laughter but an echo from the pages of books in my suitcase, a library of experience brushed by fingertips.
I've always liked the morning, and even as a child found myself up before my parents, eager to get out and explore, especially if there was water nearby. It will be time to get dressed soon, and I rummage in my purse, looking for my keys, when my hand touches a flat blue stone, etched with a moose. It is not a stone from the wild, but from an airport gift shop, purchased with a smile after visiting those I hold dear. As I touch it, a thought whispers in my head, almost a sound, a soft hushed touch, and I look up, thinking perhaps it's the sound of Barkley moving around, but he is far away and sleeping I'm sure.
What is it about certain things in life, the simplest of things, a tool, a smell, the feel of a piece of wood or small stone in your hand that evokes a place, a voice, a wistful goodbye, that makes you feel like a small child walking on a path of life that got suddenly big. And like a child, you deeply sense how it makes you feel, but the words you know to explain it are so very limited, so you just sit, and look, and breathe it in.
The only sound I hear is the tick of a clock, the only other thing I can sense is a taste of salt, that of the ocean, or tears, I can not tell, but distilled there on my tongue taking me back 30 or so years to a small wooden cabin near the wilderness's edge.
The cabin no longer exists, it's wood cremated to ash, its foundation covered by the advance of time, but in the early 70's it burned brightly in my mind.
I spent a good part of my childhood summers and the occasional holiday weekend at that cabin, right on the waters edge. It was small and clean and within its walls were my happiest memories. Getting up before dawn with my older brother to walk miles to look at the wonders the the night had exposed. Clouds caught on the mountains, the sky grey in the morning, a filtered, ocean blue-grey, hesitant cloud cover that we felt safe under. Days running through the trees, playing soldier or storm trooper or spy. Days filled with time, as though it were something solid you could pick off the forest floor and put in your pocket.
But what I put in that pocket was a small stone, no moose etched on it, but a stone, a small smooth weight I carried in my pocket, worn smooth by the action of the waves that flirted with the shore. Waves are part of life, the cadence of your day, perhaps that is why I'm drawn to the shore. The beach where we vacationed, like any stretch of sand and stone, is formed of glacial drift and rock, the small stones that you can still hold in the palm of your hand are worn to their element. I would touch them, smooth against my skin, stroking the surfaces well rounded by the waters never ending manipulative caress. But in addition to the stones, we'd find all sorts of treasures, branches and bits of bone, small pieces of the wild, tossed about by wind and galloping currents, and abandoned as casual playthings of the wild, just waiting to be picked up and held.
We'd throw some of back in the water, into the small pond behind the cabin, watching the scattering of water bugs on the surface, moving as fast as our life was, even as we ourselves could not sense that momentum, believing that it would always be like this. All that distance between we and the future, it was not even a thought in that long peaceful creep of a childhood afternoon.
TV was not allowed at the cabin and we'd play outside unless it was raining hard enough to drown a duck, coming in only for lunch (and once to catch Dad watching football - busted!). We played, racing around rocks, trees or water until supper, when we'd come in to Mom, to fresh baked cheddar garlic bread and fresh caught fish. We'd bound in and she'd take us in, in arms that smelled of flour, her auburn hair scented with Wind Song perfume, her laughter a balm to any skinned knee that might have occurred during the days warfare.
Nights were filled sound of the water lulling us to a sleep after our nightly family time that consisted of board games, fires, Jiffy Pop popcorn, and laughter.
The cabin is gone.
We went there through good times and bad as children, even during a time my Mom was battling cancer. She may have been too weak some days to get out of bed, but we were there, with Dad cooking pancakes that were so bad that the dog took them out and buried them and the one I threw in the fireplace wouldn't burn. Years later we still laugh about those pancakes. We were there when storms tossed tree limbs like toys, taking out a window and reminding us just how vast and powerful Mother Nature was. We were there through joy and hope and loss.
The cabin is gone.
I loved that place, I loved it early in the morning, when no one was around, and I had miles of the wild to myself. I loved it in the afternoon, when the sun beat off my back while we played with a big weather balloon Dad got us and the chance of an encounter with something large of tooth and claw was simply an annoyance. I loved it when the fog lifted off the land and I could take the little Piper from the local airport where I worked as as a teen, and follow eagles as they danced in tandem with the trees. With the light of the sky reflecting off my prop and the bugle of an Elk guiding me back to the airstrip, I still believed that life was uncomplicated. I loved it in the evening, when I could get in one last walk in the trees. When the whole landscape took on an otherworldly look and I could dream the dreams of my future in the sky against the backdrop of clear, iridescent waters.
The cabin is gone.
It was sold after Mom died, the owners wishing more income than the summer rentals paid out. Replaced with a condominium on the site where the little cottage and those of its kind stood. We went back one last time before the buildings were razed, not long after Mom's funeral, and watched the sun set on my innocence. I wanted to hold onto that night, the way the water smelled, the wash of colors of a Western skyline, the lonely cry of a bird of prey echoing off of the wind. I looked so hard, so long, that I forgot to blink, and my eyes teared up. I didn't want to shut them; I wanted to capture what I was seeing forever, a color imprint on the film of memory. For I simply did not want to let go.
I think of how many years my Mom has been gone now, of Dad's happy remarriage which she urged him to do. I think of dreams shattered, of dreams born. Before I left home on the last trip back, I dreamed of Mom at the cabin, and in the dream she was silent. I wonder if her silence is more from my holding on to her than letting her go. But letting go is easier said than done.
I know that parts of my life are over and the cadence of my days and my future will change once again. But dealing with change as I grew up was easier at the cabin, because over the years it was as constant as the gentle waves upon the shore. And so very last night, as I sat in a quiet room, only my laptop to keep me company, I opened up my picture folder stored therein, where I carry those glimpses of places and people that I love. As the world outside stilled, I took myself back to it, as if I was there. I took myself back so I could let go.
I reminded myself that love is more about how I feel in my heart than how others feel about me, that home has more to do with those who love me, than their being with me this very moment. And when I thought of my Mom standing against the landscape in my dream, still strong and healthy, I told myself, not how much I miss her, but that I was thankful for who she was to me, and always will be.
The cabin is gone, but it's the memories that matter. They are in me, the way waves, incessant, after a long time, cease to be sound, yet are still there.