Submerged

My in-laws are in town for a visit and today we took Isabella to the aquarium. The place was teeming with families and summer campers. We made our way in, past the hoopla of a play area with a giant blow-up shark.

As we walked through the rooms of tanks, I felt submerged. It was dark and cool and somehow quiet, even with so many children everywhere. Peaceful and dream-like. Jellyfish and sharks and giant sea turtles.

Eventually we returned to the bright light, sea lions diving and then popping up, little snouts sniffing the air, to which Isabella said, “God bless you, sea lion!” Outside in the thick heat, we entered the butterfly exhibit. She was overwhelmed by the myriad wings fluttering all around us. Butterflies alighting on my arms and shoulders.

We made one more round through the dark and dreamy tanks before we left. Even on this day spent indoors, I am writing about water. It seems to reappear and repeat. So too, with my daughter. This project is supposed to be about me, but here she is again, always with me. If I was looking for a delineation of the border between us, I haven’t found it. I look for me, and I find us.

And I find happiness.

FullSizeRender-3 Yesterday I took this picture of myself. Every once in awhile, when I’m feeling invisible, submerged, I’ll snap a selfie. I never post it; it just sits in the vast archive on my phone. A record of me, visible. Toddler behind me in her car seat wondering why the heck I’m delayed in unbuckling her.

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Family Reunion

Hot, sticky August. A family reunion on my mom’s side, up north on a lake lined with pines, rocky outcroppings with rope swings. My mother’s people are genuine and kind. It’s all easy conversation and laughter.

Today everyone was in the water, splashing, playing games, paddle boarding, jumping off the dock. I swam with my little fish, and then swam way out by myself, and then again with my cousin Grace. Later we went out on the boat. Early evening sun beating low and strong. Music playing. Wind whipping our hair. My beautiful sisters sitting across from me. Pure happiness. We jumped off the boat into the deep water. I was in heaven.

And now I’m dead tired in that wonderful waterlogged way. My favorite day of summer so far.

(Post 207 of 365)

Blessed

It’s been a long week, but we made it through. Yesterday we discovered Chris has Lyme disease, which explains why he’s been so sick. A relief to have a diagnosis, and to have him on the mend. It’s easy to take our good health for granted. Today I felt especially grateful.

Grateful, too, that it’s June, the weather showed up spectacular, and that we live in such a beautiful place.


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Reverence: 37/365

 

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A storm rolled in at midnight, lighting up the bedroom. Big cracks of thunder. The wind coming off the water gusted over the roof like it might tear it off. It was enough to wake Isabella, but she wasn’t bothered by it.

I thought of the eagles in their nest in the patch of woods a block away. How they must be hunkered deep protecting their new eggs. The sway of those high branches, the rain pelting tucked wings. What a night to endure high up in a tree. I thought of the three squirrels who dwell in the thick hollowed out branch of our backyard maple. And the small birds, the woodpeckers, cardinals, blue jays and robins, who frequent our feeder. I lay listening to the storm wishing them all safe refuge. I think about us all being made of the same life force embodied in different physical forms. I think about it as a family value, unspoken but understood among the three of us, a deep respect, a reverence for all life. I think less about instilling this value in my daughter and more about the way she instilled this in me with her birth, her very existence.

In the course of writing this post this morning, alternately doing dishes and sitting slumped at the computer indian-style, breastfeeding the two-year old in my lap while my hands fly across the keyboard, I see the eagle swooping, soaring from the window. I scoop up Isabella and run barefoot and jacketless in pajamas out the back door onto the wet deck to get a better look. There she is, soaring against the new blue sky. I call to Chris who’s upstairs, “Get the camera, they’re putting on a show!” He dresses and rushes out, walks up to the woods with the camera.

He returns a half hour later with the news that the nest is gone, and with it their two new eggs. The spectacular swoop and soar from the woods to our house and back again is one of distress. Chris says, “She’s screeching. She’s beside herself.” Isabella is in my lap, our cheeks pressed together as we watch the eagle fly low and straight over us. “Do you see that?” I say. “The mama eagle is flying.” And she says, “Eagle! We have to give her food!” She has the right idea, wanting to help in some way. But as with so much of life, all we can do is watch, pay attention, and with reverence, bear witness.

Photo credit goes to my nature-loving husband, Chris Bousquet, who can name all the birds and plants and trees. 

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Camping: 19/365

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I love camping. Sleeping under the stars. Waking with the dawn and the dew. My guy can pitch a tent with one hand tied behind his back and start a fire without a match. I can cook anything over an open fire, even an apple pie.

This photo is from four or five years back, our anniversary. September in Acadia, camped out on the fjord.

The Salt Marsh Smells Like Home: 14/365

I grew up next to a salt marsh. Tall grass and cattails, a muddy bottom estuary that filled and receded with the tide, meandering toward the town harbor. Low tide on summer nights, the breeze kicks up briny and strong. Good salt air. That is the smell of home.

As a girl I’d play behind the neighbor’s house, where the woods met the edge of the marsh. The trees made a canopy, dappled sunlight falling on a shallow pool of water surrounded by skunk cabbage and rocks. A small wood plank stretched between rocks allowing passage over the water. I’d hop from rock to rock, balance across the plank, poke the mud with a long stick, and make up stories out loud. I didn’t like to share that place. I preferred to be there alone, dreaming my words out loud to myself, Sarah, Queen of the Skunk Cabbage.

I Was Adventurous: 13/365

Once I was a girl on a catamaran off the coast of Cape Tribulation, Australia who put on a wet suit and scuba gear – no certification, no lesson – and plunged into the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. No single experience in my life has been so completely exhilarating and peaceful at the same time. Breathing underwater. The coral landscape dancing with a thousand secrets. Slippery sea cucumbers. Schools of technicolor fish hovering, darting, mouthing inaudible thoughts. Colors so varied and bright, it was like seeing color for the first time. I followed a school of fish and, for a moment, I could not decipher up from down. My heart got fast. When you become disoriented underwater, you have to pause and float. Be still. And look for the light. It’s only once you find the light, you can begin swimming again.

Empathy, Birds, and the Changing Internal Landscape: 3/365

My daughter was born during a cold and snowy winter. We lived by the water in a second-floor apartment, and I can still hear the scraping rhythm of her dad shoveling the long driveway while we looked down from our warm perch. Spring came like it always does, as an affront and a relief, crocuses and mud and stark sunshine. Every day I bundled her up and walked the two mile loop over cracked sidewalks that gave way to beautiful homes and smoother sidewalks and onto the boardwalk along Long Island Sound.

The geese and ducks return first. Then osprey swoop and dive, chased by groups of little birds trying to protect their nests. As the air warms, cormorants arrive and perform their hide-and-seek magic, diving deep and popping up again twenty feet away. Summer isn’t promised until the egrets appear in the estuary, long white elegance rising from the mud. Last come the regal great blue herons.

The birds’ arrival mean babies are coming. Not all of them make it. Sick or fallen or pursued by an osprey, casualties are inevitable. There would always be a few dead baby birds on the sidewalk or nearby in the grass next to beach roses waiting to bloom. One of those stark-sun days, pushing my little bundle in the stroller, we came upon a tiny, featherless creature on the sidewalk, so newly fallen its big eyes blinked and its beak mouthed a silent plea. I was tortured. I should have moved the doomed creature to the grass and offered up a hopeful prayer that its mother might rescue it. But I was a fragile new mother who couldn’t accept even the smallest death.

I felt panicky as I carefully scooped the bird into my left hand, transparent skin pulsing in my palm. I imagined my warmth was comforting as I pushed the heavy stroller with my right hand and balanced the bird in my left, still a mile to go, fearful of bird germs near my baby and not having any idea what I’d do when I finally got home. I jerked the stroller one-handed off the curb and back into the neighborhood, over sidewalks cracked from frost heaves and tree roots, my left arm outstretched with my palm up like an offering. The baby bird was still breathing and blindly searching the air the way every baby does.

At home I laid it gently under our holly bush. I needed to wash my hands and get my own baby upstairs before I could figure out what to do. I called my husband and a friend for advice, looked online, still pretending I could save it. When I made it back downstairs an hour later to check under the holly bush, it was being devoured by ants.

New motherhood felt raw and vulnerable. My entire being contracted with fierce protection, a myopic laser vision focused on my daughter. But inside, an expansive empathy spread and extended to every living thing, especially the small and helpless. Most days my world did not go beyond that two mile radius, but my internal landscape stretched out like a western vista, big sky country reaching up into my heart.