Friday, April 27, 2012

This Long Letting Go


I see the pattern of waves in the cross-sea

Advance, a fog-surface over the fog-floor,

Seamounts, slow-flowing. Colors. Plunge point

of air.

            --Muriel Rukeyser, from King’s Mountain



I have been dreaming of the Northern California coast and the smell of the ocean in March in the town of Fort Bragg, a few miles north of Mendocino. I can feel the misty air on the skin of my cheeks and smell the little room where I slept as we waited for the birth of Claribel, Georgia’s daughter. I lay on a sleeping roll beside the glass doors with my feet warming on a cloth bag of rice we heated in the microwave. I slept in Claribel’s bedroom, the wood floor painted plum, and at night I fell asleep reading My Antonia. During the day I sat in the café downstairs working on my Master’s Thesis before walking down to the coast, where I followed the footpath through the bluffs, north, enamored with the force and heave of the Pacific, with a distant unfolding in the sky. 


If you want to dream, go to Fort Bragg, California. Normal life cannot exist there. The fog and the mist blanketing the air, and the waves, tall as sea cottages, crashing the shore, do not occupy any human kind of world. They are sanctuary of something greater, just as the Redwood forests, a little ways inland from the coast, make their own kind of quiet. Entire ecosystems exist in their sky-bound branches. These trees and this coast undo me. During the two and a half weeks I spend with Georgia and eventually with Claribel and Georgia, I mourn the days I don’t get out to the bluffs. On the days that I do, I return each time shelled in silence, some part of me a little looser, less pronounced, as though my body is opening to refigure itself, to recreate, and my mind rendered helpless to the powers of this distance closing in and around me, quiets.

I am waiting for my son to be born, not in California, but in Vermont. For February, the weather’s warm: yesterday fifty degrees, today twenty-six. No snow on the ground. Gray saturates everything, including the mind; my eyes grow heavy looking for deeper contrasts of light and darkness, of color. Yesterday, we drove south to Middlebury to see a Doctor about delivering our son who’s in the breech position—head-up, star gazing. Tired from lack of sleep, from pointless bickering with my husband, from the heaviness of my body, I kept my eyes out the side window on the landscape where the wheat colored fields ran into plum hued trees. Far-off light lit up a mountain across the lake in New York. Just look, I kept thinking, breathe and look. But my eyes were so weary, laden with days of statuesque gray, I could only see patches of wheat yellow that reminded me of my young sisters’ hair I once braided Sunday mornings before church.

Last year in March I flew to California, took a bus north, got a ride further north through the switchback roads that lead to Fort Bragg—roads they say keep them from becoming a suburb of San Francisco, though I can’t imagine anyone willing to commute four hours. It’s a small town with small town folk mixed with growers and pickers, x-mill workers and loggers, and then the other people, the lost ones who came to dream.

I met my old friend in the hall of her apartment above the shop she ran, a week from her due date, as I am now. She waddled. We embraced. Because she is the kind of friend who feels like home, we fell easily into daily routines of walking, napping, eating, and talking. We could talk for hours, analyzing a person until we no longer knew them—our siblings, parents, friends, lovers—returning to the same conversation days later—in the middle of eating sandwiches—as though it had never ended. She remembers the details of my family as I do hers: the names and birth order of each of our five siblings, occupations and quirks. Years ago, sharing an apartment in Vermont, we spent Wednesday mornings drinking coffee on our back porch, reading our weekly horoscopes and ruminating over whatever drama currently took up our lives. Then as now, she will sit through hours of discussion and enjoy every bit of it.

But it is our mutual appreciation for the details—nothing insignificant—that offers the most comfort. It is her respect for what I’m trying to do and undo that makes me feel understood by her. I return from the bluffs quiet with flushed cheeks and she asks if I’m okay.  Yes. I see, she says, you’ve found the peace out there…the bluffs have a way of making things less complicated. Healing, I think, but only nod because a part of me still protects the inner world, even from her, the one who might most understand.

I am waiting for my son to arrive, dreaming a little every day of that coast, and no longer hoping that he’ll turn and swim head-down for the birth canal. My husband lies beside us with his mouth to my belly, singing songs to our son who kicks and squirms—happy as a clam, I suppose, with no interest in trying to come out. Sometimes I tell him that it’s okay out here. I say that it’s safe…and then, because I know he can sense the way I hesitate around this tall tale, I say, you must be brave here in the world, but I promise I will try to be brave with you, I’ll try for courage. 

I wanted him to be born in the water at home. His name, Moses, means drawn from water and there is the story of the basket on the Nile. But he is breech and despite all our antics he seems unable to turn. He will probably be born of surgery in a modern hospital, the hands that lift him from my open body—his first human touch—safely gloved in latex.

I am going back to Fort Bragg in my dreams, to walk along the coastal bluffs and sometimes in the sandy inlets when the tide is out. The air is heavy and wet and the trees beside the ocean are craggy, gnarled creatures—not tall, but stretching out in curled madness, or is it peace? There are stories about the crazies of these parts. Georgia grew up here and tells me that the isolation gets to people. But I am thinking of the way the shoreline winds up the coast, deep and majestic cliffs, a place close-by called the Lost Coast; I am thinking about the way the land and the sea here have somehow escaped human plans and will outlast us all to go on in its particular way with no one to characterize or name these beaches, these coiled trees. Perhaps we’ll find a way to destroy it too, as we mostly cannot bear such beauty. But I won’t believe that, at least not today.

Claribel recently took her first steps in Nevada where Georgia moved to be closer to her own mother. But I don’t imagine Claribel walking there. I see her tiny feet fumbling over the big open living room in Fort Bragg, the sizable, old windows scattering a rare glimpse of winter sun across the wood floor, catching her up in its flickering shower. I don’t know why I need to be there right now or if the warm weather here triggers these memories, kick-starts my dreams. I only know that I will take my son there someday. I will walk with him along the coast, hunt for tide pools. And though I won’t say it and he will never know me better than he does right now, I will tell him that I let something go there on that coast—I left something to the wind, the crashing sea, and in its place grew room enough for a child of my own.

She was born just after midnight, under a spotlight, in a dark room. Georgia called to her, “my baby,” and the doctor put Claribel on her chest where she was safe again so close to the familiar comfort of her mother’s heartbeat—safe, just a little bit longer. And this of course is what we must come to terms with—this long letting go. We cannot keep the coast for ourselves any more than we can save our children from living. All our best intentions to wall out the chaos of these oceans lead only to sorrow.


Claribel, one week


I know a part of me keeps him there in his celestial sea, just a few days more, knowing that the memory of my heartbeat will quickly fade, that the moment I meet him will begin this long letting go. I am reminded of the craggy tree, the twisted tree, the tree of immense beauty that stood alone on the bluffs, away from the copse of giant trees. I am reminded of the ocean in my hand as I bent there to hold it, and in my view, my looking, a distance that made me small again, the way I entered the world, in reverence. The way I hope to leave here, someday far, far away.

Moses, eight weeks

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