It’s Mother’s Day, and I’ve spent it in glorious sloth and catching up on some things that need to be caught up on. Someone praised my blogging on Facebook today, and I’m happy for the compliment. But then I find myself with another week coming, and another post, and not such great ideas.
Or rather, I have some excellent ideas. I’d love to tell you about Mother’s Day, lilacs, and how much I love lilacs. Except I did that back in 2009. (Eight years later, the boys still roll down the hills at the Arnold Arboretum during the Lilac Festival.) Also, please note that in that post I whined about how hard it is to come up with things to write about. I also covered lilacs in 2010, 2011, 2012 and probably every year since then. Maybe I should start thinking of these posts as traditions instead of repetitions?
In an attempt to restore and rejuvenate myself, I’ve reread Tolkien for, I dunno. It might be the 40th time. I have my own “Editor’s Cut” of how to read the books if I’m in a hurry. I read them super slowly this time, to notice things that had previously escaped my attention. I did! It’s such a rich text. I love it more each time. This time I pondered a parallel between Theoden of Rohan and Roland of “The Song of Roland”. Both are killed by their own weapons (horse and horn), arguably because such characters couldn’t be bested by a foe and hold to the story. I also saw more clearly than ever some of the Christian allegory Tolkien claimed he was including. There is much of the Christ story in Gandalf’s death, resurrection, transformation & teaching. But I’ve also covered the topic of Tolkien pretty well.
Complaining about being busy is boring. Being busy is also boring.
My life is pretty awesome. The most I have to complain about is too much awesomesauce. There’s chocolate cake to celebrate tonight. And at any moment now I’m going to log off and start playing Civ VI like I intended to three hours ago.
May your remembrances of mothers and mothering bring you joy today. For those of you who do not have your mothers, may you find consolation either in memory, or in the memory of those who have served as loving influences in your life!
September is one of my favorite months. I love the crispness of the air, the brightness of the sun, the blueness of the sky and the sense of change and possibility that rides on the adventurous breezes. It is back-to-school, new-pencil time. I often return to Tolkien, the progenitor of so many of my childhood daydreams, in September – fondly remembering that Bilbo, Frodo and I are separated in birthday by a scant day. (There was a time in my life where I attempted to figure out whether if, what with time zones and all, I could in any way be considered to be born on September 22nd. There is not, for the record.)
And here we are, on the first welcome day of autumn after a delicious and delightful summer, looking at my birthday. My thirty-fourth birthday.
Is there any birthday less consequential than your 34th? I’m no longer young, but not quite middle aged yet. I feel no biological clock ticking down because I’ve had my children. I still can’t be president. It’s not divisible by any exciting numbers. There are no (known) science fiction or fantasy references that make it significant (like 42). It’s just another birthday.
But this year, I find myself wildly and unreasonably excited by it. Look at that! I’m having a birthday! Isn’t that marvellous?! Maybe we should have cake! Although I still find myself melancholy on reflection of my lost little kitty, and although I have been somewhat tired and worn of late, my birthday is still (unexpectedly) exciting to me.
I reflect on why this might be. I come to the conclusion it’s because, for the first time in many years, there’s something I actually want for my birthday that I do not have and have been waiting to obtain for months. A new guitar. A grownup-size guitar. A guitar that says, “Yes, Brenda is really actually playing the guitar now.” A pretty guitar with a graceful body and mother-of-pearl inlay. (I hesitate to confess how much my heart was set on mother-of-pearl inlay.) A guitar with a darkly beautiful sound and an easy way of laying in my arms. I have sought, daydreamed and wanted, and for my birthday I have obtained my heart’s desire.
There are other things too, of course, that make my birthday delightful. There is the delight of a guilt-free chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and rather fewer than 34 candles. There is the delight of watching my sons learn the joy of giving. The New England Patriots are even obliging by playing an 8 pm game on my birthday (although one ardently hopes that this week’s performance is better than last’s – UGH! Eds note: QUADRUPLE UGH!).
Finally, this day initiates the fall for me – coming as it does so close to the equinox. Bring on the orange and brown palette. Let there be pumpkin stickers. May the fridge hold apple cider and the kitchen be fragrant with boiling apple butter. Let us open the windows during the day and close them during the night. Let me wake to the sound of the furnace turning on to heat the room for morning ablutions. Let there be birthdays and Halloweens and Cthulu games and apple picking and Mocksgiving and Thanksgiving and Advent and Christmas. I am ready.
For lo: I am 34. I am not young. I am not old. I am not even – quite yet – middle aged. I have learned how much there is to love of fall, and stand ready to lay down another layer of memory to build the beautiful patina of age.
I was, perhaps, unduly influenced by Tolkien in my youth. And by “unduly influenced” I really mean “secretly spent Junior High living in Middle Earth” and “can still recite Elvish poetry”. I was raised in tall and wild mountains with tall and wild trees and short and prosaic people, (Ah, Tuffy Suter!) although one or two of them might have passed as Bjoernings.
In one scene in “The Fellowship of the Ring” (skipped over in the movies) Legolas is warned by Galadriel of the lure of the sea – that once he hears the gulls cry he will never again know peace. Of course, Legolas does not then say, “Right ho! I’ll just head back through the Mines of Moria and forget this whole Fellowship business.” He travels the Paths of the Dead and in the course of commandeering some slave ships hears those fated gulls.
I always thought this bit was lame because pffft. The sea. Lamesauce. I was all about the mountains: high, majestic, completely familiar and yet unknowable, omnipresent and unscalable with volcanic secrets buried deep in their hearts and an aspect of icy glory overlooking millennia of maudlin human history. Give me the mountains, the forests, the deep glades and rushing streams and I will be content. I lift my eyes unto the hills. Living between the mighty Mt. Rainier and the sliver of the Pacific Ocean known as Puget Sound, my heart could have been swayed either way. But I turned my back on the sea and gave my heart to the hills.
This has remained true even as my coastal allegiance has switched. I spent four years of college in New London – gazing out of Long Island Sound – and only ventured to the shore a handful of times. I live now within 10 miles of the Atlantic Coast in an old and storied land, and over the past few years – again – I have only ventured to the seltzered strand a handful of times. When I drag my complaining menfolk to wilderness, I drag them to the lakes and “mountains” of New England. (I spent several years rather disdaining the label mountains for the worn down nubs of granite in New England, but closer proximity has given me rather a more grudging admiration.)
But then this new job, and this new commute that have driven so much of my wordcount in 2012. And as part of this urban 2 mile adventure I undertake every day, I pass over a tiny slip of the sea – the shivered remnants of the once great Fort Point Channel. It is the ocean in its most bounded – a sliver of barren water bounded on either side of my commute by iron bridges, commuters and noisy trucks.
And yet that sliver of water is to me as the gulls were to my dear Legolas. It commands my attention when I pass it. Is it high tide, low tide or some in between state? I gaze at the mussels and barnacles encrusting the stations on the bridge. On dark dull mornings, the water is a choppy gray. On bright cheerful afternoons, a sparkling blue. The waters carry with the mysteries of the ocean, unbounded, unknown, unplumbed and it lures my imagination. As I once gazed out my window and imagined myself trekking on dusty trails through quiet groves, now I imagine myself the intimate of those vast waters. I see a slowly growing friendship between myself and the mysteries of the deep – or at least of the New England coast.
This summer I’ve managed already to cadge an invitation with a friend to spend at least a weekend close enough to hear crashing waves in your sleep. Gloucester and its beaches are a quick jaunt away, when the heat of summer weighs down the suburbs. Perhaps some chance will come to gaze on Maine’s rocky coast and investigate tide pools. And my summer plans tentatively include a few days on the other coast – the mists and rocks of the Oregon coast.
To the Sea, to the Sea! The white gulls are crying,
The wind is blowing and the white foam is flying.
West, west away, the round sun is falling.
Grey ship, grey ship, do you hear them calling,
The voice of my people that have gone before me?
I will leave, I will leave the woods that bore me;
For our days are ending and our years are failing.
I will pass the wide waters lonely sailing.
Long are the waves on the Last Shore falling,
Sweet are the voices of the Lost Isle calling,
In Eressea, in Elvenhome that no man can discover,
Where the leaves fall not: land of my people forever!
Today is the day that ought to have been my birthday, by all rights. Today is the first day of fall. More importantly, to my young self, today is Frodo and Bilbo Baggin’s collective birthday. Do you have any idea how much it would’ve mattered to me to be the SAME as those two notable halflings in such an important event? I used to try to work out with the time zones and Zaire (my place of birth) whether I had REALLY been born on the 22nd and this incontrovertible FACT was masked by my impossibly-distant place of birth. Or maybe bad record keeping. Or SOMETHING.
Of course now, thinking about it, I’m pretty sure my mom wouldn’t have minded. I was three weeks later than expected. My due date was Labor Day. I used to think this just meant my mom was bad at counting, until I myself went a verifiable two weeks late with Grey. Sorry about that, mom.
Frodo, Fall and I all twine together for a brief period this time of year. If you’re unfamiliar with the Lord of the Rings, this birthday on September 22nd is a critical milestone throughout the books. It’s during a grand birthday that Bilbo disappears in a puff of smoke from Hobbiton. Years later, on that birthday, Frodo grabs his walking stick and three best friends and heads off on desperate, epic quests that make dragons look like child’s play.
Um, it’s possible that these books were just a TOUCH influential on my growing self, ok?
But this time of year brings out the itching in my feet, too. My drive in apparently got the memo about it being the first day of fall. The low places – the mist-covered swamps by the sides of the freeway – have already put out their scarlet and vermilion banners, in anticipation of hordes of tourists coming to admire. The trees are heavy with their fruits. Apples and pears weigh heavily on pregnant limbs, hoping for eventual homes in pies and pastries. The boundaries of my mind get less definite, and I’m mindful of Bilbo’s warning: the road in front of your door connects to all other places in the world. Who knows, by stepping on it, where you will end up?
I admit to inflicting Tolkien on my son at the youngest possible opportunity. His fourth birthday is still eagerly anticipated, but already you can hear him sing, if you listen carefully:
The greatest adventure is what lies ahead
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said
The chances the changes are all yours to make
The mold of your life is in your hands to break.
The greatest adventure is there if you are bold
Let go of the moment that life makes you hold
To measure the meaning can make you delay
It’s time you stop thinking and wasting the day.