The Dunes Abide

 

A limitless tapestry of rich red-gold sand is dappled by hoof prints roughly the size and shape of swaddled footballs.  With each tread, a spray of pure gold rises, hovers, and enfolds itself back into dunes.

My elaborately wound scarf has not come undone.  I have held steady where others have lurched, given the abrupt toe-to-heel reclining process camels seem to favor.  I carefully down 18 ml of filtered water every six minutes, abiding rehydration instructions furnished by my new astrophysicist friend.  My camera has not yet fallen into the towering dune from which its shutter will emerge unforgivingly at sundown, as crystalline sheaths of stars begin communing in the night sky.

For now I am hewing to the newly coined “Stephanie rule” that requires I maintain both hands securely atop Geronimo’s Berber rug saddle, even when he pauses photogenically and casts his magnificently elongated shadow across Sahara dunes.

I’m starting to get this camel safari thing down.

It’s among phrases I think my husband Jim did not think me remotely likely to utter during the days, years, and likely decades when he could no longer be at my side.

******

Night in the desert was far from silent.  Cats mewed before curling to nap upon campers’ chilly feet.  Our group astrophysicist narrated the heavens.  Bare feet thunked on rugs dotted with sandy lagoons.

Geronimo, splayed with somewhat less grace than his regal sphinx-like brethren, had borborygmi.

It could have been my recent bout of altitude sickness.  As unaccustomed as I am to hallucinogens, I suppose it also could have had something to do with the sprig of Artemisia absinthium that had adorned our cups of mint tea.  Whatever the organic source, for the first time in my life I had waking hallucinations while sleepless in the Sahara: I saw filigreed ochre arches morphing into  imaginary birds and horned magical creatures and back again, a Möbius of ancient design melting into myth.

Like those who preceded us, we left no traces, but in the desert’s expanse I somehow acutely experienced every sense of the moment even as the vast past’s residuum danced before my eyes.  I felt kinship with a Kiran Desai character who “seemed not to have traveled forward in time but far back.  Harkening to the prehistoric, in attendance upon infinity,” watching the sun slowly rise into the deepest indigo, and be swept away by a lavender-orange wing of clouds.  I stood in an ever-yielding landscape I surely would never have occupied had I not found myself alone to wander in a world I no longer fear, knowing that beautiful and terrible things will continue to unfold no matter where I am or am not.  And I no longer ask Jim one of the two questions that tormented me: where he is.  I have my answer.  He’s everywhere he would want to be, including these red-gold dunes bracketed by watercolor skies and earth, “our heaven, for awhile.”

 

 

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Spring Forward, Fall Back Down

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Frozen in Time (c) Stephanie M. Glennon

 

Spring forward, fall back down…”

I know, I know: it couldn’t be much more wintry in New England.

It’s a balmy -6 degrees, enhanced by an order of magnitude for those who dally with windchill.  Boston had its highest recorded tide, sweeping an icy gray lagoon into waterfront streets.

My big boy beagle gazes at me with recrimination when I am compelled to turn around and whisk him back toward home.  He clearly has places to be, but unknowingly relies upon my limited capacity to exhibit adult common sense.  My less than-scientific measure of when I have ventured half as far as we safely can go is the loss of  sensation in triple-gloved hands.  The outermost layer belonged to Jim: enormous blue-green knitted wool  gloves into which Rufus still pauses to press his snow-dusted nose, retrieving scents of his puppyhood.  I am violently allergic to wool. Angry winter welts encircle my right wrist, which one over-sized glove accidentally touched as I struggled to shovel a path through blizzard remnants.

Even my camera is too cold to do its job.  I dare not risk its delicate inner mechanisms’ life for a picture–even of wavering sea-smoke etched in bright gold across the horizon, or planes of dazzling white which migrate across eye-level snowdrifts, or tree branches encased in ice glittering under a super moon.

Other than at sunrise and sunset, which in winter tend to take place during work days, when they rarely can both be seen, bright color has disappeared from the landscape.  It may visit in the form of  a scarlet cardinal or blue jay, or a burst of berries holding fast for them to find.

But this lyric spanning the other seasons has taken its place as resident ear-worm.

I first heard the Weakerthans’ song on the radio while driving back from a solo trip to Bar Harbor.

My city’s still breathing (but barely, it’s true)
Through buildings gone missing like teeth
The sidewalks are watching me think about you,
Sparkled with broken glass
I’m back with scars to show.
Back with the streets I know
Will never take me anywhere but here

My status could be the answer to a riddle: I occupy a new old home in my old home state, having left our old old home in a new home state.

But I am back with streets I know.  In a place I never before lived, I feel I am back home.

Wait for the year to drown
Spring forward, fall back down
I’m trying not to wonder where you are

One daughter came to my new old home for Christmas, bearing a discrete tattoo she explained to me is based on Slaughterhouse Five.

Spring forward, fall back.  I realized it’s not just a handy trick to set clocks to mark time in the seasons that bookend winter’s essence, but a Tralfamadorian progression through life–including waxing and waning grief and hope.  A (Billy) Pilgrim’s progress, if you will (HT Mr. Vonnegut).

I shall try to seize on those glimmers, bright traces which foretell spring or commemorate fall, even when blanketed by colorlessness–the orange fish which glided underneath inches of pond ice as we skated at the old home we shared, the leaf  whose lime stem tilted toward the sun as if it still could absorb light when my beagle’s front paw sank ever-so-slightly into a frozen puddle’s surface, leaving in uneven colonial bricks’ lacuna a ghostly misshapen cameo, a reminder of our presence there made possible by a New England winter.

 

 

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Widow’s Walk

 

Clapboard and brick homes from the 1700s and 1800s line the streets in my seaport town.

Narrow roads radiate from the waterfront and climb uphill like the monture of a folding fan.  Atop its arc is a busy main road where magnificent colonial captains’ houses soldier on.

Their windows now hold modern fixtures. Simulated brilliant candles hold blandly steady, never flickering in wind that still sweeps into minute seams in horsehair plaster walls.

Some of their roofs are topped with a platform known as a widow’s walk, or widow’s watch.  Were they at ground level, where neighbors wander companionably to shops and farmer’s markets, a dog park or a church, they would be mere porches.

Some have ornate painted balustrades in ghostly white.  Elevated above these houses, the small enclosures occupy their own solitary plane, like the crow’s nest outlook on an old sailing ship’s mast.  I imagine lachrymose long-departed wives standing, casting thousand-yard stares down towards the port from which spouses might never have returned.

Widows would have floated above their neighbors, having ascended those extra steps closer to heaven into a small space seemingly open to the world’s bustle, yet set apart and steeped in solitude.

I study these houses every day on my own earth-bound path, always chosen by a beagle who hilariously fancies himself an alpha.  He and his brother, sweet Brady, used to run ahead of my husband on a long hill up and away from the centuries-old home we all shared then.  They never just walked; they ran, the pups’ soft ears bobbing.    I never picture them returning home; in my mind’s eye they are always starting out together.

Now only Rufus remains with me.  He has enough of a white muzzle that other dog lovers instantly recognize him as a vintage model.  Although we rarely run, Rufus invariably pulls me at a steady, quick clip downhill to the waterfront.  He is always searching his map of the world,  nose burrowed into particles of the past until we reach the port.  There he strains his left flank against the same old granite post, thicker than a tombstone, then goes to the low waterfront fence, and raises his deep brown eyes to scan the sea and sky.

“Why does he always look so sad?”  I would ask Jim.

“Because he’s a beagle.”    

Winter is just short of its official arrival, but by October the harbor had emptied of all but the most stalwart working vessels.  Summer pleasure craft were hoisted on enormous hanging belts and levered from the icy Atlantic.

When we turn back Rufus and I look up, where masts and rigging tower above us, a graveyard of ships out of water shrouded in heavy white plastic that gleams in harsh sunlight no longer softened by a filigree of leaves.

Another day.

Another widow’s walk.

 

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A Ghostly Galleon’s Glow

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“Firebirds,” Newburyport, Massachusetts

When the sky is cloudless, the sun begins to peek above the tree line and lights the  sculpted monochromatic red-brown forms as if they were candles.  They glow with fire.  A strand of spiderweb makes itself known only by razor-edged silver reflection.

Camera in hand,  I always am drawn toward such feats of light.

Sometimes an entire city turns gold in the rising sun.  A full moon can turn a clear block of ice into silver or gold, or hover like a ghostly galleon in a tumult of waves rendered in cumulus clouds.  Just a hint of sunlight can turn water into shimmery rose, or sort gray air into a rainbow.  At high noon, flowers seem to be posing in a professional studio, casting everything beyond them into an illusion of pure black.

 

The most amazing tricks of light do not arise from the interloping sun or moon, but seem to emerge from within: impossibly dazzling, unwavering beacons even in a deluge of rain.

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