Perpetual Spring

Spring ordinarily is death’s antithesis, as surely as it is winter’s.

At the end of our family’s harshest winter, my dying husband’s heart improbably would not let go of us. It refused to take its last beats until, at least by the calendar, winter had at last elided into the season of growing green that he had always tended to.

Just four days later, the snow had melted entirely away. That afternoon, in a sun-soaked Spring service at her school, one of our daughters read “A Man,” written by poet Louis Untermeyer after his father’s death: “I thought of you…. / And it was like a great wind blowing / Over confused and poisonous places. / It was like sterile spaces / Crowded with birds and grasses, soaked clear through / With sunlight, quiet and vast and clean. / And it was forests growing, / And it was black things turning green.”

One of her brothers read Amy Gerstler’s “In Perpetual Spring,” which ends with an expression of “the faith that for every hurt / there is a leaf to cure it.”  

Spring was my husband’s season–although all seasons were, in their way and his. He would rotate his birdfeeders’ weekly specials to accommodate anticipated guests, and make sure our porch was off limits to humans when robins began building their nests in a favorite corner of the 1805 ornamental molding atop its pillars.

The fruit trees he had planted would begin to bloom. His vegetables and fruits would soon make their way into the world. Armored khaki orbs of quince would drink in April showers and grow so heavy that they bowed the thick branches which hosted them. At their greatest girth, they often settled together on the ground, still attached at their stems to their sturdy trees. They congregated there like meditating buddhas, to be sniffed at by our perplexed beagles. Sour bruised blue-black grapes and fuzzed raspberries and peaches would cluster.

In true winter I would survey once colorful leaves entombed under ice, and headless bush branches and empty trees and abandoned robins’ nests. I would be certain none of them could be brought to life again, to bear peaches and sour apples and cartoonishly colorful hydrangea and rhododendrons. But in Spring they somehow still do.

Even that Spring.

Since that singular March day twelve years ago, true Spring arrives for me not on the designated calendar date, but whenever I spot the first fully-bloomed flower. In New England, that has invariably been a crocus.

I picture it gingerly poking its way through richly layered leaves glossy with melting snow, as if doubting whether it truly is time to be visible and vulnerable. But once it peeks out above the dense autumn detritus, its lavender or buttered white soup-ladle petals relax, and it theatrically basks in the sun. A Fantasia character come to life, for as long as the light lasts.

Spring came a few days early this year.

The Long and Gliding Road

The road most taken in my photographic ouvre is more of a zig-zag over land and sand towards water.

I sink in soggy soil and crunch through panes of glassy frozen water. I watch plovers pause for sunrise and Kingfishers surveying sunset. Gulls gather for the sun’s debut before skimming atop rolling saltwater as they ascend to glide above the retreating waves.

I look up and down by degrees. I rotate, snapping photos in a panoramic arch. I ignore a riot of color on the horizon when I am smitten by an unusual rock or glistening algae underfoot.

I shoot into blinding sunlight and muted mammatus skies. I collect green and every other color. New England snow and molten dunes. Working lobster boats surrounded by vacuum-sealed pleasure craft hoisted from harbors and set aside for the season.

But the subject is always the same: my absent better half.

The departed, poet Robinson Jeffers wrote in “Inscription for a Gravestone,” “have a hand in the sunrises/ And the glow of this grass.

My lenses and I always chase signs of you, imprinted on both what I and others can see and what only I can see, as you “wander in the air. . . and flow in the ocean” that touches shores I have walked to from home and far more distant places. Where  green is ringed round by green. The Dublin beach from which a seashell of your ashes swirled into surf and feathered gray became liquid blue. 

Sometimes, instead of receiving and recording visible or audible signs from denizens of worlds we–technically–do not share, metaphorical flight proceeds in the other direction. Pablo Neruda both received and dispatched messages over the exceedingly thin space between here and not-here. Alive and alone on shore, in his poem, “If You Forget Me” :

everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Incomplete: The Absent Hour


Today is missing an hour.

We’ve sprung ahead. With my phone’s camera I captured sunrise on this deficient day. It featured an almost fully saturated sky, with just a flickering sliver of pure white light at the far left.

My husband Jim’s camera equipment occupies the drawers of an antique pine chest which has wended its way to me from my mother’s childhood home on Cape Cod. The four deep drawers have slatted bottoms which do not fit completely together, sharp triangular slivers affording a peek at what lies beneath.

I don’t know what the lenses do. I am flummoxed by whether any of the random chargers attaches to any of the photographic gizmos in those drawers, which still hold a hint of musty salted air. I don’t even know if all these bits and pieces, these cool black matte metal cylinders and scored metal gadgets, necessarily even belong to his cameras, but I hoped one of our children–versed by her father in the art and heart of photography–would want to use them someday.

Jim loved photography. On my very last walk-through before moving from the home he loved, the last thing I found, face down in the attic under tons of familial flotsam that had been packed away, was a black and white print he had developed of a boardwalk meandering through a Massachusetts marsh to an unseen point in the distance in a place called Land’s End.

One of my daughters is on spring break.  It warmed my heart when she first began to pick up a camera again after her father was no longer there to pick up his and accompany her outside.

This time she began going through the chest drawers in search of a tripod.  She found assorted pieces of no fewer than three different tripods, but all her engineering permutations still yielded one small missing piece: a single rectangular fixture, likely lined in cork, needed to screw atop the legs and hold her camera steady.

Without it, I imagine the camera shudders just a bit, the way I do at physical therapy as I stand on my compromised leg, wavering like a graceless flamingo, trying to build back my muscle strength and undo the damage wrought by my sudden break.  My leg will heal, but there will always be a tiny gap where the bones fractured and never again will be joined as one.  With dedicated work on strengthening all that surrounds the fissure, the weakness may lie dormant, revealing itself only in rare and unpredictable faltering.

“A false move here, a stumble there
A box of letters and a lock of hair
That’s all that’s left when I turn out the light
I count the missing pieces every night.”

~  John Hiatt 

Almost five years  after Jim died, everything–down to its innermost parts–remains, to a varying degree, incomplete.






Seacoast State of Mind


Stephanie’s Plum Island,* Massachusetts (*nod to Janet Evanovich)


It began with Encyclopedia Brown and Judy Bolton.  An obligatory Agatha Christie phase ensued.  Then it was on to Sam Spade, Adam Dagliesh, Perry Mason, Lew Archer, Philip Marlowe, Sherlock Holmes . . . and a career in criminal law.

I’ve always been a fan of clues.

Here late afternoon sunlight’s slant reveals the scene’s compass.

The season is settled by seagrasses rendered in gold-kissed rust.

A hint of the frigid air temperature may be gleaned from their blades’ unkempt sweep, against stolid pine fence posts–and from the emptiness.  My photographs once were almost exclusively of my growing family; now they are rarely inhabited by people.

The general location can be discerned by anyone with knowledge of the New England coastline.

Is it as easy to read a photograph not as a scene but as a state of mind?  I believe the photographs we take not only mirror our moods but capture layers of memory and contain clues to our subconscious hopes.

The last time I had stood in the spot where this photograph was taken was on a Sunday morning almost two decades ago.  It had been almost as cold that day: we had taken our four small children to Newburyport.  Three were wearing sweaters hand-knit by their grandmother; the baby girl who was then too young to walk–but could wave her wee arms to the beat and mimic from her car seat the lyrics and tones of “I Wanna to be Sedated“–and is now about to exit her teenage years was snapped neck-to-toe in a soft dinosaur print handed down from a brother.

One of her brothers balanced her on his lap as my husband, no doubt with a camera in his backpack, trundled the family off to the same boardwalk path where I now stood alone.

One of those children is about to celebrate her birthday far away from me at a university where she studies computer engineering–and still sings and dances.  Another daughter is across the world on a research grant. My sons have degrees in math, physics, and mechanical engineering.  The nest truly has emptied.

My husband died almost five years ago. He stopped taking pictures only weeks before that.

Colorful skies beckon and the boardwalk leads me alone to an uncertain place, bathed in gold.





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