Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pine Needles

One side of my grandparents’ yard was a sloped grove of pine trees. When we were kids, my brothers and I would make elaborate mazes and forts out of the blankets of pine needles beneath the trees, digging and tunneling with our bare hands until the dark soil under them was exposed and we had created enough paths for a good game of chase in the shade. I never thought to take any pictures of our pine needle wonderland, but this favorite picture of Papa and Grandma shows some of the pine trees down the slope behind them.

And thanks to online mapping and its incredible “street view” feature, when I look up my grandparents' old address, I can see a bit of that same view from the opposite perspective, looking up the hill toward their house: The trees and their pine needle carpet and all of it in the shade that made it feel even more magical.
My grandmother died exactly five weeks after my grandfather, over Memorial Day weekend of 2001, and a week or so later, before the property changed hands and the new owners moved into the house, I made one last visit to my grandparents’ house with my then-boyfriend. After giving him an extensive walking tour of the mostly-empty house and yard, I asked him to lock the front door for me. While he did, I sat down on the brick steps of the front porch, breathing in those pine needles one last time, and fumbled around in my overalls’ pockets for a tissue that wasn’t already in wet shreds. Finding none I wiped my face on my his shoulder. “How do I leave?” I choked out. “How do I just leave now?” We never came up with any answer besides the obvious: You just do. You have to, so you do. What’s amazing, we decided that afternoon, isn’t that it ends and you find a way to go on, but instead that two people can love each other enough to create a home so good and so beautiful that their granddaughter would want to show it to one of her friends and tell him all about it.
Today after my run, I walked around my current neighborhood a little and stopped at a yard nearby with its own small patch of pine trees. And for the first time since that final visit to Papa and Grandma's house nine years ago, I bent down to separate a plush carpet of pine needles with my bare hands until a hole appeared. The neighbors, if they notice the hole at all, will likely suspect an animal had been digging there today, but they will never know how much that "animal" wanted to keep burrowing until an elaborate maze had been constructed in their yard. And call out to her brothers that it was ready and we could start the chase now. And laugh and shriek with them over every frantic slippery step that resulted in falling into a pile of pushed-aside pine needles. And look up every now and then, with pine needles and dirt in her hair, to wave to her grandparents as they smile down at her from the living room window.
As Old Friend and I headed toward the car to leave Papa and Grandma's house for the last time that day in 2001, I scooped up a handful of pine needles and a pine cone to keep at home with other treasures. Today before walking away from the neighbors' yard to walk home, I took only pictures. How do I leave? How do I just leave now? You just do. You take what you can and move on.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Finally Fall

A gorgeous and relaxing fall day here.  'Puttering around the apartment putting things into autumn mode, washing dishes, lighting the pumpkin-spice candle for the first time since winter, listening to Beth Orton's Trailer Park cd--her version of "I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine" is beautiful and one of my favorite songs--wrapping little gifts for a start-of-kindergarten/Halloween-themed care package for my nephew and niece, and walking down to the store soon to buy extra ingredients to bake the fall's first batch of chocolate chip-pumpkin cookies. I know it's fall once the first tray of them comes out of the oven.  It's a sweet, sweet day.