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The Night, The Porch

January 2, 2014

We’re back from our road tour of the Midwest!  photo-247On the 23rd, we drove to Cape Girardeau, Missouri to see my mother. We left after lunch on Christmas Day to drive to Warrensburg to see Ron’s parents. We left Warrensburg on the 27th to drive to Kansas City and take Walker to the airport, where he boarded a flight for Texas to play in a collegiate chess tournament. (Walker helped Oberlin’s team win “best performance by a small college.”) We then drove downtown to the Plaza to meet Elizabeth and Kent, because they live in KC now, and Ben and Suzanne, the people who were putting us up at their house while Ron’s dad was too frail to chance catching a virus from houseguests, but who we hadn’t yet seen in the daylight hours.  We had a festive and lengthy lunch, and Ron and I gave Eleanor a short walking tour of the Plaza in its Christmas decorations.  We left on the 28th for St. Louis (with Darth Vader in Walker’s seat) and the second wedding of my first cousin once removed, where we were joined by my brother and mother. Finally, we drove home on the 29th and picked Walker up at the Columbus airport on the 30th, marveling (but not mentioning it without knocking wood) that the highways had been clear and dry for our 1800-mile trip.

Today it is snowing.  I have been staring out into it all morning, feeling lucky that we have nowhere to go, no promises to keep.  It’s reminding me of our visit with Ron’s parents, still in their house where we’ve spent so many warm and buggy summer nights sitting on a porch, as in this poem by Mark Strand.

The Night, The Porch

To stare at nothing is to learn by heart

What all of us will be swept into, and baring oneself

To the wind is feeling the ungraspable somewhere close by.

Trees can sway or be still. Day or night can be what they wish.

What we desire, more than a season or weather, is the comfort

Of being strangers, at least to ourselves. This is the crux

Of the matter. Even now we seem to be waiting for something

Whose appearance would be its vanishing—the sound, say,

Of a few leaves falling, or just one leaf, or less.

There is no end to what we can learn. The book out there

Tells as much, and was never written with us in mind.

In retrospect, I can see that on every trip to Missouri since we left home, we were always waiting for something–with all four parents as college professors, we thought there was “no end to what we can learn.”  Now their time is ending, though, and it seems like the largest part of we can do is sit with them and “learn by heart/what all of us will be swept into,” even if it didn’t happen on this trip.

Snow also gives us “the comfort of being strangers.”  We stare out into it, and the distractions of routine are replaced with a million individual dramas of trying to get to work and then back home, to a place where we can stare blankly into nothing, tired of the effort it takes to get where we’re going.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. January 2, 2014 11:09 am

    Sounds like a lot of traveling. Stay safe.

    • January 3, 2014 9:37 am

      It was a lot of traveling! But it had to be done; it had been too long since we’d been able to find a week where the kids’ commitments could at least be worked in to such an itinerary.

  2. January 2, 2014 11:40 am

    I like this poem; reminds me of Millay’s line about the rain being full of ghosts.

    • January 3, 2014 9:41 am

      Yes, I can see that…although it reminds me of Auden’s take on the ship we’re waiting for in “Next, Please.”

  3. January 2, 2014 11:41 am

    That is a lot of driving around. You are lucky the roads were clear. We have had some days where driving was not safe at all and now I believe snow is headed this way again. Happy New Year!

    • January 3, 2014 9:42 am

      We did luck out. My mother, who has always lived in the south, asked what we’d do if the weather was bad and we couldn’t get to the next stage on our tight schedule. We won’t go, we told her. We’ve learned a few things about living in the north!

  4. January 2, 2014 12:07 pm

    I like the idea of warm and buggy summer nights. It reminds me of Barber’s Knoxville Summer of 1915, which is one of my favourite pieces of music. We’ve been comparatively lucky in the UK. We have had enough rain to fill and ocean and more to come, but if the winds had been in the other direction it would have been snow and then we would really have been in trouble.

    • January 3, 2014 9:44 am

      One of the things in the back of my mind when I wrote that must have been the Barber piece, which I played a couple of years ago with the Knox County Symphony when a soloist picked it out. It sounds beautiful, but it’s hell to sightread.

  5. January 2, 2014 1:41 pm

    I’m glad we got to see you guys and thank you again for lunch — the company was even better than the food 🙂

    • January 3, 2014 9:45 am

      You’re welcome, and you’re right! Next time we’ll try to stay long enough to meet your cats in their natural habitat.

  6. January 5, 2014 5:08 pm

    Good last line, that poem. I don’t know why, but I am oddly comforted, and always have been, by lines like “was never written with us in mind”. Something is scary about attention, and inattention comforts me.

    • January 6, 2014 12:10 pm

      I agree; the attention was the hardest thing to get used to when I moved to a small town.

  7. January 6, 2014 9:20 am

    So grateful for December roads with no snow! We’re getting it now, though. Happy New Year!

    • January 6, 2014 12:12 pm

      We had the oddest thing happen yesterday and today–it rained and melted away the snow we had on the ground. Then it snowed overnight, so that when I woke up, the snow looked exactly the same. When I looked closely, it was powderier on the driveway, but it struck me like Tom had given Mother Nature a turn at whitewashing.
      By the way, English is weird. “It” rained. “It” snowed.

      • January 7, 2014 8:48 am

        You are right! Why don’t we say “she snowed.”? We had the thickest fog yesterday and 57 degrees. All our 14″ of snow melted and then IT sent MORE SNOW and 12 degrees this morning. Why don’t we say “she snowed.”? or “Snow happened.”?

  8. January 6, 2014 6:19 pm

    I knew Darth Vader was short, but I always thought he was a little taller than that! You had busy holidays. Hope you get some time to relax now.

    • January 6, 2014 8:49 pm

      The Darth Vader is something Walker wanted for his dorm room, but we couldn’t see the sense in spending the amount it cost. Good thing Santa brought it for him.
      We had some time to relax over New Year’s, and are now gearing up–Eleanor has a temp job at Kenyon, where classes begin next Monday. We take her back to Grinnell at the end of next week. Walker is home for his January term, writing chess studies.

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