Took a short road trip last weekend and was dazzled by Fall colors on the drive upstate. Just 2 hours north and it was like a different world, particularly since we came home to weirdly muggy weather for this time of year. Driving back home was like turning back the clock as we got closer to the city – greener trees and higher temps, but maybe the perception of time slowed down is ok. You know once Halloween hits it’s an accelerated rush towards the holidays and I’m not in any hurry.
In Ithaca we visited a big farmer’s market which I had never been to before. It was good to go someplace new in a town that has so many past associations. I spent a good deal of time here when we used to have long summer breaks in art school and I’ve camped out in nearby Finger Lakes National Forest. It’s beautiful out here with lakes, forests and waterfalls. Driving through the back country roads towards Ithaca where there’s nothing but farm country reminds me of those years when gas was cheap and we had nothing but time. Driving, for the sake of driving, with music blaring and windows rolled down seem like a luxury now. This part of the state reminds me of my brother too. He spent a decade attending schools and later working at Cornell and I used to love visiting him at the Vet School. He’d show me jarred animal organs floating in formaldehyde in the labs and we’d go visit the cows and horses in the barn. What I remember the most though was the barn cat. He had multiple toes, something like 8-12 toes on each paw, and he was a sight. I always point out the store where Ed adopted my cat for me to the girls whenever we’re up here. It’s a funny story, really, of the night that Tobi spent with him before he was driven down to the East Village where we were living back in ’97. He was tiny, just shy of 3 months old, and wasn’t particularly thrilled to be plucked out of the litter of cats. That night, my brother dropped a heavy typewriter in the living room a few yards away from Tobi and it sent him in a panic under the sofa where he stayed until he had to be pried away for the drive down to my house. Tobi was scarred for life and hated my brother since then. Cats, unlike dogs, can hold long grudges it seems.
For the past couple of years, our short trips upstate involve family and visits to a nursing home. It’s hard not to get sad during these visits no matter how nice the facility is and I find myself choking back tears whenever we leave. It’s a reminder of our own mortality too. We’re getting old alongside our parents and we’re all grappling with physical changes that we can, but also can’t see. Some things are within our control and we can change our lifestyles to shape our future, but it’s also just a roll of the dice with genetics and pure chance at play. Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair, but life isn’t always fair, is it?
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The golden hour is usually stunning anywhere you are, but we had some really good ones out West. We ended our trip with a spectacular sunset on the pier and watched the sun disappear behind the mountains (we always try to end our trips out west with a water view and a sunset). Our time out here for me was bittersweet. My brother talked of wanting to move to Seattle in the last few months of his life. We talked about how nice it would be if we all eventually ended up in the same area, all of us old and retired sitting on lawn chairs with our garden gnomes, eating blackberry cobbler. I really wish he had made the move and I thought about what could have been as we watched the sunset. A fitting end, really, to summer.
Now back at home with school finally in session and September upon us, summer isn’t letting go quite so easily. It’s been hot – hotter than it’s been all summer – and while I’m not necessarily in a rush to usher in Fall, the weather does seem to contradict everything that Fall represents. I didn’t think I wanted summer to end, but now that September is here, I’m feeling that restlessness and surge of motivation that seem to surface this month every year. Also, boots. I love sandals, but I can’t wait to wear boots. Oh, the frivolous things.
So, along with all this seasonal motivation comes along this feeling that maybe the fog of summer is starting to lift. It’s like this: I woke up one day and realized that I didn’t have that weird and sudden social anxiety around people and friends anymore. I started to think again about project ideas that I abandoned late May when everything came apart. I still think about my brother everyday, but it feels less like a dark cloud even though it’s still an empty hole. I suppose this is progress. The time warp of summer was such a strange experience and I floated like a ghost for 3 months without ever really touching the ground. Now that I’m much more present, the stuff that I put aside still remains. All the big questions about life and work are looming large again. I think I’m finally ready to face them though.
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People sometimes ask me which city I like more, Seattle or NY, and it always strikes me as a funny question since neither city is like the other and they represent different things to me. It’s been interesting to see how Seattle has changed over the years. It’s not like witnessing the changes in New York which I can track over the course of time if my path crosses certain sites often enough (likewise, I get to watch quite a number of buildings go up from the view way up from the office). In Seattle, we often time lapse into those changes on our visits every year. New buildings pop up or we can see how a whole neighborhood like South Lake Union develops from year to year (the amount of construction in this neighborhood right now is crazy). My reference point for some of these changes in urban landscape are almost as old as New York; sometimes Seattle bears little resemblance to the place that I remember from the early 90s. I sometimes struggle to find the spots we used to go to or name the 24 hr joints we used to haunt; there weren’t too many back then and there are even fewer now, but the past is often a blur at this point.
Every year I check the real estate listings to keep tabs on neighborhoods I’m interested in. The loose plan to retire in the NW is still the plan. Besides, who doesn’t like looking at real estate? I’ve been seeing prices in Seattle creep steadily up, but noticed a remarkable jump in prices this year. So many condos and new buildings on the market too. Seattle has never been cheap. New York real estate prices still blow every city out of the water except maybe San Francisco, so “cheap” is relative, but the gap between the 2 cities has gotten smaller this year. I wonder what another 5 years will bring?
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It’s been a long while since I’ve seen a view like this. A view where you can almost see the curvature of the earth and watch the sun go down on one end while tracking the movement of the shadows traveling across the mountains on the other. It has a way of making you feel very small.
It’s been harder here to ignore my thoughts, looking out into the water, seeing the landscape of the trees, the gradation of the mountains in the distance, and reliving some memories from times past. It’s easier to coast by in the city, whether in NY or Seattle, where you’re caught up in the rush of movement and lights and just “stuff” everywhere. It’s a distraction and it’s been a welcome one.
But I can’t always run away. Surrounded by lots of family on this trip I felt more alone than I had in awhile. Is that weird? It wasn’t exactly what I expected and it was hard. I’ve let go of any expectations that my reactions or emotions right now are rational. To surrender to your feelings is humbling in a way because we don’t always have control over them, do we?
And a view like this reminds me that there’s more out there. More places to see, more memories to be made, more life.
*Photos from Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island.
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A few things have changed since we last came to Orcas Island, though much of it remains as I remember it. Doe Bay Resort, where we had a class retreat for our music program back in college, got a whole lot bigger and expanded into multiple dwellings and even a cafe. Mark reminded me that some of us went swimming in the cold September waters on a dare during that trip. It was probably the only time I ever went swimming in Washington. I find the water unbearingly frigid and can’t even stand to dip my feet; they immediately go numb. The kids remarked at the difference in water temperature as well, but that didn’t stop them from wading in or swimming in the lake. I don’t know why some memories can be conjured up so clearly while others lurk in the shadows. I can remember how the air smelled during that class trip, how windy and cold it was up on the mountain, and the evenings filled with drums and music in the big retreat house we all stayed in. We drove 2 big school vans up to the ferry, a 3 hour road trip from campus. I don’t know if anyone had a camera. It’s quite possible that no photos of the trip exist. Isn’t that something? A stark contrast to now.
On this trip, we cooked all but one of our meals while on the island and ate them out on the deck on the weathered table: A barbeque, Norwegian-style pancakes with fresh blueberry and huckleberry sauces, zucchini bread, eggs, fennel salad, and quesadillas made with leftover pork from our Hawaiian feast. But the best of all were the crabs and the clams from a local shop that laid traps in the nearby water.
A short walk to the beach is always a good way to start and end the day. When I stand here and remember where I am – on a tiny island on the most northwestern tip of the US – I can’t help but feel like I’m standing at the edge of the earth.
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