Monday, June 15, 2015

Entry 10

3:30 pm
85 degrees, at times a light breeze blows by.

An Exercise in Slightly Selfish Description:
     So much has changed since I was here last. Most noticeably my favorite bench is gone! Perhaps, actually, most missed is a better phrase because there are numerous noticeably different things. The cattails and marsh grasses have sprung up, exploding new life from the sandy ground. There are primrose bushes, leaves on the trees, and flowers blooming on shrubs. Plants look alive. And there are so many people! Kayakers, fishermen — lots of fishermen —  and families with young kids playing on the beach. People lounge under colorful umbrellas and kids wade in the water. Boats speed across the river and a prop plane rumbles by overhead. The water leaps and jumps. One brave mallard bobs precariously over the enthusiastic waves. Waves splash water droplets on my nose and notebook paper. 
Everything is loud and light and lively today. A breeze pushes the smell of the river on you. The highway noise sometimes breaks through the tide and other water traffic. Bees zoom around; their vibrations insistently echo in the empty spaces between rocks. Children shout and laugh. The marsh grasses hiss as the wind moves through them. Birds warble and tweet from their shaded perches in the trees. 

The last time I tried to come here it was Commissioning Week at the Naval Academy and the bridge was closed. The second time, Memorial Day traffic was absolutely crazy. Finally, I’ve made it. And what a beautiful day. A Saturday. An afternoon. People windsurfing, rowing, sailing, or motoring over the water. Paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing. Their lines look like spider gossamer blowing in the wind, filaments catching the sunlight. The water is a browny green. The sand burns underfoot. There is a carving of a heron that I’ve never seen before on the hill behind me. I will go and check it out before I leave. 

Normally, I would be so upset that so many people are here, but really, today, I am glad. This is a place where they gather to enjoy nature. Or at least, the beauty that nature can give them. It is a used place. Inhabited. An oasis on the outskirts of Annapolis city. What good would it do to protect it from people and restrict them from using it? Isn’t it better to equip them to inhabit places like this responsibly? 

Still, I would like my bench back. I miss it. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Entry 9:

2:40 pm
About 60 degrees, cloudy, wind fairly still

Dear Footprints,

If I was in a more contemplative mood, you would be the imprints of stories impressed on the sand. As I am not in a contemplative mood, you are what you are. Different. Some of you with diagonal stripes, some of you with zig-zags or checkers. Some like a spider web, some with dots, some with crisscross lines, and others like tap shoes. 

You are almost a three dimensional thing. I feel you ride the line between existing and not existing. You are only the physical shape of the idea of the one who left you behind because you aren't embodied, or full-bodied.

I am not sitting on my favorite bench today. A fisherman is there, and I don't want to disrupt him, even though the bench is certainly big enough for at least five people. But I would rather sit on the sand today, anyway. It isn't chilly, even though I'm dressed for a winter's day in my boots, scarf and hat. 

Two kayakers land to my right. They're in shorts. I feel ridiculous, dressed the way I am. 

I'm not doing such a great job of writing what I'm experiencing here today. Maybe I feel like I've talked about everything that's here, but I know I haven't. I just need to dig in deeper, to listen harder, be more open, more creative. Rise to the occasion, but be willing to let the occasion take over? I don't know.

All I know for sure right now is that the water is calm today. Gently lapping at the shore, as cliche as that sounds. I like watching the line of bubbles on the wave's edge stick to the shore and then pop as they slide back into the water. I like watching the waves eat your imprints. 

Cannabalistic, perhaps, but you aren't truly a person or a thing, like I said. Merely the impression of a person. 

A sailboat has come into view. I can suddenly understand the thrill of the huge white sheet filling with invisible air. I can sense the rush sailors must get when the wind pushes their craft along the water's surface. The whole contrivance looks delicate, yet the contraption looks regal. 

The water sounds like its clapping in the sailboat's honor.

And you just keep on lying in the sand, carrying filaments and threads of humans without ever becoming something real or alive. You will never become more than what you are, but you can become less. If that isn't a miserable kind of existence, I'm not sure what is. 

I lied. It appears I am in a morbidly contemplative mood.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Entry 8:


11:30 am, 55 degrees, breezy

Dear Marsh Grass,

The sign says this about you: “This narrow band of shoreline vegetation supports a diverse ecosystem. Grasses such as Smooth Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) and Saltmarsh Hay (Spartina patens) compose a large portion of living shorelines, and serve as primary producers in the food chain as well as offering habitat to a multitude of native species. Shoreline grasses have special adaptations to survive the repeated wave action and salty conditions. Thick underground rhizomes hold the plants in place, and special glands on the leaves secrete excess salt.” 

There’s more, but this is what strikes me.

I’m just thinking about this word “support.” The grasses support the land and they offer what they can: a place to live, and themselves as food. What can I learn from a blade of marsh grass? You are determined. You are unyielding and yet flexible. This flexibility is what allows you to not give in to the wind and water. You bend with the weather.

And me. I am support for my family, for my friends, and I use them as support. I am a listening ear. I am a smile. I am a strong force when someone is unkind to those I love. I am a fierce protector. I am a gentle reminder. I am a shoulder. I am a calm presence in crisis. I am a steady, dependable, responsible person. I set aside what I want when someone I love needs me. I expect them to do the same for me. I give and I take. I am a blade of marsh grass. 

I am rooted, and I will not be blown away. I may be flooded, or overwhelmed by questions that are too big for me to answer, by battles that are too big for me to fight on my own, but I’m not a blade of grass standing and swaying alone. I have family and friends who dance alongside me. They are rooted, too. We are rooted together. We must never make the mistake of thinking we are alone. 

I am resilient. I can withstand the repeated wave action of life. I am tough. I am tender. I am none of these things, and all of these things. I am learning to be a blade of marsh grass. I must learn to be a blade of marsh grass if I want to survive. 

As I think all these thoughts, I’m watching the shadows slide and skip over the texture of the ground. Leaves, crinkly, warped and molded by the water, are half-buried in the sand. Some blow free, skittering across the top of the ground, and some are packed in between the roots of the marsh grasses. Are they keeping you warm? Helicopters from tulip poplars, the ones that jab an indentation in my foot when I step on them are scattered around in a heavy yet patchy carpet on the sand. Gum wrappers with faded lettering are tucked between the stalks of the grasses and the leaves. Waterlogged sticks with hundreds of tiny holes from being corroded by microscopic bugs criss-cross the sand. So much sand. Feathers rumpled and misshapen from being blown hither and yon and thither and back are stuck in the hollows you make for animal nests. Clusters of styrofoam from those disposable coolers fishermen bring their bait and beverages in are strewn about. I can see pine needles, still orangey even after a long harsh winter, under the shore debris. The sand is warm until about a pinkie’s length deep. It is moist and clumpy.

I’m trying so hard not to look at the water. It’s so loud and everyone always looks at it. Maybe that’s why the grasses are a mite sad. No one ever enjoys you. You are simply there to hold the ground in place. Does anyone ever thank you or appreciate how your lithe fronds dance in the wind? You make your own music; it is not as loud as the waters’. I must bend my ear to the ground to hear the rustling, or put myself in the midst of you — though the sign does say stay off — to hear your whispers. Ah, you love the land. You cling to it with your roots; you meet with it and hold it. And few seldom think of you. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Entry 7:

53 degrees, 11:38 am, gusty.

Dear Jonas Green Park, 

Sand blows up about a foot in the air. So, I didn’t sit on the beach. The wind gusts so hard that the ends of my hair keep biting my eyes. I walked up on the hill and around the path before deciding it was stupid to dress as I did today. I am not in arid, sunny Aruba any longer. I am in Maryland. It is fifty-three degrees, sunny, but not strong sun. And windy. 

Oh, how windy it is. The smell of the water hit me as soon as I opened my car door. It’s the smell I’ve been waiting for all winter. My Bay. My Annapolis. The river is a froth of whitecaps; I had to fight against the wind, driving here. Going over the Old Naval Academy Bridge will be like wrestling a pig. The wind sounds angry, but I know it only wants to play. To make itself known. To be heard. I am Here. I have Arrived. Pay Attention!

What have you taught me, Jonas Green Park? In a semester’s long quest to know and understand you, what have you taught me? 

To see details. To wonder. To see complexity in simplicity, and simplicity in complexity. To worship. To soak in beauty. To revel in the presence and even the absence of something beautiful. To listen with my ears. To listen with my eyes closed. To listen with my body. To hear with my soul. To absorb pain not my own. To allow myself to slow down. To think in time with the wind and the water. To channel my anger and my passion into articulate words and actions. To remember the future. To apologize for the past. To live wholly present. To be alive and responsible and unregrettable. 

I am not through learning about these things. Mere baby steps is all I’ve taken in all of them. I suppose, overall, you have widened my world, both as a writer and a liver. How I live affects the earth. How the earth lives affects me. We are not separate. We are in this together. I must not be selfish. 

Pay Attention. I think, most of all, that is what this park has taught me. Through a season where “nothing happens” I have tried to pay attention and a half-cocked job of it I have done. I feel if I were truly to pay attention, I should not leave night or day. But everything in moderation, and all things to their time. I have come, I have given my attention, I have studied, been still, vocal, questioning, curious, open…well, I have tried my best at all of these. It feels a feeble effort, but who says I must stop? I will keep coming. Perhaps I will not publish my letters I continue to write here, but I will still come. I will let this place continue to teach me to pay attention. I will let my heart roam over it, my mind muse over it, my body be affected by it. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Entry 6:

6:38 pm
48 degrees

Dear River,
You are quiet today. Calm. Only a gentle ripple of a tide, nothing strong or fierce. Not that I can see from up here, anyway. I don’t know anything about what goes on underneath your surface. What are you thinking about? What are you feeling? Are you thinking or feeling?
And why do I always think of you, of all water actually, in emotional terms? Because I equate my emotional levels with your behavior, your movement? That seems unfair. After all, you were with God before the creation of the earth. He hovered over you. How can I assume you exist on my terms when you were here first? By all rights, you should be defining me, not the other way around.

The sun is setting. I saw two ducks. I hear raucous birds. The air is still. No smells drift toward me, though I want to imagine them awakening. I imagine the depths of you awakening. 
There’s a man with a tiny puppy poodle-looking thing on the picnic table a little ways down the shore from me. The dog has a red bandana around its neck. The man sits on the table’s top — just as I did moments ago. He’s hunched; grey sweatshirt, black sweatpants. Now he and his dog walk along the water’s edge. The dog trembles over a piece of driftwood. It pees.

People stroll about, taking pictures with cell phones, or — like the photographer who’s got a tripod and backpack full of equipment — legit cameras. I want to know their stories. Why do they come to this place? Do they come often? But I feel if I struck up a conversation I would be stepping on a private journey. I don’t want anyone to come over to me right now, so why should I invade someone else’s solitude? 
So many questions today, River. Sometimes it is more fun to think up the questions than to solve for the answers. Sometimes the answers are necessary, and sometimes just the being itself is necessary. Today, I simply am. I am simply with you. I think silently, you wash against the sand. I call it a conversation; perhaps it is only an exchange of being. 
So I huddle on my picnic table as the sun fades behind clouds. I listen to the birds tattle on each other, musing about journeys, poodles, and duck bills. I listen to you speak in your water-tongue, and I wish I were able to understand you, not just with my ears, but with my heart and my brain, too. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Entry 5:

55 degrees
slight breeze
3:08 pm

Dear Spring,

I opted for a spot as close to the water as I could get. Where I'm sitting, the only sound that penetrates the water's music is an airplane carving up the sky.

Thank goodness I can hear the water today. When life gets crazy and stressful, the noise of water is a constant that calms my spirit. Warmer temps and Bay breezes have washed the last of the ice floes onto the shore where the sun does the patient work of melting the slabs away.

I love your voice, dear Spring; I hear it in the waves, in the breeze, the sun rays dropping diamonds into the water, thrumming inside the rocks where I sit. My bum isn't freezing, and my fingers aren't stiff with cold. Tis a lovely change from the last months of striking up a relationship with this park. It always seems to be the same old, same old when your sibling Winter is in charge, you know? I'm ready for you to preside over affairs because there will be something new every day.

You are such a fickle season, I know, but I'm flighty enough myself that I don't mind. I like your siblings Winter, Autumn and Summer, but whenever one of you starts packing up to make room for the next one's reign, I get all itchy for the changeover to take place.

I'm ready for you to come and redecorate this park. Add some greenery, break up the brown of the sand and trees, the grey of the rocks and the water. Green has a special brilliance that it brings along when you use it in the color palette.

I'm ready for you to bring your pets. Winter is so picky - only likes certain kinds of birds. I'm ready for your menagerie of squirrels, dragonflies, newts, turtles, tiny sand crabs, the chickadees and robins and whatever else you've got.

My gosh, I love the water. I know different kinds of water make different noises, but it's still a universal sound to me. It's comforting. I guess that's what I'm looking for today. Comfort. To know you really truly are coming. Please don't let this be a tease, or a one day visit. Come stay.

Every season has a different kind of magic, but I'm ready for your particular brand. I'm ready mostly, I think, for this place to smell again. It never smells right when Winter's here. It's...blank. Blank doesn't smell. There's an absence, that's what it is. Smell means presence. That's how I know you're coming: it starts to smell.

I don't know what exactly you smell like but it's potent. Salty. Dirty. Like you're tunneling up from the center of the earth. Like the molten center of the earth follows you up the tunnel and that hot smell makes the color green. As you push away the absence of Winter with your presence, everything warms and the cores of things start to wake up.

That's what I'm ready for. I'm ready to wake up and sit with you. I can be quiet while you teach the world to make noise again. Winter - the Grump - makes the world forget how beautiful sound is supposed to be. Winter makes sound sharp and cacophonous. Your presence makes sound soft again. My senses are ready to be coddled by a presence. I'm tired of being stunned by the hollow absence of Winter.

Come soon.



Sunday, March 1, 2015

Entry 4:


8:49 am 
Cold enough to freeze water.

Dear Geese,

You realize this is not the week to come back, right? Can you see all this snow and ice? I know there are only three of you; maybe you’re scouting ahead for the rest of the gaggle, but take the message back: spring is not here yet. 

Why do you think I’m wearing my dad’s camouflage coveralls? I picked the quilted pair; I could wear shorts and a tank top under these and still be toasty. Unfortunately, I forgot to wear my snow boots, so my feet are pretty wet. 

I’m watching you from the fish slaughter bench. That’s a little creepy, sorry, but I wonder if you’re used to people watching you, pointing binoculars or camera lenses at you.

        Here’s what I see, and this is how I know winter is in full swing yet. This is why you should tell your Canadian compadres it’s not time to migrate back yet. The Severn River is almost frozen across. Both shores are frozen out to almost the middle, but the ice thins until there is a free path right down the middle of the river for the water to flow through. The gulls are out on the edge of the ice. They get into the moving water by the fishing pier and the lazy river floats them down the edge of the ice to the Severn River Bridge. A long line of black-headed gulls floating away from me. It’s so funny to watch them; what do they look like from your sky view? 

My butt is in a drift of snow, and underneath the snow is a slick of ice. I didn’t bother to clear it; the bench would still be cold, and my gloves would get wet. Snow flurries around me occasionally.

The highway sounds take over the air today. I can’t hear any water moving today. The waves are frozen. Snow drifts in long lines on the ice where the waves peaked and froze. Every so often, the farthest gull flies back to the beginning of the lazy river chute. I wonder if they’re all sleeping, or feeding. It’s hard to imagine the river as continuing under the ice.

Behind me, the sun pops out. 

I was dreading coming here today. Everything seems to always be the same when I come, no matter the time of day. The water, the mud, the grasses. But everything looks different today. Snowflakes catch on my gloves. I can see the perfect uniqueness of each shard.

The far shorelines look purple as a snow shower moves down river. 

I’ve been told the last time the Severn River froze solid enough to walk across was in 1977. It hasn’t been solid enough to walk across this winter, but a few days of last week when the temperatures held steady in the single digits, there was a sheet of ice over the entire river between these two bridges, The old Naval Academy Bridge, and the Severn River Bridge. 

I feel safe here. Tucked between two things I love. Bridges. Annapolis and Arnold. Water ahead of me, trees behind me. With the snow covering everything, it’s easier to let go of frustrations about whether this place is “natural enough,” and it’s difficult to get pissed at the man-made interference with nature. 

The old Naval Academy Bridge

Me in the middle

The Severn River Bridge in the distance

The world is hushed and quiet. Never mind the honking of the cars swishing to work warring with your own honking. I’m sure it’s just because the cars are jealous of you. 

Are you showing off for me? I watch your wings beat wildly in the wind. You create an air show equal to the Blue Angels on the Fourth of July. It’s like you’re dancing in the sky; you come close together, fly in formation, come apart and wheel. Come together, one flies on top of the other, mere feet from one another. Come apart, one of you swoops low, one of you swoops high. A flock of gulls separate you and I giggle as you honk to find each other. 

You, and the gulls, are the first signs of non-human life I’ve seen at this park. Perhaps that is what I am comforted most by. How much damage could this park have done if you still come? But, then I have to consider, is it only because of the snow and ice covering up what we’ve done that you are here, gulls and geese?

         In any case; go tell your friends and relatives: Maryland is still in the grip of Winter. Come back and keep me company when sweet Spring banishes the snow and ice.