I set out to write a blog for Mother’s Day, all my novels, including my new one, you see, have strong maternal themes. But as I type, I’m thinking too much about Earth Day, and feeling love for our communal mother, Pacha Mama, Mother Earth, sustainer of us all.
Returning to Rhode Island this spring and our home on the water with its endless views is something I will never tire of. This place is a true blessing in my life, a place my family loves to gather. We came back mid April in order to spend Passover with friends and family, however it is several weeks too soon as far as the weather is concerned. The spit of land on which our home sits is exposed to a stiff, prevailing wind all winter long and despite what the calendar says, the whitecaps on the water and gusts flattening the daffodils are laughing at us.
Branches and twigs scatter about the yard, remnants of the winter’s storms, and as last night’s weather whistled through the house and shook the windowpanes, my anxiety crept to levels that made it hard to sleep. The full moon brought with it an extreme high tide this morning that flooded our drive.
It is higher, I believe, than this time last year when the town came to repair the culvert between the marsh and the wetlands and then to repave. I look out the window and regard all that work as a futile human attempt at holding back the sea. Someday this land will be an island and we will either have to build a bridge to get here or row a boat or disband the place altogether. Everything that surrounds us is a lesson in impermanence.
When I was young Earth Day wasn’t a big thing, maybe you’d see people planting a tree, but worrying about the earth in 1970’s and 1980’s wasn’t what we did and I took for granted that the world as I was experiencing it would continue forever. And I remember Mother’s Days of the past in a similar fashion, drawing a heart on a piece of construction paper and folding it in half for my mother or later buying her paltry token from a convenience store with my allowance. I hadn’t understood back then our Mother’s Days were numbered and she would die without a proper goodbye.
We have a friend with a large Andy Goldsworthy sculpture on his property. It looks like a human scale beehive, exposed to the wind, rain and sun which means it’s slowly eroding. Our friend explained that impermanence was Goldsworthy artistic statement, and that as the owner of a quite expensive and noteworthy piece, he needed to be okay with its decay. I loved sitting at the site of the sculpture with him discussing the inevitability of change. The lesson was calming, as if accepting impermanence is the secret to a happy life. But I must admit, on that day I had been considering our lives, or mankind in general and the creations it has wrought. I always assumed the ground on which everything stood would stick around.
Walking the perimeter of our yard can be a heartbreaking exercise in the spring, our shoreline a receptacle for all that washes up. First and foremost are the natural deposits, driftwood and hollow stalks of weathered plant life. They create a grey blanket between the rocky seawall and the water, like a sieve or a straining net, the perfect material with which to make a nest if you are a swan or an osprey or a duck. But sadly, this blanket of organic webbing captures much more. Plastic bottle caps, hundreds of them, straws, single serving plastic bottles and cans, the occasional tattered life jacket or buoy, lots and lots of Styrofoam. In the future an alien anthropologist might try to make sense of the slices of nylon rope and fishing lures and bottle caps, scratching its head at what humans must have done on their boats. “Thought they could catch fish with little plastic discs. No wonder they went extinct.”
I am happy to rake, collect and discard the debris properly but one can’t help but think of the stretches of coastline where there isn’t somebody taking care. And as I take walks beyond our home, trash bag in hand, I am more obsessed than ever with impermanence. Although, it is a hard concept for a mother to embrace as so much of what I’ve strived for is to leave something meaningful behind. My three kids are incredible, but what kind of earth are they planted on? And I think of my last conversation with my mother, and not knowing that was going to be the last one, and the sorrow that came imagining what the end must have been like for her. We can be looking at the end right now, but we aren’t smart enough to recognize it as so.
The paradox is that I will return to the mountains out west this summer where there isn’t enough water and the tiniest of sparks can start a fire, that we just spent a winter where less snow fell than the year before and last year’s snowfall was less than the year before. The trend doesn’t breed optimism. Still people are building homes. Maybe they love hot summers and don’t drink water. Don’t they sense an end to snowy winters? Then again, the first week in April, we had a big storm bringing a few feet of snow and the local headlines laughed it all away as supply chain issues delaying February orders for powder.
It helps to have a sense of humor and soldier on. In a few weeks, I will plant my vegetable garden. I will continue to collect plastic and hold onto hope. Maybe I will even receive a Mother’s Day card or two from my own kids. I’ll do my own small part and although, based on what I read and what I see out my window, I fear it isn’t going to be enough to keep Pacha Mama from dying. No matter how many times she says, “I won’t be around forever,” we don’t want to listen. And because I’ll never know if this is my last chance to say, “I love you,” I’ll tend to her with all my heart while I have the chance.