In reverie, I escape the moral uncertainty of these times into a place where sweet air satisfies and the spirit of nature presides. Such a place of calm is a remnant of rusticity that called me in my youth to restore a house and gardens on an acre surrounded by ancient Leni Lenape campground that became Pennsylvania Dutch farmland. I recall a morning when ice and snow encased our valley, and I pulled on layers of wool and down, laced up insulated boots, and emerged into a crystalline world.
The indigenous ancestors were forced to leave their camps, displaced by immigrants as their vast farms and crops of corn and wheat expanded through the fertile valleys of the Lehigh and Delaware. Old farms are now abandoned to backhoe and builder; methods and relics of simpler times removed. These old fields spring into copses of scrub-oak, juniper, crabapple, and vine, and flourish again to provide food and cover for bird and mammal and a temporary refuge for me.
In memory, I bend to follow deer tracks under glistening boughs to an enclosure of silverberry, where blue jays and cardinals feast on tiny red fruits, and excited finches flit on twigs. Snow has drifted in a thicket where deer have sheltered overnight; the air still heavy with musk and vapors of their hot breath.
A mature uprooted mulberry tree with golden bark is my seat in this snow-muffled place. Scattered about are antique farm remnants: a tractor long lodged in mud; its steering wheel a rusted peace sign, a mule plow abandoned for a gas-powered machine, and a big wheel ruined from hits to shale shards. The collapsed slate roof of an old neighbor’s dilapidated Dutch barn and the crumbled fieldstone wall that once divided our parcels rest dormant in the distant past. My eye catches a white ferret stretch out of the rubble; a fine, lean creature absorbed into the snow-scene after fieldmice. I hold onto this cherished quiet. Sere winter grasses nod to me in the breeze, and soft flakes drift like serenity; a meditation in this time of need.
The smell of pulp signals his immersion in the Sunday Times. I step into our average suburban living room, avoiding the papers he has spread out on the green broadloom carpet, and sprawl on the couch across from his easy chair. The first section is open on his lap. He wears khaki permanent press and his legs are stretched out, ankles crossed on the floor, as he studies this week’s world.
Whether in our New Jersey family home, or out of state in temporary housing, when my Air Force officer dad was with us, his rare, relaxed moments were to be respected. The ritual was egg and bacon breakfast to follow nine o’clock Mass. Sunday afternoons were spent in reverential quiet. Mom limited her conversation, busying herself with needlework, or she retreated to their bedroom.
I might have risked a moment of inquiry, or an attempt at his attention when I was much younger but learned as a teen that questions disrupted and might deliver a sermon, or worse, his ire. Unless he was ready to speak, it was best to have a book or magazine on the couch or steal off to find a friend.
With an advanced degree in economic geography, and career as intelligence officer there could have been interesting topics and opinions to share, but perhaps the complexities of what he knew, or what was stricken from his clearance, often kept him quiet. That I’m aware, it wasn’t until after he retired from government, that he became openly conversational. In fact, in his later years his freedom in sharing gave me an impression of someone who not only spoke on authority but also wouldn’t be silenced; even wanted to impress. In those earlier days, only his somber features gave me clues to the troubled world I’d begun to glean, one he well understood.
Mary Ellen Gambutti’s stories appear or are forthcoming in Gravel Mag, Remembered Arts Journal, A Thousand and One Stories, Halcyon Days, Memoir Magazine, Haibun Today, Borrowed Solace, Winter Street Writers, Amethyst Review, mac(ro)mic, The Drabble, FewerThan500, Spillwords, BellaMused, Portland Metrozine, and other fine journals, She has received a 2020 Pushcart nomination from Human/Kind Journal for a haibun. Her three books are Stroke Story: My Journey There and Back, Permanent Home: A Memoir and Coming to Terms: My Journey Continues. She and her husband live in Sarasota, Florida, with their rescued senior Chihuahua, Max.