Along the Sylvan Hill ridge, the alders bear the first speckled yellows and reds of autumn. Football season begins. The school zone lights flash and on the side of the road, there's the square flags of the crossing guard. Morning is more dark and sharp with the glint of something colder.
How did it happen so quickly this year? Where have I been?
Austin was so hot. Crater Lake was a bright, glimpse of unearthly blue. Takhlakh Lake and Rainier were a brief intake of breath and sun. Orlando was a string of conference-room days and theme-park nights, bright lights and fireworks. Was I gone so long?
Or perhaps it was just me. Flowing just under the surface, it has been a summer of grief, a thick, weighted loss that presses your head down, even some days so that you cannot see past your own feet or just barely into that small space ahead to watch for the jutted edge of sidewalk you know is coming so maybe you can keep from ending flat on your face with a bloodied lip and your front teeth knocked out.
I carved out space for it this time, gave it honor so as to allow its full course - lessons learned from old grief caught in stifled cracks of self-will and fear. But now, looking back, it was in Orlando when it began to lift.
Our midnight flight landed, and some hours later at the hotel, I swam with my daughters in an expansive, silent pool under a black sky lit by a vaguely familiar pattern of stars. The days were a flurry of schedules, new faces, lectures and PowerPoint presentations, but on the second night, we took off our shoes and I walked with my girls in the black curl of the Atlantic Ocean under the Cocoa Beach Pier, under christmas lights and a local rendition of Sublime.
We swam every night for relief from the humidity that made everything sticky damp. Hurricane Faye was incoming but not so close to be responsible for the evening lightning or that mid-afternoon downpour that moved the closing party indoors where we exchanged handshakes and hugs and then went to SeaWorld where the whales leaped and twisted in the damp air just the same, I expect, as in those sunlit commercials.
Strangers know they are sisters - my three daughters - even as they are distinctly different. As their mother, something unspoken and connective happens when I am with them. Something no less than awe rises in me to see from inside a lobby window as they walk across the courtyard and cross the bridge together. The swing of one's hair, the way this one moves her hand, the curve of the other's smile.
It was not anticipated, this change of course, not at least by me. Collectively, the smallest moments of joy throughout the summer have become entwined to keep me intact, and then unexpectedly, my daughters' presence bore me light. So that I might see the alder leaves.