I am a learning tree, water my roots with stories. Minister Oye
The package, a bright green bag overflowing with yellow tissue paper and tied with a bow, was sitting on my doorstep when I arrived home from yoga the evening before the first trip out to Boulder three weeks ago. My to-do list was long that night and my flight was brutally early the next morning, so it was a quick glance that I gave to this unexpected surprise. It was a grandparent present from my friend, Garee, filled with children’s books and a beautiful card. I held each of the books, admired the covers, felt excited that someday I would read from their pages to my grandson who was about to be born. Then I carefully placed each one of them back in the bag, knowing that I would savor this gift at a later date.
And the later date came during the two days that I spent back in Upper Michigan after Baby Viren’s birth, before flying out west again for this delicious week of baby-cuddling that I am now enjoying. In between yoga classes and bill-paying and vacuuming the house, I found the time to once again peek at my present. I skimmed the pages of a hands-on book titled Oops, read a few nursery rhymes from a beautifully illustrated edition of Mother Goose, and then I picked up the biggest of the books, a hefty hard-cover of songs and stories and poems complied by Julie Andrews. I rubbed my hand over the smooth cover and then I flipped it open. And that’s when I gasped. And that’s when I knew this present was even more special. And that’s when I phoned Garee.
“Garee,” I cried. “You won’t believe it! ” And then I told her how easily the book had opened, as if almost of its own volition, to this page that was now staring back at me in its water-colored blues and greens, this page with the words prominently placed before my eyes, words that I knew so well. There they were in bold blue print: Sea Fever. Sea Fever, my mother’s favorite poem, the one that she had shared with me when I was in fourth grade, the one that we re-discovered together, Mom and I, this past autumn, the one that I had read to yoga students the evening after her passing in early February, the one that is printed on the back of the program for her Memorial Service that will be held in less than two weeks. Garee , on the other end of the phone, told me that her jaw was hanging open; she told me that she almost didn’t buy that book, that she almost didn’t buy any books. She was on her way out to Ishpeming to deliver the card to me, she said, and she happened to turn on Washington Street. “I never turn on Washington Street,” she added. And that’s when she noticed the parking space in front of the bookstore. And that’s when she became inspired and that’s when she chose the books, or, as she exclaimed, when the books chose her. “The Julie Andrews book just jumped out at me. It wanted to be picked!”
As I examined the book more closely, I discovered that Julie Andrews had titled a huge section, Sea Fever, and had included not only the poem by John Masefield that my mother and I love, but a whole selection of sea poems and stories and songs to read and sing aloud. My mother was present in this present. I could feel her. She was with me, riding right along on the ocean waves of this grandparent adventure. Two weeks ago, before Viren’s birth, during the first visit to Colorado, I was hiking up the Boulder Creek Path and into the canyon as the sun rose over the red rocks. Seemingly out of nowhere, a yellow swallowtail butterfly appeared, sailing on the sunbeams in front of me and landing on a pale purple thistle blossom beside the trail. Blazing yellow in the morning light, the butterfly was radiant and certainly camera-worthy, except I didn’t have a camera with me. I didn’t even have a smart phone. I only had my dumb phone. Remembering that it had some sort of a camera, I hauled it out and began to fiddle with the icons. I must have pushed the wrong thing, because, all of a sudden, my mother appeared on the screen. She smiled back at me from a photo that I had taken on the patio of Dionne Commons on the Solstice in December, on a sunny Maine afternoon. It was the last time that I saw my mother before she broke her hip. And here she was now, more than six months later, still smiling. And when I looked up, the butterfly was gone.
The other day , I was hiking that same stretch of trail, and I was thinking about the poem and the Julie Andrews book and my mother. It was a fresh clear morning and the air was bright and the creek, filled with the rains from the night before, was singing a vibrant rushing song. And suddenly it donned on me. I don’t know why it hadn’t before. And a shudder-breath, almost a sob, rose from deep within me, not of sorrow, but of recognition. Of course, my mother, the nursery school teacher, my mother who loved babies, who bought my boys, the books of Maine — Andre, the Sea, One Morning in Maine, What the Sea Left Behind — of course, my mother is not only making her presence known to me. This gift, this gift of Sea Fever, it’s not only for me. It’s for Viren. My mother, Viren’s great grandmother, she’s present for him as well.