Hands and Voices

Family After the months
of his pursuit of her, now
they meet face to face.
From the beginnings of the world
his arrival and her welcome
have been prepared. They have always
known each other.

Wendell Berry, from “Her First Calf”

Needle-sharp stars in a black-ice sky. Snow crunching underfoot, clinging to branches that glow grey in the half-moonlight. It’s a night for walking in Robert Frost’s woods, dark and deep, but we won’t be. Like the speaker, I too have miles to go. Tonight, precisely 36 miles, down the dark freeway to the hospital.

LaborAs Timmy drives I watch the green mile markers pass, listen to Sufjan Stevens sing lighthearted Christmas songs into the night. I breathe through each contraction, trying not to worry about their frequency or length. I remind myself, again and again, that this is the design. I’m made for this. It’s supposed to be like this. Don’t worry. At the end of this, our daughter will be born,

Will be born. Such a passive phrase, as if babies materialize magically and quietly into hospitals, delivered like extra gauze or meals on trays. But to state it otherwise–where I’ll deliver my daughter–seems just as wrong. I’m no Moses of childbirth; it will take many people to deliver this one small person into the world, not just me.

A long time ago, I remember watching a TV movie in which a woman gives birth alone, in a cabin in Alaska, sometime in the early half of the last century. Why she was alone escapes me now, but as we drive I think about that fictional woman, who labored in solitude in a wild place, who bit down on a leather strap at the height of the pain and pushed her baby out and then caught him herself. He lived, she lived, they all lived happily ever after.

LuciUnassisted, we’d call the birth now, and we’d idealize it as evidence that women are fiercely powerful, that we can prevail over even the toughest moment that biology hands us without an ounce of help from anyone. We’re just that strong.

Maybe some earlier version of me would have found the Alaska movie awe-provoking, for certainly there’s truth to the notion that childbirth is both marvelous and ancient, old as humanity and just as common. Yet while I love a good girl-power moment as much as anyone, that’s not my story. I can identify with her pain, but I don’t envy her solitude. Not even a little bit. Because apart from our baby girl herself, emerging wet and wailing at the end of it all, what I’ll remember most about her delivery has little to do with me. I was very much not alone, and it’s those who surrounded me that I’ll remember forever.

Their hands. My husband’s, gently untangling my forehead with each contraction. My mother’s, resting on my head, the way it must have a thousand other sleepless nights. A dear friend, Emily’s, busy doing whatever needs to be done, waving a fan or massaging a foot, or taking the beautiful photos she’d later make into an album for us. My daughter’s, wrapping her fingers firmly around one of mine.

EmilyTheir voices. Timmy’s reminding me to relax, reminding me that he loves me, reminding me I’m safe. Mom’s telling me she’s proud of me. Dad’s choked with tears as Luci opens her eyes for the first time. Luci’s giving the reassuring wail to announce her arrival into the world.

Hands and voices surrounding us, this tiny girl and me. And through the sharp, sweet joy of afterwards, with bright sunlight pouring over the mountains through the windows, I’ll remember those things the most. Not the pain, which has already melted into a dull ache of distant memory. Not the power or triumph of my body doing exactly what it was made to do. Just the sweetly humbling realization that at every step it was their hands, their voices, that brought us through the night, delivering Luciana, our little light, into the dawn.

Candles and Community

The top of the wood stove is perfect for making quesadillas!

The top of the wood stove is perfect for making quesadillas!

The house is cold at dawn.

I wake and build the fires.

The ground is white with snow.

from “IV,” Wendell Berry

On the night our daughter is supposed to be born (the “supposed to” determined by an oh-so-precise countdown that started way back in February), we have no electricity at Snoqualmie Pass. We’re actually more than 24 hours into a power outage, since yesterday saw one of the more vicious storms in memory, a storm that took away not only our lights, but those of over 300,000 others in our region.

Yesterday we sat inside and prayed that we wouldn’t have to drive through the tree-felling, road-saturating tempest, 35 miles “down the mountain” to the hospital. Today calm, grey light reflects off of new snow and brightens our house during the daytime. Except for the lack of hot water and Internet, and the pitifully room-temperature refrigerator, we’re not so bothered by the lack of power in the daytime.

Night is different. It gets dark at 4:30 PM these days, so at four I leave behind the Wendell Berry I was reading by the dusk in the window, and light a fire and half a dozen lanterns. My mother arrives a few minutes later with pots of soup from Grandma’s apartment downstairs, where they’d been thawing on top of her stove. She sets them now on the flat top of our wood stove to boil, while Timmy goes to the back deck to grill sausages.

At five, two neighbors arrive, stamping snow off their boots downstairs and then crowing delightedly at the warmth that our stove has provided. One shares harrowing tales of his own house, where it’s 53˚ F inside and his dog and cat sleep with him under the covers. “So warm!” he marvels, stretching out his hands over the glowing orange door of the stove. While we wait for the soup, we nibble on pretzels re-toasted on the barbecue, swap stories of the last two dark days and forecasts of when we’ll return to the 21st century. They spy me, still roundly bulky in the candlelight, and advise that I should “just relax. Babies come when they want to. Just be relaxed, Kristi.”

The truth is, I am relaxed, at rest as we break bread (and soup and sausages) with our neighbors, basking in the familiar warmth of community. Somehow, without my expecting or inviting it, community became a theme of the last five years. Though the process has been gradual, I’m amazed when I remember the studiously reserved and self-sufficient teacher that left the Pacific Northwest in the summer of 2010. I could take care of myself, I thought then, and I was happy to do so for as long as was necessary. Community–the village life that I skirted by being comparatively wealthy and urban–was undoubtedly difficult. It meant sharing life with people different than I, meant depending on some of those people for more than amusement.

And then I became a missionary, connected by relational and financial bonds to a wide range of people, all around the world. I moved to a literal village, where I lived without a car and had to rely on others for rides to the airport and hospital. I ran into my students and coworkers around every corner, and realized that even if I thought of myself as an island, no amount of self-reliance could make it so. So I joined a choir and a women’s Bible Study, and dared to date and marry my husband in full view of my village. Our home became a gathering place, where we shared meals like this candlelit one. I never expected it, this extravagant community, but I needed it. We all do.

It's also ideal for pancake-making!

It’s also ideal for pancake-making!

This little mountain road, flanked with snow and just a few houses, is a new village. I’m still learning community, this time from my parents, who are the kind of people who clean out their refrigerator (and freezer!) and invite the neighbors over for an impromptu candlelit dinner. I feel fortunate to be here, amazed and delighted that this will be Luci’s first home.

Our culture is an individual one, where it’s easy to long for space or independence, financial security or the peculiar brand of “I can do it myself” that defined my early twenties. And then the power goes out and our batteries die, and around a glowing table laden with soup, sausage and bread we share stories and laughter, brightening the early dark.

Weight, Wait

Ponderously pregnant at 39 weeks (and 3 days!), posing with future Aunt Holly

I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.

from “Metaphors,” Sylvia Plath

It’s one of those poems that I have almost memorized by accident, Plath’s “Metaphors,” a “riddle in nine syllables” I’ve set to many classes of eleventh graders. “What is she talking about?” I’ll ask them, and then sit back to watch their too-cool faces screw up into concentration, as if these exaggerated frowns and squints will somehow figure it out for them. It’s a lesson in metaphors, in tone, in scansion. Someone will interpret a metaphor, someone else will count the nine syllables and nine lines, a perfect square of a poem. If circumstances become desperate, I’ll draw the “melon strolling on two tendrils”–a droll, cartoonish image–on the white board, and let them interpret it. It’s all such fun, and eventually someone has an epiphany.

“She’s pregnant!” he’ll cry confidently, only seconds later starting to doubt. “I mean, right?”

Yet though I’ve taught it dozens of times, I’ve only lived it this once, and I identify more than I thought I would. Not with the last few lines, where the tone shifts from ambivalence (“a means, a stage, a cow in calf”) to dread (“Boarded the train there’s no getting off.”), but to the first few amusing images: the melon, the elephant, the house.

It’s the “ponderous house” that resonates now, just a few days before my daughter’s due date. That word, ponderous, means “heavy and clumsy,” but also faintly echoes its sibling, ponder, both descended a Latin word for “weight.” (This Latin root also gives us pound… I could follow words all day.) How appropriate both are at the moment, when I’m feeling both literally heavy and clumsy, but also thoughtful, prone to pondering the nature of the world I inhabit and compare it to her tiny world, this “house” I’ve become for her these last few months.

We’re waiting for snow up here at Snoqualmie Pass, a maddeningly too-low place where the temperature hovers at 33˚ F, and we alternate between rain and snow daily in this late-autumn season. Everything that can change or die has done so, leaving the forest a familiar dark-green and light-brown, waiting for winter’s transformation. Possibly snow tonight, the weather report says. Probably Monday. Rain again Tuesday. 10 inches of snow Wednesday. We’ll see.

So I find myself again identifying with a forest, as I did six months ago in the Black Forest of southwestern Germany. Then we were waiting, the forest and I, for green-leafed spring and the internal and external signs of life after a tiring first trimester of pregnancy. Now we’re waiting for new seasons. For the clean, cold monochrome of winter, for the sleepless love of new parenting. For this little person I’ve gotten to know by touch to introduce herself to my other senses, and to everyone else. We wait, sometimes patiently, for snow and for her.

I know I’m not the only one waiting, and feel fortunate to have the joy of waiting for something so beautiful. The events of the last 24 hours–Paris filled with terror, death and loss–remind me that we’re all still waiting for peace. Across the world, I have students who cross daily from Germany back to France, the country they call home, and others who’ve spent portions of their childhoods in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, and now watch those places crumbling behind them. And millions of people I don’t know but have seen in countless photos, still walk and sail north and west, fleeing war and devastation, searching for home and safety. We’re waiting. For joy, for peace, for hope. For light.

Advent begins soon, another season of waiting. Never has the prophet Isaiah seemed more accurate, his promises more hopeful. Because we are a people walking in darkness, and we have seen a great light. A light that’s already conquered the darkness, though we can’t always tell. We wait expectantly for a Savior who’s already come, who reminds us that He brings peace on earth, good will toward men.

The snow will fall eventually, and sometime between now and the end of November, Luci will make her appearance. And we’re waiting, all of us, for the light, confident in the strength and love of our Savior.

National Forest & Black Forest {Or, Where You’re From}

My birthday bear cake, waiting for frosting.

Dear Luci,

John Denver plays over the stereo. The morning fire is down to embers now, and through the upstairs window all I can see are the dark arms of fir trees, calm and complacent in the autumn sun. On the counter sits a bear made of yellow cake, waiting for frosting, because tomorrow is my birthday.

Based on this set of evidence, it could be my fourth birthday, or eleventh, or seventeenth, or even twenty-fifth. But it isn’t. Tomorrow I turn thirty-one, and I keep remembering not because this is a different house than the ones I grew up in, or because the music is playing over a smart phone and Bluetooth speaker that didn’t exist for any of those other birthdays. From where I sit on the couch, looking out the window, you dance around every few minutes just below my ribs, a genial reminder that I’m a mother, not a child anymore. Maybe you’re excited about your own birthday, just a month or so away now. You’re clearly excited about something.

I’m excited, too, having never grown out of the anticipation of adding a digit to my age, but even more so to bring you back to this mountain house, your first home. In my daydreams it’s a perfect snowy November day, not enough to mess up the roads, but plenty to weigh down these springy green branches, pulling us into Ansel Adams’s photo album. I heard somewhere that newborn babies can only see twelve inches or so, lessening the impact of this late-autumn scenery, but maybe something in our white and green neighborhood will catch your tiny new eyes. Or maybe you’ll just be eager to get inside where it’s warm.

Gold Creek Pond, Cascade Mountains

I’ve thought a lot about home while we’ve been together, Luci. Really I’ve been thinking about for the last five years, ever since I left the predictable world of evergreen trees and birthday bear cake for a land of fast cars, striped green hills, and words I understand about half the time. At first it was a foreign place of people and rules I hadn’t spent my life learning, but eventually it took on its own comforts. Years rolled around predictably, trips and parties making their march across the calendar, festivals reappearing to offer wurst and zwiebelwaie instead of elephant ears or fried Twinkies. So new at first glance, Germany became home, just as this chilly forest will for you.

But though this will be your first home, it’s possible that you’ll one day struggle, like many young people I love so very much, to explain where you’re from. Though there’s very little of the future that I can predict, I can tell you the plan, which will make you one of those kids who can say they moved somewhere when they were “just a baby.” Just a baby, and you’ll fly with us back to Germany next summer, learning to talk surrounded by new words, learning to walk on cobblestones as often as trails.

It won’t even be your first trip; you’ve already traveled the world. You’ve been with us hiking in Switzerland, book shopping in London, freezing in Iceland and strolling with fireflies in the South. You’ve stood on top of a mountain and swam in a lake. You’re a traveler, Luci. You’re from here, there, everywhere.

Then I see the bear cake again. That yellow bear, who followed me from San Juan Island to the North Cascades, to Seattle and now again to another mountain home, tells me that geography isn’t the most important question. Where I’m from isn’t as important as who I’m from. In this case, I’m from a mother who bought this cake mold somewhere, then pulled it out for special days—birthdays and graduations—because it made her three children squeal with glee at every age. No matter where we were, this never changed. I once thought the bear was the important constant; now I suspect that it’s the family.

Kandern, Germany

I don’t know what your bear cake will be, Luci, what traditions we’ll carry with us across years and continents. But I can tell you who you’re from, the families and people who will make up some of your earliest memories. Your dad and I like to laugh and read and walk in the forest, and can’t wait to do all of that with you. Your great-grandmother crochets blankets for babies, and yours is already waiting for you. You have grandparents who want to hike in the Alps with you, who’ve already bought you your first outfit for the trail. Your grandma in Florida loves biking and finding you presents. Your aunts and uncles are real and adventurous, like you’ll be, musicians, artists, bakers and climbers.

Down in the city there are a dozen women who taught me to be a wife and a mother, women who bought you tiny clothes and threw you a party with pink cupcakes and cookies. Here in the mountains, everyone I see asks me how you are and when you’re coming, these neighbors who will be your first village. And your second, it’s filled with young people who have been asking about you long before you were even thought of. Your picture will make them smile from where they’re scattered around the world, these kids we loved and taught before we knew you, back when we were just getting to know each other.

So where will you be from, Luci? What mountain or village will you claim one day? I can’t tell you just yet, but wherever it is I know we’ll be there, too, celebrating birthdays and exploring. And I can’t wait to see it with you.

Love,

Mom

My Doorways

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore, Italy, Spring 2006

This quote, snatched far out of context from a tense scene of The Great Gatsby, makes its rounds every September. And while I agree, as much a lover of fall as any girl who likes sweaters, hot drinks and orange leaves, for me it would be more accurate to say “Life starts all over again when I cover the bulletin boards with a new color of paper.” Or “Life starts all over again when I spy notebooks on sale for $.50 at Office Max.” September is a beginning again, a year “fresh, with no mistakes in it,” as another fictional teacher, Anne Shirley, would have said. Whether I was opening a fresh box of home school books, unlocking a new locker at Ballard High School, or rewriting my name on the board at the front of my classroom, September has always meant that even though I got a C in pre-algebra last year, or fought with my sixth period students every day, this is a new year.

This September, for the first time in 25 years, I’m not going “back to school.” Oh, I’m learning. But instead of purchasing school supplies I’m registering for bottles and swaddling blankets. Instead of arranging desks, my husband and I are struggling to set up a second-hand bassinet, which came to us in great condition, but with no instructions. Instead of planning curriculum, preparing for my students’ first day of classes, I’m writing a birth plan, preparing for Luci’s arrival in November. It’s another kind of new year.

I interviewed for my first teaching job from this phone booth.

I interviewed for my first teaching job from this phone booth.

And in the midst of this new year, I’m feeling nostalgic. Not simply because I’m not there, swimming in the sea of details and dreams that a new school year entails, but because I became a teacher exactly ten years ago. To be precise, I started my student teaching internship at Ingraham High School a decade ago, nervous and uncertain yet armed with a vague determination to “see it through” and bolstered by a pragmatic and grace-filled mentor. Though days and years since have blended together into a two-toned mural–public and private, urban and rural, secular and Christian–those early moments are still vivid. I remember their faces and voices, those ninth graders, fourteen-year-olds from Somalia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Cambodia, who made me a teacher, those many years ago. Before them, I wasn’t sure I wanted to teach anymore. After them, I did. 150 ninth graders changed–or at least cemented–the course of my life.

Those first days of teaching, both as a student teacher and the following year when I set out on my own, are perhaps the best analogue for my heart and soul this summer. To look ahead into the mystery of parenting and all we don’t know of this silent, wriggling person inside of me, I’m looking back. Back to the evening I interviewed for my first real teaching job at Ingraham, from the pay phone by the harbor in Riomaggiore, Italy, where I’d gone on vacation from a study-abroad trip to England. I was sunburned, wearing a swimsuit under my linen pants, my hair still in braids from our day at the beach. When the line went blank, nine time zones away, I’d been offered a job. I started the call as an English major and ended it as a professional teacher.

I’d crept back to the rocks where my friends sat, watching the sunset, drinking wine and eating sun-warmed pesto on fresh Italian bread. As surely as the sun was disappearing behind those rocks ahead, I realized, this would end. Not just a perfect trip, but the whole season, a marvelously chaotic four years that had been rich in learning and light on responsibility. I didn’t know then that there would be other trips to Italy, nor did I suspect how much learning I’d keep doing forever. I thought I’d just grown up. Standing in the doorway of “real” adulthood, whatever that is, I knew it was a one-way journey. And I that was leaving a particularly pleasant room.

Sunset over the Mediterranean, Spring 2006

Sunset over the Mediterranean, Spring 2006

This summer I’m standing in another doorway. Ahead there is a baby girl, a lifelong journey as parents, and behind–now across an ocean–ten years of words in books, essays and the voice of my students. Every inch of me is thankful for this new room that awaits us, aware that at each step we’ll grow and change, that loving our little girl will require us to draw closer together and closer to Christ. I’m thankful, and…

It’s still a doorway. Not a closed door–God willing, I’ll return to teaching a year from now–but still a doorway, from a familiar room to a brand-new one. More than anything, this summer I’m remembering when teaching was the new room. Or further back, when it was college, or high school. There’s always a familiar place, where I can find my way around with my eyes closed, and a wild new one to explore.

And just as it did ten years ago, the way forward takes both courage–holding my breath and trusting that the same God who brought me this far will stick with me–and infinite gratitude. For the places I’m leaving behind, even if just for a while. For the places I’m going. For the students I’ve taught and don’t teach at the moment. And for our little girl, so close to me and still three months away.

Shorts

Wearing the shorts {and looking a bit less round than I do now}.

Wearing the shorts {and looking a bit less round than I do now}.

“The great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.”

Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer

It’s been a summer of changes. We’ve slept in four different time zones, moved to a zip code neither of us has lived in before, and begun the process of settling in to this year away from Germany. On top of that, I have laughed almost daily at the changing shape of my body (Or is it our body? What do you call it when you’re sharing one space with an ever-growing little person?), and seen fireflies for the first time, which I’d previously suspected were mythical, like dragons. Busy summer, indeed.

So, there are plenty of momentous transitions about which I could write here, but I’ll stick to one that is less momentous. This summer–for the first time in the last decade or so–I bought a pair of shorts.

I’m not talking about athletic shorts, which I’ll wear running (back when I went running) or hiking like everyone else. These are navy blue chinos (whatever that is), wear-around sorts of shorts. Normal shorts.

Being neither an expert in fashion nor a particularly body-image conscious person, I never gave much thought to “giving up” shorts. It wasn’t a decision, a plan. I simply stopped buying them. I had many excuses, but for the sake of brevity I’ll boil them down to the top two:

  1. There’s not a good context for me to wear shorts. I won’t wear them to school, where the length of shorts is a fierce debate, and after school it’s just not often that warm in Kandern. Shorts accomplish nothing that a skirt doesn’t do much better.
  2. I don’t like how I look in shorts. I didn’t spend much time thinking about this, except to reflect that I don’t love to showcase the space between my knees and my waist. So, no shorts.

Excuse 2, if I’m honest, was always louder than Excuse 1. I’m relatively accepting, if not downright complacent, about most parts of myself. Did it really matter if there was this one little part that I’d rather conceal? (For the record, I’d still argue that no, it didn’t matter. They’re just shorts.)

This all changed this summer, for a few reasons. First, we spent the end of June and the beginning of July in Virginia, where the +90˚ F heat and inexcusable humidity made cooler clothes a requirement, not something to be fussy about. My one pair of corduroy maternity pants weren’t going to cut it, and I was quickly growing out of my sundresses. So I bought some shorts. Maternity shorts, because second, being pregnant in summer has added a few extra degrees to the already hottest summer–on both East and West Coasts–that I can remember for a while.

The shorts are fine, and I feel fine wearing them. They’re not special–they’re still just shorts–but they’ve allowed me to stay cool in the humid South and the scorching West, and that’s plenty. Perhaps they look hilarious, but frankly my general roundness is pretty hilarious to begin with, so I’m not worried about it. I’m not sure that this relationship will last–me and shorts–but for now we’re OK. The shorts have reminded me, however, of something more important than shorts. (Remember, almost everything is more important than shorts.)

We’re all walking around, I imagine, with places we’d like to hide more often than not. I’m no exception. I know there are topics I tiptoe around, times and places about which I simply don’t write or share, preferring to keep places of brokenness and selfishness to myself. I’ve lately been challenged recently by the honesty of friends, writing and speaking with candor about their journeys through transition, singleness and loss.

For me, it’s easy to tell amusing classroom stories, or to reflect on the nature of Christ-filled community. Trickier as a missionary, far removed from communities of family, friends and supporters, to share what God is teaching me in uncertainty or homesickness. Much harder still to reveal the maddening difference between how I so often behave and who I know Christ is calling me to be.

Wearing the shorts–something I tried with more dramatic martyrdom than I’m proud of–hasn’t been terrible. I’d wager that true vulnerability, whether here or within the communities I’m privileged to live, can be not only not terrible, but actually an open door for conversation, relationship and growth.

I am called to serve out of humility and compassion, showing love because at every turn I receive it from Christ. We’re not made for facades, but rather to be what author and theologian Henri Nouwen calls “wounded healers,” present with one another in the midst of transformation, not at the end of it.  Because the transformation is ongoing, as Christ calls us to new challenges, new seasons, new homes. Some of which call for a new pair of shorts, and all of which call for the courage and compassion to be honest with those with whom I share in the journey.

East

Five years ago, I left the Pacific Northwest. I was alone and excited, seeking adventure and responding to calling on this quest eight thousand miles east. In a few weeks, I’m going back, married and expecting a baby, but with the same sense of calling and adventure as I retrace my steps back to the North Cascades.

 

East

 

This is my letter to the East,

Who always called to me.

 

Driving south were Mickey Mouse,

In-N-Out and Grandma’s house.

North meant order,

Cool green border,

signs in French and ferry rides.

And West was only water.

 

But ghostly East,

You lurked beyond

The penciled hills that hid the dawn.

To lands where anything could come,

Your roads rolled infinitely on.

 

Later you told tales wild,

Of castles fair and colonies,

Battlefields and Bible lands

Were all with you, and always true.

You were real and reeling me

To shores appealing, feeling

I could sail to you,

If only I’d go far enough.

That Narnia and Normandy

Shared some secret, eastern shore.

 

And now I’ve chased you,

Near and far,

From home to home, by

Plane, train, car,

I’ve read a nation backwards,

Halfway, saved the start

For later days, the older part.

I’ve skipped the seas, and skimmed the globe,

A round stone,

Touching down, covering ground,

In shimmering rings and splashing sound.

 

Still, wild East, you call to me:

There’s more to walk, to hear, to see.

In two-named towns and creaking trains,

Find onion domes and Mongol plains.

You tempt me with your grey-green steppes,

That climb forever, back in time,

A curious and endless debt,

Of exploration now is mine.

 

Perhaps—someday—I’ll find you, far,

I’ll recognize your eastern smile.

You’ll tell me that I’ve learned it all,

And let me sit and rest a while.

But now, my East, you’re not a place,

You can’t be found or reached by road.

A mystery that makes me wait,

That pulls me west, and back, and home.

A new adventure, small, not grand,

In a pacific, emerald land,

Where soon I’ll hold a tiny hand.

You draw me back where I’ve begun,

So West is East, your face, my sun.

 

 

Waiting for Spring

Early Spring

Early spring forest

 

This is the spot:—how mildly does the sun
Shine in between the fading leaves! the air
In the habitual silence of this wood
Is more than silent: and this bed of heath,
Where shall we find so sweet a resting-place?

William Wordsworth, from “Traveling”

I walked the woods for months, looking for it. In the delicate, soft browns of the leafless trees. In the pale sky, crisscrossed with branches that let in every diffuse beam of monochrome light. In the damp earth, silent underfoot, without crunch of frost or splash of mud to whisper up from dusty boots. Spring was nowhere to be found, though winter had long ended.

Even back in Seattle days, spring was my least favorite season. I’ve grown fonder of it here, because warmth comes sooner and deciduous trees and wildflowers lend a bookend transformation to the splendor of autumn, but even so it doesn’t come soon enough. I am happy with winter–with real, colorless winters of snow and frost, mornings so cold they take my breath away–but sometime in March I stop wanting it.

I want spring to fall on us suddenly, like a screen at the back of a stage, a change of scene, temperature, everything. I don’t want to linger here, as with autumn, when I cling to the shortening days like the last leaves grasping their branches in a final splash of color. No, I’d like cold to warm, all in one go, please? Not William Carlos Williams’s “sluggish, dazed spring.” I want E.E. Cummings, “puddle-wonderful” and “mud-luscious.”

This March, deep in the frustration of early spring, I found out one morning that I was pregnant. Am pregnant. With the realization came delight and excitement, the new thoughts whirling around Timmy and me, our own little tornado of unfamiliar hopes. We whispered in the pre-dawn dark our prayers for this sesame seed of a person. It was a lovely moment, the first day of our spring.

And after that came the cold and rainy days, outside and inside. The new fears and worries, the sickness and weariness that I’d read about but never truly understood. Many days, it was only this sickness that reminded me something was happening, since there was nothing to see. I felt better when I was outside and moving, so I kept walking through my forests, still bare and bright and leafless.

One day I walked high above our town, to where a particular stand of trees fills a dent in the hilltop and the undergrowth is especially thin. On snowy days it is elegantly striped with white floor and black trunks. In autumn it is a blaze of yellow, top to bottom.

I hadn’t really come to see these trees on this lackluster spring day. This spot that I loved was simply on the way. Yet when I got there, though the slender trunks stood where they always had, the ground was completely new. Covered in fine green carpet, dotted with white and yellow stars of flowers. A bare forest, but not quite. There was life under my feet, all around me. Somewhere, a single bird was singing.

And I thought, this is me these days. Full of life I can’t see, but life real and important, all the same. Life below the surface, beginning slowly like the first spring days. How much easier to have it all at once. Not a baby right away, perhaps, but maybe a lovely round belly, with feet I can feel stretching inside of me, reminding me with undeniable kicks that something new is coming. Instead I wait, with the practice of thirty springs before now, for the new life I cannot yet see, or often feel.

Now, several weeks later, Kandern is soaked in warm rain, the leaves unfurling their highlighter greens on every branch, as promised. Spring always comes, even when I’m impatient. As for my spring, it’s lime-sized and slower in unfolding, but here with me all the same. Teaching me to wait, to hope, and to thank God for each new day of this new season of our lives.

Later spring

Later spring forest