Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sights and sounds

Uncharacteristically, since she usually likes to hiss and bare her fangs at my sister and mother, Magellan today allowed my sister to come this close with her Iphone to take this picture. At almost 11 years, Magellan is still a regal, if rather scrawny, feline.

Lizzy, on the other hand, has nothing of the regal in her as she strikes a not-very-demure pose for my sister. She does look a little abashed about it, though.

Finally, Darwin likes to use my sister (as he does with me) as his body pillow and likes to chill out that way for at least part of the day.

Meanwhile, my father's light wanes a little more every day. He is now almost unable to speak at all and barely can nod his head. I miss him as he was only a week ago when he could still articulate his excitement about the last book he will not finish, The Evolution of God, which he read last year when he came to visit and was re-reading this time around.

His life is like a fire that runs its course and is now in its last embers. But how brightly it shone, like a sun, when it was afire. I like the idea that you can still see the light of dead stars millions of years after they no longer exist. For as long as I live, I will see my father's light shining bright on the firmament of my memory.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Any and all opportunities to laugh are welcomed around here these days and Lizzy is, bless her blissful soul, a consistent source of glee.

Today, I threw the store-bought Angel Food cake that no one here liked (we had bought it for my dad, but his appetite is less and less each day) over our fence for the critters to enjoy. Before I knew it, Lizzy picked up the empty container from the ground and made a run for it.

My sister chased behind to get a good photo with her phone and captured the moment, if a bit fuzzily.

It is a blessing that a time of unspeakable sadness can be lightened up by the simple joy of a loquita dog.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

For my dad, may Death stop kindly, too

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then 'tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.

-- Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

More Concord

Pictures courtesy of my husband, who's a much, much better photographer than I can ever hope to be.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The cats will play

These days are filled with an unutterable sadness, as we all watch my dad deteriorate, slowly but surely. The end cannot come soon enough for him, and we are impotent bystanders at the site of a fatal collision between his will and Death's, which has no known deadline and is taking its sovereign time.

Although it is summer, and the days are longer, they seem short and filled with anxious nothings that sometimes turn into significant somethings when my dad tells a story or expresses a feeling or recalls a loving memory. I don't want to miss any of those snapshots that come few and far between the times when he is asleep or silent.

The best I can do, I know, is to be a devotedly loving daughter, who lets him know on a daily basis how much we love him and helps him move on to that light they say expects all of us on the other side, where our beloved departed also await.

Today, I told him that I read somewhere that ghosts can ride on the wings of birds and he liked that story very much. "I hope so," he said with a dreamy look in his eyes.

Meanwhile, we try to find joy in every little thing and, of course, Darwin is almost always (except when he decided to yowl at around 4 a.m. recently and my dad complained that "The cat is sounding," as if he was talking about an alarm) a source of, at the very least, a smile. Especially when he does his Superman pose, which I also say is him cooling off his private parts during these hot summer days.

Hamlet, on the other hand, is almost invariably a pest, meowing and yowling almost constantly for several hours each and every day. Now that my father is sleeping in our reading area, which is open, he can hear every sound and noise throughout the house, so Hamlet's constant meowing becomes not just an annoyance but an actual problem.

I think Hamlet, who ran away from home twice through a poorly secured screen while we were in Concord, got a taste of Paris and doesn't want to stay in the farm anymore, as my husband likes to say. Thus, today I gave him some outdoor time, which he really enjoyed (to poor Darwin's chagrin) but we had to bring him inside once he figured out how to get to the front of the house. Pain in the butt as he is, I would be devastated if, moron that he is, too, he gets run over by some car driving too fast on the road in front of our house.

During the times I am able to, I continue to work, and really enjoy making a dent, on my summer research schedule, which includes substantially revising one article for a journal that suggested I revise and resubmit, and revising a second one for submission to another journal. I also am working on a third essay proposal for a special issue due by summer's end, and awaiting news about a chapter proposal that I submitted before the semester was over. I also would like to expand my Concord paper into a full essay to be submitted to another journal but that may have to wait until fall semester.

I've also started on my third-year pre-tenure review prospectus and am considering applying to a major summer fellowship for 2011 to continue working on my book proposal. All these projects are, to one degree or another, exciting to me and are ways in which I can honor my dad by becoming the scholar that he claims I already am.

In the meantime, thank God for the little mercies that come along each day to lighten up this sad, sad time in our lives.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Concord bound

The week after I finished my first faculty development seminar of the summer (the second happens in early August), I was off to Boston and then to Maine (to visit with my husband's sister and her family) and then to Concord, where I attended and presented at the main conference on Nathaniel Hawthorne held every two years (it's in Florence in 2012!).

Landing in Boston works like a picker-upper charm for me, not only because it's the city where I was born, but also because I was very much formed as the person I am during the seven years I spent in that vicinity between college and my first graduate school venture. But my stay in Boston was short since I had to hop quickly on a bus to Portland, Maine, to meet up with my husband, who was there already after taking off earlier in the week on his new motorcycle for what turned about to be about 2,500 miles of traveling (yikes!).

The visits to Maine, while short and far between for me, are always pleasant (my sister-in-law is a consummate hostess, quite the Martha Stewart, as she herself acknowledges). With her usual generosity, she loaned her car to us so my husband could drive me to Concord and prevented me from having to take the bus back to Boston, two lines of the T to reach North Station and the MBTA to Concord for about a 2-mile walk from the train to the inn. Instead, my husband drove me up to the door of the colonial inn, built in 1716, where I spent three nights and attended the best conference I have been to yet in many years of attending such events.

Concord is a delightful town where a surprising amount of U.S. history all convenes, from the town's own foundation in 1635, to "the shot heard around the world" in 1775, to Nathaniel Hawthorne's two households, the first he inhabited as a relatively unknown writer with his wife, Sophia, known as "The Old Manse," and the last he inhabited with his entire family, as an established author, "The Wayside," to Thoreau's lovely Walden Pond. (Locals pride themselves on the fact that there is no public transportation in Concord...)

The Old Manse is beautiful and it's truly breathtaking to see the desk that Sophia had built for Nathaniel, the window from where he said he could see the monument to the Concord battle, the two window panes on which Sophia and Nathaniel wrote messages to posterity (the sense that these two people had of their futurity is impressive) using her diamond ring to cut the glass, and the large garden plot, which stands as it was, and which the financially strapped Nathaniel tended to provide sustenance for his fledgling family.

A visit to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (don't you just love the name?) is a must, especially to walk to Author's Ridge where the nineteenth-century American greats are buried near each other. I can only imagine the fantastic ghostly conversations that most go on when they all convene after the clock strikes midnight, if legend is to be believed. Louisa May Alcott's gravestone is as straightforward as she was, while Thoreau's is the example of simplicity. Hawthorne, Sophia and their first-born Una, born in The Old Manse, are all buried together, while Emerson rests below a large marble rock.

A new acquaintance at the conference offered to drive me and another conference friend to Walden Pond and I was delighted. A replica of Thoreau's cabin is open for all to see and a statue of Thoreau ponders Transcendentalism. The pond itself (which, as one of Hawthorne's biographers will quip is only called a pond by New Englanders) is huge, more of a lake than I could possibly imagine.

All in all, the visit to Concord was excellent, not only because my husband could be there with me and I was able to spend time with my dissertation co-director, the woman responsible for my becoming an Americanist, but also because of the papers I heard, the people I met, the new things about Hawthorne, Transcendentalism and the American 19th century, which I learned, and because it made me feel like a scholar (albeit a newbie one) among established scholars. I also got to handle the manuscript of Hawthorne's last unfinished work, The Dolliver Romance, which legend has it was taken from the top of his coffin before he was buried.

It was truly exciting and not a bit eerie to see Hawthorne's handwriting on a last manuscript with little or no corrections made, as if he was taking dictation rather than composing in starts and stops, like Thoreau's manuscript of "Walking" shows.

The visit to Concord was the source of great new memories and also revved my scholarly engines so that I have added two new writing projects for what remains of the summer and now have a solid plan to revise the structure and content of my 400-level Hawthorne seminar, which I will teach in spring 2011. Best of all, I'm making plans to return (perhaps this fall?) so I can mine the Concord Free Public Library's resources some more and visit the Harvard collections as well.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


This was the color of the sky yesterday evening after strong thunderstorms passed through the area. I was washing dishes when I noticed the sky was an ocher color, something I don't remember ever seeing before.

We all paused in our chores for a few minutes to ponder the sky's color, and my mom mentioned that red skies over Australia last year had once led people to believe that the world was coming to an end.

Nothing so dramatic happened for us, thankfully, but it left us all with a rather eerie feeling. My husband went to get his camera so he could capture the phenom, which he now says was likely caused by the setting sun reflecting against a sky covered in thick clouds.

Strong rains passed through here again today and my father, who loves to hear the rain fall, enjoyed a short time of sitting outside on our porch while the heavy rain fell and soaked the grateful earth.

The days have settled into a largely quiet routine and I only have one more day of a summer seminar I'm attending, and then it's off next week to my native state of Massachusetts for my last conference of 2010.

Then, finally, summer will be wholly summer and I will be able to devote my time to relax and enjoy, and to read and think and write as much as I can.