Within the Embrace of Entropy and The Arrow of Time

There is a row of spruce trees at the back of the yard. The tallest was struck by lightning. I was two rooms deep into the house and the light that came in was the most incredible thing to see. There was a wash of the coldest white and blue. And though there were no shadows everything was eerily defined. The noise that followed was felt as much as it was heard. The tree still stands but almost four years on it hasn’t healed. The strike left a scar that runs down the length of the trunk to the ground. With every season the crack gets deeper.

I had a lovely thought last week. I was driving in the car and just out of the blue it came to me. It was a wonderful memory – well two sort of but they were connected. The memory was of my youngest nephew, Matthew, when he was small.  We had rented a hockey rink for a birthday party and Matthew was so excited to come and get on the ice. He must have been around 4 maybe…I’m not sure… but I do remember how happy he was. The second part also had to do with an arena. My sister brought her boys to see my stepson play and as he came out of the dressing room he said hello to Matthew. Matthew’s whole face lit up because he’d been acknowledged by this older boy heading out to the ice to play. I honestly don’t think he could have been happier that day. He would have loved to play hockey. I’m sure of it. He never got the chance. He was born with an adorable sideways smile and a progressive neuromuscular disease.

Picture time as a hallway broken up by consecutive doors. Each door represents a unit of time. The doors are sheer enough to look back through but there are layers and layers of them. Each one takes you further away from where you have been and try though you may you can never bridge that space between now and then. No matter how much you may long for the “before”, just thin doors of time away, there is only what comes after. We say things like “I would give anything if I could have just one more day…one more hour” but the truth is one more hour or one more day wouldn’t be enough.

The night that Matthew died always comes back to me in sound bites and still pictures – the phone call – the car ride – standing on the porch as they return from the hospital – my sister opening the car door – her face as she tells me and it’s like that flash of lightning filling everything up with something alien and terrifying as I move in slow motion to take her into my arms. The rest of the night, the weeks, the months, the years, are marked by moments of awful clarity distinct as pale figures caught naked in the stark flickering of a strobe light.

Matthew lived 16 years. The brevity of his life along with much of what he endured and what has come to pass since he left us is beyond difficult to fully grasp. I am grateful for the things that offer a counter balance to the downright unfairness of it all. I need those things; like those days in the arena, or any moment I’m called to mind the good things that were a part of his life and what good things he brought to all of ours.

I like to watch the birds in the garden. I can see them as I gaze out the kitchen window. The blue jays scream and argue. The woodpeckers and nuthatches are a circus of acrobats as they negotiate the expanse of tree trunks. There are different kinds of sparrows, cardinal couples, and flocks of dark-eyed juncos. In the summer there’ll be hummingbirds and orioles. Several times a day the birds will suddenly scatter. I don’t know why. Perhaps there’s a noise, a movement, or a falling shadow that sets them off. Often it’s nothing and they quickly return. Sometimes though, that shadow will be a hunting hawk. Maybe a red tail but more likely a Cooper’s hawk. There will be a flash of darkness and then silence as a few stray feathers float to the ground.

The garden will be silent then, sometimes for hours.  I watch to see if the birds return. And they do but I can never tell if they’re the same ones that were here before.  At dawn and dusk there’s always the call of the mourning doves. A storm might blow in and I’ll watch as a curtain of rain sweeps across the fields before it engulfs the house.

I wonder how long it will be until the spruce tree finally falls.









Music for this post –Noah Gundersen & The Forest Rangers- Day is Gone 



Snow in Spring

     Autumn is the time for ghosts as the green summer languishes having fed its youth to the dog days of summer. It is the job of winter, with its frozen winds and grey skies, to sweep away those ghosts and lose them in the blind swirls of chill blizzard and time. With tomorrow, and tomorrow’s tomorrow, mercy decrees that only the treacherous heart can find those ghosts in descending frequency under the soft white blanket of memory. Spring is a time of renewal on the plane of the planet and in the cycle of the life. If winter has done its job and buried the ghosts, hope can be sought in the signs of the earth’s perpetual and eternal motion.

     This past winter was an impotent soldier, a deserter of the faith, and now it lingers overlong. The first buds of spring, the snowdrops and blue scilla are covered in a late season snow. Within this final weak volley lurks lost moments freed by the faltering ministrations of the milquetoast pretender. Shorn of any power, it could not bury the spirits of last year and they call to the brethren vanished years ago. Melancholy waits for the sun to melt the ice and loose the new life impatiently waiting in the wings. It will come. There is no denying it but first the ghosts will have their way.

     A visual image, a trigger, even though we carry a dictionary of cultural symbols, for each person the trigger can be something different. In my mind’s eye I see that particular shade of purple, not the royal blue purple but a crimson tide of bloodied maroon on the dark side of red. At the time I wouldn’t have described it in that way. At ten I didn’t have those words and her raw voice screaming his name as she tore open the white door would have drowned them if I did.

     I don’t remember the colour of the door handle. The house I live in now is old and the doors are painted white but they aren’t hollow core like I know that door must have been in that house. The door knobs here are black and old, older than that house even though it was my home decades ago. I think the door knob must have been one of those cheap brass coloured ones. It would have matched the cheap hollow core door. In that moment, before she tore out into the hallway, I must have seen the door knob turn. It had to turn for the door to open but I don’t remember it. I only remember her pullover in blood red maroon velour and her voice, her panic.

     I see her white face. The image is frozen in my mind. Dark, above her porcelain features, a black chiffon scarf covered her curlers. They were the old kind with the really sharp bristles inside that make it hard to sleep because they stab into your head. The metal wire wrapped around the outside was to help keep the round shape of the curl but it didn’t stop the bristles from sticking out through the netting that covered it. She’d set her hair in curlers the night before and covered the whole thing with a black chiffon scarf. I didn’t know she’d been to the hospital with it up. I didn’t think about that either or why my grandmother was there to pull her back into the bedroom. But I heard her scream his name and I knew then that something was very wrong.

     I never saw her wear that pullover again. Actually I don’t remember her ever wearing it before that morning but I think that might be one of those tricks that the mind plays on us for reason or sanity’s sake. And then things were different for a long time. It was the last time I remember ever having to go to bed at a regular time. The house was filled with people, at first family and then friends and then finally new people that came in late at night and mostly left before we were awake in the morning.

     We weren’t allowed to go to the funeral. It probably would have been better. Maybe then we would have known what we were dealing with, this dying, this death. We could have seen it and then we might have understood what was happening and what would happen. Or maybe not, our childhood unknowingly behind us we were still only slightly broken adrift in a new grown up world.

     I asked her about him years later. She had created a shrine to him in her heart, in her mind and I wondered about the reality of the man. Was he deserving of her decades of devotion? I can tell you, with no slight certainty, that it is true that the dead can do no more wrong. They are dead after all. I thought that the years had lionized him for her. Lord knows that he was her great love or at least death had made him so. No man could stand against his memory and one by one they fell. The damage caused by his departure would last a number of years and all of us would carry it to some extent for the rest of our lives. She has a lover now who I think might make a go of staying the distance. He has set himself to live in a ménage a mort accepting the minor deity of a perfect memory enshrined in the pantheon of her life.

     I have very few memories of the man himself only the chaos that his leave taking set into motion. I knew there was a world that ran beneath the light of our every day but it still lurked in the corners of our youth. That death, his death was the death of our childhood.

     Years later I asked her how she knew that she loved him. Her answered surprised me as the memory of their love, bolstered by her grief and annealed by her suffering, was an absolute. She said that she hadn’t known the conviction of her heart until she saw him standing at the end of the church aisle waiting for her. Her, with her checkered past and a soul that felt battered and unworthy. There he was waiting for her and her three children (what kind of man would want a woman with three children she asked herself and answered- a good man). She thought she was marrying for security and then she saw him standing there in his baby blue tuxedo, waiting for her, for their life together and it was then that she knew that she loved him for sure, right then.

     I wondered, but I didn’t ask. I wondered, if she’d known then that 6 months later she would wake up in the middle of the night and feel the wet stain beneath her, if she’d known that she would wake up and realize in the slow spreading dampness that he was gone, if she would wish it away, never done? She had told me that was how she knew he was really gone because his body had let go of what it held. I wondered if she regretted anything. I wondered and I wanted to ask her but I didn’t.

     How could I when the winter lingers over long and ghosts come to call, walking old halls and opening up doors better left closed? In my mind I see myself in my white flannel night gown, the one with the small peaches printed on the material (I still love flannel, so soft and warm, so comforting), my hair bed head rumpled and my eyes gummy with sleep standing in the upstairs hallway outside my bedroom door right next to her bedroom door. I see myself watching my grandmother drag my mother back into her bedroom. My mother was screaming his name, clawing at the door frame. Where was she trying to go? Was she running away from him or to him? Her eyes were black in her white face, stark above the blood maroon of her velour sweater and crowned with the thorny bristles of her curlers.

     This ungraceful thrust of winter rapes the green of spring and brings old ghosts with it. The sharp thorns of the still naked branches are black against the ashen blanket of late, late snow. I can see the new maroon shoots bleeding up through the cold white. I don’t want to dream tonight. I hope that tomorrow the snow and its ghosts are gone.