In late June of 1980, I spent an afternoon at the Oregon State University Library. I’d parked my bike just outside the front doors. St. John’s wort surrounded the bike rack. I loved the vibrant yellow flowers of St. John’s wort, their large silky petals and prominent and plentiful stamens. When I reemerged from the library and took hold of my bike, I felt a fine grit on the handlebars. The dark leather seat, I noticed, was an ashen color. All the bikes were covered in the same fine grit, and the St. John’s wort had gone gray. “What an odd prank,” I thought, imagining someone strewing the bike racks and shrubs with garden lime.
That evening, Mom phoned. “Meredith,” she said in a worried voice, “the horses are covered in ash.” We had more horses than box stalls, so the animals spent their lives grazing on pasturage and sheltering in an open-sided barn. I seldom made the two-hour drive home. Only when I stabled two youngsters close to the university did I begin riding regularly again.
Ah, I thought, picturing the ash-covered horses. Now I know who the bike-rack prankster was, Mt. St. Helens. Just the month before, on the 18th of May, the north side of the mountain had blown out, most of the ash heading eastwards. A change in wind patterns sent a small sample of ash down to Oregon from Washington, and many speculated on the effects of breathing it. Projections ranged from worried to apocalyptic. There were those who insisted on wearing masks and those who refused to bother. Sound familiar? Of course, the animals had no choice.
Sometimes, all it takes is a small amount of rain.
This spring, we went more than six weeks without rain in Switzerland. The vegetation along the sides of the gravel road I walk looked August dusty. Rainfall is usually generous in March and April; this year, I watered those plants coming into blossom, the cherry tree, the rhododendrons—the azaleas and tsutsusi—the lilac and current bushes, and the flowers, the peony, lilies, and roses. The lawn didn’t need mowing.
Cool days followed summer-like weeks. To be sure, we enjoyed having meals outside, an occasional grill, and frequent naps in the sun. To be sure, I enjoyed watching the lizards who’ve colonized our deck, and who sun themseves in view of my desk. I even came across two slowworms, rescuing one from a neighbor’s cat.
My husband said, “Is it just me, or is there more birdsong?” (Songbirds have colonized the shrubbery outside our bedroom window—and he likes to sleep in on a weekend morning.)
There is more birdsong. And my watering (most precious resource) saved our struggling plants. But now that the rain has fallen, every living thing has bolted out in relief and joy—and a trust that the world has righted itself again.
I’m not complaining. Working at home is nothing new to me, and I’m enjoying my husband’s company. Listening in on his conference calls, I’m learning new sides to him. In fact, the other day, I said, “You’re less boss and more mentor.” He smiled.
Sure, I miss crossing the bridge to Germany, walking the forested hills and the shore of the Rhine opposite ours; I miss jaunts into Zurich, exploring its narrow, cobbled streets, window shopping, and meeting friends or the kids for coffee, drinks, or dinner; and I miss my writing groups, the causal work-together-weekly group and the monthly critique group—what can replace an absent hug?
Still, the store shelves are well stocked. We collect fresh milk from a dairy in the neighboring village, and fresh eggs and farm produce are a two-minute walk from our door. Everyone I know is staying employed and healthy (knock on wood). We’re all looking forward to an ease in restrictions and curious to see what hits us once this storm’s eye has passed.
A walk along the Rhine, a book, food and drink, a good laugh with family and friends, travel and photographs, memories, and that quiet moment before leaping out of bed in the early, early morning—what doesn’t inspire me would be a text more quickly written.
My daughter Helena helped and inspired me to travel this e-path. I hope it will open new worlds for me. I hope she—and you—will find the occasion to linger for a visit.