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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Heaven on Earth, Living in the Now

Last night my dear old friend and I sat on the porch, sipping a very good wine and watching a magnificent orange sun disappear into a range of purple and red watercolor mountains. We listened to a soundtrack of birdsong in the trees and dogs splashing on the beach. Already gone back to the city this morning, to catch a flight to Chicago this afternoon, she will not see the repeat performance tonite.

"This is Heaven on Earth," she said.

It is. It is my view of the end of every day, and I am mindful to acknowledge the grace that surrounds me. I am perpetually awestruck, actually.

Against all conventional wisdom, fiscal frugality, and the well-meaning advice of friends and family, I chose this life. Perched on the edge of a crystalline cliff in the Adirondack-style home I designed, and which my children helped build by collecting and peeling sticks for railings and door handles, my vantage point is quite expanded as a result. My children's vantage points are also a broad wash of color, never black and white, never fixed indefinately, certainly not conventional.

The arrow heads they've found on the bottom of the lake are still scattered throughout the rooms a decade and a half later, as are the owl pellets, otter skulls, and driftwood sculptures, the treasures of their muddy, messy, childhoods along the shoreline. There are crow feathers, duck feathers, and brightly colored bluejay and finch feathers in many of the books in the library, bookmarks of summer days spent lazing in the hammock. She used to go crazy when I let her kids pick up feathers from the ground, fearing disease and I think, maggots. She bought them pretty pressed flowers in plastic sleeves that said New Hampshire. They secretly wished for the feathers, hid them in their luggage, showed their friends in the city what they found at the lake. They put them in their hair, like I do, when no one was looking.

We talked about that last night. While her children were dressed in Polo and wait-listed for the "right' preschool, mine had stripped back down to their boxers and were doing cannonballs off the dock before school each morning. When she installed a five-thousand dollar fence around her yard to keep her one-thousand dollar dog in, my rescue dogs were bounding thru the woods alongside their two-legged best friends, also mongrels. When she turned to anti-depressants to cope with her midlife crisis, I launched my kayak.

We have taken different paths, placed our values in vessles which seem impossible choices one to the other, but our friendship endures. Births, deaths, deceptions, deliverance.

"Gosh, some things never change," she smiled as she kicked away a portion of a pile of sneakers from in front of the door in the mudroom. "Did you ever consider a shoe rack?"

The kids have always stripped down in the mudroom, leaving a pile of wet clothes, bathingsuits, dogtowels and sneakers wherever they are dropped, knowing I will come along to shake, sort, hose-down or launder as appropriate. Each of the three boys will undoubtedly have two or three friends (and their dogs) with them, so the piles can be enormous. The natural outcome of a muddy, messy, mongrel childhood.

As she places her Luis Vuitton weekender beside the pile and opens the door just wide enough to squeeze through she sighs, "You know, you did it right. I could stay here forever." We watch a cloud of goldfinches descend on the feeders. I know it creeps her out that there are so many, and there are... so many birds in this yard.

A hug, a kiss, and the sound of her urban-scaled Hummer crunching the gravel as she navigates my steep, winding driveway. I visualize her immaculate stamped concrete crescent drive, faux painted to look like natural stone, the sealed-shiny welcome to her home and the life she has agreed to. I see her placing her shoes onto her shoe rack by the door, slipping her house slippers on over soft heels, pedicured nails, the tiny diamond toe ring.

My feet resemble hooves, but they enable me to run over the gravel after a frisbee and come down hard as I catch it without pain. My toes are painted, though chipped and ragged from the garden. I have a ring of dirt around my heels. I go barefoot in the house, better to massage the dog under my desk. My slippers were eaten by the puppy. Our lives are both beautiful in their own ways, as are we, from the vantage points of our choosing.

This summer, all three of my boys are here at the lake for the first time in five years. In late August they will scatter again, on to New Zealand, college life, and even adulthood. But this morning, they are home. And, I see that there are extra sneakers in the pile, there will be guests at the breakfast table. I try to guess who is here, I decide to make stickybuns.

As the oven is heating, I grab two laundry baskets. One I fill with wet towels and bathingsuits, the other with flip flops and sneakers so I can sweep out the sand. Yes, heaven smells like wet sneakers, labrador retrievers, cinnamon. It is stained with the color of Merlot, sunsets more beautiful than words can convey, and the salt of almost-imperceptable tears of gratitude, joy and love. If I am in Heaven now, I can ask no more...

except maybe... birdfeeders that never need filling.

May you be blessed!

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