Before breakfast on a school day. We stand side by side at the window, looking out, son and mother. A stream runs behind the house, fast and full when it rains or quiet and slow, like now. Beyond the stream, the woods. The forest floor is an endless brown and orange sea, and the bare trees look like the masts of half-sunken ships.
Easier to see it that way when you’re standing next to a ten year old.
When we moved here, the leaves were just starting to change. In these weeks while we’ve settled in, they blushed to bright colors and let the come-ons of wind and rain and winter’s siren call lure them to the ground. A few holdouts still cling like small flags to bare branches. If they’re unsure of the landing, I can’t really blame them. It’s a long way to fall.
Hunter and I watch two squirrels chase each other from one tree to another, far on the other side of the creek, a view we couldn’t have seen a few weeks ago before the leaves came down.
“There’s a lot of open space out there,” he says.
It’s enough at his age, to say a thing like that, and not attach some kind of meaning to it. Me, I can’t help myself. If a metaphor isn’t obvious, just give me a week or two and I’ll find it.
But he’s said what he means. There’s a lot of open space out there. It’s appreciation. I know how much he loves that space.
The woods are his, he’s claimed them. When we lived in the desert, I would have to talk him into going outside to play sometimes, even in the milder months. Now, exploring the creek is his first order of business when he comes home from school. New ways to cross it, if the big log and stepping stones won’t do. Sticks and leaves to float down the stream. Merrily, merrily.
More times than not, he comes to the house wet up to his knees. We have it down to a routine now. Shoes and socks off outside the door, then straight to the laundry room to take off the pants. And so he goes, shivering. Shivering and all-boy happy.
I love seeing him like this. Rushing headlong toward something so pure and elemental, something that fills this old need in him, a need I know because at least in part, I gave it to him. That want for what’s undiscovered and new and ancient and out of the earth. What can be found around a bend in the creek or a bend in the road.
Even though I’m the one borrowing from him these days.
Now that I’m here, now that I’ve made this huge change, I’m at a loss. There’s so much for me to figure out – things there wasn’t time to sort out before the move – that some days I feel paralyzed. It’s embarrassing to admit, because shouldn’t I have it all worked out by now? It’s not as though I don’t have plans – I do, and they’re good – but there are days when it’s all I can do to make just a little bit of progress.
The reality is – and it breathes down my neck every single day – that it’s now or never. I can’t afford to wait or hedge or shake in my boots. I’ve got two people counting on me to follow through and sort it all out. I’ve got no business hanging on to that high branch, worried about the fall. Paralyzed by fear? Yep, know how it feels. But it’s useless, letting that fear have its way, and I know it, know it in my head and in my gut.
So when I see my son, all squishy sneakers and big smile, walking up the hill from the creek, I wish I could borrow his enthusiasm, his curiosity to find a way to the other side, his willingness to fall into the creek, by golly, if it comes to that.
I’ve got to find a way to scoop up some of that and use it as fuel for the plans I have. Plans that aren’t so complicated, really, and boy do they need to come to something. I need to hear yes, and not just from voices on the phone, but from a deep place inside of me. Not a timid yes, either, with a question mark on the end. Just yes.
And I realize, I do, that no one these days, in this economy, has any right to expect good things to happen. All I can do is ask, and hope somehow to find a way across or around or through. And then work for it, and to be willing to fall if it comes to that, and start over again. Which is what I’m going to do, the work. Because maybe there’s enough room in the world some good things to happen still.
Because this really smart guy told me something, and I think it might be important.
There’s a lot of open space out there.