“One season only, and it’s done.” (Stanley Kunitz)

monday morning

This morning, after our swim, mine truncated because I somehow twisted a muscle in my lower back last Thursday and have been hobbling in pain ever since, anyway, we were sitting in the hot-tub talking about travel. We could just hand over our house to N and her family, I said, and go to Europe for a few months. I spent part of last month reading my old journal detailing my time on Crete and then in Athens because I wanted to confirm some details about my first walk up the Acropolis. I was remembering things more or less correctly but how easily I took for granted the actual fact that I was Greece. That I walked up the marble steps to look at the Erechtheion, the porch of the maidens, the wildflowers growing on the hill. Late in his life, Freud wrote about his own first visit to the Acropolis:

It is not true that in my school days I ever doubted the real existence of Athens. I only doubted whether I should ever see Athens. It seemed to me beyond the realms of possibility that I should travel so far – that I should ‘go such a long way’. This was linked up with the limitations and poverty of our conditions of life. My longing to travel was also no doubt the expression of a wish to escape from that pressure, like the force which drives so many adolescent children to run away from home. I had long seen clearly that a great part of the pleasure of travel lies in the fulfilment of these early wishes, that it is rooted in dissatisfaction with home and family.

My longing to travel as a young woman came from a similar impulse: to run away from home and family and to find out who I was in the great world. To find out my strengths. To learn to accommodate my weaknesses. And to see things I had read about, dreamed about.

I don’t actually have that need now. And in the way that a life happens, accumulates, I have so many anchors to keep me in place. Luckily it’s a place I love. Right now the daffodils are out, there are little groves of purple crocus under the bristly canes of the moss roses, the chives are bright green, the earth is burgeoning. Yesterday I saw the first Audubon’s warbler of the year. Any day now the rufous hummingbirds will return, fierce in their mating, defence of territory, their face-offs with the Anna’s hummingbirds who’ve spent the winter at the feeder. At night I hear the tree frogs singing so loudly that the dark is filled with their urgent song. I think of Stanley Kunitz’s beautiful late poem, “Touch Me”:

I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
                            and it’s done.

In the hot-tub, after talking a little about travel to Portugal (where we intend to go for a couple of weeks next winter), Greece, the wanderlust a little calmer now that we’re in our later years, John said, I don’t really want to leave the house where I hammered every nail. Like me, he’s also been writing about Greece, about his father’s capture there by Germans in 1941 and his own time there 30 years later; we’ve been remembering the sheeps’ milk yoghurt with thyme-scented honey, the salty cheese, eggs cooked in olive oil, and retsina in small bottles just right for lunch. In the greenhouse my own little olive trees flourish, their grey-green leaves a wistful mnemonic for a time cherished but gone.

Maybe the pressure I was responding to when I said, Let’s just leave, is the pressure of time doing that thing it does, has done even more frequently since our experiences during the pandemic when the skies emptied of jet contrails and the ferry traffic that has always been my first call to morning dwindled away to almost nothing. In a single moment, it contains past experience in all its sensual detail, it reaches ahead to a house in ruins, reclaimed by forest, lingers a little, pushing ahead, falling back, before pausing again, birds gone, tree frogs quiet, a moment that is without time: eternity. In the meantime, there are olives to water and a small posy of daffodils and forsythia to cut, bringing the sunlight inside.

4 thoughts on ““One season only, and it’s done.” (Stanley Kunitz)”

  1. No one can write poignant and bittersweet the way you do, Theresa, with both joy and ache, somehow, knitted. Quilted, perhaps. I am thinking of going to Portugal too, next year. This year, enduring a long hard winter, but now at last, weeks behind you, the joy of watching the growing begin … Always a trade-off.

    1. It has been a long cold winter, Beth. And Portugal is a wonderful dream to look forward to. We went in 2015 and particularly loved Evora, a small but beautiful city in the Alentejo (woke to find an ancient Roman temple just at the top of our street; we’d arrived in the dark so didn’t see it), and Lisbon, too. I think we might link up with one of our sons and his family, rent a house, use it as a base for exploring Coimbra, Porto, etc.

      1. OH what a wonderful thought, a house with your family. A few years ago I met a woman in New York, a young friend of my 88-year old great aunt. She bought a farm near Faro in the Algarve and turned it into a retreat. We met for only half an hour but I liked her a lot and will find a way to get there. As a solo traveller, I want to go somewhere where I know someone or have a community of some kind.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s