Monday, January 09, 2017

My grandma turned 95 today

“I don’t know what to do for her birthday.  It’s so hard to know what will be meaningful, and not overwhelming.”  My mom confessed to me over the weekend.  I made a plan to meet her at the nursing home in the morning, before I bring Oscar to daycare.  
We beat her there.  Walk back to Grandma’s room, but the door is shut and through the door I hear the voice of the aides helping to clean her and her bed.

We walk back to the front room, where my mom is pressing candles into a loaf of Coco’s pumpkin bread. When Grandma was still living at home, she would have us buy these for her by the dozen, to be stored in her freezer and eaten over a couple weeks.  

When we return to her room, my mom knocks and the aides are just finishing up.  Grandma is distressed, calling  “Janet! Don’t go!”  as she returns to us in the hall.

“I’m coming right back,” she tells her.
“It’s okay, Mom.” I say as she fumbles to light the candles.
“It’s okay, Ya-ya!” a little voice echoes. 

We walk in the room, singing happy birthday.  All relaxing a bit, as we focus on the warm light of the candles and Oscar’s eager face.  
“Will you help me blow them out?”  Grandma asks him and together they blow at the candles.  

She wants it cut a certain way.  Passes a few pieces to me.  And tells mom, she wants some, but not now.  Asks her to put it in the bottom drawer, which is full of her clothes and diapers.  

I put my hand on her knee.  She turns to me.  “It’s so awful” she says, “when the shit comes pouring out and they are on the floor cleaning it.  And they get impatient with me.  Even the ones that like me.  Because they work long hours, I know.”  

A little while later:  “I want to recite a poem: A poem is a tree. But fools make schools, make fools like me.  But only God can make a tree.”

I move her table so I can give her a hug.  She holds on and exhales in my arms.  

Before we go she asks if we can help move her back to her bed.  Mom takes Oscar into the hall and I help Grandma walk to the bed. Lift her legs into the covers. Adjust her pillow.  Kiss her head.  


Trees 
By Joyce Kilmer, 1914

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Waiting, Like I Am


drawings by Kate Demorest


The line on the pregnancy test this morning is only faintly positive and in a way I’m glad it isn’t the same bold line that we celebrated with champagne seven months ago.


That night, grinning ear to ear, sugar plum babies dancing in our heads, Jen and I felt like the luckiest lesbians in the world to have gotten pregnant on our first attempt. “Guess what?” I sent in a text to Kate the next morning. My best friend from high school and Jen’s best friend from college, Kate was responsible for us getting together five years earlier and had been following our baby-acquiring progress ever since. A year ago, she was home from Colorado for a week to visit her Dad, and I had her read the string of facebook messages in which we had asked Michael to be our donor--

Us to Michael: “just saw your offer to doulo on the yoga mamas photo. would you ever consider being a donor/doulo? no pressure what so ever, just beginning to explore our options.”

Michael: “I would LOVE.. and be HONORED to throw my sperm in the pool.. and go along for that WHOLE ride.. REALLY.. put me on the top of that list.. I'm ready for the conversations to begin.”

Us: “yay! you've actually been at the top of the list for awhile.... just haven't had the right moment to ask... we're not quite ready... we want to be a little more settled, in our little house, on our own land... hopefully in a year? let's definitely get together some time and chat more.”

More recently, Kate had heard of our happy hour baby planning sails with Michael (“What do you get when you put two lesbians and a gay goat farmer in a sailboat together?”), how I was starting to eat better, drink less, and track my cycle, and the hand-off plan that Jen and Michael had worked out—meeting half-way in Cornucopia to deliver the goods and take a shot of whiskey together. Kate also knew it had been just a few weeks since Jen had raced home with the first syringe of warm spooge.

“Are you pregnant?!!” she texted back, and then when I had confirmed, “I'm so excited! I just told the whole ski patrol locker room!!!!!!!”

I imagined her happy-dancing around the room, making her co-workers grin with excitement, even though they had never met us. It’s the kind of news that’s just so fun to share, it’s hard to not tell the whole world. If I had one of those fancy phones, I may have posted a pic of that positive pregnancy test as my status, but I’m glad I don’t and I didn’t. I also don’t regret telling the people who we did tell, because they were there for us when things didn’t go as planned.


We were in Duluth when I started spotting. I was only seven weeks pregnant. I had just turned in my paperwork to get signed up for BadgerCare. I still had a month to pick a doctor and schedule an appointment, to listen for a heartbeat. When I first saw the drop of blood in the hotel toilet, I thought for sure it meant I was going to miscarry. We sought advice from some of our women friends and learned that a couple different people we knew had spotted during their pregnancies and it had turned out fine and we had some hope ours would too.

The next day, it was gray and sleeting as we drove around the cold city.

“We can just go home.” Jen offered.

“We are least going to eat sushi while we’re here.” I replied, with a half-smile.

At home, I started cramping and bleeding a lot more. In the morning, I drove down Star Route from our little house to the farm. The sunlight glittered off the snow-drenched trees. I hugged the curves of the road. I thought of children I had taken care of through out my life—helping with the day care program my mom operated out of our house since I was five, and then falling back on babysitting-work throughout high school and college, and even in Chicago—always and increasingly knowing I wanted to have my own, but not sure when, how, or with who.

Jen was living on the west coast when we started to fall for each other. Facebook flirting turned to long emails turned to in-to-the-night phone calls, and within a couple months she had moved back to this place she had always wanted to call home more than seasonally, and to me. In one of the early emails, I had shared my life plan with her (“finish my thesis, work hard and live cheap, in a tent if need be, until I have enough money to buy land somewhere on the peninsula, travel, then around 2012, if not before, build a house; when that's done: baby”).

She wrote back immediately, “I’m in.”

While we didn’t follow the plan exactly, we came pretty close, and once we were together and settled in this place, it all came fairly easily. We found work to fill in the gaps of the seasonal work we already had. We lived cheap. We adventured together--canoeing in Canada, kayaking on the lake, hiking with Kate in Utah. We bought land, built our little house, and found someone who could help us make our baby-dreams a reality.

I knew that miscarriage was common. One in four pregnancies end in the first trimester. My mom had a miscarriage between Chris and me. A little thing the size of her thumb, buried under one of the apple trees lining our driveway. I knew the chances were good I would also experience one someday, but for this first part of my first pregnancy I reminded myself that 75% of pregnancies are just fine. Other than slightly sore and swelling breasts, I couldn’t see or feel the baby growing in me, but I knew she was there. I tracked his growth each week from poppy seed to kidney bean, hands and feet emerging, tadpole tail diminishing. I loved walking around with (and sometimes sharing) this secret. I’m pregnant! Still young and gay and pregnant! In October, we’ll have a baby. I calculated our child’s graduating class, kept track of her classmates via pregnancy announcements on facebook. I looked out the window of our house at the mounds of snow left by the plow and imagined our son carving forts in the banks with my wife. I imagined bringing our daughter with me to the farm, coming up to the house for lunch, and finding her asleep on my dad/her grandpa’s chest, as he dozes in his leather recliner.

Driving down Star Route, it was this image that started the tears. When I had called my mom from Duluth, I was still hopeful, but now I could feel the blood trickling out onto the pad between my legs along with my imaginings of a round belly, a fall baby, a growing family….replaced with an absence, an emptiness, an ache.

When I walked in the door, my dad came over and gave me a big hug. With tears still close to the surface from my drive, his expression and touch quickly brought them back. I buried my head into his chest and sobbed as he tightened his hold on me. My mom and brothers came over and gave hugs too. Even though they were all there because of a previously scheduled farm meeting, I was glad to be able to share space with them. I excused myself to blow my nose, wash my face, and pour a cup of coffee, and then joined them in the living room, to discuss logistics of the upcoming farm season. A couple hours into the meeting, in the midst of a lengthy discussion on blueberry beer labels, the phone rang. My mom went into the kitchen to answer it and then called for me.

“Magdalen, it’s for you. It’s Aaron.”

“Irmiter?” I asked as I walked in the kitchen. He was the only Aaron I could think of, an ex of one of my friends and someone who I still enjoyed running into and chatting with, but I had no idea what he would be calling the farm about.

“He needs Kate's number," she said, then gently before passing me the phone, “Harry died.”

Harry—Kate’s dad and a good friend to both Jen and me. We were the closest thing Kate had to siblings and we had always known when this day came, we would be there to help. Even though Harry had his health problems, and in recent years had been organizing his life for a smooth departure, we had no indication that it would happen so soon. Just the other day, when the temps were up and the sun was out, we had said we need to stop by soon to drink a beer with him on his porch and stock up on coffee.

I remember forcing myself to breathe in and out so I could take the phone and talk to Aaron, searching through my emails for Kate's cell phone number, while Aaron told me about how Harry hadn't delivered an order of beans to the coffee shop on Friday, or responded to phone calls over the weekend, so he had driven out to his house to check on him and found him, half eaten peanut butter toast and the Thursday paper open on the kitchen table.

I texted: "kate. i have bad news. please call me at the farm as soon as you can. i love you so much."

When she called a little while later, I started crying. She was with friends on the way back from a ski trip. Although I was glad I was the one to tell her, I wished I could be there with her. The next few hours were spent helping to arrange details, calling Harry’s friends and employees to share the news and find someone to watch Harry’s dog Buckley, deliver coffee orders, and keep an eye on the house. Jen was guiding a dogsled trip that day. I left a message with her boss to give her the news when she got back and have her come to the farm. In my second or third phone conversation with Kate, she asked, "How are you? How is the baby?" and I told her I thought I had miscarried.

"Well, we'll have each other," she replied.


Jen and I drove to Minneapolis that evening and stayed with friends. They asked if we had any dinner requests and I told him my midwife friend said I needed to eat iron, so we arrived to a meal of steak with kale and prunes. That night I got up every few hours to sit on the toilet. Around 3am I passed the placenta and knew for sure it was a miscarriage, by that time I hadn't had much hope that it wouldn't be and I was glad to have the worst behind me. In just a few hours we would be heading to the airport to catch an early morning flight to Denver.

Before we left, we ate toast and eggs and tilted our coffee cups to Harry. We slept on the flight. Kate had a friend pick us up at the airport and we spent the rest of the day at her rented house in the mountains, helping her make plans for the memorial and the trip home, her Colorado friends stopping by through out the day with beer and food.

The next morning, Kate packed the majority of her stuff in the back of her truck and we were on the road by noon, Kate and I in the front, and Jen and Suvi, Kate’s year-old Australian Shepard, snuggled on the small bench seat behind us. We decided to drive north through the mountains to South Dakota for a more scenic and calm route home. It felt good to be together in the car. To laugh and cry, to talk or not talk about Harry, my miscarriage, the coffee business, life. We stayed at a Motel 6 and the next morning we ate breakfast at Wall Drug, took funny pictures, drove through the badlands. The sun was out and it was over 60 degrees, and for a little while we could pretend that we were just on spring break. Then it was east on I-90 for six and half hours, and then north on I-35 for four more.

It was 1am before we pulled up Nevers Road and turned into Harry's driveway. A bottle of scotch with four glasses and a basket of bread and food greeted us at the doorstep. Kate opened the door and walked in calling, "Hi Dad." She walked through the house turning on lights, picking up a framed photo of him and her as a baby and carrying it with her. "It feels good to be here" she said, "but I still feel like he is going to come in from roasting coffee any minute." We poured four shots of scotch and sat around the kitchen, listening, and chatting. Then we went up to bed leaving the fourth glass of whisky in front of the picture--a proud young father holding a joyful naked baby.

In the morning Kate’s mom Seri and others came over to help get the house ready for the memorial and Jen and I left to take some time for ourselves. Jen went out to the dogyard to check in and I went to the farm and ate my mom’s food. I sat in the living room with my laptop and wrote an email to my friends. The friends who had been following our baby progress, who sent us concerned messages when they heard of Harry’s passing on Facebook, but who hadn’t yet heard the whole story of the last few days.

“Tomorrow will be a good day,” I ended the email, already looking forward to sharing space with the people that would come out to celebrate Harry at his memorial. As I typed, I could hear my brothers filling the bed of the farm truck with split wood for the bonfire. “I love this place and this community. I am so glad we can call it home. I am glad that Kate will be here with us for the next few months, whether or not she decides to stay. I hope you all are well and look forward to the next time we can share a cup of coffee.”  Shared joy is double joy. Shared sorrow is half sorrow. A framed embroidery of this adage hangs in my parent’s house. Just as I couldn’t help myself from sharing the news of my pregnancy with my close friends, I also felt the need in my grief to reach out to them and let them know, to divide the weight of it.

I am grateful that Harry's passing and my miscarriage coincided.  I don't need to know where their spirits slipped away to, but I like to believe they are traveling together--our little tadpole baby curled in Harry's weathered hand or peeking out of the front pocket of his bib overalls.  During this time I’ve grown closer to Jen, Kate, and others as we fill in the space of our losses with each other. I also value the stories of loss that have been shared with me or that I’ve come across in the novels I’ve read (Benediction by Kent Haruf, A Death in the Family by James Agee, and The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood). I started writing this morning because I wanted to remember and understand this moment, to share honestly, to strengthen my connection with family and friends, and to offer comfort where my story might overlap with others. I am happy to be pregnant again, and just like before, I do want to share the news with the world, but it feels out of context to not also share the rest.

Time stopped in March and then keep moving.  I helped Kate with the coffee business, she helped me haul sap at the farm, and Jen met us with old fashioneds and fish fry when we came home tired and drained. We had two snowstorms in April and one in May. We played a lot of Candy Crush and ate a lot of birthday cake. Jen put the dogsleds away and started getting the sailboats ready for the water. I pruned blueberries and planted the garden. In June, Jen and I went to Europe to attend two friends' weddings. We drank German beer and swam in the Mediterranean. I thought I might be ovulating the day we got back, so we tried inseminating. I got my period. We tried again. The wind was just right to sail Michael’s little boat wing on wing into the Corny harbor and I said I must be pregnant, but a few days later I got my period. So we tried again.


I see pictures of newborn babies on Facebook (yesterday Edwina’s son, today Jared’s daughter). I am so happy for them. I wish we could just have a baby already so they could grow up with the other babies being born, but I also know I have friends who right now might be pregnant counting the days until a pregnancy test can confirm what they hope, or waiting until they’re past their first trimester or the baby has been born to announce. Waiting, like I am, to make sure everything is okay before they get their hopes up again.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Ways We Connect and Pulse

This fall, I finally finished the 75 pages of "publishable quality work" required for my Masters degree in Creative Writing. I've been debating about whether or not to post it. It's been a very long process and has forced me to really think about all the complexities that are inherent in writing and telling a story. Like: How does the act of writing about my life affect the way I live my life? Does it enhance my experiences or distract me from fulling being a part of them? How do I write a story that is both accessible and engaging to a reader and yet true to the emotions and events I am attempting to describe? If I take an important, yet amorphous memory and grow it into a scene with slightly-fabricated actions and dialogue am I writing the truth? Will I be writing the truth if I leave the scene out completely because I don't remember completely? And most of all, how will the people in my life feel about being a character in my story, or even left out of the story. How can I condense everything I know of someone (or don't know) into a single introductory sentence or paragraph? Nothing I write can completely describe what a family member or friend has meant and means to me. In this story, some names have been changed, most have not been. Some people have been squished together into one person. Events and dialogue may not have happened exactly as I've described them, but they easily could have. If you find yourself in my story and it makes you uncomfortable, please let me know. You are more important to me than any words I write. I can rewrite the story to make it truer to your memory, or take it out completely. What follows is a snapshot of my life leading up to and during my return home. It is incomplete and always will be.


1. Spring

Grandma Dale has passed away and my brother and I are headed north. It’s a nine hour drive from Chicago to Bayfield, from the Illinois city I have made my home, to the blueberry farm in northern Wisconsin where I grew up. In Chicago the snow has been gone for over a month. There are buds on the trees and green grass in the parks. When I walk from my apartment to work, I usually pass at least one person transplanting annuals from plastic pots into the patches of earth that line the sidewalks, gardeners like my grandma. Now I am watching the arrival of spring on rewind—the landscape turning from green to brown—as we travel from the bottom of the state to the top.

Spring really isn’t the nicest season in northern Wisconsin, with dirty snow melting to expose ditches spotted with dead deer. Mud season. A manic season with summer and winter in a messy brawl. In the warmth of the day icicles drip and the soft ground shape shifts with each step and then temperatures drop overnight to freeze footprints in place. Yet it was my grandma’s favorite season, the season of our birthdays, and of cold grubby hands and knees from being out in the garden uncovering the yellow-green beginnings of crocuses and jonquils and tulips. In the eight years I’ve been away—as a high school exchange student in Australia, a college student in Ohio, or while living in Chicago—I have never been prone to homesickness, but come spring, I am always wistful that my family and the farm aren’t at least a little closer. I can hear it in my mom’s voice too when she calls to wish me a happy birthday, or when I call her a few days later on Mother’s Day. While the perpetual declaration in my family is that my mom looks out for my brothers while I’m daddy’s little girl, spring is the season she softens to me.

Clouds move over the sun and rain mists the windshield. I reach over and turn the heat on. I am looking forward to our arrival at my parents’ house—the warmth of the wood stove in the kitchen, of my mom’s hand on my cheek. Usually it is enough to talk on the phone, but when my mom called last Wednesday with the news that Grandma had passed, I knew I wanted to come home.

I was at work when she called with the news. I am the manager of a drop-off-daycare at a gym near my apartment. It was early afternoon, a slow time at the gym so there weren’t any kids to watch. Sitting on a stack of brightly colored foam mats, I held my cell phone to my ear, flipped open my date book, and stared at the pen markings of everything I had committed myself to: work, graduate classes, rugby games and practices.

“We know how busy you are,” my mom said. “We don’t expect you to come home. We just wanted you to know.”

It wasn’t a surprise. Grandma Dale had moved into the nursing home around the same time that I moved to Chicago and she had been ready to go for years before that—telling me to take things from her house every time I stopped in to visit. My mom had even called earlier in the week to let me know it would probably happen soon. She has worked as a hospice nurse, so she knows the signs.

“She’ll be cremated,” mom continued, “and in a couple weeks, there will be a funeral near Minneapolis at the cemetery where your Grandpa Dale was buried, but even then, you shouldn’t feel you have to attend. It’s completely up to you. Dad and I were with her. She went peacefully.”

When I had looked at my schedule earlier in the week, I had thought there was no way I could make the trip, but suddenly it was easy to uncap my pen and draw a line through all the commitments that had kept me from leaving.

“It’s okay,” I said, “I want to come home.”

I made a short list in my head of friends who might let me borrow their car for a few days. Then I sent an email to my brother Jon who lives out in Seattle, on the chance he would want to fly to Chicago and drive north with me. As I emailed my writing teacher about missing class, I hardly had to explain. Ironically, the last essay I had submitted to him was about my relationship with my grandma.

When my parents moved to the farm and built their house, my dad’s mom moved too and had a little house built in the woods just up the driveway from them. Every day she woke up early and did her stretching exercises, made coffee, and visited with Dad before he started work. Sometimes I would wake up as Dad was on his way up to her house. Still in pajamas, I would slip shoes on and race out after him. I would sit with them at her table, in a chair or a lap, alternating between Dad’s and Grandma’s. As they drank their coffee and talked, I would trace the lines of thread through the fabric of her placemats and watch the birds outside the glass doors at the feeder or on the deck where seeds had spilled.

Grandma had always wanted to be an English teacher, and as a teenager in North Dakota during the Depression years, she had worked to save money for school. When she graduated high school, she learned her mother had spent all her money and she was forced to give up her dream. She became a nurse instead, married my Grandpa and had four kids. As an adult she kept a separate bank account and put all of her kids through college with the money she saved.

While I was in college, she made a point to ask every year if I needed money for school, and when financial aid, my summer salary, and Mom’s childcare income couldn’t quite cover it, Grandma paid the difference. In the last few years as she was divesting her money to her children, my parents decided my brothers and I could use the money more than they could and gifted each of us a thousand dollars. Both of my brothers put their money towards moving back home: Jon used his to pay down a loan on a piece of land he had purchased just over the hill from the farm, and Chris and his wife Honey added theirs to a down payment on a house in Washburn. I used mine to purchase a laptop. As we walked out of the computer store in downtown Chicago, my dad said to me, “You know it’s really your grandma who bought you this computer.” So when I opened it that night to write, I wrote about her.

The essay plays out in my head as we drive: memories of running up to her house as a little girl to escape my brothers’ tormenting, reading books together on her blue sofa, eating alphabet soup, rolling out cookie dough, and especially the last scene, a recent memory, from a trip home I made last spring to meet my friend Andrea’s newborn daughter.

As I drive away from Bayfield, the leaves on the trees are just beginning to leaf. I stop for a deer crossing the road and shake my head at the baby fawn that follows behind on unsteady legs. It’s so cliché—spring bulbs, leaf buds, fawns, new life—yet I feel it all so deeply. I can’t get over holding that little baby, Gloria Marie Animikiikwe, her dark hair and scrunched up face, her hand in a fist tucked next to her cheek, and Andrea, my friend for as long as I can remember, with a new layer of pride and confidence, a mom. She is the first of my friends to enter the generation of parenthood, and she pulls me along with her, introducing me to her sleeping daughter as Auntie Magdalen.

When I reach Washburn I turn right on the road to the nursing home. Before leaving the house this morning, my parents had encouraged me to stop and visit my Grandma Dale, but also prepared me, saying she probably won’t be the grandma I remember, that she may not even recognize me. Yet once inside, I have no trouble spotting her. She is dozing in a wheelchair parked next to the big cage of birds in the front room. Grandma as I have always known her: white hair, small frame, knotted hands folded in her lap. I walk over to her and gently put my hand on her shoulder.

“Hi Grandma. It’s me. Magdalen.” She opens her eyes and looks up at me, confused, until I lean in closer, look into her eyes and smile.

“Oh! Dimples!” she says breaking into a big grin and pulling me in for a hug. She may not be able to recall my name, but I know she knows who I am as sure as she knew me the day I was born. Standing at the foot of the bed as my mother gave birth, exclaiming over my first screams, “It’s a girl!” and “She has dimples!”

She holds my face in her hands, kisses me, holds my cheek to her cheek. She grips my hand and asks about Chicago. Her face is blank as I respond, telling her about work and rugby and going back to school. I know there is nowhere for her to store new information anymore. It won’t be kept straight. She won’t remember. But then so clearly, so confidently she looks at me, and tells me that she thinks I’ve done well, I’m doing well, I will do well. I don’t remember the exact tense and really it seems as if all three tenses were used and implied at once, as if to say she doesn’t need to worry about me anymore, not that she ever did, that she is confident I have the strength to get through life, to be happy, that she continues to pass it on to me as she presses my palm in her own.

Even though Grandma was saying her goodbye, after that trip, my nostalgia for home didn't fade with the change of seasons. It's been my busiest year ever, balancing work with rugby, and in the fall adding school too, but all along home has been a dull ache behind the to do list constantly running through my head. I miss my family. I miss the rhythms of the farm. I miss being comfortable with quiet. Out the driver’s side window the sun drops down behind layers of cloud and trees. It’ll still be a few hours before we reach Bayfield, but already I feel better, my head clear for the first time in a long time. Could Grandma have known how much I would need this? An excuse to leave, to return?

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been back during this time of year,” my brother says. I’ve borrowed a friend’s ‘95 Honda Civic and he has the driver’s seat pushed all the way back in order to sit comfortably. Jon is the tallest in our family, and slender. He holds the steering wheel with his right hand and runs his left hand across the stubble on his chin and cheeks, across his buzzed scalp. Normally, Jon times his trips home with Christmas, when the trees and fields are still and white with snow. Even though he has been living away from home for over sixteen years now, he has never missed a Christmas. We thought he would have to when he was studying abroad in Japan, but then he received a scholarship to stay on another year that included a round-trip ticket to the states. Because he planned to stay in Japan for the summer, he switched the dates on the flight to coincide with Christmas. He didn’t tell my parents and instead had Grandma and Grandpa Heist pick him up at the airport in Minneapolis and bring him to my parent’s house on Christmas morning, packed in a wooden box.

“Be careful with that one,” Grandpa said to my dad and Chris as they struggled to get the box out of my grandparents’ car and into the house, Dad muttering, “What did they get us this year? A side of beef?” Grandma Heist gathered us all around the box, insisting that we open it first, and as we started to pull off the wrapping paper, Jon jumped out.

My parents have never demanded or even expected that we come home for holidays, but since Jon’s infamous trip from the other side of the world, it has become tradition that my brothers and I all come back at least for Christmas. For a long time, Jon would only make the one trip home each year, but more recently he has been making short trips home in the late summer or early fall to work on his land—putting in a culvert, selectively clearing trees, and imagining a building site. He has always talked about moving back to Bayfield, but his plans kept getting pushed back with the success he’s had doing construction work in Seattle. So far he has been able pay off his student loans, his land, and a van full of power tools. Over Christmas, he told my parents he would be ready to move home in another year.

My brother Chris (the middle child in our family—six years younger than Jon and four years older than me) moved back to the area permanently two years ago. He and Honey had been living together in Minneapolis where they met, but they knew they wanted to move to somewhere more rural before starting a family. When they decided to move back to the Bayfield area, they had hoped to buy a house in the country, but they couldn’t find anything in their price range, so they settled for a cute old house in the town of Washburn, a fifteen-minute drive from the farm.

Chris moved home just a few months after I had moved to Chicago. I thought because Chicago was five hours closer to Bayfield than Oberlin, OH where I went to college that I would make it up more often, but in the last two and half years, I’ve only been back for Christmases and the weekend last spring. Because I don’t own a car, it’s almost easier to take the El to Midway or O’Hare and a plane to another city or country, than it is to get home. My friends from high school and college are spread out all over and often I fantasize about having the time and money to just travel from place to place in order to see them all.

I had a happy childhood growing up on the farm, but I was also eager to leave and discover new people and places. As I got older, entering middle school and high school, I increasingly felt the isolation of where we lived. The northern tip of Wisconsin is a wooded peninsula surrounded by Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands. A handful of small towns and villages dot the lakeshore: Bayfield, Washburn, Ashland, the Red Cliff Ojibwe Indian Reservation, La Pointe on Madeline Island, and Cornucopia. The towns and campgrounds fill each summer with tourists coming up to play on the lake, but there is only a small population that lives and works on the peninsula year-round. The houses and farms inland from town are all surrounded and separated by forest. Oak, maple, poplar, and spruce fill the hill behind our house and the hillside across the valley.

There were forty kids in my graduating class at the K-12 public school in Bayfield. Some were from the country like me, some from town, a few took the ferry over from Madeline Island, and over half of my class was from Red Cliff. Most of my classmates’ families had lived in the area for generations and were surrounded by aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews. In comparison, my family was new to the community, unattached, transplants.

My parents didn’t grow up on farms. My mom was born on the other side of the world, in Papua New Guinea where my grandparents worked for twenty years as Lutheran missionaries, teaching math and English to native New Guineans and my dad’s family lived in various towns across Minnesota, following his father’s fits and starts as an insurance salesman. They met in college. My dad had just returned from a semester abroad in England. They were attracted to each other because they had both been overseas and had a desire to travel more, maybe enter the Peace Corp. They were both also determined to settle down once they started having kids, to give their children a sense of place like they had never known. A few years after my oldest brother was born, my parents bought thirty acres of field and woodland in Northern Wisconsin. They didn’t know a lot about farming, but they had dreams to grow their own food and raise their family in a rural community. They moved to Bayfield the summer before Jon was to start Kindergarten.

For the first few months they lived in a tent at the top of the garden. Mom got a job as a nurse at the hospital in Washburn, while Dad built the house with Jon underfoot. The house was small and square, but big enough for three, with a shower in the basement, a kitchen and living room on the first floor, and two small bedrooms with sloping ceilings upstairs. As our family grew, so did the house. After I was born, Dad put on an addition with a downstairs bedroom and a bathroom with a flush toilet. When I was five, he added a living room and a playroom, so my mom could quit nursing and run a family child care business out of our home.

Throughout our childhood it was mom’s income that supported our family, whereas every penny the farm made went back into the farm: building beehives, purchasing extracting equipment, rebuilding a used tractor, planting a field of raspberries, and another of blueberries. To make ends meet and continue to grow the farm, Dad also picked up carpentry jobs and drove school bus. After he had a few years of farming under his belt he began teaching business and agriculture courses at the Tech school in Ashland.

Eventually he was spending more time teaching about farming, than farming himself and decided he needed to make a change. We had been the first farm to grow blueberries commercially in the area, new varieties that crossed the winter hardiness of wild blueberries with the larger berry and bush size of cultivated varieties grown in milder climates. They grew well in our sandy soil and could be mechanically harvested. Dad crunched the numbers to determine how much would he need to grow and sell in order to make a profit that could fully support our family. He wrote a business plan and took out loans to buy the adjacent 20 acres, 6000 blueberry bushes, a harvester, and a pack-line. He quit his job at the college and began to farm fulltime.

My last year living at home was the year we planted those 6000 blueberry bushes in seventy-five long rows on the new property. It was our fifth and largest field of blueberries. Unlike my older brothers, who were driving tractors before they were driving cars, I had always avoided farm work, and chose instead to help my mom with the daycare kids. But the summer we planted Field 5 the boys were grown and gone—Jon working in Seattle and Chris at school in Minneapolis—and Mom said Dad could use my help.

I found I didn’t really mind the work. I especially liked being around the handful of college kids we had hired on for the season and one in particular, a farm girl from Iowa who impressed my dad by fixing the mower. We worked across the row from each other: one person measuring the right spacing, digging the holes, and pouring in water, the other slipping a plant from its pot into the ground, keeping the crown level, pushing back the earth, and packing down the soil. There was a rhythm to the work and my mind could wander. My hands were helping to plant the field that would ensure the farm’s future, but my thoughts were far away--traveling to other countries, playing sports in college, and searching for someone easier to love than the woman working across from me.

It’s dark by the time Jon and I pull up the driveway. It’s always a long trip back to the farm. As a kid I would lay across the back seat and fall asleep, lulled by the steady speed and gentle curves of the highway. When the car turned off on to Hatchery Road, I would jostle awake but not lift my head. Instead I would try to match the movement of the car with each familiar stretch of road—a mile on Hatchery, a mile on J, a mile on Valley. I knew we were home when I heard the gravel crunch under the tires as we turned up our driveway.

Jon puts the car in park and cuts the engine. For a moment it’s completely quiet. Mom has flicked the porch light on for us and the clouds are slowly clearing, but I’m still impressed with how bright the stars seem after living in the city. We walk inside and set down our bags. Mom and Dad get up from their recliners in the living room where Dad was dozing and Mom was watching David Letterman while she waited for us to arrive. We exchange hugs and make plans to catch up in the morning. Chris and Honey will be coming out to the farm for brunch. Jon gets the key for Grandma’s house and heads up the driveway to settle in for the night, Mom and Dad say goodnight, and I carry my bags upstairs to my old bedroom, now the guest room.

The upstairs of the house has just the two bedrooms, divided at the peak of the roof. Until they were able to build an addition with another bedroom, my parents had their bed in the east room. Both Chris and I were born at home in this room. The west room was Jon’s room up until he left for college. Then Chris took it over, and when Chris left, I claimed it. A few of my books are still on the shelf, but the rest of my things have been packed into boxes and pushed under the bed. The furniture is the same, a bed and matching desk against the far wall where the ceiling slopes with the roof line, and two old dressers along the same wall as the door. There is a small eight-paned window that looks out over the front porch and across the driveway to the yard. I change into pajama pants and slip my sports bra off from under my t-shirt. I dig in my bag for my toothbrush.

When I walk out of my room, the house is dark. I don’t turn a light on and instead feel my way down the stairs, turn the corner and run my hand along the wall of the dining room, over the rough wood framed painting of Voyageurs canoeing across a lake in a storm. In the dark I can feel what is hard to see in the light, the spot where Chris and I ripped a hole in the picture while we were pretend sword fighting and then repaired it with glue and poster paint. In the kitchen, my mom has let the fire go out in the wood cook stove, but the cast iron is still warm to the touch. I run my hands over the chop block in the middle of the room, tracing the lines scored in the wood as my dad cut pork and venison to be wrapped in white wax paper and stored in the freezer. My eyes have adjusted to the dark now and there is just enough star light through the kitchen windows to see my way to the bathroom. I flick a light on to brush my teeth, take my contacts out, and pee. I feel my way back upstairs and climb into bed. My body is both restless and relaxed, from being in the car all day, from being home.

In the morning, the house is quiet. Recently Mom retired her childcare business because of reoccurring pains in her back and hip. It feels odd to be home and not awaken to the chatter of children coming up to the kitchen for morning snack. I put on my glasses and a sweatshirt and go downstairs. Dad is sitting at the kitchen table in his bathrobe and a navy blue stocking cap, reading a book. He has the build of a veteran football coach— strong arms and back, a little bit of a gut, a weathered face. His trimmed mustache and beard, once reddish-brown, are now mostly white, but his eyes have always been the same baby blue.

“Good morning sweetie,” he says to me cheerily as I pull down a mug and pour a half cup of coffee from the percolator on the counter.

“Looks like you’re over your jet lag.” I say with a smile, knowing jet lag or not, he will always be a morning person. A week ago, Dad was on the other side of the Atlantic. After a handful of volunteer development assignments overseas during the off-seasons, Dad was hired on as an agricultural consultant with an aid organization in the country of Georgia, a former Soviet Republic. He has been to Georgia three times in the past year, exploring the potential of growing blueberries, a new crop to Georgia, on reclaimed Soviet tea land. He was near the end of an assignment and had plans to fly on to the Ukraine for more consultant work, when my mom emailed him and told him she thought Grandma would die soon. He changed his ticket and flew home instead.

“Gio sent me back with a gift for you,” he says as he gets up and goes into the living room to dig in a still half-packed suitcase. He walks back into the kitchen holding two little clay cups, each the size of a large shot glass. He tips the cups over to show their pointed bottoms. “They’ll only rest on the lip, so you have to finish your drink before you can set them down again,” he explains.

“Like the drinking horns, only a little more manageable,” I say with a smile. Gio’s father is a prominent farmer in Georgia and has become a close friend of my dad’s. The summer before I moved to Chicago, Gio came to the States to live with my family and work on the farm. Kari, my college girlfriend, and I had come up to work during the tourist season and were renting an apartment in town. In the evenings, Gio would come out to the bar with us. As we filled the juke box and the pool table with quarters, he would tell us about what they did for entertainment in Georgia—racing cars, shooting plates, singing loudly in the streets after getting drunk on homemade vodka. “When will you come visit me in my crazy country?” he would always ask. So when Kari and I broke up a year later and I wanted to fly away for a few weeks, I spent my savings on a plane ticket to Tbilisi, where Gio taught me to drink and toast like a Georgian.

“They sent me home with a bottle of really nice Cognac too,” Dad says.

“Of course they did,” I reply. Mom walks through the kitchen on her way to the shower. She loosely holds a towel around her slender frame. Her short gray hair sticks out in all directions. She fills a kettle with water and puts it on the stove to boil for tea. She stands beside me and when I look up at her, she lightly pushes my bangs off my face with her palm. She lets her hand rest on my cheek for a moment and then heads downstairs to the shower. Out the kitchen window, I watch Jon jog down the driveway in sweatpants and a stocking cap. I can hear Mom in the basement turning on the water for the shower. Outside, a chickadee flies to the feeder. I look down at the coffee cup in my hands and then up at Dad.

“So you were with her?” I ask. Dad clears his throat and I settle in to listen.

“Just a couple days after I was back from Georgia, we got a call in the early evening from the nursing home. The nurse told us, ‘She’s going now. She’ll be gone within the next couple hours.’ And so we went. I actually brought along a small lamp. I wanted to soften the light. It was that little lamp that was in your room for a while, with a small bulb and a tiffany-like shade. I set that up on her bed stand, next to a bouquet of roses,” he says nodding toward the vase of roses on the chop block. “I had brought them to her on our way back from the airport. You know how she loved flowers, and roses especially. Your mom and I were there and I was sitting next to Grandma’s bed, stroking her head and holding her hand. Your mom and I would talk softly from time to time and then in the final moment Grandma took a breath. She let it out. ‘I think she’s gone,’ I said to your mom. And she was. It felt right. You know, sometimes you romanticize being able to die at home, but really, everything becomes very very small. There’s just you and her and the bed and the little glow of light around that spot.” He smiles at me with tears in his eyes before concluding, “She went very very peacefully.”

I haven’t told my friends I’m home, so I won’t feel the need to leave the farm to visit them. There are no uncles or aunts either; they will wait until the funeral to pay their respects. It’s just the original five—Dad, Mom, Jon, Chris, and me—plus Honey, now four-months pregnant with the first grandbaby. After breakfast we sit around the kitchen. There is a fire burning in the woodstove and I lean against the edge and let the heat rise up the back of my shirt. When we aren’t recounting memories of Grandma, or catching up on the other events in our lives, we are talking about the farm. Field 5 produces more and more each year and the 6000 blueberry bushes have almost reached full maturity. There is more work now than Dad can do alone, especially with all the time he has been spending overseas, so he has hired Chris to help him. This summer will be Chris’s third season working with Mom and Dad on the farm and a year from now Jon plans to join them.

Dad comes up from the office with a budget to discuss with Jon how much the farm could afford to pay him and what tasks he sees him taking on, namely the construction of a new building that could house a larger pack line, a freezer, and two more coolers. The pay is only a fraction of what Jon has been making in Seattle, but here it’s enough to live on. Chris is employed on the farm full-time. Although he works long days in the summer and has winter months off, he is salaried throughout the year in order to support Honey and the baby on the way and pay the monthly mortgage on their house.

My parents never pressured my brothers or me to move back or become farmers, but since Chris and Jon have shown an interest, they are doing everything they can to ease the transition. Recently, they had the farm incorporated. Currently my parents are the majority share-holders, but each year my brothers and I are gifted shares until eventually we will be the sole owners. As Dad discusses everyone’s possible role on the farm, he jokes that I will be the one to return for the annual meeting each year and vote to pay out dividends.

Later though, while I am reading in the living room, he comes over and puts his hand on my shoulder.

“You know, if you do decide to come back, there’s always a place for you,” he says. I nod. I know his words are genuine, but they still aren't enough for me to imagine what that place is. I don’t know how to drive a tractor like Chris, or build things like Jon, and I’m not sure I even want to learn.

By late afternoon, the house is quiet. Honey is upstairs resting and Dad has fallen asleep in the living room with a book on his chest. Mom is in town running errands and Jon is out walking his land. I am still on the couch with my book when Chris comes up from the office and goes to the door to put his shoes on. I set my book down, and follow him outside. I pull a sweatshirt on over my head as I race to catch up with him. He is only a few inches taller than me with tough skinny limbs, green eyes, and chin-length dirty blond hair that he tucks under a baseball cap. He smiles and waits for me and then we walk together.

We follow the path behind the house that leads through the woods to the bee yard. Two dozen hives are surrounded by an electric fence to keep the black bears out. Each hive is only one hive body high now, but will be two hive bodies and several supers high by late fall when they are full of honey. In the summer you can hear the buzzing of the bees even before you reach the fence, but now the yard is still and quiet. Dad used to cover the hives with black paper to over-winter the bees each year, but then he started losing the colonies to parasitic mites which had spread into our region. Most of the bees would die and those that survived carried the mites and infected any new bees he introduced, so now we start fresh with new bees each spring.

“Have you been helping Dad with the bees?” I ask.

“Yeah, I should clean the hives out soon so they are ready to accept the new colonies,” Chris says. “Maybe I’ll take a break from pruning blueberries next week and do that.”

We walk along the edge of the bee yard and then follow a narrower path through trees and over mud puddles until we come to the cleared line that used to mark the end of our property. Chris was sixteen and I was twelve when Dad was able to purchase the adjoining twenty acres and extend the edge of our property by another thousand feet. Where the woods end at the bottom of the hill I can see the first few long rows of blueberry bushes in Field 5 running all the way to the road, the same bushes I helped plant while I was in high school. Cut branches are piled on the grass between each row.

“Is that where you’ve been pruning?” I ask.

Chris nods and shakes his head. “It’s been pretty slow going. Blueberry plants really should be pruned every few years, but with everything Dad was doing to grow the farm, it just kept getting put off. The plants in Field 5 are about ten years old now and many of them have never been pruned. When we do go into prune, we can only get about a third of a row done a day because there is so much that needs to be pruned out. It’ll be good to have another set of hands out there when Jon moves back.”

We have crossed the old property line and entered the Sugar Bush. In the woods above Field 5 there is a large grove of maple trees. The trees are older and more spread out than those in the forest we just walked through. Their high branches and emerging leaf buds form a criss-cross canopy that fragments the sunlight. A few years ago my dad and two of his closest friends built a sugar shack in the middle of the trees and invested in the equipment to boil sap into syrup. We sell the jars of syrup off the farm and Dad and his friends split the profits, but really the sugar shack is an excuse for the three of them to spend time together each spring, hauling in sap, and adding wood to the fire under the evaporator. This year though, my dad missed out on most of the sap season because of his trip to Georgia. Jake, who lives in town, would come out after work most days to haul in sap and Bill, who lives in Minneapolis, would come up on the weekends to help boil it down into syrup. The sap stopped flowing a week or so ago, but the empty blue bags still hang under the taps on the trees.

I smile and shake my head thinking of the conversation I had with my mom earlier today. When I asked her how the syruping season had gone, she told me how Jake had called her one day because he was tied down at work and wouldn’t be able to make it out to collect. She walked out to the sugar bush thinking she would only haul in the bags that looked the heaviest and were in danger of overfilling, but once she started, she couldn’t stop. She hauled in a hundred gallons of sap all by herself and could barely walk the next day. I knew she didn’t regret it though. She was grinning as she told me the story, proud of her accomplishment. Since she has retired from child care she isn’t supposed to do anything that could reinjure her back or hip, but she’d rather hurt at the end of the day than not be able to help out.

“Did Mom tell you she hauled a hundred gallons of sap by herself?” I ask Chris.

“I told her she could have called me,” he says shaking his head, “but she said I had already gone home for the day and she didn’t want to bother me.”

A few yards past the sugar bush our property ends and the land opens up again into a field that was farmed years ago, but is now slowly filling in with brush. Chris and I turn left and hike along the edge of our property, up a steep rise, to where the land plateaus under an old oak tree. Soon after my dad bought this land, Chris found and claimed this spot for himself, the very northeast corner of our property, as far away from the house as he could get, and with a view across the valley. He cleared back the sumac that had grown up on the hillside below the oak tree and built a semi-circle of wood benches around a fire pit. Since high school this has been his spot to come and sit, smoke a cigarette and look out. Like most teenagers, he wanted distance from our parents. Chris and Dad especially had clashing personalities. If they got into an argument, Chris would clam up or walk away, which fueled Dad’s temper even more.

We are both breathing heavy from the climb to the top of the hill. We sit down on a bench by the rusty tractor tire rim that he has hauled up to use as a fire ring. Even now that Chris has his own property, he still maintains this corner of the farm, keeping the benches erect and the brush down. Our walk together and the view of the trees that fill the hillside across the valley are a familiar comfort. Aside from the typical sibling bickering over the rules of Monopoly or who gets the T.V. remote, Chris and I have always had the same easy closeness. Before Jon left for college, Chris and I shared a bedroom, and often Mom would come up to find us curled together in the same bed. When I was four he gave me his head lice. (Although he’d probably say I was the one to give it to him.) I have always been comfortable in his spaces—playing Nintendo in his room, sitting out here under the oak tree, drinking beer and playing darts on the porch of his apartment in Minneapolis. I never feel pressured to come or stay or go, just a familiar comfort when we are together, listening to the same music, watching the embers of a camp fire glow, smoking cigarettes from the same pack.

“You’re not smoking,” I say in surprise, realizing I haven’t seen him outside with a cigarette all weekend.

“I quit,” he says, pushing up his sleeve to show me the nicotine patch on his arm.

“How’s that?” I ask, knowing it’s probably good for him, but already missing the quiet moments when I follow him outside and pull a cigarette from his pack for myself.

He shrugs. “I don’t want to be a dad that smokes.”

“Do you miss it?” I ask.

“Sure. But I find other ways to chill out, go for a walk, or tinker around in the garage,” he says as he looks down at his hands. “I don’t need it like I did when I was younger. I want to be calm naturally, like Grandpa Heist.”

Just as I have always been close to our Grandma Dale, Chris has always had a strong connection to our Grandpa Heist, our mom’s dad. The last night time I was at Chris and Honey’s house in Washburn, I noticed a framed picture of Chris as a little boy in a snowsuit holding a kid-size snow shovel and standing next our grinning Grandpa. I can only assume that Chris was “helping” Grandpa shovel the walks that day, mimicking Grandpa’s actions already at the age of four. When we were younger Grandpa and Grandma Heist lived in a rented apartment in Minneapolis and we would see them on trips down to the cities or when they came up for Christmas. When I was five they moved out of the city and onto a piece of land just a few miles away from the farm. While I think Grandma missed the buzz of the city and her community of social activists fighting for women’s rights and world peace, the rural setting of their new property was a perfect fit for my Grandpa’s calm disposition. I remember him sitting in their living room with the lights off and his eyes closed, the volume on the radio just audible as he listened to the commentary of a tennis match or basketball game. I knew he had once been a pretty good athlete from things my mom had told me, that he had even started up and coached a New Guinean basketball team that played in the Pacific Games, but I never heard the details of these experiences because Grandpa talked so modestly about his life. Still he was a constant presence in our lives: letting us win at ping-pong, working together on small building projects in his garage, giving us rides into town when our parents were too busy, and hiding Little Debbies throughout his car for us to find.

I count back the years in my head. I was home from college for Christmas break when Grandpa passed away in his sleep. Everyone said it was just like him, to not want to inconvenience anyone, to go quietly, at a time when we were already all gathered for the holiday. Was it just a year later that Chris moved back to help out on the farm? To fill in the hole that Grandpa left? To keep the family balanced? I often try to categorize my family like this, in order to explain the ways we are and the things we do, but the truth is we can’t be sorted out so easily. It’s impossible to pinpoint any one of us, because we are constantly evolving, shifting our weight, seeking balance. Even though my relationship with Chris feels the same, I realize as we sit together, that he has had to change in order to move back here—heal from past hurts and learn new ways to relate and be.

“So you head back tomorrow?” Chris asks breaking me out of my thoughts.

“Yeah. I'm coaching a game on Tuesday and I was only able to get my shifts at work covered through the weekend,” I explain. “It’s been kind of a crazy spring, but it’ll get better in a couple months. This summer I’m just taking a poetry class and I'm going to try and take a break from rugby.” I pick a dried oak leaf off the ground and twirl the stem between my thumb and forefinger.

“I do think about coming back,” I say, “for more than a weekend, like for a summer or something.” I rip at the leaf along the vein. “Maybe in a year, when Jon is here and your kid is starting to talk and walk, so I’m not just missing out on everything.”

“You should,” Chris says.

“But then I’d also have to move out of my apartment, or find someone to sublet it so I’m not paying rent. And I have a pretty good job now. I don’t know if I can just leave and expect to get it back. I know I’d be able to find work up here during the tourist season, but I don’t want to do just anything.”

“You could work on the farm,” he suggests.

“Picking berries?” I say skeptically, “I don’t think mom will let me get away with sitting in the row and reading my book anymore.”

“Maybe some picking, but also helping run Pick-Your-Own, and being in the shop. It’s different than how it was when we were kids and we didn’t have a choice.” He pauses. “I have a different appreciation now for the farm and for Mom and Dad. It’s not always easy--I’m still figuring out how to get along with Dad--but it’s worth it.”

“Even though Dad says there’s a place for me, it’s hard for me to see where I would fit in,” I say. “Or know if I would even like it. I didn’t really work on the farm that much growing up. I was always helping mom with the daycare kids and then I worked in town.”

“You should do whatever you want,” he replies, “but I think you probably know more about the farm than you realize.”

It’s still quiet at the house when we get back. Chris goes inside to check on Honey, but I’m not ready to go in. I’m still thinking of my conversation with Chris, trying to imagine how it would be to leave the city, to be here. I wander up the wood-chipped path to Grandma’s house. I run my hand along the porch railing as I climb the black-painted steps one at a time up to her deck. I don't know if I'm ready to leave my friends, and my job, rugby, and all the possibilities of the city. And at the same time I feel like I'm missing out everyday that I am away from my family with Chris and Honey having babies, Jon moving home, and the transition of the farm. I look out over Grandma's overgrown garden, still covered with wet brown leaves and patches of snow. As Grandma’s health declined, so did her garden, yet there are still perennials that push up through the leaves and weeds each year in the flower beds that surround her porch and fill her yard.

The red front door is unlocked and I let myself in as I have since I was a kid. No one has lived here since she moved into the nursing home and her house still holds most of her things, still holds her smell. I take my shoes off and walk through the little kitchen, lifting the lid on the empty cookie jar out of habit. In the living room, I pause in front of her bookshelf, tilt my head sideways to read the titles, pull a book off and leaf through it before slipping it back in its place. The fireplace in the corner of the room is dusty and cool to the touch.

In Grandma’s bedroom, Jon’s suitcase is open on the carpet. When he moves back he plans to live in Grandma’s house until he can build his own place on his land. I imagine the house full with the rest of his things, how else it might change or stay the same. I lived with Jon in his apartment in Seattle for a month between semesters in college. It was an old apartment that he had fixed up with things he brought home from job sites or found in the alley: a slab of granite countertop that had been cut to the wrong dimensions in the kitchen, two old metal fans arranged on a shelf in his bedroom, like art, small plants growing in glass bottles on the window sill, their roots dangling in water and light. I am envious of the skills he has to make a space his own, to design cabinets that hide clutter, weld lamps, and line walls with bookshelves.

I sit on the edge of Grandma’s bed. On her wall are framed baby pictures of each of her four kids. Tucked in the mirror above her dresser, there are two more pictures, one of my cousin Gretchen and one of me, the only two girls out of her ten grandchildren. I walk upstairs to the two little lofted guest rooms—one at the top of the stairs and the other with a balcony that looks out over the living room. As I walk through the first room I notice my doll propped in a little rocking chair in the corner. When the American Girl dolls first came out, Grandma bought Samantha for me, the tomboy from the 1920s who was always getting rips in her stockings from climbing trees. I spent countless hours in this house as a child. I would play alone in this room or downstairs with Grandma, reading books, baking cookies, and eating meals together. I walk through the open doorway into the next small room. There is another bookshelf, two small beds with matching quilts, and an empty dresser. The small window and slanted ceiling impart a coziness reminiscent of my high school bedroom, and yet the balcony allows the room to open up to the rest of the house, like my room in my Chicago apartment.

This afternoon when dad and I were both reading in the living room, he looked up from his book and said, “Maybe you would want Grandma’s house, as a place to come and write.” I stand in the doorway and study the room. I imagine a writing desk under the window, my bed in the opposite corner, and her shelf filled with my books.

Back outside, I walk down the porch steps and kneel in front of her house where the first flowers of the year have poked up through brown leaves: little purple and white crocuses with yellow-green stems. I begin to gently lift the leaves away, giving the plants room to breathe and grow. I am so absorbed in the task that I don’t notice Jon walking up the path, back from visiting his land. He hangs his jacket over the porch railing, pushes his sleeves back and kneels down next to me.

We have to leave the next morning. Neither of us says much. Jon is driving and I am watching the landscape from the window. I am thinking of my parents, of Chris and pregnant Honey, of Jon’s plans to move back, of Grandma’s house and the upstairs room with the balcony. I am formulating a question. We are half-way back to Chicago before I ask.

“Jon, do you think I could live with you maybe? You know, when you move home and live in Grandma’s house?”

2. May

(a year later)

I wake up to the morning sounds of Davi: the creak of her bedroom door, the toilet flushing, movement in the kitchen, wet coffee grounds knocked into the garbage, and then a loud crash and a suppressed giggle.

“Sorry!” she calls out, “I was trying to be quiet, but I bumped the grinder into the garbage as I was reaching for the coffee filters.”

“It’s okay,” I say from my bed in the living room of our Chicago apartment, “I’m getting up.”

By the time I pull on sweatpants and a sweatshirt and walk into our small yellow kitchen, the coffee is perking in our little coffeepot and Davi is chunking up potatoes. She is in sweatpants too and her curly dark hair sticks out in all directions. Her shoulder blades flex under her t-shirt as she chops.

When Davi and I played rugby together in college, I had strong legs from soccer, but my shoulders were weak and rounded forward. After games I would always have knots in my back where my shoulder blades turned out and Davi would knead them with her small hands. My wings, she called them. When I moved to Chicago and started playing with a more competitive rugby team, one of my teammates who worked as a physical therapist noticed my turned in shoulders and showed me strengthening exercises I could do. The first time Davi came to visit me in Chicago, she reached over as I chopped vegetables for stir fry and put her hand on the flat of my back. “Your wings are gone,” she said. She was the first to notice.

Davi puts the potatoes in the oven to roast, fills a cup half-way with hot coffee from the pot and hands it to me, then fills another cup to the top for herself. We warm our hands with our cups, our faces with the steam that rises. We smile sleepy smiles. It’s Sunday and we can spend the morning together, chatting about the week behind us and the week ahead. We walk into the dining room to put on a CD and sit down at the long wood table. For a year and a half we’ve lived together in this little square apartment, the top floor of a small two-story building in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago, ten miles north of downtown and six blocks from the lake. Our landlord, a musician named Walter, lives in the apartment below us, and as we eat breakfast, the music from our CD player mixes with the notes of his practice.

We are deep into caffeinated conversation with Davi’s sketchbook on the table open to her latest comic, when Davi jumps up to check the time. I follow her around the house so we can continue to talk while she dresses, brushes her teeth and wets down her hair, packs her sketchbook into her shoulder bag and pours the last of the coffee into an insulated mug. Then the kitchen door is swinging shut and I can hear her quick step down the side porch stairs as she rushes to catch the red line train to the Belmont stop and the comic book store where she works. The CD ended awhile ago and Walter too. The house is quiet. I can only faintly hear the traffic two streets over on Broadway and the train pulling up.

I set my cup in the sink, clear our plates and forks, put the ketchup in the fridge. I stand at the dining room windows and look down to the alley, then over to the apartment building across from us. We don’t know the people that live there, but through the lit windows at night we catch silent glimpses of each other’s lives. One of the big windows on the third floor looks into a kitchen and sometimes we will sit down to eat at the same hour as our neighbors. Once, we watched as a man poured a round of wine and when he saw us watching turned to our window and raised his glass, prompting us to laugh and raise ours back.

I turn away and walk into the living room. I pull from my bag on the couch a folder of papers, a moleskin journal, and my laptop. I bring them to my bed and smooth my hand over my gray blue corduroy bedspread before laying everything out. I prop my computer on my pillow. I can look up from the screen and out a window overlooking the top of a tree that grows between the sidewalk and the street. The branches quiver.

I used to write to calm myself and to sort out my thoughts, but every time I’ve opened my laptop lately, it’s made me feel anxious. I’ve finished the coursework for my master’s program and now I’m supposed to write a thesis: 75 pages of publishable quality work. For the past year and a half I have been writing about the farm, describing childhood memories, my trips home, and my desire to return, but none of it is polished or cohesive, just a teaser to the reader. In workshops my peers and teachers constantly ask for clarifying details: Who again? When was this? Where are you? Who is your audience? I have taken scenes and sentences and rearranged them, tried to pull it all together, give order, clarify, but it’s not working. I want to give up.

I was sixteen and we were working across from each other planting blueberries, when Lindsay asked me if I ever wrote poetry. We started hanging out and she shared her poems with me. I wanted to respond. I wanted to sort out my feelings, so I could tell them to her. I began posting my poems on a website and received emails from a girl in Colorado and a girl in Connecticut who said they could relate to my crush on an older woman and my feeling like an outsider in my small town high school. We started writing back and forth, telling each other our stories. When I was feeling isolated, the poems and emails helped me communicate and connect. Now the pressure to write a thesis has me locked alone in my apartment, and alone in my head, bringing back the feelings of isolation writing used to help me fend off. I don’t know how to sort my life into sentences and paragraphs. I don’t know who I’m writing this for.

I push aside my notes, reach for my planner and open it to today: May 4, 2008, then flip the page to next week. Tomorrow I’ll get up at dawn, catch the Damen bus to Noble Street Charter High School, where I’ll coach an hour-long rugby practice, then take the bus back north to work a shift at the gym. In the evening I have practice with North Shore. Mondays and Wednesdays are my long days, beginning and ending with rugby, but even the other days are filled with at least two commitments each: work, games, a meeting with my thesis advisor, social events. I scan the pages and look for free hours. Thursday evening, next Sunday: I fill a corner of each day’s square with the word WRITE. In a few days I will go through this ritual again. Lay out my notes. Open my laptop. Sit in the middle of my bed. Stare out the window.

I cap and uncap my pen. The anxiety moves down into my body and my muscles clench: my jaw, my toes, my calves, my chest. My mind clicks into survival mode: I need to breathe. I close my laptop and change into running clothes. As I jog down the block, the wind is blocked by the buildings, but as soon as I reach the lake, the weather dominates my senses. Waves collapse onto the beach. A gust off the lake hits my back and I lift my knees into a sprint. The churning landscape is like a friend that shares my mood, reflects it, allows it. At the end of the pier, I lie down, face first, ducking the wind. I close my eyes and feel my chest push into the cement with each breath, slowly easing, until I am as calm and flat as the line on the horizon between water and sky. I bring my hands up to my armpits and rest my palms on the cement. Pushing out my breath and up on my hands, I count out twenty push-ups. I collapse and rest before rolling onto my back and counting out a set of fifty crunches.

As I jog back into the city, I fall into an easy stride. The anxiety over my thesis has moved to the back of my mind, and instead I am thinking about what I want to make for dinner. I route myself past the grocery store on Devon, a few blocks further from our apartment than Dominick’s, but always worth the extra travel. With lots of different ethnic groups living in our neighborhood, the Devon grocery imports food from all over to accommodate as many tastes as possible. They even have a few wines from Georgia. I couldn’t read all the writing on the bottle, but I recognized the church depicted on the label as one that I had visited with Gio. Instead of rows of processed food stamped with brand names, there is a huge produce section with better looking fruit and vegetables than those at Dominick’s and for cheaper prices. Regardless of what language they speak, the people that shop here can recognize a good tomato when they see it.

I wander through the tables, thinking about what looks good and what might go well together, before making my selections. The low ceilings and narrow aisles feel cozy and I could spend hours just looking and contemplating what to cook. I love the different shapes and colors of food, but I have an aversion to labels that are trying to convince me to buy one product over another, especially “organic.” Growing up, we gardened organically, but farming blueberries organically wouldn’t be sustainable for us. I always feel judged by city people with their Whole Foods education when I tell them that my family’s farm isn’t organic. I wish I had the words my dad has to defend the way we farm, but I’ve never paid enough attention.

An older Hispanic man stops me as I walk past a small section of Chinese food items at the end of an aisle. He has pulled a package of dried mushrooms off the shelf and is studying the label quizzically.

“Do you know how to cook with these?” he asks me with a slight accent.

“I think you just have to let them soak in water for a while and then you can use them like regular mushrooms,” I reply. He nods his head and smiles at me before putting them in with the tomatoes and dry beans in his cart. I like to shop this way too—buying mostly the things I know, but also picking out something new to try.

As I walk in the door to my apartment, I can hear my cell phone vibrating on my bed stand. I set grocery bags on the counter before jogging to my phone. It’s my mom.

“Just calling to chat,” she says. My dad’s friend, Bill, is up from the cities for the weekend and Mom has the house to herself for a bit as Bill and Dad are out in the sugar shack bottling the last batch of syrup. Last night, she made chicken enchiladas and Chris and Honey came over for dinner with Silas.

“He’s so cute right now,” Mom says, “He doesn’t have any words yet, but he smiles and interacts and you can begin to see what his personality is going to be like.”

“I wish I could have been there, but at least I’ll be around when he starts talking and walking,” I say. “And for when the next one is born!” I add excitedly.

“Due in November,” Mom says, echoing what Chris told me when he called a few days ago with the news.

In the past Mom and I usually only talked on the phone maybe every other week, but lately we’ve been talking more frequently. Often she has a question pertaining to my move home in a couple months—what day I want her to come down and get me, how much stuff I have, should she bring the truck—but then she asks me how I’m doing or I ask about what’s going on up there and we fall into easy conversation about here and there and friends and family and food.

I ask Mom for her enchilada recipe, and as she reads from the recipe card, pausing to add small bits of advice about when to start each step, my mouth waters. I realize I haven’t eaten since brunch this morning.

“I should go start dinner,” I tell her. “Tell Dad and Bill I say hi.” We say good bye and hang up. I press play on the CD player and turn the volume up before going into the kitchen and flicking the lights on. I get to work: fill a pot with water and put it on the stove to boil, clean and chop asparagus, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes, sauté them in butter, with lots of salt and pepper. When the water boils, I dump the pasta in. I open a bottle of white wine, put a splash in the sauté and then pour a glass for myself. My body exhales, relaxed from the run, and the wine. I hear Davi coming up the steps and I pour a glass for her too.

“Mmmm! Dinner!” Davi says when she comes in, closing her eyes and breathing in dramatically. She has a glint in her eye as she asks, “How did you know I would be hungry?”

“Cause you’re always hungry,” I say. You’d never guess it looking at her, just under 5 feet tall and barely over 100 pounds, but Davi’s infamous for her bottomless stomach. At summer camp she won a taco eating contest against a counselor twice her weight. “Seventeen tacos to his fourteen and a brownie for dessert!” she always ends the story proudly.

Now she has her hands on her hips and a pouty face. “Hey! I’ve gotten better,” she protests and it’s true. Usually she can be satisfied with just three meals a day, not like the first summer we lived together in an apartment just around the corner from a cheap Mexican restaurant. Almost daily she would turn to me, sometimes just moments after finishing a meal, and ask, “Don’t you just really want a burrito right now?”

Cooking and eating together has been an integral part of our friendship. Some days we are tired and the meal is cheap and easy, like baked beans from a can and homemade coleslaw, but at least once a week we cook a nice dinner for Shabbat. Davi is a conservative Jew and her mom a Rabbi. Growing up her family always practiced Shabbat. It is an important part of her life which she continues to practice, meaning from dark on Friday until dark on Saturday she doesn’t work or spend money, write or create, light a fire, ride in a car or on the train. She is a little looser about it than her mom is and was. She will still watch a movie or talk on the phone. Sometimes she will ask me to boil water for coffee in the morning or I’ll buy her drinks at the bar knowing she’ll get me back when Shabbot is over.

I didn’t know much about Judaism until Davi and I became friends in college. Both my parents grew up Lutheran. My dad even entered the Lutheran seminary after college, although he dropped out a year later, finding more meaning in Wendell Berry’s writing than in church. When I was born, I was baptized by my Grandpa Heist at the Lutheran church in Bayfield, but my parents had stopped regularly attending any Sunday service. Throughout elementary school I would walk down to the church on Wednesdays after school. My parents didn’t require us to go to church school, but I liked the milk and cookies and the chance to be with friends. By high school, I had ditched church altogether, claiming soccer as my religion and Ani Difranco CDs as my hymnal.

I still don’t consider myself very religious, but I do like that Davi’s weekly rituals surrounding Shabbat have become a regular part of my life too. Two nights ago, our friends were throwing a party at their apartment in Wicker Park, and because it was Shabbat, instead of taking the bus, we biked. It was a long trek for unconditioned spring legs, but as we biked home on Damen there was hardly any traffic. I could hear my breath and the quiet spinning of my gears. The night was clear, and above the city lights I could see a few of the brightest stars.

We dish pasta into bowls and move into the living room. We sit facing each other on either side of the couch, leaning our backs against the armrests and putting our feet up on the middle cushion.

“Did you write today?” Davi asks, looking over at my notes and laptop still spread out on my bed.

“Not really,” I reply. “I went for a run and then my mom called.” I tell Davi about my dad and Bill bottling syrup, about Silas making everyone laugh.

“I just want to be home already,” I say. Davi is quiet.

“Does it make you uncomfortable,” I ask after a while, “When I talk about moving? I’ll still come back and visit all the time.”

“It’s not that,” she says. She looks like she might say more and then she just shakes her head and shrugs. She finishes the last of the pasta in her bowl and then goes back to the kitchen for a second helping. We always make a whole box, thinking then we’ll have some for leftovers the next day, but inevitably, we finish it off before we can put it into tupperware.

Davi comes back from the kitchen with her fork raised in a fist.

“I may be an artist,” she says with a grin, “but I will never be a starving artist.”


*

It’s been raining, so the field at the high school is wet and muddy. The girls start out their morning practice whining, avoiding the puddles and holding the ball with just the tip of their fingers and a disgusted look on their face. Then Isamar fakes a pass and Giselle falls for it and slips in the mud as she tries to chase after her. Isamar laughs as she touches it down past the orange cones that mark the try line and Giselle, no longer worried about getting dirty, is up quick and tackling Isamar to the ground even though the play is over. It spreads quickly now, with the muddiest girls eager to make a good tackle on the cleanest girls, the sort of tackle that dents the ground and forces mud into the space between fabric and skin, hair and scalp, shoes and sox. Soon, all brown, they are no longer distinguishable by the colors they wear. Only the natural shape of their faces and bodies separates them into individuals.

The girls work harder than usual, diving for tackles and throwing their bodies into rucks. When they have the ball in their hands they spin and juke and stretch their bodies to touch it down across the try line. They whisper strategy to one another as they wait their turn on the sideline and then yell in support as they run through the drill: “Daisy! Give me ball! Christina! Help! Ball out!” When a ruck forms, the teams converge, a shoulder fitting into the cup of an opposing hip, fingers grabbing jerseys and shorts, cleats digging and clinging to mud and grass and roots, and then once the ball is passed out, everyone breaks apart and sprints to the next break-down, where they will converge again. Tight and solid and pushing together in one unit and then running and cutting and exploding apart, together, apart, they pulse.

“Bring it in!” I yell. “Good job today,” I say as the girls jog over to me. I give them the details on our away game the next day, when the bus is leaving, what they need to bring, that they should have their parent’s email me if they need directions to the pitch. “Oh and take your cleats off before you walk into the school and try not to get mud on everything,” I request. “I don’t feel like getting in trouble with your principal again.”

“Coach, ain’t it your birthday today?” Diana interrupts with a smirk.

“Who told you that?” I ask, looking over at my friend Rosie who has started coming along to help me run practices. She grins at me over the muddy heads of the girls singing happy birthday as loud as they can.

“I think you need a birthday hug,” Joana says deviously, and throws her arms around me, making sure to smear the mud from her hands and arms onto my sweatshirt. She runs away, but I chase her down and tackle her into a puddle. I can’t be mad at her. All morning I’ve wanted to jump into the game and play, but restrained myself because I won’t have time to shower before my shift at the gym starts. I hate that my life is so overbooked these days that I hardly have time to enjoy it.

Sports have had a hold on me since Andrea convinced me to join the basketball team during our freshman year of high school. She said they needed more people to join and even though I hadn’t played before I figured being on the team would help make the long winter pass quicker. What I didn’t anticipate was how much stronger our friendship would become once we started playing together, or the feeling I would have coming home from a game or practice in the evening with my body as calm and tired as my head. I never scored as many points as Andrea did, but I was good at finding her on the court and getting her the ball. I was also the best at running gassers, the sprints our coach made us run at the end of practice. Most people hated them, but I liked having the chance to channel all of my energy out of my head and into my body, sprinting as hard and as fast as I was able: to the length of the court and back, the far free-throw line and back, mid-court and back, the near free-throw line and back. Between sets I’d stand with my hands on my head, lungs heaving, and vision blurry, pulling myself together quickly so I could do it again when coach blew the whistle.

When the basketball season ended, I joined soccer. Soccer was a new sport then in northern Wisconsin and our school was small, so we needed every player we could get to field a team. Often we played short. We never had subs. We practiced indoors, until the snow melted and then moved outside. Some people complained about the muddy field, but I liked how my body left marks on the soft ground, and the wet dirt left marks on my legs and back. Even when the field was beginning to dry out, my friend Kate and I were drawn to the puddles, wrestling and laughing until we had painted our limbs and faces with mud.

Sports continued to shape my life in college. I played varsity soccer at Oberlin and was recruited to run on the varsity indoor track team as well, but rugby became my real passion. Again, I had never played before, but was recruited by a friend when the team needed more players. I was instantly hooked. Rugby was real: no pads, no time-outs, no fouls. Unlike soccer and basketball that have so many rules about where and how you make contact, in rugby you can never be too aggressive. I could go all out.

For the next three years and half years, I called the pitch my home and my teammates my family. My only wish was that I had discovered the sport sooner, so when I moved to Chicago and had the opportunity to coach a high school girls’ team, I couldn’t refuse. It isn’t always easy, but I want the girls to have what I needed at their age—a way to channel their energy and emotions, and to be included in a community of females who are proud to be strong and confident.

“You better watch out,” Joana says with a grin when she gets up. “Someday I’m going to be a better rugger than you and it’s going to be your ass in that puddle.”

“I’ll look forward to that,” I tell her. I still haven’t been able to tell the girls that I won’t be their coach next year. The seniors, like Joana, that make up the core of the team will be graduating and moving on as well, but that just means the girls coming up will need that much more help to be able to play without them. This is Giselle's first season playing, but with her speed and aggression and heart and I can already see the player she could become. It hurts that I won't be a part of that, or that without me encouraging her, there's a possibility she won't play at all. Coaching a high school team, I know there will always be girls like Giselle coming up that I wish I could coach. There is no way to make a clean break.

When I get home I call in sick to work and take my time in the shower. I feel a little guilty about not going in, but I know my co-workers will be able to cover it. Today is the first day in almost a week that the sun is out and I want to enjoy it. The house is quiet. Davi is in New York visiting her family. Before she left, she posted notes all over our apartment reminding me to pay attention to the seedlings in her windowsills. Even though she grew up in the city, many of her summers throughout high school and college she spent working on a vegetable farm in northern Maine. She has remained close with the family that owns the farm and one day hopes to buy land near them and build a little cabin. Now that she is out of school and maintaining year-round work, she misses having her hands in the dirt. A few weeks ago she planted seeds in half a dozen little plastic pots and already they are little living things—two inches tall with two baby leaves each.

When Davi asked me to take care of them while she was gone, I wasn’t sure I wanted the responsibility. I have never been successful at keeping house plants. Sooner or later I stop paying attention, and they always die. When I asked her to leave me a note with how much and how often to water each plant like my mom does, she said she wouldn’t know what to write, that she just does it by feel. So instead of a note she has made little cartoon drawings of seedlings in pots with faces and speech bubbles saying, “I’m thirsty!” and “Come sing to us!” and taped them next to my alarm clock, on the mirror in the bathroom, and on the coffee pot.

As I put a half pot of coffee on to perk, I smile remembering our parting words.

“What if I kill them?” I had whined, “I’m so bad with plants.”

“You’ll be fine,” she reassured, “Whenever you miss me just go hang out with the plants instead.”

I pour a glass of water from the sink to take into Davi's room. I touch the soil underneath each little sprout and pour in a little water. During this period where I constantly feel split between my life here and my move home on the horizon, caring for her seedlings this week has been an unexpected comfort, allowing me to feel simultaneously connected to both places.

Back in the kitchen, I pour a cup of coffee and spread a bagel with cream cheese and raspberry jam that my mom left with us the last time she came down to visit. I take a book out to the porch and sit down on the steps. I lean back against the cool brick wall of the building, stretch my legs across the top stoop, into the sun, and push my bare feet against the warm wood railing. I can hear tuba notes coming through the first-floor screen door.

As I eat my breakfast, I read the opening chapter of Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral about her family’s year-long commitment to eat only food they have grown themselves or bought from local producers. They decided to begin their experiment in the spring, on a day like this one, when the snow has melted and the sun is warming the soil, when food will begin to grow again. As I read, I vow to help my mom put up the garden this summer. At home it will be easy for me to live more like Barbara Kingsolver. My family has always had a big garden and a big freezer. The dairy just outside of Washburn where we buy milk is conveniently just up the road from Kate’s house and her dad’s coffee roasting business. I keep losing my place in my reading as I daydream about learning to blanch, and jam, and pickle, about turning up Nevers Road to buy milk and coffee and visit.

When Kate and I first started hanging out in middle school she lived with her parents in a big unfinished house on Madeline Island. Then her parents split up and Kate and her dad moved into the “beach house”—a smaller older house on the same property where Harry had his coffee roaster set up in a back room walled with burlap bags of green coffee beans from places like Guatemala, Ethiopia and Costa Rica. Riding the ferry home after staying with her I could smell coffee roasting as the breeze blew through my hair and my clothes. Our senior year of high school Harry bought a house in Washburn and he and Kate moved off the island. When I came back from Australia mid-winter of our senior year, Kate and I both decided to finish out our high school time with a full load of courses at Northland College in Ashland, an option offered by our high school since Bayfield was too small to offer many AP courses. For most of the semester I stayed at Kate’s house so I could catch a ride with her to class in the morning. Harry fixed up a mattress on the floor of the guest room for me, but lots of times Kate and I fell asleep spooning in her little twin bed, like Chris and I would when we were little and shared a bedroom. Whenever I am at their house, Harry makes a point to tell me how glad he is that Kate and I are such close friends since she doesn’t have any siblings.

Thinking of Kate, I set down my book and go inside to find the journal we’ve been mailing back and forth to each other, each time filling another page or two with cartoons and letters. The journal is a revival of our high school custom of passing drawings and notes to each other in class, a reminder to make time in our now much busier lives to write and draw, and a promise to stay in better touch with each other. In her last entry she tells me she got a job in Grand Marais, Minnesota for the summer, four hours around the lake from Bayfield, and she assures me she will be coming home often to visit. Although we talk on the phone occasionally and try to get together over summer and Christmas breaks, it’s been years since we’ve been consistently in each other’s lives.

I should be working on my thesis, but instead I bring the journal out to the porch to pour over and think of a reply. The coffee in my mug is gone and my head is buzzing. In past entries, I have carefully laid out a cartoon drawing with pencil and eraser before finishing it in ink, but today I know I don’t have the patience for that. I uncap a gray-blue marker pen and start writing, pausing to add doodles of a wine bottle, a chicken and an egg, and a steaming cup of coffee: Kate! Remember when I came back from Australia and I was CRAZY and you took care of me—driving me to class and singing loudly to the radio and planning dinner parties for two and drinking wine and wine and wine? Well I kind of feel like that again: caught between two worlds, feeling everything and nothing at the same time. I know it’s because I’m leaving the city soon and moving back home…or maybe it’s the reason I need to move. Every explanation I make these days has the chicken and the egg aspect to it. Everything seems so simple and yet so profound…or is it so profound and yet so simple? Like yesterday, I was sitting on the porch drinking my coffee and remembering being a little girl and following my dad on his way up to grandma’s house for his morning coffee and I was thinking it’d be nice to be a morning person again like I was when I was that little kid. “When I move into Grandma’s house this summer, I NEED to wake up and brew coffee,” I wrote in my journal, adding how nice it would be to have that time again in the morning for Dad to come up and sit with me, or a friend (like you!), or to just be by myself. As I wrote about these memories and thoughts and plans in my journal, I flipped to a blank page in the back and started a new list. “Goals for When I Move Home. 1) Wake up!” So simple, right? And kind of profound too?

Then I switch to a black sharpie and on the adjacent page I write in big letters: I’m so excited to see you again!!! SO SOON!!! And so much more often for the rest of our lives!!! I look towards the top branches of a tree growing in the little bit of yard between our building and the next, the buds just beginning to leaf out. I cap and uncap my pen as I watch a cluster of pigeons waddle around on the roof of our neighbors’ apartment building. So soon.


*

On Saturday I play rugby with my club team at a pitch in the suburbs. The team we are playing against (New York Women) has finished in the top three at Nationals for the last four years. They always have plenty of players to draw from and today even though they are the away team they have more players than we do. I haven’t been as dedicated to the team as I was when I first moved to the city, but I also haven’t been able to give it up completely, mostly because my teammates are always hounding me to come and play, especially when our numbers are down. My teammates were the first people I got to know in Chicago and they, along with rugby practices and Saturday games, have been the only constant. In less than three years I have had four jobs, two girlfriends, three apartments, and a dozen close friends come in and out of my life, but always there has been rugby.

Before the game starts, I jog around the pitch to loosen muscles, settle nerves, and focus adrenaline. When I played in college, I played fly-half and was right in the middle of it, yelling for the ball on offense and the first to make a tackle on defense, but now I usually play wing and have learned to stay out of the mess, make my runs to the corner, tackle only when there is no one else. There are times—when I’m running with the ball and fake out a defender, or make the perfect tackle—that I am completely in the moment, but usually I am just going through the motions, ready for the game to end long before the final whistle blows.

I have a couple beers at the social after the game and then get a ride to my apartment. I drop my duffle bag on the floor, flop on my bed, and set my alarm for 9pm before passing out. When my alarm goes off, I get a beer from the fridge and limp to the shower. From my shorts line to my sock line, from my sleeve line to my wrists, and from my neck up, I am smeared with dried mud. As the hot water clears the dirt from my skin, I assess the damages, a raw scrape across my cheek and a nice size bruise on my calf already turning purple.

When I get out of the shower, I dry off and then stand naked in front of the hallway mirror. The scrape on my cheek and the bruise on my calf are not the only marks rugby has left on my body. I ended the last two seasons with injuries. My right ring finger is scarred and crooked after a break last spring that required surgery and in the fall a hard hit left me with a concussion and a separated shoulder. I spent the winter restrengthening the muscles in my shoulder, but my physical therapist told me there will always be a small bump on the right edge of my collar bone where my arm droops from the socket.

I have been addicted to this sport since I discovered it in college. It has made me stronger, more confident, shown me my body’s ability to heal, and given me a distinct culture and community. Throughout college and after, I have shaped my life around rugby, finding jobs that wouldn’t conflict with practice and game schedules yet would make me just enough money to cover my rent as well as the expenses of team fees and plane tickets. For a long time I believed I couldn’t live without it, that rugby was what sustained me and kept me feeling alive, but for the past year or more it has been exhausting me. I thought I could never get tired, but I am. I thought I couldn’t break, but I have. I am still confident and strong, but I have also realized I’m not invincible. I still love the game, but I don’t need it in the same way. It might be okay if I didn’t play anymore, maybe even good.

I comb my hair and dress up to go out. The teams have set a theme: Chicago mafia and New York cops. I wear my hair down, a heather hat with a short brim, a cigar in my shirt pocket or dangling from my lips, short shorts, a black vest: ‘20s gangster slash lesbian. I don’t wear any make-up. I admire the scrape on my cheek as I check myself in the mirror before heading to catch the train.

At the bar one of the girls from New York buys my drinks all night and when the bar closes I bring her back to my apartment. In the morning we go out for breakfast in Andersonville. It’s about a half mile walk to get there, but the sun is out and it feels good to walk and loosen up sore muscles. After we eat, we hold hands as we walk back to my apartment. I steer her into an outdoor garden center that we pass. I’m looking for a hanging plant that will attract hummingbirds. We wind through the crowd of people, past tables of little green plants in black plastic pots that while bloomless all look the same to me.

“Do you know flowers?” I ask her and she shakes her head. “Me either, really,” I say.

When we get back to my block, I point out what street she needs to walk down to get to the El. We kiss and she leaves. I’m not looking for a relationship, but it’s been nice to pretend at it for a night and a morning.

I go inside for my bag and then walk to work. My body aches. Already tomorrow I will be less aware of my quads as I step down stairs, my abs as I laugh, and my hips as I sit. It will be easier to focus on work and school without my body constantly reminding me of the weekend. At the gym there aren’t any kids to watch, so I go on the internet and find New York girl on Facebook. I am clicking through her pictures when two-year old Stella arrives with her two young cute moms. I quickly shut my computer and greet them. Stella has springy brown hair and big eyes. Every time they come in I speculate about which one of her moms is the birth mom and if they used a sperm donor or a friend, or if one of them was pregnant before they met. I always wonder about how they became a family, but I never want to ask as I’m sure they have been inappropriately asked so many times before. As I think about Stella and her moms, I think about my own family to be. When I came out to my parents in high school, my dad was supportive but a little nostalgic he said because he had always imagined me getting married and having kids. “I’ll still have kids,” I reassured him, “I want a family.” Since my last girlfriend and I broke up last fall, I've even dated a couple boys, leaving me to think that the kid thing might not be so complicated after all. Right now, my move home takes priority over any relationship, but I can’t help but wonder. Will it be possible to meet someone up north? How long will I be fine alone before it gets old? Babies?

I join Stella on the floor where she has collected all the stuffed animals. Together we arrange them in a line from shortest to tallest. When we are done, she stands up and smiles approvingly, and then kicks them all over.


*

Another week passes. Monday afternoon and I am walking through the Midway airport. I spent the weekend in Boston, playing a game with my team on Saturday and then staying an extra day to catch up with Leslie, my college roommate and meet her boyfriend. I remember the first time I flew by myself, seventeen and on my way to Australia, how anxious I was about being able to find my way, but now it's routine. At least once a month I fly somewhere for rugby, or to visit a friend. My desire to catch up with scattered friends quenched for the price of airfare, addicted to the pleasure of leaving, and returning. I ride the Orange line to the Red line to the Thorndale stop. The sun is setting between the buildings as I walk west to our apartment.

At the door, Davi greets me excitedly. My trip east overlapped with hers and it’s been almost two weeks since we’ve seen each other.

“I know you just got back, but maybe would you want to go for a walk with me while it’s still the most wonderful time of the day?” she asks and then to further convince me, “I’ll buy.” Davi has called the time between sunset and dark “the most wonderful time of the day” since she was a kid, and it has become one of our favorite pastimes at any time of day to walk into a corner liquor store and buy a bottle of wine or two 40 oz. beers, and then chat and wander the streets with our bottle uncapped and still wrapped in brown paper. When we first started this tradition I was a little nervous that we might get stopped by a cop, but then one day a squad car drove by just as I was taking a swig. Instead of giving me a citation, the officer grinned and tipped his hat at me. “Because they have more serious crimes to worry about?” I guessed after he passed. “Or because we’re white,” Davi replied.

I put a vest on over my hoodie and we walk north together to the liquor store on Devon. We each pick out a beer, something neither of us has tried before, and take our bottles to the front of the narrow store. Even though we are frequent customers, the Asian woman at the counter studies our faces framed by bangs and hoodies and asks for an I.D. We are outside before we realize we forgot to bring along a bottle opener. We go back in and ask the woman at the counter if she has one we can borrow, she hesitates before sliding it across the counter to us. Back on the street we decide to keep walking north on Glendale towards Roger’s Park.

“How was home?” I ask as we walk.

“Exhausting,” Davi replies. “Yael and Peter wouldn’t stop fighting about the food, Abba kept asking me about when I’m gonna get a real job, and Mom and Trysa were constantly guilting me for never visiting them, but now that Trysa and Peter live in Cleveland any time I want to visit my family I have to choose where to go and then I’m always letting someone down. Honestly, I think Trysa's just lonely and mad that Mom’s not closer to be more of a grandma to Malachai, but they can’t say that stuff to each other so they take it out on me.”

“I bet Malachai didn’t exhaust you,” I say. Davi's first nephew was born last summer, just a few weeks before Silas.

“No. He’s perfect,” she replies.

“I’m jealous. It'll be great to see Silas all the time when I move home, but that's still a month away.” Davi stops walking and looks down at her empty beer bottle.

“I did realize something,” she says. “I haven’t been acting weird because you are leaving. I think I’ve been acting weird because I’m jealous I don’t have a home to return to like you do.”

I don’t know how to respond, so we walk in silence, in and out of the circles of streetlight, towards the lake. We pass the park where children play late while their fathers stand watch, and end at the five block stretch of beach front deserted after a busy afternoon, the sand dented with footsteps, the smell of bbqs still lingering in the air. We walk down the beach and then climb to the top of an empty lifeguard tower. The moon, almost full, hangs out above the water, above its own reflection stretched out and rippling.

“I understand how it might seem easier if all of your family lived in one place,” I finally say, “but do you really think it would mean they would fight less? My family still fights. Probably even more because they live and work together. It took a long time for my brothers to get to a place where they were ready to move back. And who’s to say if they stay. Or if I do.” I bite my lip to keep myself from saying more and tear at the label on my bottle. I know she doesn't mean to do it, but I hate it when people romanticize my family and the farm.

“I know,” Davi finally says easing the tension, “I think it’s more that I just need to accept that New York City is my home. A lot of my friends are there and it’s closer to my family, especially with Yael in Brooklyn and my mom in New Jersey.” Davi pauses, looking out at the beach and the calm lake, before adding, “I just have to get over what I hate about it there.”

I listen to the traffic a few blocks away, the constant activity of the city, and then I think of my friends from home who, like me, followed school and jobs and lovers elsewhere, of the empty streets in Bayfield at night, of no rugby, fewer gay people, and the closest international airport four hours away. “Bayfield isn’t perfect either,” I say. “I’m going to miss Chicago a lot.”

“Me too,” Davi says to the lake. “I talked with my family when I was home, and decided I’m going to move to New York next month when you move to Wisconsin.”

We lean in to each other and sit in the half-light—absent of the car headlights and store signs shining a few blocks away, yet lit enough to make out the white paint of the lifeguard tower that cradles us, the glistening of our eyes, and the water lapping at the sand.


*

Rosie lets me borrow her car and I drive to Oberlin for commencement/reunion weekend. It’s been three years since my own commencement, so all the students that were freshman that year are graduating now. Because they do the reunions in clusters, it’s also the five year reunion for the three classes ahead of my own, classes 2002-2004. I’ll know a lot of people, but my best friends won’t be there—no Davi, or Leslie. I know Kari plans on going and I’m hoping it won’t be awkward. It’s been over two years since we broke up. We’ve tried to work through it and be friends, but everyone at Oberlin knew us as a couple.

The first night I pass the turn off for Oberlin and drive into Cleveland to see my friend Lex perform as a drag king at the gay bar where he bartends. Before moving back to Ohio, Lex lived in Chicago for a year. When Kari and I broke up, he helped fill in the absence she left, taking care of me in little ways, with a beer, or a ride to practice, or eating half of the dinner I made. At the bar he buys all my drinks and offers me a drag of his cigarette. I feels good to be looked after in this way again.

“So how are you?” I ask as we stand together outside of the bar. He tells me about his girlfriend, how he is helping her raise her teenage son, and the house they are paying a mortgage on in the suburbs.

“I’m basically the dad in Leave it To Beaver,” he says with a big grin. When I laugh he raises his beer can and adds, “well maybe more like Homer Simpson.”

The next day I drive to Oberlin and wander around campus, bumping into old friends and acquaintances and attempting to fill in the space between then and now with hugs and conversation. In the evening I go to a party with four girls from the rugby team. When they were freshmen, I recruited each of them to join rugby and now they have stepped up to lead the club. It’s fun to see them again with their beauty and confidence reverberating off one another. We leave the party to head to the bar and as we walk across Tappan Square, I fall behind and watch them walk—arms around one another, laughing in harmony. Do they realize how it will never be quite the same? I loved my time at Oberlin. I got to know so many beautiful people. When I graduated I had no idea how quickly life—jobs, relationships, physical distance—would begin to separate us. I am so glad I have been able to keep up a friendship with people like Davi and Leslie and Lex, the ways we relate constantly evolving as we evolve. Some friends have completely drifted away, despite how hard one or both of us has tried to hold on.

The upstairs of the Feve, the local bar, is packed with people. The faces, the bar, and the furniture are all familiar, but now packed together and aged and jumbled, I’m suddenly overwhelmed. I stand at the top of the stairs and look around, letting my eyes adjust to the dark and contemplating how I want to insert myself into the crowd. Across the room I see a boy doing a similar scan. When our eyes meet we smile and walk towards each other. Nate. I’m usually bad at remembering boy’s names, but his name pops into my head and I’m sure I’ve got it right. He was a sophomore when Les and I were freshman with a dorm room just down the hall from us. We were never super close, but we went to a lot of the same parties and brushed our teeth in the same bathroom and right now his hug is a welcome shield from the rest of the room.

“It’s crazy in here,” I say.

“We could go outside,” he suggests, slinging back the last of his beer and adding it to a stack of glasses on the closest table.

We weave our way down the stairs and through the crowd that has spilled out onto the street.

“North?” he asks and I nod. As we walk through the park towards the dormitory building on north campus where we used to live, the conversation is easy. We were never close enough then to have a complicated past now. He asks me if I’m still with Kari, still playing rugby, still the fastest. I ask him if he’s still got a cute girlfriend, still signed up with the army reserves, still playing music. We stand in front of a big brownstone building and point out the windows to each of our rooms. We wait for someone to come by with an access card to get in, but nobody does, so we keep walking, past the other dorms, past the gym, to the athletic fields. They just put in a new running track with just the right amount of spring and grip to it. I tighten my pony tail, kick off my flip flops, and roll up the bottoms of my jeans.

“Wanna race?” I say as I take off down the straight away, bare feet pushing off the track into the night, black except for the white lane lines reflecting the parking lot lights. I maintain a sprinters form, head up, legs cycling, arms and heart pumping. Nate catches me on the back stretch and I jog to a stop. I lay down on my back and he lies down next to me. Together we look up. We catch our breath and it is almost quiet. The moon hasn’t come up yet and the stars are bright. The grass athletic fields are flat and treeless and the sky falls down around us.

The next morning, I change into my rugby gear and walk out to the rugby pitch. A group of girls from the current team are standing in a circle passing a ball. I am the first of the alumni to arrive. I scan the sidelines and remember the last time I played rugby on this field. It was the alumni game during the weekend of my commencement. I had told my parents that I didn’t expect them to make the long trip out to Ohio just to watch me walk across a stage, but they said they could use a vacation from the farm and made plans to arrive in time for the rugby game on Saturday. We had just finished warming up and my adrenaline was pumping, when I turned and saw my family—Mom, Dad, and both my brothers—walking towards the sideline. I had no clue that my brothers were even thinking of coming. My parents had to route themselves three hours out of the way in order to pick up Chris in Minneapolis and Jon flew in from Seattle. I had tears in my eyes as I ran towards them. I wanted to laugh and cry, hug and tackle. I was elated. Mom and Dad had been down to visit before, but my brothers had never been to Oberlin, never seen me play rugby, or met my friends. I hadn’t thought that it even mattered, but then they were all there and for one weekend I didn’t need to choose between my family and home and my friends and rugby. I could have everything.

Lex arrives for the game and the two of us lead the alumni side. Lex plays prop and holds the pack together, while I play scrumhalf, taking quick taps every chance I get and running the ball up the field. Even though he didn’t actually go to Oberlin, Lex has always been an honorary member of our team. We met when we played together on an Ohio select side team. A year later he started dating a girl at Oberlin and came out as lesbian, and then as trans. It’s a close game. We win, but only because the ref (the dad of one of the other alumni) lets the game go on until we have scored our last try and regained the lead. Afterwards we drink and sing and then Lex has to head back to Cleveland. He told his girlfriend he’d cook dinner tonight for her and her son.

It’s my last night on campus. A friend of mine has one of the rooms in the dorms that they rent out to alumni and when I told her I’d slept in the back of my car the night before, she offered me her floor to crash on. As I am walking out to my car for my sleeping bag, I hear someone call my name. Nate is walking with a group of friends down the street towards me. He is wearing a pink polo and plaid pants and he has playfully spiked the front of his dark hair. He’s clearly a little drunk, looser with his body and his compliments, and it’s kind of endearing. When I tell him I like his pants, he does a little dance that makes me laugh. He has a room next to my friend’s and when he sees me with my sleeping bag he says I should stay with him instead. He says it as if he is joking and I laugh it off even though I’m pretty sure he’s not. I am brushing my teeth in the bathroom when he walks in and stands next to me and waits for me to finish. Then he playfully pushes me out the door and down the hall to the lounge. It’s dark. He sits on the couch and I sit on the armrest.

He pulls me down into his lap and we make out. Every so often he stops and asks, “So what’s going on with you?” And while we kiss I think of how to respond. I could tell him the stories I have been using to explain myself—the what are you doing these days story (since graduation I’ve been living in Chicago and will be for a couple more weeks, but then I’m moving home to northern Wisconsin where my parents have a blueberry farm and my brother has a baby) or the are you seeing anyone story (since Kari and I broke up I kind have just been working my way down—dating people that I am less and less attached too, even boys, until I am now at zero—on my own and okay with it and not sure about what comes next), but both these stories feel worn out, especially after this weekend of constant catching up. I don’t want to give the old answer. I want to find the truth. An answer that still might not be right, or fleshed out, but is at least of the moment, like: I feel caught between two places. I have trouble talking in complete sentences. I’m tired. I’m alone, but okay with it most of the time, in fact, feel good about it most of the time. And yet right now it feels nice to have you pull me into your lap, to touch your face, to grab the V of your unbuttoned collar and let my fist rest on your chest. So good that for a moment I let myself fall for it. I stop worrying about being too sleepy to drive tomorrow and instead imagine asking him to come back with me, imagine passing him the keys so he can drive and I won’t have to.

He falls asleep before I respond. My head is on his chest, rising and falling with the inhale-exhale of his breath while I reason with myself. I gently unravel my body from his and walk down the hall, slip into my friend’s room and crawl into my sleeping bag on the floor.


3. June

Just two weeks until I leave Chicago and move home. The spring rugby season is over for both North Shore and Noble Street and last week I worked my last shift at the gym. For the first time in a long time my schedule clears and I can refocus my energy. Eventually I will start packing up my stuff, but for now I need to write an explanation to my thesis advisor as to why I don’t have any more writing to send him. And I need to run. I told some of my friends I’d run a long-distance relay race with them at the end of August and I’ve only just begun training for it. Today the weather is perfect. Slightly overcast, warm, but not hot. I can smell the lake through our open windows. It will feel good to run, but it will feel even better if I can write first.

I take my laptop and my writing journal out to the porch and open a new blank word document. I think I need start over, I write. There are stories and images and descriptions from my previous pieces that I like and can still use, but they need to be grounded in something new, in the present. For almost two years I have been trying to write about home and finding myself short of words. I thumb through my journal, read bits and pieces, until I come to the notes I took during my last meeting with my thesis advisor on the back patio of the Hopleaf. When we met last month you suggested that I try describing the chores on the farm as Debra Marquart does in her essays, but I honestly don’t know them like she does, didn’t do them or don’t remember. I tell people I am moving back to the farm and they ask me how many acres we have and I don’t know the answer to that either.

I start a new paragraph and continue. I do know the longer I am away, the more I want to know. I want to remember the things my dad tells me about the farm. I want to grow food with my mom. I want to chop wood and build fires with my brothers. I want to kayak on the lake with Kate and camp on the Islands. I want to go to powwows with Andrea and watch Animikiikwe as she learns to dance like her mother. I want to run on the back roads and through the woods, get lost, and then come across somewhere familiar and be able to find my way again.

What I’ve realized in these two years of trying to write about home and falling short is that I can’t write it from here, I need to write it from home—between morning coffee with dad and work days on the farm, between snapping beans with mom and kicking a soccer ball in the yard with my nephew. Like the rest of the writing I have done so far about home, it will draw on my memories from the past and it will lay the foundations for my future, but I need to give it a present tense. I don’t have anything else to send you right now, but give me some time and I’ll get back to you.

I read it over, copy and paste it into an email and press send. Another thing cleared from my calendar, another weight off my shoulders, for now anyway. I change into running clothes. Even though I’ve been running fairly regularly since high school, only a few times in my life have I run more than five miles. For the relay I’ll need to run that three times in two days. I stand in front of the Chicago bike map that I have tacked to my wall and contemplate a route.

I run south on the Lakefront Trail all the way to North Ave beach. A few people are walking their dogs in the sand and a few people speed past me on their bikes, pretty calm compared to how busy it will be in another week when school is out and more people are able to think summer. I turn away from the lake and take the bridge over the traffic of Lake Shore Drive into Lincoln Park. I wind through the flower gardens in the park in full tulip bloom. A high school game takes over the ball diamond. I cross Clark at Armitage and take the first right onto Orleans. I stop and stretch in front of a gray apartment building. I count the windows up to the sixth floor. When I first moved to the city, this is where I lived, with Kari, in a little studio apartment. Then I would just run a small loop out to the lake and back. At the end of my run I would jog the stairs all the way to the top of our apartment building where a door opened onto the roof. I would do push-ups and sit-ups and stretch while I looked out across the tops of buildings and buildings and buildings. Then I was energized by the possibility of the city—so much to explore, a new apartment, new job, new friends, finally being able to live with Kari and play rugby more competitively. I loved to stand up there on the roof and imagine my future. I never imagined then that my future would include returning to the farm, but eventually standing so high up just made me realize how much I wanted my feet on the ground.


*

I’m still in bed when I hear Walter knocking at the door and remember that he’s here to start ripping out the bathroom and that I told him I would help. I quickly pull on jeans and go into the kitchen to let him in.

“Did I wake you? We said nine, didn’t we?” he asks.

“Yeah. No. I was just using the bathroom,” I lie, shaking the sleep out of my body. “My last chance,” I add with a smile. He sets down a bucket of plumbing parts on the porch and then goes back to his apartment to get more. I go into the dining room and grab a box from the stack of boxes we’ve been collecting and take it into the bathroom. I start at the sink, put my contact case, my toothbrush and toothpaste in my sweatshirt pouch, and then sweep everything else into the box. I move on to the shower, throw plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner in, and then open the medicine cabinet and sweep that all in too.

I am at the kitchen sink brushing my teeth when Walter comes back, tool box in hand, sledge hammer over his shoulder. I force a smile and spit and then go into Davi’s room to change into work clothes while he gets set up in the bathroom. Since we are moving out on the fifteenth, he said he would only charge us for half of June’s rent, and then he halved that again when we said we would be willing to live without a bathroom for a couple weeks and I offered to help him rip it out. It seemed like a good deal at the time, since I won’t be getting a regular paycheck again until I start work on the farm, but right now I am regretting my offer. Partly because I just woke up and am feeling a little hungover, partly because I am starting to get overwhelmed by all I have to pack and take care of before I leave, but mostly because for the past week I haven’t been accountable to anyone but myself and now I am again.

I pull my hair back into a tight ponytail and report for duty. Walter is lying on his side under the sink, messing with the pipes. He sets his wrench down and looks up at me.

“I have a new shower and tub to put in, so you can start on the walls over there. There are tools in the kitchen,” he says, “Whatever works.”

I am tentative at first, unsure of where or how to start, trying out different tools in different places. More than once, I scrape my fingers and grit my teeth to hold in my curses. Walter works quietly under the sink. Finally I force a chisel between the plastic sheeting of the shower and the wall and I am able to rip and pull the plastic off in big pieces. I stop trying to be neat about it. Once I’m done with that, I use the back of the hammer to rip down the sheetrock. When that seems to be moving too slow, I pick up the sledge hammer. I stop trying to do the work quietly. It feels good when I get a good hit in and knock a big chunk down. Now that I have a rhythm, the work goes quickly.

“This is good for me,” I say to Walter in between sledgehammer hits. “I never really did this kind of work growing up, because I had older brothers, or I just wasn’t interested, but I like knowing I can.” I fill boxes with debris and carry them down the front stairs to the dumpster. I probably won’t have time to run today, so I get my workout in now, jogging back up the steps for another box. After I have hauled everything out I go into the kitchen and fill a glass of water from the tap. The dust of the job sticks to my skin and clothes which are damp with sweat. Between heavy breaths, I take long drinks of water. I think of my dad, of the way he comes in the house dirty and sweaty after working hard and goes right to the sink, of him breathing heavy and gulping water.

“That should be good for today,” Walter says as he comes into the kitchen. I refill the glass in my hand from the tap to offer to him.

*

Our apartment has no order to it anymore. We brush our teeth in the kitchen and I’ve been taking rushed showers at the gym. I miss being able to rinse off whenever I like and I miss lingering around the apartment naked afterwards, air-drying, like my mom does, brewing tea and putting dishes away while the dampness evaporates from my skin.

Everyday more of my stuff is sorted into boxes. In one corner of my room is a growing pile of things to get rid of, which I would have already started hauling to the thrift store except Davi wants to have a yard sale. She even made posters and hung them up around town, but when we wake up on the morning she has advertised, it’s raining. I go into Davi’s room and flop onto her bed.

“This sucks,” I say, “We should have had it last weekend.”

“But we didn’t even know what we wanted to get rid of then,” she says sitting up in order to see out the window. “Look it’s already stopped. It’ll be fine.”

We spend the next few hours hauling boxes out to the sidewalk and then hauling them back in again when it starts to drizzle. As the rain picks up, I lie down on my bed and stare out the window. Every so often a gust of wind shakes the pane and presses tree limbs and little green leaves against the glass. Davi goes into her room to post an ad and photos on craigslist of our yard sale items. When she is done she comes and sits next to me on my bed.

“Are you okay?” she asks, putting her hand on my shoulder.

“I just feel super crazy,” I say turning back to the room. “I’m sorry I’m not being very helpful. I just want it to be next week already. I feel like I’m not getting anything done. I’d run, but I’m sick of showering at the gym. And really I should be packing, but I get bogged down sorting through my stuff and eventually I just stop.”

“It’s fine,” she says, “I was the one that wanted to try and sell everything. You can just stay inside and keep packing if you want.”

“Thanks,” I say as I roll back towards the window. Davi stretches her arm over me and squeezes. She tucks her knees behind my knees and lays her cheek against my shoulder.

For a few minutes we lay together and stare out the window. Then I break the silence. “You know that story my dad tells about when I was on the canoe trip with my family and crying because my shoes were so muddy that I couldn’t see the hearts on them?” I ask.

“Of course,” she says into my back.

“Well, I feel like I’m that little girl again, on a really muddy portage, not sure where to step without being swallowed up, and crying until Mom or Dad or Jon will come and carry me to the next dry place.”

“It’s okay,” she says.

“And then I get upset for being upset,” I add, “I should be able to do this. I’m not six.”

“Yeah but we all have those moments where we just stop and cry,” she says. “You need to be in those moments and not just push them away.”

It would feel good to cry, I think, but I don’t. I watch the branches and the rain drops hit the window. I remember climbing up on a big white rock and waiting for someone in my family to pass and help me.


*

My mom comes down and we spend a whole day packing. We end the day digging through boxes looking for forks to eat the curry and rice we’ve ordered in for dinner. The next morning Rosie and Davi help us load the truck. We are on the road by noon. My mom drives and I tell her what streets to take through the city to get onto I-95. Nine hours later, at dusk, we pull up the gravel driveway to the farm. The first night I sleep at my parent’s house, and the next morning, Chris and Dad take time out from their work on the farm to help Mom and I unload the truck, carrying cardboard boxes and milk crates of my stuff into Grandma’s house. Jon has decided to wait until fall to move back, so I will have the little house all to myself for the summer. Chris and Dad stack my things in the dining room and then head back out to the fields. Tomorrow I will join them, but today I am inside all day, cleaning and unpacking. For a year I have been thinking about this day—imagining my dishes in my grandma’s cupboard, my books on her shelves, my desk under the window in the upstairs loft.

Chris pokes his head in the door to check on my progress before he heads home for the day.

“Is it already four?” I ask.

“Four-thirty, actually,” he replies.

“Shoot. I’m going to be late,” I say. “But I’m going to be in Washburn, so maybe I can stop by your house later.”

“We’ll be home,” he says, “but whenever; you’re here now. Tomorrow you’re working with me, right?” And when I say I am, he adds with a grin, “Good. I’ve got lots for you to do.”

He leaves and I jump in the shower and get dressed. At five, I am supposed to train in at Stage North, a small theatre in Washburn where I lined up a part-time job as a bartender. On Tuesday nights they show classic movies.

It’s quiet when I arrive and okay that I’m a little late. The manager shows me how to open and close and stock. I help her wait on people during the ten-minute rush before the movie starts and then she tells me that’s about all I need to know and I can go.

I drive to the grocery store and wander the aisles. I am hungry and overwhelmed thinking of my empty fridge and pantry. I buy an egg roll and two chicken tenders from the deli to eat in the car and then just focus on breakfast, putting bagels and cream cheese and bananas in my basket. I could get coffee and milk here too, but I have been fantasizing about driving up Nevers Road for so long that I check out and drive the extra mile out of town.

A stop by Harry’s is never quick, and even though I protest, he doesn’t let me pay for my coffee. “Consider it a house-warming gift,” he says. At Tetzner’s, I don’t have the correct change to put in their self-serve box for a half-gallon of milk, so I drop in a five-dollar bill and buy a half gallon of ice cream too. The sun sets behind me as I drive back into Washburn. I figure Chris and Honey have probably already put Silas to bed, so I pass their street and continue northeast towards Bayfield. Even though I’m tired and the sky is darkening, I’m hoping I’ll have time to get a run in when I get home. Packing and moving has disrupted my running routine and it’s been almost a week since I’ve run. I park in front of Grandma’s garage and dart inside, drop groceries on the counter, put the ice cream in the freezer, and change into running shoes and shorts.

I jog down the driveway and turn left—choosing hills over flats, in order to wear myself out quicker, thinking I’ll probably have to cut my run short as I lose light. The road bends past Tom and Roxanne’s driveway, turns up hill cutting through Tom Galazen’s almost ripe strawberry patches, flattens out again, then dips down between the driveway into Sunset Valley orchard and the paved driveway of Chelsa Nelson’s house where we would play chalk games and taunt her younger brother. As it gets darker, I curse myself for not starting my run sooner. I’ve felt rushed all evening. I wish I could have stayed and had a beer with Harry, stopped to see Silas and Honey, got more for groceries, ate a real dinner, got the house more settled. I think of all I still want to do. I need to hang a closet rod in the corner of my room before I can finish unpacking my clothes. I meant to call the phone company today and get long distance set up on the landline so I could call Davi. I want to mow the lawn and plant an herb garden, get another bookshelf, and a bike, and a kitten.

Ahead of me is another climb and then a sharp left onto the rough patch of asphalt that connects Valley Road to County J and the steep ascent to the top of the hill, the same incline that deterred me from regularly biking into town as a teenager. Already my legs are burning and my heart racing. I’ve only run a mile, but training in Chicago hasn’t prepared me for hills. If I can make it even half way up, I can turn around, I bargain with myself.

But as I come around the corner onto J, I am reenergized by the round orange glow of a huge full moon creeping up from behind the pines that line the road. Halfway and still going, I watch the moon—climbing as I climb, rising and offering me all the light I’ll need to find my way back home.


*

Unless Dad or Chris have other chores for me, I spend most of my time in Field 1, the field closest to the driveway, where we used to have raspberries planted, but now there is a new planting of blueberries. The plants came in a shipment last summer that had collapsed en route, so many of the plants were damaged. They were also planted by a new employee who, for the first few rows, didn’t know to fill the holes with water before putting the plants in. Most of the bushes aren’t more than a foot high.

“The damaged plants may take another year or so to fully mature, but if we can give them some attention now, they should be fine,” my dad tells me as we stand together at the top of the first row. “Even though they are capable of producing fruit when they are young like this, it’s better if they put their energy into establishing their roots.” He kneels down and shows me how to strip off all the fruit bloom and beginnings of little green berries on each plant.

“The plants will also grow better if they aren’t competing with weeds for sunlight and moisture,” he adds as he yanks at the base of a trefoil plant that has sent leafy green stems up through the branches of a blueberry bush. “We do a number of things to control the weeds—mulching around the bushes, mowing the grass between each row before it can reseed, applying an herbicide in the fall that prevents more grass seed from germinating, and using Round Up on the strip of ground between the grass rows and the plants rows, but it’s also important to go down each row and hand-weed in the early summer before the weeds have really established themselves. I’m having you start in this field because the young plants need the most attention, but ideally we’d like to hand-weed every row on the farm at least once in this early season. We don’t always get through it all before harvest starts, but it’ll help to have another set of hands working at it.” He looks up at me and winks. As he was talking, I fell in working across from him and we are already part way down the first row. Behind us the mulch under each bush is littered with pea-sized blueberry petals and uprooted weeds are scattered across the grass.

We work together awhile longer, moving quickly down the row. Occasionally Dad will pull his hand pruner from its leather case on his belt and reach into a bush to snip off a dead branch. The gesture is familiar to me. Where ever he walks on the farm, it is his habit to periodically pause and cut away a dead or diseased branch. We have almost finished the first row when we hear a car turn up our driveway. Dad walks out to greet them and I continue down the row alone.

All the plants in this field are the same variety, Duke, and yet each plant is different. Some have only a few pathetic limbs but put out tons of bloom, eager to produce even before they are strong enough to keep the fruit from falling in the dirt. Others are tall and healthy but with no bloom at all. For long stretches of row there will only be an occasional weed and other areas are completely green with them. Some of the weeds curl little tendrils around the blueberry branches as they climb towards the sun. Others have roots that snap like rubber bands just under the soil when I pull them up. With the same mix of weeds repeating up and down every row, I learn the best strategies for eradicating each, look forward to quack grass with their shallow roots, despise dandelions which always seem to snap at the base and will send up another plant in just a few days. Sweat stings my eyes and my shoulders are sore, but the work, like running, is addictive. I won’t allow myself a water break until I make it to the end of a row.


*

By Sunday I have made it halfway through the field of young plants. Sunday and Monday are always Chris’s days off from the farm and since I’m scheduled to bartend in the evening, I decide to take the day off as well. I don’t realize how exhausted I am until I allow myself to sleep in. Even after I wake, I linger in bed, partly out of sleepiness, partly because I don’t have a plan for my day. For the last few days, it has been nice to fall into a routine that doesn’t require me to think or make decisions, to set my alarm for seven and get up when it goes off, pull on my dirty work clothes from the day before, and eat a quick breakfast. I’ve appreciated the chance to get out of my head, to keep my hands busy, and my eyes on the ground, to finish a row and look back and know I’ve accomplished something. Unlike now, lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling, debating over everything: what to wear, what to eat, what to do. I play scenarios out in my head. I could go early to Washburn, make it in time for pick-up soccer and then shower at Chris and Honey’s place before going to Stage North, or I could stay home and finish unpacking and getting settled in the house, maybe run into town so I can sit in the coffee shop with my laptop and catch up on email.

Eventually I sit up, pull on a pair of jean shorts and a thin grey sweatshirt. I go into the kitchen and make coffee, looking out the window into grandma’s overgrown flower garden as I wait for it to brew. I fill a cup and step into flip flops on my way outside. I follow an overgrown path down through a small block of woods from Grandma’s house to the yard. At the end of the path there is big oak tree with a straight strong limb, where my dad once hung a tire swing for Jon. The limb has since broken and the swing been lost, but in the clearing under the tree a wooden bench has been placed. Replenished by leaf and retained by root, the earth of the forest is a step up from the earth of the yard, so that sitting at this bench is something like sitting on a porch. The view stretches out over the grass of the yard to four perennial rows of fruit, straight lines of vine, bush, and cane that separate two brown squares of freshly tilled soil—my family’s vegetable garden on the right and Tom and Roxanne’s on the left. Both couples taking cues from the previous owners, Helen and Otto Wedereit, that this a good spot to grow food.

Because of the glaciers and the lake, the soils in this region and across our properties are laid out in waves of variance. The county has surveyed and mapped the whole peninsula and put it online to be searched and viewed like GoogleEarth, with added options for viewing property lines, soil types, and elevation. The other day my dad took the printed out map of our soil types and the printed out map of aerial footage and held them up to the lamp light on his desk to show me how the bump of sandy-loam soil on the southern property line matches with where we have our garden and the stretch of sandy-loam soil that runs along the western edge of our property matches with where he has planted the blueberry fields. Although it looks as if he planned it this way, Dad didn’t have these maps when he moved here. He planted the garden where the garden had always been planted and he planted berries where there was a clearing, once used by Otto to graze sheep and put up hay.

Otto and Helen were born in Germany. Having survived the First World War, they immigrated to the states before the start of the second and made their way to Bayfield where they bought a run-down house and forty acres of land. Helen worked as a nurse’s aide at the Tuberculosis Sanitarium and Otto worked the land, raising everything from guinea pigs that he would sell to science labs, to squab and Muscovy ducks for eating, and a flock of sheep for lamb and wool. With Otto’s health declining, they subdivided their land in the early 1970s and in 1974 my parents bought the northern thirty acres of the original forty. They developed a friendship with Helen and Otto and looked forward to learning from them, but before my parents were able to move to Bayfield permanently, Otto died and Helen sold her house and the remaining ten acres to another young couple, Tom and Roxanne, who never had any kids of their own, but became close friends of my parents and when I was born were asked to be my godparents.

I never knew Otto and I only knew Helen as an elderly woman living in the senior apartments just down the block from the library in town. When I was a little girl and my mom was working as a nurse, I remember coming along with her on her visits, to check Helen’s blood pressure and change her sheets. I have a memory of stopping there more than other places, but it wasn’t until recently when my mom mentioned something about Helen in relation to Tom and Roxanne’s house that I made the connection and could imagine a previous history, could put a face to this place before my existence, before my family and before Tom and Roxanne.

I finish my coffee and leave my cup on the edge of the bench to retrieve later. I stand up and cross the yard to walk along the grape trellis, along the line that now divides the gardens and the property. The grapes are remnants from a University of Wisconsin trial that my dad had originally planted in Field 4. The University had developed new varieties and methods for growing grapes in cooler climates and wanted to test the potential for commercial grape production in the northern part of the state. Under their recommendations, Dad has trained the trunk of the vine to grow close to the ground and then grow up and out in a fan. In the fall he prunes the new growth back and cuts the vine from the trellis so he can lay it down on the ground where the snow cover will insulate the plant from extreme temperatures. Although this practice allows the plants to survive the harsh winters up here, when Dad was participating in the trial over twenty years ago now, he found that our shorter summers limited the ripening season and often times the grapes would never get sweet enough to harvest. When he took the trial rows out to make room for more blueberries, he moved a few of his favorite varieties to the garden. In recent years, climate change has lengthened our summers and given the grapes more opportunity to sweeten. After the snow melted this past spring, Dad lifted the vines from the ground and retied them to the trellis. Already there is a foot or more of new green leaf and vine and I am excited about the potential of walking this stretch again in the fall and pulling back leaves to find hidden clumps of sweet fruit.

Past the end of the garden is a small patch of forest where I used to have a little fort of downed branches and lumber scraps woven between standing trees to create three waist high walls, nothing as fancy as the tree forts my brothers built with nails and two-by-fours in secret spots amidst the acres of woods behind our house, but a mimic of their work, and a place of my own. I didn’t want to hide away like they did. I built my fort at the edge of the property line, always wishing there was a next door neighbor my age who I could share it with. The remnants of my fort are long gone, but at the edge of the woods I find a clump of rhubarb that my parents planted during their first years here. The plants have pretty much aged out, but I am able to find a few nice stalks to harvest and carry with me as I walk along the bottom of the garden

Next to the grapes is a row of raspberries that Dad propagated from Field 1 and transplanted in the garden before plowing the rest of the field under, preparing the ground for the young blueberry plants that are there now. The raspberries in the garden are a variety, Canby, that he couldn’t get to produce consistently, but when they did produce had bigger sweeter berries than any of the other varieties suited to our climate. To replace the Canby he took out of Field 1, he planted another variety, Killarney, in a small field above Field 5. Sixteen, two-hundred foot rows, just enough to please our pick-your-own customers and keep the cooler shelves in the shop stocked during a four week harvest season that typically runs from mid-July to mid-August and overlaps with the blueberry harvest. Killarney has proved to be a good variety for us, producing consistently each summer, but Canby will always be my mom’s favorite. The row in the garden provides enough for her to snack on throughout the summer and fill a couple dozen pint bags for the freezer each year.

Next to the raspberries are two rows of black currants which are a newer trial, and a promising one. Unlike grapes, currants are conditioned for cold and grow in places as far north as Siberia. For a while Scandinavian immigrants cultivated and grew currants in the Midwest, but in the early 1900s it was discovered that currants were a host for a disease called White Pine Blister Rust that threatened the timber industry and they were banned from most states. Now researchers have developed new varieties that are resistant to the disease and most of the bans have been lifted. Currants also have a bush and fruit comparable in character to blueberries and because so can be harvested with the same mechanical harvester. A local winery has been buying juice grade blueberries from us for their blueberry mead and they would like to buy currants from us as well. Already we are planning to expand production. After blueberry harvest is over this fall we will take out half of Field 4, our oldest planting of blueberries, and prepare the ground to rotate into a new planting of currants.

From the currant rows to the row of apple trees that line the drive way is a rectangle of earth 40 feet wide by 100 feet long where we plant our garden each summer. The rows of annual vegetables in this section will run perpendicular to the perennial fruit rows. If we have more cucumbers and zucchini than we know what to do with in the late summer and early fall, we may sell a few out of the shop or give them away to our picking crew, but for the most part, we grow the garden for our own consumption. Mom and I planted seeds just a few days ago, so there are only handprints in the dirt to indicate each row. As I turn the corner and walk up the northern edge of the garden, I recall the order of what we’ve put in: squash, corn, zucchini, cucumbers, dill, radishes, beets, carrots, rutabaga, green beans, and peas. Next week we’ll buy broccoli, cabbage, tomato and pepper plants. A row of cosmos and a row of zinnias are planted along the top of the garden from seeds that Mom saved from last year, a custom she learned from Grandma Dale, who bought cosmo and zinnia seed the first summer they lived here and then every fall snipped the head of dried seeds from each shriveled flower and saved them in a brown paper bag throughout the winter. The flowers that will grow this summer will be the descendants of the flowers that grew that first summer and every garden since.

I cross the driveway and walk up the porch steps to my parent’s house. I kick my flip flops off and walk barefoot into the kitchen where Mom and Dad are sitting at the little table under the window, with a deck of cards between them.

“Who’s winning?” I ask as I clean and chop the rhubarb.

“Your dad,” my mom groans.

“Well I think it’s only right that I win one after you’ve won that last three games,” my dad protests with a grin.

“What are you up to?” my mom asks.

“I picked some rhubarb and thought I would bake a cake,” I say as I thumb through her recipe box.

“If you want to use our oven, you need to put some wood on and open up the draft,” Mom instructs. “We’ve had a fire going, but I don’t think it’s quite hot enough for baking. What temperature does the recipe call for?”

“350,” I read off the card and then lean over to read the oven thermometer.

I mix up the batter and play a round of cards with my parents while I wait for the oven to heat up. Once I’ve put the cake in to bake, my mom tells me she can keep an eye on it so I walk back up to my house. There is a message from Davi on my answering machine. I call her back and listen to her talk. She is living with her mom in New Jersey until she finds a job and a place to live, but she has been spending most of her time in the city. She lists our friends that she has seen and hung out with, what they are doing with their lives since college and how nice it’s been to be near them again. I’m happy for her, but also a little jealous—that she has friends close by and that I’m not one of them.

“I’m spending all my money on train tickets,” she whines, “I just wish I had a job already and my own place.” The line is quiet. I don’t know what to say. I look at the clock and count the hours until I have to leave for Stage North. I can hear a buzz from the fridge in the kitchen and a click from the fan in my bedroom.

“My seedlings are getting too big for their pots,” she says. “I need to plant them somewhere.”

“You can bring them here and plant them,” I say and then tell her about my morning walk and our garden plans. She listens quietly.

“I’m jealous,” she says when I finish. “I want my own dirt.”

After another long silence she tells me she can’t think of anything else to report.

“Me either,” I say. “I miss you,” I add before saying goodbye.

After I hang up the phone, I walk back down to my parent’s house. The cake is cooling on the counter in the kitchen. I dish up a piece and take it out to the porch to eat. My mom walks up the driveway with the mail and comes over to sit down next to me.

“How are you?” she asks.

“I don’t know,” I say, “It feels good to be home, but it’s also an adjustment.” I tell her about my conversation with Davi and how I wish some of my friends still lived here. “I’m also just tired,” I say, “but it’s not like I can really complain about that because everyone’s working just as hard if not harder. And I don’t have knee problems like Dad does or a baby to take care of like Chris.”

“Yeah, but you’re still transitioning and getting used to working like this,” she says.

“You’d think I’d be in shape from rugby and running,” I say, “Although I’ve hardly been running since I got home. I was thinking of going to soccer today, but I think they start at two, so I’m already too late.”

“You could still run,” she offers.

At the end of the driveway, I turn right instead of left to make it easier on myself with flatter ground. For the first quarter mile, I run along the western edge of the farm. To the right of the road, across the ditch and the electric fence that keeps deer and bear out of the fields, are the young Duke plants in Field 1, the first half weeded and groomed, the second half wild and waiting. A row of tall trees planted as a windbreak, separates this field from the next. All of the fields on this side of the driveway and along the road are currently planted in blueberries, but differ by variety. Field 2 is half Patriot, half Duke. Field 3 is Northland and Patriot. Field 4 is where we first planted blueberries twenty years ago, so every other row is a different variety. Field 5 is the biggest field, the one I helped plant in high school, with a block of Patriot, followed by a block of Chippewa, followed by a block of Nelson. The asphalt ends at our property line and turns to gravel. The driveways on this end of the valley only lead to hunting cabins and logging roads.

The road hangs a left and dips a little onto the bridge over Pikes Creek. On the way back I usually pause here to catch my breath and watch the flow of the water, but for now I keep on. Valley curves to the right and turns into Compton, a long straight road with little to identify one part from the next, until I am at Klinger’s worn driveway. Even though I am over two miles from home, they are the closest family on this side of our property, neighbors. After they had built their home and before they had dug a well, they came over and hauled water from ours. I remember playing with their daughters when I was little. My mom, who has delivered lots of babies as a nurse and midwife, delivered their youngest daughter, Hannah, in our living room when the labor came on too quick to make it to the hospital in Washburn. During the birth my mom detected a problem and reached her finger around Hannah’s head until she found the umbilical cord and could slip it away from her neck. Hannah and I played together on the soccer team when she was a freshman in high school and I was senior. When I was home for the summers during college, she would come over to do soccer drills with me in the yard, but I haven’t seen her since I moved to Chicago and she graduated.

Hannah’s older sister, Inga, was only a year younger than me. We weren’t close friends in school, but I still think of her. Especially now, standing at the end of her family’s driveway, with my hand against the wood of the rose-tipped totem pole they erected as a memorial after she was murdered. I was sixteen and it was the first time I had been to funeral. I can still remember standing with my mom in front of the coffin, her hand reaching in to brush the hair away from Inga’s face.

Running home, my thoughts turn back to Hannah. My mom told me she joined the cross-country team in college and her Facebook status the other day said something about qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I wonder how many times since her sister’s death she has run this same stretch of road.

*

The last row in Field 1 is the hardest with so many weeds and hiding clumps of green fruit. The afternoon is hot and the soil is dry. Bugs are flying around my head and biting at my neck and face, but I am also so close to being done. Dad walks by and comments on what a good job I’ve been doing, giving me further motivation to finish. With just an hour left in our normal work day, and a third of a row left to go, Chris comes down and works across from me. During lunch we had sat together at the picnic table in front of Mom and Dad’s house. I had tried to make conversation and had only gotten one-word answers from him, but now as we swat away flies and pull weeds, we talk. We talk about houses, the houses we know—Chris and Honey’s, Mom and Dad’s, Grandma’s—and how we live in them or imagine living in them. Chris clears mulch from a patch of dirt between plants and draws the floor plan of how he would remodel the upstairs of Mom and Dad’s house if he and Honey were to make it theirs. Dreaming upon the foundation Dad has already lain.

After we finish, all I want to do is shower, but I feel like I should run. At my house I sit on the couch, still sweaty and dirty in my work clothes. I look at the phone and think of calling Davi, but remember what a hard time we had relating to each other the last time we talked. I curl up on the couch and stare out the sliding glass doors that open on to the deck. I miss Davi and my friends in general, but it’s not like I’d even have the energy to hang out with anyone. I haven’t been writing or running as much as I should, just working, and I’m tired. I close my eyes and breathe heavy. Before long I’ve fallen asleep. I wake up an hour later when the phone rings. My mom wants to know if I want to come down and eat dinner with them. I don’t feel hungry but I walk down anyway, thinking it will take less effort to go down and eat now then to fix myself something later.

Afterwards I walk up to my place and sit back down on the couch, still thinking of running, but feeling too tired to shower even. Finally, I walk into the bathroom, turn on the water, strip down, and get in. I let the hot water pour over me, rinsing away sweat and dirt and sleep. I’ll journal before I go to bed tonight, I think. Just get it out, catch up and record, before I forget. And tomorrow I can look online for a different training workout. I don’t need to be the fastest. I just need to be able to hold my own and finish.


*

I have taken over a table at the coffee shop in town and I am methodically going through the email in my inbox for the first time since I left Chicago: deleting and responding, unsubscribing from lists that are irrelevant now, glancing out the window at the lake when my computer’s being slow. Two girls about my age walk in and up to the counter to order. The shorter girl, with dark hair, tan arms, and sunglasses on her head, looks familiar. I think she’s one of Kate’s friends. I met her once. I try to remember her name.

“Jen.” I say while her back is turned in case I have the wrong name or it isn’t her at all.

“Magdalen, Hi!” she says turning around with a nervous laugh and a big smile that tells me she recognized me too, but had been too shy to say hi first. We grin through our conversation. She tells me she’s up for the summer again, working as a kayak guide and training for a winter expedition. I tell her I just moved back, but that most of my friends don’t live here anymore.

“We should hang out then,” she says, writing her number down on a piece of paper, but warning me that if she doesn’t call back right away it’s because she’s out on a trip. Then the girl she walked in with is standing next to her, holding two to-go cups and giving her an impatient look. After they leave, I am smiling as I send a quick email to Davi: “I have a new crush potential, or at least a friend, finally.”

I drive down to the marina, get out of my car, and sit on a picnic table by the lake. I flip open my phone, pull Jen’s number from my pocket and add her as a new contact. I scroll down through my contact list. Some of the numbers I haven’t called in years, or ever—a boy I met on the El, a girl who commented on my blog, acquaintances from college, rugby coaches and teammates, old work numbers. I delete them all. Some numbers I linger on longer than others, like Kari’s. I don’t remember the last time we talked on the phone, but for three years she was the person who I talked to the most. I pare the list down to a manageable size, family and friends that I may need or want to contact someday, and a few, like Nate’s, the cute boy from Oberlin whose face still occasionally floats into my head, who I may never call, but can’t bring myself to erase.


4. July

I’ve put in long days on farm this week and worked until close at the bar both nights last weekend. This morning as I weeded in the blueberries, it was all I could do to not just lay back on the grass and close my eyes. But when Chris announces quitting time as he walks by at 4:05, I am reenergized. I walk up to my house, kick off my shoes, and pull a cold beer from the fridge. I put in a mixed CD of Mexican pop music that Rosie burned for me and turn the volume up. In the bathroom, I step out of my dirty jeans. When I catch my reflection in the mirror, I bring my hands to my face and wave my fingers. “It’s Friday!” I say out loud. One time in college, when I was complaining to Leslie about balancing classes and work and soccer, she waited for me to finish my rant and then said, “But you know what today is? It’s Friday!” Now every time I get to the end of a hard week, her face pops into my head and I can hear her reminding me to celebrate the weekend. Today is actually only Thursday, but the weekend starts early this week as tomorrow is the Fourth of July. Both Kate and Andrea are planning to come home for the holiday and tonight I have a ticket to the Lucinda Williams concert up at Big Top.

I drive up Ski Hill Road and fall in line behind a row of cars waiting to get in. Beyond the parking lot, at the base of the now grassy Mt. Ashwabay, there is a blue and gray canvas tent that covers a stage and fifty or so rows of old church benches and theatre seats. Big Top Chautauqua is a summer venue for concerts and house shows about the history of the area, sustained by the flow of summer tourists traveling to the Bayfield area on their summer vacations and looking for evening entertainment. Every summer a handful of big names come up to play. Willie Nelson, Greg Brown, and Taj Mahal are some of the regulars. As I wait in my car, I retrieve my cell phone from the glove box and call Kate.

“Are you here yet?” I ask excitedly when she picks up.

“No,” she sighs, “I haven’t even got to Duluth.”

“So you probably can’t come to the Lucinda Williams concert with me then,” I say.

“Sorry. Also, I told my dad I’d have dinner with him, but we can meet up after. Do you remember my friend Jen from college?”

“Yeah. I ran into her at the coffee shop the other day actually.”

“Well she wants to hang out with us too, but she has to leave on a trip tomorrow, so she can only hang out tonight. She’s living in an apartment out at Living Adventure where she works. I’m planning to drive over and see her when I finish dinner. You should just come find us there when the concert is over.”

“Sounds good.” I say. “Tell Harry I say hi.”

Outside the concert, I buy a beer and look around for people to sit with or talk to. I had figured that Kate wouldn’t be able to make it in time and had talked myself into going alone anyway. Maybe I’ll even find a friend, I thought, but now that I’m here, I just feel shy. There are a number of familiar faces, but I don’t know if they would recognize or remember me. I have long hair now and I don’t dress to stand out like I did in high school. As I wander towards the tent, I am stopped by a mom who used to have her kids in my mom’s daycare.

“Magdalen?” she asks and pulls me in for a hug. “You’re mom told me you were moving back. How are you?” A teenage girl comes up to us and smiles shyly at me and then asks her mom for some money before heading back to her friends in the food tent.

“Is that Sophie?” I ask.

The mom nods. “She’ll be a freshman in high school this year. And Forrest starts college in the fall.”

It’s not the first time I’ve been surprised by how much the daycare kids have grown. The oldest ones started adding me as their Facebook friends a few years ago. I was five when my mom opened her daycare business and twenty-one when she retired. I grew up with these kids underfoot—wiping their butts and their noses, mediating disputes over favorite toys, zipping them up into snowsuits—but they aren’t the little people I remember them as anymore. Most of them are taller than me. They have summer jobs, and boyfriends. Their Facebook profiles give me a glimpse of who they are now, but I only really know their little kid personalities, what would upset them and what would make them laugh, the items they couldn’t sleep without (nook, puffalump, cable-knit sweater), and the way they would leave out or change syllables when they said my name (Mayen, Mini, Maligen). From Facebook chats, I know their memories are fuzzier. Mostly they recall the mac and cheese, eating ripe blueberries right off the bush, and playing on the old red boat under the oak trees.

“Does Sophie play soccer?” I ask and when her mom tells me she does, I think maybe there is a chance I will know her again, not as the kid I babysat for, but as the person she has become and is becoming. I think of the children, like Stella, who I took care of at the gym in Chicago and all the girls I coached at Noble Street. I wonder where their lives will take them, and now that I’ve moved away if my path will ever cross with theirs again.

While the opening band plays, I wander from the hill behind the tent where people have spread blankets over the grass to the bleachers just inside. When Lucinda comes on for her set, I move further into the tent, find an empty row and curl up in an old theatre seat. As I listen to her sing, I remember July before my senior year of high school. A couple weeks before I left for Australia, I was driving my parents’ car into town and she was playing live on World Café. I began to lose the station coming down the hill through the cemetery, so instead of driving into town, I turned up to the soccer field where the reception came in clear. I sat in my car with the windows down and the radio up. I am waiting here for more, I am waiting by your door, I am waiting on your back steps, I am waiting in my car, I am waiting at this bar, I am waiting for your essence. Forever it seemed I had been crushing on Lindsay, the college girl who I met when she came to work on our farm the year before. We had hung out as friends throughout the school year, but she had been cautious about letting it develop into something more. Then summer came around again and relaxed her anxiety about dating a teenager. We had been sleeping together for a month when I heard Lucinda play on the radio. I was wearing Lindsay’s favorite jeans with the holes in the knees and would breathe in her smell as I listened to the music. I kick my flip flops off, pull my feet up, and lean my chin on my knees. If I close my eyes as I listen to Lucinda sing, I can still feel that summer, the smell and sound of loving like a high schooler.

After the concert I drive through Bayfield, toward Red Cliff. Just before entering the Res’ I turn left at the sign for Living Adventure. I pull into a parking spot and walk in the dark down the gravel drive past the boathouse and office both closed up for the night.

“Who’s there?” someone calls out from behind a flashlight.

“It’s me, Magdalen.” I say, putting my hand up to block the light and then I hear Jen’s big laugh as she runs over to give me a hug.

“Sorry! I thought you were a bear,” she says. “We’ve had one getting into the garbage lately. Kate’s not here yet, but you should come up and have a beer while we wait for her.”

A group of kayak guides are hanging out in her apartment and talking about their trips. I recognize the blonde girl that Jen introduced me to at the coffee shop. I try to catch her eye to say hi, but she won’t look at me. Jen brings me a beer and asks me about the concert. When we hear Kate’s car pull up, Jen runs down the stairs yelling, “She’s here, she’s here!”

We carry our beers down to the dock and sit. The night is clear, so the stars are bright. When our eyes adjust to the dark we can make out the ripples on the water. Jen asks Kate how she likes her job in the Boundary Waters and if she’s been using the paddle she made for her. When Kate asks Jen how she’s doing, Jen gushes: “I’m in love!” and then tells her about how she broke-up with her boyfriend last winter and then just met this girl (the blonde) when she came back to work at Living Adventure. When their conversation turns to kayak gear, I am only half-listening. I’m glad that I guessed right about Jen being into girls, but I’m a little bummed she’s with someone, and even more bummed by the vibes I was getting from her girlfriend earlier. More than anything I just want a friend up here and a queer friend would be especially nice. I maybe could have had that with Jen, but I can already tell her girlfriend doesn’t like the idea of us hanging out. When I came out in high school, I anticipated being a part of this beautiful community, where everyone was real about who they were and not imitating what they saw on T.V. I thought if you were gay, you were different, but not anymore. In Chicago I learned the people in the gay clubs on Halsted Street can be just as petty and shallow as the people a few blocks over in the sports bars surrounding Wrigley.

“How’s it going on the farm?” Kate asks, breaking me out of my thoughts.

“It’s good,” I say, “Although harvest season hasn’t even started yet and I’m already feeling tired.”

“You’ll get into shape,” Kate says.

I can’t think of anything else to say and soon the conversation turns back to their jobs on the water and others places they’ve thought of working or traveling to. I look out at the big lake in front of us that I have grown up with, but hardly explored. I tell them I am jealous of all the kayaking and sailing they have done, and all that they know.

“But you canoe,” Kate says and it’s true. Even though we didn’t have the means for getting out on the big water of Lake Superior, my family would make yearly trips up to our little cabin in Canada, on the edge of the Quetico, a Canadian park just north of the Boundary Waters. There I have canoed (though always in the bow) and fished, and jumped off rocks into the lake. The last time I was up there, three years ago on trip with my brothers, Jon taught me how to fillet the fish we’d caught, and I turned out to be pretty good at it.

“It’s just that I always go with my dad or my brothers, so I don’t feel like I really know what I’m doing,” I say to Kate, “not like you two.”

“Yeah, but you can learn,” she replies.

“Or you can just take me,” I reply with a smirk as I tackle her backwards in a hug and lie on her chest. Jen leans back onto her other shoulder and the three of us are quiet, except for the soft inhale exhale of our breath, our heads in a tight triangle as we look up at the stars.


On the Fourth, Kate and I take the ferry over to the island. It’s the first time I’ve been over to Madeline since my move back and the street is humming with islanders and tourists. It’s just noon and the deck of the bar is already crowded with people. We order gin and tonics and move to a spot on the edge of the activity. Occasionally a familiar face comes over to chat, but mostly we are content to just sit together and watch. Present, yet in our own little world, just like how we rolled in high school.

“I’m glad you came,” Kate says. “I try to get over to the island when I am home, so I can see my mom, but it’s been nice to have a friend to hang out with too.” Even though Kate has lived on the island longer than anywhere else, she has never felt completely at home here. She has bad memories of leaving her friends in Milwaukee and moving to a new place when she was eight, of her parent’s divorce during middle school, and of never quite fitting in with the island crowd. I think of us in high school, suffocated by the high school social scene, but together finding ways to breathe: passing silly drawings to each other in class, avoiding the cafeteria by having picnic lunches in the top floor hallway, and spending Friday nights sitting out in the picking shed above the berry fields, drinking cheap wine and smoking cigarettes. I look towards the lake and lean into Kate.

“Do you think you’ll ever move back?” I ask. I’d like to believe that she will, but I know it’s not necessarily going to happen. Her parents are here, but also the drama between them, and she doesn’t have the pull of siblings and a nephew that I have.

“I don’t know,” she says. “I really like Grand Marais actually. I'm by the lake and close enough to come back and visit, yet I can still be somewhat anonymous.”

“But I'm not in Grand Marais,” I say.

“I know,” she says resting her head on my shoulder. “I’m glad that you were able to move back. I just haven’t been able to find the rose-colored glasses yet.”

Before heading over to her mom’s house, Kate walks me to the ferry dock. While we wait for the boat to come in, she pulls a pouch of Drum from her purse and rolls two cigarettes. When I stand up to board, she slips one in the pouch of my sweatshirt. After the boat pulls away from the dock, I sit on the sunny side of the car deck and lean my back against the side. As I smoke the cigarette from Kate, I can feel the vibration of the engine on my back and the breeze off the lake on my face. I’ve always liked this part of island visits—twenty-minutes on the lake to transition from one place to the next. To my right the island grows smaller and to my left the streets and buildings of Bayfield become clearer. Because Bayfield is built on a hill, from the lake I can see the layers of the town: sandy beach and sailboats in the harbor, restaurants and gift shops lining Main Street, hotels and B&Bs with a lake view, Highway 13 heading north towards Red Cliff, the thick brownstone of the library, the old courthouse (now the offices for the Apostle Island National Park Service), and the school. The top half of the hill, Fifth Street through Eleventh is lined with homes, many now owned by retired couples, but some still containing families.

It’s only late afternoon when the ferry pulls into Bayfield, so before heading home I drive up to Andrea’s house on Tenth. Currently Andrea is living a couple hours south in Flambeau but she told me she would be up this weekend for the Red Cliff powwow. I’ve known Andrea as long as I can remember. I have an early memory of being in ballet lessons together and being envious of her pink tutu and her hair pulled back in a long thick braid. As a kid, I had wispy light brown hair that would hardly hold a barrette let alone a pony tail and I’m sure at dance class that day I was wearing a plain colored hand-me-down leotard with no tutu. She is the one person that I know attended every single one of my birthday parties and I all of hers. I’m awful at remembering birthdates, but hers will always be instilled in my brain: January 31, 1983. Three months and eight days older than me.

As a kid, I came to this house for countless sleepovers. I walk up the front steps and open the door to the entry when no on answers my knocks. Andrea’s mom invites me in from the kitchen and then yells for Andrea, who is already walking down the hall to greet me with a hug. She pours us each a glass of water from the sink and we walk out to the deck where her daughter is playing.

“Say hi to your Auntie Magdalen,” Andrea prompts, but Animikiikwe only looks at me from the side of her eyes and goes back to her play. She doesn’t really know me, only from the inscriptions in the picture books I have sent her for her birthdays and Christmas. She isn’t a baby anymore. Already at two-years old, she is composed and deliberate with her movements like her mother.

“Hi Gloria,” I say, still shy myself of mispronouncing her Indian name. I sit on the deck next to her. She is coloring on a piece of paper that has been folded into an airplane. I pick a piece of paper up off the deck and start to fold it.

“Guess what?” Andrea prompts squeezing my shoulder. “I got the teaching job at Bayfield,” she announces before I can reply. “The position is for Middle School Language Arts. I need to look for a place to live, but right now I’m thinking I’ll move back at the end of the summer.” I look up at her and grin.

“That’s great,” I say. Of course she would be the first of my friends to move back here. Aside from my family, she has been a part of my life longer than anyone else. Even though we had different interests in school, we have always looked out for each other. When rumors went around that I was queer, Andrea waited by my locker to tell me it made no difference to her who I was attracted to and she had my back if anyone gave me any shit. Ever since we’ve graduated, we’ve made a point to stay in touch and meet up for lunch at least once a year when we are both home for Christmas.

“I’ve been thinking about my lesson plans,” she says. “I want to use that Sherman Alexie book you gave me at Christmas. Maybe you can even come in and do some creative writing with my classes.”

“For sure,” I say, still grinning. I finish folding the paper into cup. Animikiikwe watches me and lets out a surprised smile when I fill it with water from my glass and pass it to her. I know when Andrea moves back she will be busy with a new job and raising her daughter, but I can’t wait to share a community with her again: to help her set up her classroom, go to high school basketball games together, and especially for Animikiikwe to know me and me to know her.


*

My weekend over, I start my day hand-weeding in Field 4. Last week I was able to move quickly through Fields 2 and 3, but now in the first row of Field 4, I am bogged down in waist-high grass. Dad warned me that this field would be the hardest. He had Chris skip this field when he was putting out the pre-emergent herbicide last fall because next year we want to take out the ageing blueberry bushes in this field and rotate in a new planting of currants. The herbicide works by inhibiting the germination of annual grass seed. If used correctly, it has no negative effects on established perennial crops, but sometimes it can linger in the soil and hinder the establishment of new young plants.

Three weeks further along than the weeds I was pulling on my first day of farm work, the grass here is taller than the blueberry bushes and their roots stretch that much deeper through dry soil in their search for water. Often when I reach in to tug out a handful, I come away with just the green tops in my hands and have to stab the ground with my pruner to go after the roots. My thoughts are still on the weekend and my time with Kate and Andrea. It was so nice to see them, but already they have returned to their lives in Flambeau and Grand Marais, and I’ve returned to these stupid weeds. I am only a third of the way down the first row when Chris walks over to me. I look up at him with an exasperated expression and he laughs and asks me if that means I’m ready for a new assignment.

“It’s hard to pull weeds when the fields are dry and we haven’t had rain since last week,” he says in sympathy. “Rain isn’t in the forecast either, so I need to start irrigating,” he says. I take off my gloves and follow him to the top corner of the field. He kneels down and lifts up a wooden cover. Inside the pit in the ground there are two valves.

“Our pump generates enough pressure to water two fields at a time. One valve opens the pipe between the pump line and the irrigation piping in this field and the other valve controls the pressure,” he explains. “I’m going to start irrigating in this field and in the raspberries first since the fruit there is about to start ripening. I already opened the valve for the raspberry field, but you can open this one.”

I look in the pit to make sure there isn’t a snake inside. I remember when we were kids, Chris once found a black and green garter snake curled in the cool wetness at the bottom and picked it up by its head to chase me around and taunt me with. Even though the pit seems empty when I look, I can’t help but feel a little squeamish as I reach my hand down past bits of wet straw and grass to the valve.

“Turn it all the way to the left and then a quarter turn back to the right,” Chris instructs. When I am done he puts the cover back in place and motions for me to follow him over to the pond behind the little wood building that we refer to as the pump house and use to store all the irrigation equipment and a few other miscellaneous tools that we use out in the fields. Dry cattails surround the pond and the water is murky. I scan the edges, as I always do, for frogs and turtles. I was three and Chris was seven when Dad had the pond dug. The first summer the water was clean and clear and there are pictures of us swimming in our own little man-made lake. My cousin Gretchen was eleven and staying with Grandma for a month as she often would. Gretchen, who grew up swimming in her family’s swimming pool in the suburbs of Minneapolis, would do shallow dives off a little wood dock my dad had constructed. I didn’t know how to swim yet, so I would jump in with a life jacket on. Now it’s too muddy for swimming, but I still route my walks on the farm past the pond, drawn to the water like a kid is drawn to a puddle—the reflection of the sky on the ground, the creatures lurking at the edges. Sometimes I’ll surprise a Heron and watch it swoop off into the sky.

“Before Dad expanded the farm, the pond collected enough water from spring run-off and rain to irrigate the fields,” Chris explains, “but when we added Field 5 he was worried there wouldn’t be enough water, so he had a well drilled to nurse the pond.” Chris flips a switch on the pump house wall. Outside water gushes up out of a waist-high elbow pipe in the ground and rushes down the bank into the pond. While I don’t understand the workings of most of the equipment in the pump-house, I know this switch well. Taking a break from weeding or walking back through the fields after a long run, I always pause here to flip the switch and drink from the cold flow.

It’s a regular stop every time Dad gives a farm tour as well. He invites people to take a drink as he tells them the story: “I contracted with Bob Melin to drill to a depth that would yield at least a 30 gallon per minute flow-rate to meet our need. By 3pm on the day of the drilling, Melin told me he was testing 35 gallons per minute, but that he would like to keep his men on the clock for at least another hour to end the day. He said he wouldn’t charge me for the added depth. As they continued to drill the rig suddenly began to plunge through the soft sandstone artery of a major aquifer. By the time they quit drilling another 100 feet of depth had been added to the well and the flow-rate tested at 80 gallons per minute. Melin was grinning like a kid as he told me, ‘The water at this depth is from the glacier melt of the last Ice Age. It’s the purest water in the world—and you’ll never pump this well dry!’” Now Dad is the one that grins like a kid when he talks about the well. He often tells us that it’s the most significant resource the farm has.

Once the irrigation is running, Chris and I walk up together to the house for lunch. Honey has stopped by with Silas, and as we sit and eat at the picnic table in front of my parent’s house, we are entertained by his baby tricks. Chris will ask, “Are you a goofball, Silas?” and Silas will vigorously shake his head no with a huge goofball grin. We celebrated Silas’s first birthday on Saturday with a picnic at their house and angel food cake. Honey’s belly is round again and it seems she is already feeling the strain of having to divide her attention.

Dad asks Chris if he started irrigation on the raspberries.

“The ripening period is the most important time to get moisture out,” Dad reminds us. “Berries are just a fancy packaging for water.” He repeats this phrase often. When Grandma and Grandpa Heist retired and moved up to Bayfield from Minneapolis, they bought a piece of land just over the hill from the farm with a cleared fruit field on it. My dad helped them build their house and planted the field with raspberries. For a few years, the conditions were right and we got good crops out of that field. During harvest season, I spent every day up there, helping pick until mom said I could be done, and then spending the rest of the day watching cable T.V. (a luxury) at my grandparent’s house or playing ping-pong with Grandpa in the basement. Then we had two dry summers in a row. The well on their property wasn’t deep enough and Dad couldn’t irrigate as much as he needed too. All of the time and money he put into farming that field was wasted when he couldn’t get water out during the ripening period. Eventually, he decided to pull the plants and focus all of his energy on our own property. My Grandma Heist was upset when he told her of his decision and it has remained a sore subject between them.

After Honey leaves with Silas, Chris stands up to head back out to the fields. He sees me lingering and says, “If you don’t want to go back to weeding, there are honey jars that need to be labeled.” The honey extracting room is in the basement of Grandma’s house. The day has gotten hot and I’m more than happy to be able to work in my basement where it’s cool. I set myself up with a stack of labels and the radio tuned to World Café. After a while Chris comes up and bottles while I label.

“What were you up to?” I ask.

“I was trying to fix something on the tractor, but I can’t finish, because I need a part,” he says.

“Oh. I’ve been meaning to ask you, my car has been randomly stalling lately which seems weird since it’s an automatic.” I follow him outside to where it is parked. He props open the hood and studies the insides.

“Mice,” he says as he cleans a nest out of the air filter. “Weren’t you going to get a cat,” he asks. I’ve been talking about getting a cat since I moved home. Posted on the bulletin board at the coffee shop last week I saw a poster for a give-away cat that looked just like my cat from childhood.

“When I went to pick him up, he seemed to like me,” I explain, “but when I brought him home, he freaked out and took off into the woods.” I remember, whenever we got a cat or kitten, my parents would warn us about getting too attached. They’re just too vulnerable for where we live they would say.

“Owl meat,” Chris taunts, and he is probably right.

I go inside to shower and change. I am supposed to open the bar tonight. As I drive to Washburn I have to hold back tears. It’s been a month since I left Chicago. It’s felt so good to be with my family and helping out on the farm, but I still wish I felt more settled, not in my head all the time about what comes next—if I’ll be able to make any friends up here, or fall in love again. I can’t even get a cat to like me.

At the bar people are in a good mood, arriving in groups and ordering margaritas and mojitos to drink on the deck. They wear white to reflect the sun and show off their tans. Their hair is wet, like they just came from the beach, or took a cold shower. I force a smile as I hand them their drink orders, struggling to contain my jealousy. I want to be like them: on vacation, or relaxing at the end of the work day, with a friend.

Jake, the back-up bartender arrives and I can take a break. I pull up the internet on the box office computer and login to my email, but there are no notes to cheer me up, not even a notification that someone has made a post to my Facebook wall. I reopen a message I got last week from Nate. It’s the first time I’ve heard from him since we hung out at Oberlin. He says he’s working in Honduras for the summer and that I should come visit. It’s the second best place in the world to go scuba diving, he writes. His flirting eyes are in my head as I look up the price of a plane ticket from Duluth, Minnesota to Tegucigalpa.

When I go back out to the bar, Jake is washing glasses. The bar room is empty. Everyone has moved into the theatre to watch the movie or they have taken their drinks to the deck.

I rinse a rag with hot water and wipe down tables. I hang the rag on the edge of the sink and look out the big front windows, past the people on the deck, to the lake and the horizon line.

“Do you want to close tonight?” I ask.

“If you don’t want the hours,” he says with a shrug.

“Are you sure you can handle it,” I tease. Since I came back from my break, no one has come in to order a drink

“I think I got it,” he says with a grin.

The sun has dropped down behind the houses in town. I kick off my shoes and drive barefoot. Instead of going straight home, I follow the sun west, cutting across the peninsula on County Road C from Washburn to Cornucopia, a small harbor village with a long sand beach and the best spot to watch the sun set. The sun has already started to drop below the horizon when I pull up. I watch it disappear as I walk out to the beach. The heat of the day is only a memory now and there is a cold breeze off the lake. I should pull on my sweatshirt, but instead I slip off my t-shirt, step out of my shorts, and walk into the lake in my underwear. The water is even colder than the air and my body is shivering. As I walk my feet, calves, knees, and thighs numb and steady. The water is shallow in the bay and it seems I could walk forever without my head going under. I can see all the way across the nose of the lake to the blinking harbor lights that indicate the Minnesota towns that line the north shore: Two Harbors, Silver Bay, Grand Marais. I am comforted by the idea that as I walk out into the lake, Kate could be on the opposite shore walking towards me. I take a deep breath and dive under. For a split second, my body is surrounded, suspended, and I feel better thinking maybe there is nothing between us, but water.