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Listener Essay - Amidst The Rain

a burbling stream
Bob Slack
CT Audubon Center in Pomfret

  Debbie Slack was honored to be a recipient of the 2018 Edwin Way Teale Artist in Residence at Trail Wood sponsored by the Connecticut Audubon Society.

Inspired by the residency, Debbie has been writing a series of essays which has expanded into a memoir titled "Trail Wood: A Love Story." Debbie is also focused on publishing her novel, "Margaret Mary and the Gutsy Girls." She is excited for their story to leave the comforts of home and venture out into the hearts of girls everywhere. Outside of writing, Debbie enjoys exploring nature with her husband, Bob, and their two Labradors.

~Amidst the Rain~

On this February eleventh I am torn, not knowing where I need to be. Will stepping into nature provide what I require? What I am searching for?

During every season, the Connecticut Audubon Society welcomes nature writers to Trail Wood located in Hampton. It is where Edwin Way Teale, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, photographer, and naturalist, and his wife, Nellie, lived, explored the surrounding forest and the meadows, studied their findings, and recorded them. We typically meet in their small white cape styled house, where the lamps cast a gentle glow, Edwin’s desk and shelves of books beckon, and I can imagine Nellie in the kitchen putting on the kettle. On this raw, wintery day it might have been a comfort and an inspiration to be there, to write there, however, the gathering has shifted to the local Connecticut Audubon Center in Pomfret.

The post and beam barn is spacious with large windows which open to expansive views. The room is airy with the walls softened by a warm yellow. Sitting there, I try to focus on anything except the clear plastic cubes containing specimens of birds and mammals with their unseeing eyes, their unmoving wings, their silence. In spite of the weather I am relieved when it is time to venture outside with our pens and paper. We’re reminded to have our phones on to keep track of time. Typically I turn my phone off. Whatever became of watches as time keepers?

I head to the lone chair under the cover of the porch sheltered from the nipping rain. The view expands wide and deep, the meadow’s tans and browns flowing down the hill into the border of the distant evergreens. The canopy of sky, bathed in grays, hides the blues and the sunlight above. A volunteer points out the wisp of fog above the tree line and whispers, “I believe that’s the breath of angels.” I smile. After she heads inside, I move the chair to the edge of the porch and sit. I instantly feel small sitting before Nature’s theatre. The expanse, the view, feels distant. As if nature’s movements, her dance, are out there, unable to reach me, to fill the hollows of my heart.

I leave the chair, tuck my pad under my raincoat, and head down the drive to the road. The Tulip Tree is uninviting, bare, waiting to release her floral cups during summer’s splendor. Across the way, the pond appears semi-frozen, its indecisiveness reflecting my own.

My boots are loud against the road compared to the rain’s pitter-patter against my jacket. I feel a chill and tuck my hands in my pockets. I push on knowing that far away my Dad and my sister are together. Hand in hand, warmed by the Florida sunshine, they cross the substantial lawn. As I walk beside a stone wall, I know they will soon be passing a pond. I imagine a white egret silently watching their passage. I wonder, do I belong here or do I belong there holding Daddy’s other hand? I am a great distance away in miles, but I want to whisper to the angels to please tell my Dad and my sister that I am close in prayer and heart.

I reach the small viewing deck where my husband and I have stood on bright summer days watching the Red-tailed Hawks circling overhead and the Red-winged Blackbirds swaying on top of the tall grasses below. To the left is a wooden birdhouse where the Bluebirds’ soft murmurings have welcomed us. Now there are no birds’ movements or songs, only the desolate expanse of browns and grays. I turn and head back.

I pause by the stream, gushing and frothing, energized by the recent rainfall and snowmelt and watch it racing to the pond below. I recently read that you can free yourself of your sorrows by writing them down and releasing them into the moving waters. If that is so, is it fair to burden the pond with the weight of my sadness? Is that Nature’s role to absorb heartache? I wear my grief unseen, but the weight slows my step and isolates me from the shore of solace.

My cell buzzes in my pocket. I want to ignore it but a tiny voice within says here is some of the life that you are searching for. Just take a look. There is a text from my sister. I know that she and Daddy have reached their destination among the green grass and the monuments of white. I know they are standing side by side. Daddy’s leaning against her as she struggles to take the picture. The photograph is of a white marker, my mother’s headstone. It states my mother’s name, her birthdate and the day of her passing, February eleventh.

I walk on, tears blend with raindrops.

I think of Edwin and Nellie walking through the woods, counting and recording everything they found including ferns, birds, insects, snowflakes. I wonder if they also counted their sorrows and their joys.

It has been 365 days that I have walked this Earth without my Mother. As each raindrop creates a circle in the puddles nearby, I press on. One step, then another.

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