Being Amy

Bob lifts Amy over his head and places her atop Jesse’s plush, winter coat. He makes sure she has one foot on either side of his spine before stepping away. She runs her baby-sized hands over the soft brown hair and leans in to breathe his smell as her dad hoists her older sister, Emily, up behind her.

Emily was four and Amy two when we began spending afternoons at the barn. Molly would enter the picture a year later. Their mother dressed Em and Ames like twins in unimaginably cute outfits, especially during the holidays. Bob would spread a quilt on the lawn outside the arena fence. “Don’t leave the blanket,” he’d say, and they never did. They sat and watched as we warmed up the horse, cantering along the rail, several feet away.

Before I knew it, I had fallen in love with their tiny voices and their sincere interest in everything. I loved the way they held their hands still for each stroke of the brush when I painted their little nails. They were water babies, so we took them to an outdoor pool in the summer, giving them rides on our backs, pretending to be large water mammals, which, of course, we were. Em and Ames seemed always to move in tandem, so close I never thought about one without picturing the other.

Being the oldest child myself, I assumed that Emily was in charge. Tapped into the rhythms of the natural world, Amy often danced to the beat of a different drummer while Emily seemed more in tune with our adult, and more conventional, world. Bob remembers stepping into their room one morning, wondering what was holding Amy up as the rest of us prepared to load ourselves into the car. He found Amy sitting on the floor, moving her hand in cryptic patterns to catch the sunlight on her skin.

A more complex picture came into focus as the girls grew. Although she was happy to give the steering wheel to her sister, I noticed that it was Amy who often charted their adventures. And when Molly joined us and began to vie with Emily for Amy’s attention, Amy became both the coveted prize and the peacemaker.

When Bob and I moved to Virginia, we talked their mother into taking the girls out of Colorado for the summer. While Bob was at work, we four girls went about the business of homemaking together: shopping, cooking, cleaning, tending the horses, and keeping the yard mowed and pretty.

One day, as we were returning from the grocery store in our hot, husky-voiced hay truck, we found ourselves pulled over at the curb. Amy sat on the bench seat between Em and Molly, all three of them looking straight ahead through the bug-smeared truck windshield, their hair sticking to their necks. I waited behind the steering wheel, and all knew what I was waiting for because we had been here before. I wanted to hear that the kids are done bickering and carrying on, so that I could resume our drive home through the Williamsburg traffic, undistracted.

Amy must have felt her sisters eyeballing her from the corners of their eyes. For one thing, they didn’t want the ice cream to melt. No one did. And she knows that as per usual we are all depending on her to break the silence. So Amy sighed and said, “I want to be good.” Without hesitation, Emily, and then Molly repeated the magic phrase. Before the words were out of their mouths, I pushed the blinker arm down and turned the key in the ignition. I eased into the lane and air began to circulate, mercifully, through the truck cab windows.

Twenty-three years later, Amy is celebrating her thirtieth birthday in Oregon with her mother, her sisters, and her nephew, come from Colorado. Bob was lucky enough to spend a pre-birthday weekend with Amy, Jasper, and Osha the dog last month. He skyped me in from Cheshire that weekend to take me on a tour of Amy’s shrunken ecological footprint. He showed me the creek, the vegetable garden, and the box truck home she shares with Jasper and Osha. We stopped to say good morning to some of their friends that live on the same acreage.

Amy has done a great job of releasing her inner artist without upsetting the balance of nature. She takes cast-off garments made from cotton, silk, and wool and dyes them with black walnut, imprinting them with leaves and other plants. She calls her art: “Scavenge Magic,” and it is indeed a form of spell work in which she dyes clothing the color of the soil, by boiling them in a blackish liquid. She says she is infusing them with “some level of planetary grief.”

It’s a milestone, turning thirty, and we watch Amy reach it with disbelief and pride. Amy has not lost her ability to abandon herself to the beauty of the natural world, and yet she has found a way to survive within our monetary culture. She is an inspiration, a true believer who walks the talk without depriving herself of what matters: quality of life, and the time to enjoy it.

Five Reasons It Hurt Even Worse To Say Goodbye This Time

The Airport

The moment our eyes meet, she breaks gait and leaps ahead of her husband. In seconds my arms are wrapped around her slim shoulders, and the airport buzz disappears, like the hum of the frog orchestra had evaporated a couple of years ago the last time we crept up on the lotus pond behind their house next door. All is silent except for the whoosh of air from our lungs as we fold into a tight embrace. We separate for an arm’s-length look, and “Whoosh,” pull each other in again.

Eventually, the rest of the world begins singing again. Haruka and I blink at the blur of strangers, searching for Jason and Bob, wiping at our eyes with the backs of our hands. Bob and I both find it hard to believe that our friends are genuinely here after being gone for two and a half years, after selling their farm and traveling through Central America, North Africa, Europe, and Asia, before settling down in Japan.

The Cornbread Story

One by one, we tell our stories about Jason in honor of his recent fiftieth birthday, working our way around the long, potluck table as we eat chocolate beet cake with Ben and Jerry’s Phish ice cream. Bob has saved his story for last and I, next-to-last, am going to tell the cornbread story. “We were at Shakori,” I begin, and then looking down the table, I see Kersten and decide to tell a different Shakori story.

“We were all under the, er, influence, and Jason and Haruka said they were going over to the food court for something to eat.” I was hungry but said I couldn’t go with them. “Why not?” Jason asked.

“Because I just can’t be Camille right now.”

“You don’t have to be Camille.” He said, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “You can be her twin sister. What do you want your name to be?”

“Sophie.”

Haruka is already laughing as the three of us leave our Meadow Grove headquarters. We walk up the hill to the muddy main path and across the narrow wooden bridge, and right away we run into Kersten and Gillian. “Camille!” they say as Jason steps between us.

“This isn’t Camille. This is Camille’s twin sister, Sophie.”

At this point in my story, Kersten can no longer contain herself. “I remember!” she says, “And I was ticked, thinking ‘Why are they trying to fool us? This is clearly Camille, and they are obviously buzzed. Why would they try to hide it?’”

Jason chimes in with, “And then Haruka starts laughing.” Now everyone at the table is roaring, and those who were there are adding bits and pieces. Bob waits for the excitement to die down and launches into the cornbread story.

“I remember when Jason came up to me at Shakori and asked if I wanted to taste the saltiest cornbread ever, and I said, ‘No thanks, dude.’” “No, really,” Jason said, “You’ve got to try this. It’s the saltiest cornbread I’ve ever tasted.” None of us took the bait, and we wandered on, Jason carrying the cornbread in front like a sacrament. Moments later, a guy walked up to us and said, “I am sooo thirsty! Do you have any water?”

“No,” Jason said, “But would you like to try the saltiest cornbread ever?” And, incredibly, the guy reached out and popped a piece into his mouth.

Edamame

The four of us sit around the dining room table, squeezing buttery beans from a mound of salted pods. Bob and I had worked hard to bunny-proof our edamame patch after losing most of it to those pesky rabbits. “I feel like I’m back in my Nana’s house,” I say, and everyone nods happily, fully aware of what a happy place what is for me. “Only now I am the Nana,” I say, my mouth full of edamame. We eat until we cannot suffer another pod, and shell the rest.

Shishitos

Haruka bends at the waist like the dancer she is and peers up through a pepper plant. “Here’s a fat one,” she says, reaching in to pluck it with surgical precision. We circle around and around the three plants, throwing each pepper into a bowl with a satisfying “thwump.” When we think we’ve picked the last pickable pepper, we see one we’ve missed.

I toss the shishitos with toasted sesame oil and put them into our new air fryer. After they begin to brown, I finish them with tamari. They are exactly the way I remember my first taste, the first time Jason and Haruka served us beer-peppers so many years ago. Lyle calls them “Peppers Camille,” but I tell him that they are “Peppers Jason.

The Kubota

Bob takes the three of us for a tour of what used to be The Plant. We arrive at the Chatham Beverage District at the end of Lorax Lane to ogle two and a half years of development. Jason and Haruka are particularly interested in the farm, so we walk down to the Secret Garden, and on up to the packing shed. As we turn the corner, Jason spots an old friend and walks over to put his hand reverently on a giant, orange fender. “The Kubota!” he says, and strokes the hard steel. “I sure covered a lot of ground together with this tractor.” He lingers, wistfully, his mind turning over the fertile soil­—nine years of farm memories.

The Test of Time – 25 Years

I can still recall the vision, Bob’s dream of 25 years ago. It was golden hour, and we were loping side by side across a field of grass so tall that the bottom of our stirrups brushed against the seed heads. A gentle New Zealand breeze kissed the prairie, sculpting a sea of undulating waves. “Let’s set our grappling hooks to that open plain,” he said, and I nodded, my heart full of love for this man who had promised to share his life with me.

Our first marriages hadn’t worked for either of us, but now, putting hope over experience, we were keen to give it a second chance. Our families struggled to understand. One brother spoke the words everyone else was thinking. “I hope your love will stand the test of time.” Another brother warned that if we went through with the wedding, we would become the objects of pity and disgust.

I won’t lie and say it was easy. At 40, I was carrying a significant load of baggage. There were legal and financial swamps to navigate, patterns to unravel, and encumbrances to shed. We loved each other fiercely, of that there was no doubt, and so we soldiered on. Our many friends embraced us and provided wholehearted support. In the evenings and weekends, we saddled our horses for brain-cleansing rides, ambling down hard-packed county roads to the sound of meadow larks, poking around the flood plain stirring up magpies, and flushing long-tailed pheasants with gallops along the edges of winter wheat fields.

We had been feeling stuck when Bob awoke from his inflorescent dream. We felt as if we were in a dark forest, thwarted by obstacles, bumping into one tree after another, having to back up and go around, all the while striving towards elusive patches of sunlight. We held onto the golden meadow image and kept inching forward.

A wise friend told me that when we join hands in a relationship, we begin walking down a road together and that although that road is often smooth and wide, it sometimes narrows into a cold, rocky place without a trace of a trail. “The important thing is to hang on. Find your way together. Don’t let go.”

Twenty-five years later, I look over my shoulder at miles and miles of open plain, that tangled wood so far in the distance, I wonder if it ever even existed. Open grassland, moonscape, narrow trail, and wide-open road; we have galloped and trudged over every kind of landscape, hand-in-hand, determined to stand the test of time. The life we’ve built, the goodwill we have garnered, the warm and constant flame of love we’ve nourished—all are proof of love manifested and a life well shared.

First Love

My first love arrived on all fours one winter day in 1965. I was standing in line, shivering with grades K through 8 outside St. Mary’s on City Island. I stared at the wooden doors with my fingers tucked into my armpits, willing the nuns to emerge and usher us in when a disturbance made me turn my head.

A mid-sized mutt was making his way up and down the lines, greeting and sniffing, accepting pats on his head, and eluding full-body grabs. When he got to where I stood, he pointed his black-tipped ears towards my face, stopped, and sat down. I looked into the luminous eyes framed in soft fawn and felt a tug on my 8-year-old heart.

The dog followed me into school but was quickly escorted back outside, so I figured that was that. But, hours later, when the final bell rang, I saw that he had made a little nest between the boxwood and the brick wall of our school. I bent down and ran my fingers through his thick coat, and he nosed me in return. And then he followed me home, but of course, he couldn’t come in the house. I didn’t even think to ask.

After dinner, it began to snow. Mom was sitting on the couch, reading to my brothers and me. We crowded around her looking at pictures of the protagonist, a long-haired Dachshund named Wiener when someone knocked at our front door. Mom opened the door, and the woman on our step launched an attack. Snow flew as she berated my mother for leaving her dog outside on a night like this.

Johnny, Bobby, and I sat on the couch, open-mouthed. This was even better than the storybook that had captured our attention moments before. “What dog?” my mother stammered, “We don’t have a dog!” The woman stepped aside to reveal the chocolate-colored stray, plastered in wet fur and shivering.

Mom brought him into the house, the woman went away, I told my schoolyard story, and we regarded our first family pet. We toweled him off, each of us drowning in his gaze. Mom rummaged through the leftovers. She held out a piece of meat, and he gently took it from her hand. “What shall we name him?” someone asked. “Wiener!” one of the boys howled, and we all laughed.

My parents tried to find Wiener’s owner, but after a few weeks concluded he did not belong to our island community. They speculated that he had tried to follow his owner to work. Perhaps he had seen his human get on a bus, and maybe one day he had gotten loose and darted through the open doors of a bus headed for City Island.

Wiener ended up in New Jersey with my Nana where he roamed free with the rest of her dogs. He always greeted us with solemn consideration and a gentlemanly waving of his feathery tail. In the summer we kids spent long weekends at Nana’s, playing in her thick lawn, and racing up the hill through birch and laurel to explore the sandpits. Wiener lived a long life, pampered in ways I have never since seen anyone spoil their animals: with coffee and cream in the morning, liver and bacon for breakfast, calamine lotion on their pink tick-bit bellies, spoons of Pepto-Bismol when required, and ice cubes in their drinking water.

Of those many years with my first pet, one memory stands out. It was hot, and everything was green. Nana and I had been to the dairy, the one with the doe-eyed Jersey cow, and bought fresh cream and butter and a carton of raspberries. Wiener and I were playing outside when Nana called from the kitchen door. She handed me a bowl of raspberries and cream, which I took to a bench beneath a mammoth oak. Wiener sat in front of me, and we took turns. A spoonful of cream with a fat, red berry for him, then one for me, then one for him, our eyes locked, cicadas ticking in the woods, leaves rustling overhead.

I cannot for the life of me find a photograph of Wiener, and I won’t tell you how much time I spent looking. We all loved that dog, even my father, the man behind the camera, who recorded so much of our young lives. I decide that I’m done looking and that it’s better this way. This way there is no danger I’ll overwrite my precious memories with a picture of a nondescript dog. No image can capture the significance of those brown canine eyes.

Sidelined

On a typical spring morning in glorious retiree-land, I woke, got caffeinated, wrote a little something, and worked up a sweat in our gardens. I came into the house, showered, and washed my hair. Remembering Bob had said earlier he might have to drive into town today, I pulled on a denim shift: going-to-town clothes. And sure enough, when I went into our other bathroom to brush my hair, I found him shaving. “Mind if I go along?” I asked. “Of course not, love.”

I look forward to these shared trips to town. We save gas and electrons and enjoy our windshield time: undistracted conversation, heightened by the sense that we are moving in the same direction. As is our custom, Bob drops me at the Food Lion on his way to pick up mail at The Plant on the east side of town. Sometimes Bob finishes his business before I finish mine, but on this day I was done first.

I sent Bob a text, pocketed my phone, and sat down to wait on a wooden bench inside the store. Ordinarily, I would stand on the sidewalk, but today I had bought frozen peas, and it was already in the mid-80s. So I sat facing the glass wall between me and the parking lot, frozen in time, a victim of circumstances, deliciously sidelined from responsibility, with nothing better to do than watch life parade past.

I felt a swoosh of air each time the automatic doors opened, and with it, an undulating human vibe that wafted off the river of Pittsboro peeps. I imagined I was people-watching in an airport. I pictured myself as a wide-eyed infant, observing life from the inactivity of a bassinet.

It was about the time the kids get out of school, and the parking lot was humming like a beehive. I saw a woman hop up on the back of on her cart with a child on either side, crouched and clinging, the three of them open-mouthed and hair flying, coasting down into the parking lot, catching some free breeze. A rush of love and wistfulness took me by surprise. I felt simultaneously voyeuristic and connected.

A woman sat down next to me and plunged a plastic fork into a carton of deli macaroni and cheese. I nodded and smiled, striving for friendly, but not obtrusive. I moved over a smidge, an accommodating gesture that I hoped didn’t look like recoil, trying to remember the last time I’d shared a seat with a stranger. My stomach rumbled.

The parade continued, some people nodding, some saying, “How you doin’?” Some pausing to chat with the macaroni lady. A woman entered the store with a little girl, her kinky hair in three pompoms that made her look like Minnie Mouse with a bun. A man walked past us carrying a twelve pack of canned beer, and I remember seeing him enter the store. Eventually, the Minnie Mouse girl and her mother walked past us again, too, the little girl walking on the balls of her feet, all the way on out to the parking lot and to their car. “She is sooo cute!” I said, “She’s walking on her toes!” “Like a ballerina!” said the woman, and we both laughed.

A wave of emotion rose as I thought: these are my people, Pittsboro people, simple folks not looking for trouble or to wrong anyone; just trying to get along, and get home and make dinner or whatever. All about to spin off into separate realities, but here in this very moment, here and now with me sitting and watching, while the woman next to me greets them from behind her carton of carbs.

Ever since that day, when I go to town with Bob I find myself hoping I’ll have to wait on that bench again. I wonder if I have the discipline to spend ten minutes sitting idle for no reason. One of these days, I’m going to find out. I’ll drive myself to town, park the car, and sit down on that bench for a spell.

Stopover

“Nostalgia is a funny thing,” I said, looking at the flowers I’d forgotten to give to my friend, Ann, “Kind of like these limp roses.” We were standing on a weathered pier, looking out at the grey water of York River, trying to conjure up a connection with this place we had so often visited when we lived in Virginia. “You mean a loose amalgamation of something we once found meaningful?” Bob said. “Exactly.” And with that, we left Croaker Landing.

A few hours later, Val came to rest in a Hampton Inn parking lot. We unloaded our bags, the cooler, and my Ghanaian hospitality basket, hungry enough to make dinner plans at a Mexican restaurant a couple of miles up the road. “I’ll walk,” I said, eager to shake off the drive.

I started off down the main drag, but cut across a crunchy bean field to avoid the traffic. The sideways heat baked the bare asphalt and fried roadside weeds of Main Street. With few exceptions (there are kids goofing off in one of the playgrounds) Exmore, Virginia appeared abandoned, with more than its share of vacant real estate. Typical of small towns across Corporate America, the highway box stores thrive at the expense of the original town center.

I clipped on past consignment shops, churches, sunburned weeds pushing up through empty asphalt parking lots, a hot playground hopping with kids, and I stopped to stare at a pale green Statue of Liberty made of cement. It took a minute before I gave up trying to figure out why someone thought this was a good idea. I got a whiff of something goaty and traced it to the Smith and Scott Funeral Home. I didn’t even want to guess what that was about. Maybe I was just tired, but late Sunday afternoon Exmore seemed knackered and sad.

As I was about to write off this town, I reached the shade of some giant oaks outside a doctor’s office. A little further, gnarled crepe myrtles branched above the sidewalk. I could hear the highway ahead, and Bob drove by with a cheerful wave in our blue Chevy Volt. Moments later we were seated at a two-top in El Maguey Mexican Restaurant, looking forward to some good old beans and rice.

The next morning the sun rises over Exmore through air thick from an overnight rain, an orange ball that sends a blurry streak across the scum pond below our hotel window. We’ve got plenty of time before another five and a half hours of driving, so I head out for a repeat of yesterday’s walk.

At 7:30 on a Monday, Exmore is already shaking off sleep and getting to its feet. Whether from the energy of a new work week or my good night’s sleep, the town seems alive and upbeat. Even the chickweed-chocked landscaping pots, and the rats in the culvert strike me as fun and wholesome in a Disneyesque kind of way. Men peddling bicycles with cargo crates greet me with a respectful, “Morning, Ma’am.” Black-headed gulls pull fat worms from waterlogged turf while the robins sing from the crepe myrtle branches.

“Huh,” I think, wondering if this really is the same town. Perception is a funny thing. We get to decide whether a place is knackered or quaint.

Moonlighting

Our second May post ended up over at Two Brauds Abroad: Eating Like a Local Around the World

Pearls to Pay Forward

Consciousness felt its way through the weave of the screens with the crow cries. Nana’s bare feet plucked at the linoleum downstairs, moving toward the kitchen door where the dogs stood, fanning the air. I lay still, eyes closed. There was something else, an image, a niggling whisper.

Remembering how I had wrapped my final baby tooth in tissue, I slid my hand beneath the pillow. Usually, it was a coin, occasionally a dollar bill, and once a bar of halvah. I pulled out my prize, sat up and looked at a string of perfect pearls, exquisitely round and unabashedly grown up.

I hurried downstairs and found my Nana. She patted my bed hair, handed me a cup of honeyed coffee and cream, and told me how an oyster takes an intruding bit of grit and surrounds it with soft smoothness to make a pearl. And that it can take years.

Barbara Lorie died on Monday at age 93. I didn’t know her well, but we swam in the same circles, occasionally crossing paths. I would turn a corner and feel the hum, a hive-like buzz that signaled Barbara’s presence. She was charismatic, outspoken, and prone to profanity. Barbara’s “Who are you?” had the disconcerting effect of pushing you off balance while putting you at ease. She was a teacher, a mother, an idealist, a civil rights advocate, and a fundamental force behind the creation of Blue Heron Farm Community.

I stayed up late the night before Barbara’s funeral reading the first chapter of her autobiography. She described her early childhood in an upper-middle-class household supported by nannies, cooks, and gardeners. She loved watching her mother prepare for an evening out by spraying cologne into her handkerchief and draping a strand of pearls around her elegant neck. When Barbara was ten her father died and his funeral drew thousands.

The next morning I pulled on a black dress and noticed Nana’s pearls on top of my dresser. I had dug them out because I’m going to give them to my oldest grandniece. Alanna reminds me of myself in the way she takes responsibility for her younger siblings. Rather than take those pearls to my grave, I want to acknowledge my niece’s sacrifice. I will show her how to scrape her teeth lightly over one. “Does it feel slightly gritty?” I’ll ask, “Like sandpaper?” That’s how you know they are real.

Pearls go great with little black dresses. I would wear them one last time.

Nickolas was directing traffic when I arrived at Blue Heron. Mary drove up at the same time so, we parked and walked into the farm together, past a stunning stained glass blue heron. We joined a stream of people carrying food, some in black, many in bright colors. Who I didn’t know, Mary did. By the time we put our cookie plates in the food tent, we had hugged dozens.

Barbara wanted a raucous send-off, and that is what she got. She rested in her cardboard casket atop a colorful wooden cart while we held hands in a big circle, and then, in her cart, she led the procession to the burial site. The Bulltown Strutters came next, all drums and horns, brassy and Mardi Gras-loud. They were followed by hundreds of mourner-celebrants, some carrying giant Paperhand Puppets, billowy silk banners, and orange and black butterflies. Mary and I waved our butterflies to make their wings open and close.

Our destination was a large meadow with chairs facing a steep-sided red clay hole. A woman handed out programs, someone had put out drinking water, and a big pile of dirt waited on the far edge of the field. I chose a seat close to Lyle, David came and sat on my left, and Arlo—Tami and Lyle’s son—joined us a little later.

Longtime Blue Heron affiliate, Gary, kicked off a parade of tributes with some well-chosen words. Stacey made us laugh with, “I was Barbara’s favorite neighbor.” Tami spoke of their long friendship and said that Barbara was looking forward to seeing Zafer—Tami and Lyle’s other son who we buried with a similar ceremony three years ago. Many spoke about Barbara’s indelible influence, about how her unabashed and forthright manner encouraged them to be themselves. Several young people testified to her profound impact on their lives and one vowed to honor Barbara’s memory by paying it forward.

When it was time to lower Barbara into her grave, I reached for Arlo’s hand and let the tears flow. Home burial is raw and real. There are no buffers. Cemetery staff doesn’t finish the dirty work; it’s up to friends and families with shovels and hoes, in sandals and tennis shoes. As I watched people drop handfuls of peony petals and red clay into that straight-sided hole, I saw her legacy in action.

Here are my takeaways from Barbara’s funeral: Legacies are what happen when we inspire others by being ourselves. All our words and actions leave impressions on those around us. Best be aware of what kinds of seeds you plant. Keep a lid on the weeds. Take your pearls and pay them forward.

Making Our Mark

I thread the Outback between two posts and bring it to rest in the shade. I’m listening to NPR, a story about social media gone awry. Shelley’s black and white cat, Lucy, has reached the car by the time my feet touch the ground and is twitching her rear end at one of the tires. “What are you doing? Marking your territory?” I say in a sing-song voice, leaning down to stroke her shiny black coat. “Let’s go see what those chickens are up to,” I say, walking towards the chicken coop. Shelley is in Canada, and I’m in charge of feeding Lucy and the yard birds.

It’s nice to have Lucy’s company, but it comes with a price. She is not shy about telling me all about her last 24-hours in a language I cannot understand. The chickens also have a lot to say. But I welcome the sound of other animals. Much of what I do is done alone these days. I am the invisible hand that shapes the world around me, and that is as it should be. No one needs to see me struggling to free a limb saw from a branch that has bitten back and clamped on. I don’t want anyone watching me shove the vacuum cleaner against the nap of our bedroom carpet. And writer’s block, like constipation, is best suffered in private.

At the end of the day, after a shower and a change of clothes, I walk around the yard with Bob admiring the mulch around our fruit trees and our pristine gardens. After I’ve coughed up some words and rearranged them into a second draft, I punt them over to Bob for editing. He doesn’t have to see the first draft. That’s for no one but me to see. I present a finished meal every evening, plate ready—potato peels and nicked fingers omitted. I’ve heard it said that no one wants to hear about the labor; they just want to see the baby.

And yet, I opened an Instagram account not so long ago and began to crow about my accomplishments in their unvarnished state. I got into the Instagram game right about the time it began trending away from glitzy, staged photo art. I figured out how to put my laptop in smartphone mode and posted bowls of harvested peppers, laundry piles, seed orders, and Bob and I smiling in front our new Chevy Volt before driving it home from the dealer. Maybe I’m not so into private life as I pretend to be.

Like Lucy, I also mark my territory. In Africa, I impaled a muddy baby doll head on a spike atop our razor-wired gate. Bob was horrified, but I thought it was funny. Twenty years ago, before Facebook, before Instagram, he created a platform for our online presence, a site we named Troutsfarm after the little horse farm we sold in 1997. We used our farm’s logo, a hand-drawn yin yang blend of horse and trout, to brand our website.

Last week Bob dressed up our new car by adding a front plate with the Troutsfarm logo. And yesterday he drilled a hole in the belly of a plastic dinosaur—Toy Story’s Rex—and stuck it atop one of the metal pipes that define our property line. Whether it’s an Instagram post, a personal website, a vanity plate, or Dino-Boy on a survey pin, we all need to make our mark upon the world.

Easy Street

If I close my eyes, I can see the hectic days: the corner drifts of unbegun projects, the laundry mound, the on-the-fly meals. Twenty-five years ago, Bob and I were enmeshed in traditional 40-hour work weeks onto which we piled childrearing and animal husbandry. Life was an upward slog toward financial solvency and retirement. We buoyed ourselves with images of life on the other side of the rainbow.

I’d had my eye on Easy Street from the moment I joined the workforce in 1972. Pulling beer for lunchtime linemen in a basement pub on Denver’s Larimer Square, I dreamed of freedom from the wage game. I was 18-years-old, and like most other ’70’s teens, I knew that humans were designed to feed off nature’s bounty. Working for money seemed wrong. We felt it in our bones, yet few of us were lucky (or well-adjusted) enough to live off the land in a cooperative communal environment.

I don’t believe I was good community-building material back then, and the opportunity to test myself never occurred. Suffering from residual teenage angst, beholden to no one, I saw myself as a rugged individualist. So, instead of joining a commune, I plunged into the deep waters of the country’s labor pool. Wanderlust, Canadian Club, and hard-earned cash became my boon companions.

Years of 9-to-5 slavery changed my dream from cooperative homesteading to a life of opulent nothingness. I nurtured images of splendidly idle days, picturing myself snuggled into the curve of a bay-windowed nook reading a gothic novel. I envisioned languid shadows unfurling across butter pecan sand followed by the last peachy rays of the day. My vision of Easy Street morphed into the complete release from responsibility.

Bob took me on my first-ever real vacation when we honeymooned on Cozumel. Here was the white-sand beach; the effortless swoosh of sea on shore. We reclined on lounge chairs, traded cash for Pina Coladas, and listened to time evaporate. Towards the end of the week, we were mesmerized by an old man with a wheelbarrow. He stopped at each seedling in a line of sprouting coconut palms and watered it from a bucket. We realized that we were jealous of this old man. He had something to nurture while we sat on the sidelines, posing as pampered voyeurs. He had a purpose.

I got my Medicare card in the mail yesterday, and our Credit Union stands by in open-mouthed anticipation of my first Social Security payment. I have reached the other side of the rainbow, a bittersweet milestone with Bob still slogging away from his home office desk. The funny thing is, my new life doesn’t feel so much different than the old one. My transition has been so benign, so negligible that I feel a little cheated.

Retirement: those splendidly idle days yawning off into forever, are not so idle after all. Although I now have ample time for day-reading, I spend much of my day devoted to physical labor. I drag my tool bucket around the yard pulling weeds. I sweep and shovel. I chop vegetables and roll out pie dough. I buy groceries and wash the cars. I dutifully read the news and peck out essays. I do my yoga, call family, get up with friends, and go for walks. But, in all of this, I never have to hurry, and there is no activity so urgent that I can’t put it off until tomorrow.

As it turns out Easy Street is a blend of both dreams: a pleasant mix of homesteading and freedom from responsibility. These days, you’re as likely to find me swinging in the hammock as between the wooden shafts of our wheelbarrow.