After last night’s rain the woods smell sensual—a mixture of leaves and musk. The morels have disappeared, and soon I’ll come across those yellow chanterelles, the kind they sell in town at the farmers’ market. Once I saw the Swedish woman who raises her own food foraging for them, two blond boys quarreling near the pickup, and the next morning they were selling them from their stand beside the road. Out here, among last year’s dead leaves with the new shoots of spruces poking through them, I’ve come to the place where light brightens a glade of ferns and the log someone else placed here—carved “B.W.”—where I sometimes sit to listen to the birds. Today the sun is breaking through the wet branches, revealing a clean sky, brilliant, cerulean. Then, suddenly, a raft of scudding clouds promising more rain. If it comes, I’ll read all afternoon— Henry James, or maybe Eudora Welty’s Delta Wedding, where so many characters vie for attention I can never keep them straight. Here, there’s no one else, no one to worry over or argue with or love. Maybe the earth was meant only for this: small comings and goings on the forest floor, the understory astir with its own secret life. If I sit still enough among the damp trees, sometimes I see the world without myself in it, and—it always surprises me— nothing at all is lost.
How different things must have looked to my mother than they did to me. There I am in the black-and-white photo the summer the baby died. I’m seven, trying out my pogo stick with the two new girls next door. We’re laughing, and I’m shouting something to my brother, who wants his turn. And there’s Dad, standing near the station wagon, staring at the grass. She must have stood far back, under the pear tree, focusing, trying to fit us in.