A Work In Progress

Ryder with kittens

This is me at age five, in front of Cedar Ridge Farm’s perennial rose garden holding a squirming, feral, barn kitten. I grew up on this farm and I live here now. This garden still exists and is filled with my grandmother’s peony and Iris.

Heirloom: My Memoir In Progress:

In 2014, I enrolled in the Vermont College of Fine Arts Creative Nonfiction Master’s program. I knew I wanted to write about place, nature and family, but I had no intention of writing a book…. I simply wanted to become a stronger writer, learn the craft and pick up where I left off after a Communications degree I left behind when I started a family.

I began the first semester writing essays about my family’s unique summer canoe trips through Ontario, Canada. My father organized and led them (with my mother by his side) entirely on his own. We were a completely self-sufficient group packing in all our gear and food, catching fish if supplies ran low, drinking lake water and picking thousands of low-bush blueberries to fill us up. I have many wonderful memories of those days and I couldn’t write fast enough to get them all down.

But my Dad died half-way through my first semester, and all of a sudden his death and my grief were all I could write about. Eventually by the middle of my final semester my advisor, the wonderful writer, Sue William Silverman, said, ” I think you have a book.”

Here is an excerpt from my memoir in -the-works tentatively titled Heirloom. It’s a story about my love for my Father and my family, his unfailing support of me, and about our fifth generation farm, Cedar Ridge –my heart’s home– the place he made sure my husband and I were able to buy when it came up for sale in 1995; the legacy he left me.

A Winter Mourning

I should have cut the clematis back  but it was too late when I saw it through my bedroom window shrouded in ice and clinging to the gray latticework covering  that hid an ugly propane tank behind one of our farm’s outbuildings. I should have pruned it back in the fall but my father had been failing since the beginning of spring and by the last few days of summer he began dying. I was too numb to think about even the most menial tasks in the gardens after we buried his ashes on the first of November. Household chores, returning phone calls, even heating more than a can of soup on the stove, were all outside the corral of grief I’d locked myself into.

On that cold day in January when I looked out the window and saw the clematis, the bed I had risen from stayed warm, and like other winter mornings that year, the tangled, cream-colored scalloped-edge sheets and lofted down duvet looked like a bird’s nest. I had woken earlier that morning and gone down stairs quietly to make a cup of coffee. I crept back into bed  with the full and steaming mug, as had been my habit after he died, but I only curled back into my nest to sleep, leaving it untouched on my bedside table. Every morning that winter, the coffee went as cold as the ice in the corners of my old widow panes.  It was almost eleven o’clock when I woke, and finally took a sip, still  wrapped up in my father’s black and green tartan bathrobe– the one I kept when my mother cleaned out his closet. The flannel, so warm, draped around my ankles and encircled my body almost twice. Sitting up slowly, I looked out the window to gauge the weather. A gray day, again. Snow on the way, again. The clematis out there, burnt by cold. My father’s ashes.

I rose and caught sight of the vine with its roots buried under a  bed of ice and snow—a reminder of the day two months ago we committed my him to the ground—no box, no bag—in a memorial garden at the back of our family church. The vine–a tangled mass of woody stems-like witch’s hair on a windy day—  clung to its lattice support. I thought how my father would scold me– you should have pruned it before it had hardened off. It would be difficult to trim come spring. I knew that. He had taught me that. Instead, it would hang there, black and brittle for the rest of the winter right into spring– a daily reminder that both of us would be blistered by death right down to our roots.

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