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. 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 blueberries for dessert. I had many wonderful memories of those days and I couldn’t write fast enough.

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 fourth and last semester, my advisor 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 Dad and my family, his unfailing support of me, and 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.

A Winter Mourning

I should have cut the clematis back earlier, but it is too late now in January. I saw it through the bedroom window, looking brittle, still clinging to the latticework cover hiding an ugly propane tank in the garden behind one of our farm’s outbuildings. I should have pruned it back in October, 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 after we buried him that fall. Working in my gardens, household chores, even heating more than soup on the stove, were all outside the corral of grief I’d locked myself into.

That cold day in January, the bed I had briefly risen from stayed warm from my body. Like many other late winter mornings now—the tangled cream-colored, brown scalloped sheets and lofted down duvet looked like a bird’s nest. I had woken early and gone down stairs to make a cup of coffee, but crawled back into bed, as I often do in the colder, darker months and fallen back to sleep leaving the mug of coffee untouched on my bedside table. It was almost eleven o’clock when I finally awoke. I was still in pajamas and wrapped up in my father’s black and green tartan bathrobe. The flannel, so warm, draped around my ankles and encircled my body almost twice. Sitting up slowly and stretching, I looked out the window of the bedroom, gauging the weather. A gray day, again. Snow on the way, again.

I rose and caught sight of the old vine of the dormant clematis, its roots buried under a cold bed of ice and snow—a reminder of the day two months ago we committed my father’s ashes into the ground—no box, no bag—to a memorial garden at the back of our family church. The remains of the clematis, a tangled mass of woody stems—like witch’s hair on a windy day—still clung to its latticework support. I thought how my father might agree, if he were still alive, I should have pruned the plant back before it had hardened. It’s hard to trim after its stems die. It will remain brittle and black, clinging there, all winter. But then, the vine and I would be in good company, both of us fragile and blistered by death right down to our roots.

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