No one picked up the mail today. As of 7 pm the mailbox was still and quiet at the bottom of the hill, and no one knew if there even was any mail. Nadia had choked on olives at dinner. She greedily stuffed seven or more of them into her mouth at once, and promptly turned blue. I waited a moment to see if a little gagging was going to bring them up, but when one popped out of her mouth like a round black cork, and she still wasn't breathing, I jumped. Colin jumped. I got there first, and, yanking her from her chair, flipped her upside down and whacked. I must've been a sight because Aidan and Sage giggled and sucked air at the same time... half horror, half glee at how funny I looked and how loud the whacks were. They teach you in CPR about using the heel of your hand, and how it will sound, and that you'll just know to use it. But when it is your own child... instinct doesn't seem nearly adequate enough.
But the olives came up. Complete with mostly digested cheddar and a little bit of burrito. Maybe even a taste of kale. It smelled sour and sweet, like babies who drink formula. And there were chunks of olive all over the floor. She looked pale, and her eyes watered, and her forehead had splotches of red from the exertion and upsidedown-ness. I held her close to me, sat on the toy box a bit away from the table, and nursed her in the early evening light.
So now, with dinner done, and clearing and dishes taking place, I needed air. Space. Time. When life goes whizzing by at twice the speed of light, sometimes there is benefit to taking a deep breath without anyone next to you to hear. So I said I was going to get the mail. Sage jumped up and said, “ME too!” and normally I would think about how hard it is to give them all enough attention and if Sagey wanted to be with me right now, that would be OK.
But not tonight.
I just needed to walk. Alone.
The air had begun to feel thick the way it does around here in the evening. I walked slowly, but not in wander, past the new swingset. This suddenly there play area was surrounded by the water bin and buckets, toddler chairs and the little red wagon. It looked idyllic, yet the clichéd toys felt right in the pink light of dusk. Passing the barn, I could hear the hens cooing to themselves in the coop, and one clucked and fluttered. I imagined it shoving and pushing like an angry mom having to be first in line at the toy store at Christmas.
Beyond the barn, the woods close in around the driveway. The scent is complicated here, with the deep decay of leaf litter, the homey scent of pine and fir, and the sweet smell of crisp sugar and red maple leaves. As the road dips deeply and winds to my left, I was suddenly taken aback by the autumn colors. The view is open here, and in the distance hills roll away to the south and east, covered in the dusky red that seems to be the signature of this fall. Orange and yellow are missing so far, and we may have to wait for the last gasp of autumn for the blaze of the tamaracks to give us a taste of different color.
Between the hills, where the ancient onion river winds, the fog has blanketed the landscape. Like a scarf draped on delicate shoulders it smooths the depths and accentuates the tree covered mounds. For a moment there is no traffic on either of the busy roads that meet in the village. I am caught in the moment after the sigh but before the breath as the world falls asleep.
This is what I came for.
I walk home, calmer now, as the sky deepens to dark blue around me. Suddenly the everyday-ness of chores and work feel good again, and I pick up some paper someone dropped by the side of the road. A few rocks called to me from where the water forms a rivulet in a storm. I thought they seemed the right size and shape for paperweights or some such silly chachka for the holidays. Maybe I could even sell them at the craft fairs. Ideas for painting present themselves in the mowed pasture that Mark finished just today, and the shadows of the pines settle over me. I dump the water bin that Nadia and I played in for hours today, and organize the toys underneath the climber.
Then the warm light of the dining room draws me in, calling to me to be present for my family. Their chores are making them laugh, and everyone sounds busy and content. I walk toward them, looking forward to the game of UNO we'll play, and the pride of checking their homework. And Nadia will play and laugh and take all the wrapping off every single roll of toilet paper in storage.
And it will be like I never saw my littlest one balancing on the edge of life at the dinner table.