May Days

On April 27th, I get a call from work. My position has been eliminated. It’s a shock, but not a surprise. The business wasn’t in great shape when I started the job, a few weeks earlier. But in February, we had time. Covid ran down the clock on the business at an accelerated speed.

My first emotion, after the shock, is a weird relief. I don’t have to pretend any more to people I don’t know that well that things will be ok. I don’t have to squabble or fight or cajole to get the bare minimum done. The rising-up, eye-of-the-tiger feeling I had just a few weeks before had disappeared, and all I had left was another day to get through without despondence.

But I had worked hard to get that job, and worked hard find it. I mourn the effort. I mourn what could have been. I mourn the me that didn’t get to do the things I thought I could do there. I mourn the chance. I mourn the opportunity. I mourn the business.

But it’s May now. And who can resist May?

On a run, I discover a pool of wood frogs… making more wood frogs. It’s not exactly hard; they are so loud that I thought I had stumbled on a flock of turkeys. I sprint home and collect Edward. When we return, he is enchanted. Stacked on top of each other, they stop croaking for a moment, and merely look at us, vaguely curious about what we might want, but not curious enough to stop doing what needs to be done. They sit in the fruits of their labor; the vernal pool is festooned with clouds of gooey white spawn. We go and visit it every day, waiting for the tadpoles to explode. I don’t have a job any more. I have nothing better to do. Edward does have school, but who can be bothered. He runs through his lessons in an hour and a half. The rest of the day is his. Tadpole watching is the game afoot.

But then, it snows again. In May. Wood frogs can survive a freeze. Indeed, they spend the winter nearly frozen themselves, animatedly suspended as they were. But the spawn does not. It turns a corpsely grey. The tadpoles are not to be, at least not in that pond.

Every day, new birds show up. Away from my computer, I am disconnected from the world. I stop paying such close attention, through Rob still does. He fills me in about things that make my heart stop with dread. And then I go to sleep. I sleep like I haven’t in ages. It feels like a miracle. I too, wood frog that I am, am in a sort of suspended animation. The days pass but are much the same. But the birds? They don’t care. They will come, no matter what. They remind us that the seasons will change.

On Mother’s Day, I buy myself an elevated garden box and plant tomatoes in it.

In the evenings, when it is not frigid, we take the boat out and follow a juvenile bald eagle across the lake and around. He is missing feathers and generally a rough sort, picking fights with crows and osprey. He seems lonely. We hear a loon crying in the morning mist. The geese arrive in numbers to invade. We are Britain and they are our own Luftwaffe, dropping copious amounts of excrement on our beaches, on the landing grounds, on the fields, and on the streets . We vow to fight them, and chase them off. We make a game of it, which turns terrible and serious when, one morning, a boat pulls up into front of a pair we’ve scattered, and shoots them. Directly in front of our house. We are horrified. Edward cries all day. What just happened? It’s as if we too are being told to leave. We are not not welcome and not quite welcome. Yet, the geese come in ever greater numbers. By July, there will be 30 of them.

We perambulate and perambulate and perambulate. Out of a groundhog burrow, at the edge of the field, tumble fox kits. One, two, three, four. One of them is bold, and watches us out in the open, creeping closer as far as it dares, until its mother shoos it home. We love them. They are beautiful and wild. At night, we hear the mother scream, an unholy sound in the dark. The owls hoot back “Who cooks for you?” Well, I do. But not very well right now.

We make huge bubbles with a bubble kit, and to William, they are magic. He runs after them as they drift skyward, wobble-bobbling in the air. He turns two. There is no party. There is a cake and a zoom call, and we sing to him. He is golden in the late afternoon light, and cheerful. He lights our hearts but doesn’t eat cake. He doesn’t eat anything but pickles, yogurt and pretzels. We let him. We have no energy to fight with him. He sits in the pantry and eats rice puffs off the floor.

I have to figure out what I am going to do with myself. What will my job be now that there is no job? What matters? Do I like to earn a good living? I think, perhaps yes. Do I want to die a Vice President of Marketing? I think, perhaps not.

One of my oldest friends emails me to say he is reading PD James. This is a good idea. I start reading PD James. I take out a mystery I’ve been working on writing for years. Suddenly I have a direction (but no computer.) I take the leap. I buy myself a computer. Even though I have no job. It’s an investment of a sort, I suppose. For the next ten weeks, I only read PD James. But I also write.

It is warm! It is spring! There are buds! And then blossoms! Although, the hyacinth never really deigns to appear, stymied by the late snow. But the lilac makes up for it. I walk around all day with a pair of clippers, filling all the rooms I can with vases of downy drifts of purple, pink, lavender, and white. I am reckless with it. The moment a branch droops, I cut more and more and more and more. There can’t be too much of it. It is glorious and fragrant, and so very temporary. I need more.

On the way to June, we are in the season of every kind of frog. The quantity of them! The variety! Every day now, Edward and I walk to the swamp on the road. He has a net. I hold a tank, which we dip in the swampy water. Tadpoles swirl around at the bottom. Everywhere he goes, he scoops up frogs, stalking them in his Wellingtons on his heron-long legs. He gently plops them in the tanks, and we examine them, and discuss them, and then let them go. He becomes a pro at holding them, gently behind their heads. There’s one frog in particular, a big green frog- maybe it’s a bullfrog- that lets us catch him nearly every day. He lives large in his own puddle near a storm drain. I can see him sigh when we approach. “The kid is back.” He puts up the beginning of a struggle but the second the net closes over him, he shrugs with resignation. Maybe he likes the attention.

Things are not normal, not even close. But they have settled. Going for groceries is not the terror it was a few weeks ago. People have got the drill down. I still have no desire to cook; the joy and creativity it takes for me to plan a beautiful meal has sunk into the background. I can only be present lucky moment by lucky moment. We are living a beautiful life that doesn’t belong to us. It is not a vacation. It is a separation from reality. Not our house. Not our furniture. Not our plates. Not our lilac. Not our lake. Not our boat. We live on the surface.

At the end of the month, on an unseasonably warm day, while William throws stones into the lake, Edward finds a baby painted turtle. Naked, he shrieks, “A turtle! Mom! A turtle!” We keep it in a tank for a few days, and feed it tadpoles. Edward names it “Floatie” and William loves to tap its shell and say “touch”. It is beautiful and tiny, about the size of a silver dollar, but it rips the heads off of tadpoles with a viciousness that is startling to behold. Edward, with great bravery and a few tears, for he has fallen deeply in love, returns it to the lake after a few days, near a log for safety. We go and visit the log, though Floatie declines to ever come and say hello.

The baby fox grow bolder and bolder. We find robins wings and squirrels tails strewn in the grass. In the blueberry field, we stumble on something that we can’t identify at all, but that we can smell. They are very clear with us; this is their place. We have the house. They have the woods and the fields.

The numbers are coming down. For Memorial Day, we decided to return to the city for a few days. Walking in the front door of our home is a panacea. Our things. Our stuff. Our ideas on how we want to live. The kids go berserk, playing with every toy they own. Legos tumble from shelves, magna tiles erupt from bins, stuffed animals are clutched and cuddled, long lost friends. At seven o’clock, we cheer our hearts out. We could stay here, if we didn’t have to go outside.

What is the city like? It is grim and grey and warm. We see loved ones, but there is nothing on the street but the ghosts. Many more ghosts now. We want to get take out from our favorite places, but they are all closed. Everyone is cagey and given a wide berth. Are you alive? Or a zombie? Our friends tell us to go back. There is nothing here, not right now. We would love to take them with us, but we can’t.

The time is not right. We miss our home. We are so lucky. We miss our home. We are so lucky. It is spring. We return to our splendid isolation.