I have been blogging over here this week. It’s a fun exercise: sit down, write as much as you can, as fast as you can, about whatever is on your mind. It is raw and unedited — I am certain my grammar suffers. I felt like posting today’s piece over here though, mostly to remember the day.
Nine years ago today, I sat transfixed, with the telephone in my hand, as a colleague described first one, and then a second plane crash into the world trade center from across the bay. Not much was accomplished at work that day. Most of us went home early. The radio today is playing one story after another about remembering those lives lost, airing debates between people who live thousands of miles from the site as to what should or should not be done to commemorate the event, and about anti-Muslim sentiment in our country.
This morning, I got up, turned off the radio, and made a pot of tea. I crawled back into bed, and passed a cup to my husband as he rubbed his eyes and neck, yawning. We watched together as warm milk swirled into our cups, creating miniature cumulus clouds just beneath the surface. We sat close to each other sipping tea and reading a baby name book, making jokes, and talking for nearly an hour.
Then I got into the car and drove through the winding roads flanked on each side by ferns and big leaf maple. I crossed the bridge to the little island near my home that sits in the middle of the Columbia river. I love this island. It is a patchwork quilt of farmland, most of it sitting fallow since no one who lives on the island can actually afford a home there on a farmer’s salary. In fact, most people who live there know their way around a blackberry better than they would around a barn.
There is a wildlife preserve here which is frequented by great blue herons and sandhill cranes, who perch on one impossibly slender leg in the shallow water near the bank of the river and stare at fish which only they can see. Sometimes while watching them, I become transfixed by their immobility. I wonder how long they have been standing in exactly this pose before I arrived, and how long they will maintain this same pose after I leave. Sometimes I wonder if they ever really move. I passed two herons today in the car, and a flock of Canada geese, floating peacefully near the bank of the river. Swallows darted ahead of me, and a herd of dairy cattle munched the long grass near the road.
Today, I am picking apples. There is an old gnarled orchard on the far side of the island, much neglected and organic not by choice, but by default. The owner has no need for the apples, and offered to donate them to the local food bank. There are about a dozen of us meeting here today to glean the harvest from the trees.
We work quickly, and with each soft thud of apples falling on top of each other I am reclaiming today. I am taking back this date, not as the anniversary of genocide, but as another day. I am taking back this date as Saturday. As a good day to stand in the orchard with the sun on your face and just a hint of coolness in the air as you pluck the most perfect round apple from the highest branch you can reach, and drop it into a milky-white bucket. The white plastic buckets fill quickly, and the orchard fills with a quiet peaceful hum of conversation, the exchange of recipes, stories about traveling and children and dogs. One man is trying to get to know one of the women there better, and I imagine he is gathering the courage to ask her to dinner. Periodically, laughter echoes through the orchard like a bell. In between, the sound of apples dropping into buckets, bags, and barrels. Thud, thud, thud.
Once the trees had been cleaned of all of their fruit, we weighed the apples, and divided half the harvest among ourselves. We will donate over five hundred pounds of the fruit, and nearly everyone is leaving with twenty pounds of apples for cider, for drying, for pies. We all get into our cars, wave goodbye, and wander back out through the farmlands and little country roads to the city where we all live. On the way home, I stopped and picked sunflowers.
I understand the importance of remembering those who have gone. I understand the importance of mourning. But every year it feels as though the bandage has been torn too quickly from a not quite healed wound which we all carry. I dread the “ten year anniversary”, which I fear will be filled with interviews, replays of tapes from the time of the plane crashes, and “made for TV specials”. So, in honor of those who have gone, I have decided to take back the power from this day. I have decided to banish the sorrow and fear. I am going to celebrate it as just another day, which I imagine, is what they would have wanted.