seventeenth week: Boston

Leaving home by air. All of Puget Sound revealed. We live in a complicated waterway. Fingers of water seem to work their way toward the mountains becoming rivers of low-lying clouds. So many lakes tucked into rugged peaks, white flat collections of water, ice and snow. I think I saw The Enchantments, a place mythical to me as I have never hiked the Alpine Lake Wilderness, but part of my landscape just the same. Leavenworth, Cashmere, Monitor, Wenatchee, and the Columbia River quickly give way to dry hills. Across the river, bright irrigation circles leave corners revealing what the terrain is when left alone. All of these changes and only 25 minutes in the air. Big Perspective. We are crossing the nation in under five hours and will take four weeks to make our way back in a patched together replication of a journey that took my family nearly 400 years.

*

We didn’t visit Plymouth. I didn’t see the rock. I didn’t breathe the air and use intuition or speculation or imagination to get a sense of the first of my family to immigrate to North America.  Instead we stayed 30 miles south of Plymouth with an immigrant Chinese family. Mother, father, and daughter crammed into one room while John and I rent the other room. This family is farther from home than my relatives were when they traveled the Atlantic from Europe to this very bay hundreds of years ago.

 

There are questions around the American forefather of our family, George Morton. He is not the famed George Morton that can be found on Wikipedia and in the manifest of the Anne and Little James that arrived in Plymouth in 1623. Our George may be the son of the famous George, born a few days before his father’s death. Or he may be famous George’s grandson born to his first son, Nathaniel. But he may also be a nephew once removed, born to Thomas, son of famous George’s Brother, who was a bit of a dissenter and fraternized with Indians.  There is even a remote possibility our George was born to William Morton, a servant to John Banum in Elizabeth City, Virginia. These possibilities make the reality of George Morton, my 8th great-grandfather and the first of the family to be born in North America, more real. Unacknowledged son, questionable son, ignored son, all seem true to what families can be. For now, I will live with our family tree erupting in this country from this soil.

 

Su Zhen has been in this country long enough to have no accent, to have graduated from Cornell, and to be applying to law school in top-tier Universities. Her mother speaks no English. I met the mother one night around 11 in their tiny kitchen unloading the dishwasher with Su. Her hair freshly brushed, hung straight down her back and showed no evidence of grey. She wore a long dark blue bathrobe the same color as the towels and sheets and lampshades in our room. Was she responsible for the décor of the apartment? Were we sleeping in her room? She seemed a little uncomfortable to see me. Was it the fact we were all in pajamas or that she depended on her daughter to communicate, or was it something else? Something completely outside of my experience. The kitchen counters held a mix of cultures: Yamamoto Jasmine Tea and Maxwell House Coffee, Torani Vanilla Syrup and Shao Xing Cooking Wine, a rice cooker and a Ninja espresso machine. In the refrigerator there were stacks of individual flavored yogurts  and clam shells of tiny eclairs. I didn’t see the mother again and never saw or heard the father. Did they confine themselves to the master bedroom where the three of them slept while leaving the other bedroom to let out via Airbnb?

 

What makes one immigrant different from another immigrant? Is the forsaking and the seeking similar? Su Zhen’s parents surely came to North America for perceived opportunity. I suspect there was both sacrifice and hope for something different for their daughter. I can only imagine the same in my family. If I jump from the grandparents I knew back eight generations and speculate that something carried through, I can guess the Mortons looked for a combination of freedom and better financial prospects. The research points to a compromised beginning for our George Morton. He was certainly un-acknowledged by his parents. But from his time forward, generation after generation of Mortons were acknowledged. Names and stories passed down to me and all the descendants, so that now I can cross the country touching the places where they were born or where they took jobs and had children or where they left their final markers. Will Su’s family look backwards or forward? Will the United States be a better place for them? And how will they leave their mark on this place we all call home?

 

Two Dot: here = there

here = there is the chronicle of a placed longed for becoming a place inhabited. Following are selections from the last two years of documenting daily experience on dated postcards. The date images were captured each morning in Two Dot and registered by hand in ink and coffee as the sunlight traversed through a stencil. It is a marriage of precision and in-precision, control and control given away. The postcards were mailed to anyone who asked for them and to some who didn’t.

Two Dot: leaving

Today sun in the morning, as if to say “Don’t go.” But we persevere with our to-do lists, the tasks before we pack and leave.  

The sun emerges around the house / stands in the middle of the road / and breathes on us with its red blast. / Innsbruck must I leave you.

But tomorrow there will be a glowing sun /in the half-dead grey forest \ where we have to work and live.

                        -Tomas Transtromer

                        “Landscape with Suns” from The Sad Gondolas  1996

Two Dot: migration

A hundred starlings flying around the house disturbed my dreams, pulling me up from sleep's depth with their swirling. It is impossible not to think of Hitchcock’s birds. It is impossible not to want to get out of here.

Starlings have claimed the mornings but in the evening a reasonable flock of yellow warblers and a few red-winged black birds perched in the choke-cherries across the road. Occasionally some collective signal lifts them from the branches and then they settle back down again... maybe spreading to the nearby fence wires... never swarming or threatening.

Wild swings govern my days. The desire to go home suddenly swirls around me, overwhelming... a flock of starlings lifting from the ground at once in a clatter of wing flapping without indication of their unison direction. Both cause me to duck, hoping to avoid collision.

Other times of day are not governed by sudden movements; the rhythm of work setting a tone. It is not complete stillness but movement back and forth with small rises of energy. In these times I am saturated with the desire to continue, as content as the warblers on the fence. But I am imagining that even the warblers must be feeling the urge to re-locate given the hint of winter in the morning chill.

Two Dot: twilight

This summer’s twilight is made of smoke. We turn the lights on in the morning to alleviate the dim. Last night was restless and full of coughing. and now the view out the windows is hazed like an ancient oil painting. One window, if I tilt my head just right, holds a classic landscape with a proscenium made of a ripening hay field, trees as curtains on either side. Layers of hills grow progressively soft as they recede. “All the world’s a stage.” There is meaning in the setting as opposed to the action.

Two Dot: sleeper

John and I will be in the schoolhouse a little longer, but the summer has begun to transition to memories. Guests have moved in and out of the guest bed. At first, Angie who slept downstairs with Jessica but couldn’t keep her eyes from the bed upstairs, not having Jessica’s pension for dark places. Erin removed everything extraneous from the bed. “I am a one pillow girl,” but arranged pillows and a blanket on the floor for meditation. Sara Ann stayed in the schoolhouse alone and in the cavern of the empty rooms, she stripped the bed of all but the sheet and wrapped herself in her own familiar sleeping bag. Alaina made the bed everyday precisely as she found it, but hung her dresses around the room wearing something new everyday. Yvonne was here only one night, but she did not sleep till morning, having a headache that would not give way in the dark. She slept with intense dreams that we discussed later over coffee. Jim made the bed his home for four days, sleeping through the affects of vertigo. Sleep was his only refuge until the world stopped spinning. Lynnette checked on him regularly and joined him at night.... always worried until he was able to stand and we all went to Crystal Lake. Little Ben was the last to sleep in our guest bed. He made the room his own, stacking his clothes, pulling over a little school desk for “work,” arranging all the toys from the house around the bed. His favorite stuffed dog that came in his back pack settled onto the pillows. The first night during a thunder storm, his dad found him sitting upright and crawled in beside him to alleviate the noise and light. To my delight, each morning when he crawled out of the guest bed, he came to me for a hug. All of these stories have become part of the schoolhouse.