In his television-induced stupor, he could sense a melancholy tickling at the back of his consciousness. It wasn’t unexpected. In fact, the feeling was largely a part of his experience of being home. Home. Even the idea of home seemed ironic. He’d never lived in this house, and his history with the place was a chronicle of low-energy holiday visits marked only by the intensity of his bouts with insomnia and his feelings of otherness. Maine itself, the larger backdrop of "home" against which his earliest memories had been painted, seemed foreign. "Home" had always been a place to escape from, a word used mostly out of filial piety and tinged with bitterness and regret.
He turned off the tv. Rubbed his eyes. Stretched. He went into the study and looked out the window. He saw his mom in the yard, bent over a hillside flowerbed, busy transplanting some unruly daylilies. He hadn’t realized until now, but it was a beautiful day. Without thinking, he opened the back door and wandered out into the world, shoeless, happy to feel the grass below his feet. This is better, he thought, I think I’ve had enough wallowing for the day. He walked down the hill towards where his mom was working and they talked for a while. New rock stairs curving down the slope. Hot pepper to discourage deer. Saving worms. Last year’s unintentional brush fire. All sorts of little curiosities that she had had a hand in while working in this space. She got up and walked with him as he continued down the hill towards the woods, talking about her plans to clear away some of the brush along the streambed and his plans to go stomping through that brush. She stopped at the edge of the lawn, and as he pressed into the trees, she warned him about poison ivy.
He walked along the streambed for a while, letting the cold, clean water shake away the sadness he had been feeling. This is real, he thought, and at that moment, he saw a cluster of ferns thrusting up from the water, slowing opening into the spring. Several had not even broken the surface yet. He saw these and realized that he had been passing clusters like these all along without seeing them. They were all around, perfect for being what they were.
He started feeling like a child again, exploring the woods and finding everything around him fascinating. He remembered his first time reflecting on the utter brilliance of the cover of leaves on the forest floor, seeing moose wandering around in the brush, hearing a great horned owl hoot.
And then he heard a hoot.
He had no idea how far he had walked, but it seemed far enough. Doubling back, he found a large rock in the center of the stream that he had passed before and sat. The owl hooted again. He could see his mother, returned to her work. I don’t understand why she has such a need to order things. The stream is perfect... beautiful. He watched her quietly for a while and shortly, she stopped and looked up. He wished suddenly he could make her see what he saw, and he very desperately wanted to say to her, "Don’t fret so much about the wheelbarrow and the bulbs. There’s a lovely rock where you can sit right here." The owl hooted again.
But this isn’t the whole of the story.
She watched him for a little while as he walked into the woods and realized that she felt worried for him. She worried about him quite a lot, actually, and not because of poison ivy or bare feet or any of the things that reminded her of the boy he used to be. He’d always been sad, but over the past couple of years, she felt like the sadness had closed him off. It was as though he had erected a shell to protect himself from being hurt again. She couldn’t blame him for that. Given her own experiences, she could understand just how devastating such a drastic change could be. She was resolved to help him, but she worried that he wouldn’t see it and just assume that he was going through this alone.
As she walked up the hill, she found herself wondering if he had heard her when she invited him to work with her. "These daylilies are the old variety that you can’t really get anymore. They started from bulbs at least thirty years ago." Things like this fascinated her, the sense of continuity, the tradition, the juxtaposition of the old and the new. She sighed then, knowing that he was very much like her. Utterly different and yet the same, and the absurdity of the idea made her smile. He’ll be ok. Eventually, he’ll be back on his feet and maybe he’ll even realize that I was there for him all along, at least in the ways that I could be.
She knelt down and started working again, carefully rooting out select plants to move to a different area or to pass on to her friends who were starting a garden of their own. Tradition again. Just a few would grow to fill their space and more, and then they could pass more flowers on to someone else. A little part of her lending beauty to someone else’s world. She heard an owl hoot. And again.
She looked up and over her shoulder and caught sight of him through the trees. He was sitting on a rock in the middle of the stream, looking more relaxed than he had been since he got home. She might have, at that point, started thinking that he looked like one of those fat happy buddha statues she had seen, but she didn’t. Instead,she shook her head and laughed to herself because at that moment, all she wanted to say to him was, "Why are you just sitting there on that rock? We could still be talking while you helped me with my bulbs and wheelbarrow." The owl hooted again. Third time's a charm, she thought.