It’s the last Sunday in October, dry, and I’ve just torn up the front garden beds and transplanted everything to the back. Like Dawn used to say about our basement in West Seattle, the back of the yard is where all things go to die. Fend for yourself. It’s a stack of torn out shrubs, clippings, and leaves. A part of the yard we should do something with but never do. I dump the ashes from the wood stove there in a hole, and make an open-air compost bin out of unused bailing wire. I do figure 8’s with the John Deere over the pickle ball court sucking up leaves, throwing back bits of it like golden brown confetti. Then blow it all into the grass.
This time next week, with any luck I’ll be at my mom’s house in Germany sitting around her old dining room table, looking out the windows on the stone streets below. The Germans out milling with their kids and their dogs. The last leaves on those arthritic looking trees, and the clouds on the German hillsides, the vineyards and trails where we used to walk. Up the Himmelsleiter by the railroad tracks, down the valleys and orchards.
I’ll board the plane with my medical papers, mask up and burrow myself into my seat solo, using up two years’ worth of frequent flyer miles for first class because I deserve it. And cross the IDL as the sun dips down and rises again right after. And forgo the after-dinner brandy in favor of water, still or “mit gas.” And go back in time, fall back.
Two years now since I’ve seen my mom, even longer with my dad, who lives in Pennsylvania not far from where I grew up. Outside his town, the country roads thread back to where my mom and John once lived, the countryside looks the same as where my mom now lives in Germany. They call it Pennsylvania Dutch, good farming land. Hex signs on the barns, witch balls out front (“gazing globes”). I thought it looked like home looking out the window of the room where John last stayed in that treatment center before he died, and that was the last day of October too, 2008.
We lived there twice, the first time on the one-year anniversary of his death, which we knew would be a hard time for my mom. And flew back to Seattle in early November. The look of the country before we left was all brown and gray, the vineyards gone fallow, the vine clippings stacked nearby for burning. How they had a tradition of baking bread in the old stone hearth up the road from my mom’s house, and would use the pruned vines from the vineyards for kindling. You can’t go back really but we do, and the Germans with their traditions too.
I cut back the English ivy that’s taken hold of the front garden bed and choking the clematis. You have to be in a certain mood to tear things out, and it always feels good. If only it were so easy with our lives! And fall is the time for that, to turn everything over and till it, to see what comes of things next year. I move these bulbs to new pots and give them new soil, put fallen branches on top to keep them safe from the cold like the Germans do. Burn the limbs from the tree I took out earlier this year, salute the dead.