The Smith River and the Lake Isle of Innisfree

The Lake Isle of Innisfree, by W.B. Yeats

Today I am meant to be packing up for Jed. 

“Jed” is family shorthand, for a particular place and season and gathering, which a small extended clan of us look forward to each summer. This space is sacred—I suspect not only for myself. Every year, Jed is the scent and the promise and the work of midsummer. 

Instead, today, I have pulled up the bolting cilantro in my raised beds. I’ve amended the soil and replanted a fresh crop, half the size, using the extra space to seed more kale. My household (ok, mostly me) cannot possibly grow enough kale. The arugula bolted a couple of weeks ago and I pulled it up too, replacing it with basil. All three human householders here are in love with those sweet, slippery leaves. We are equally enamored of arugula’s sharp personality, but since my first crop, sown in April, I’ve been unable to help new seedlings thrive. They germinate, but their seed leaves slowly turn brown and the plants stop growing. Perhaps it’s too hot? I’ve no idea; I have never done this before. Gardening—like staying home from church and dance class and friends’ houses and restaurants and the library and grocery stores and vacation—is a new thing for me, since Quarantine. 

Home “ground.”

I walked today—early, as always. ‘Before the sun is high’ is one way to think of it, and also ‘before I see other people and would need to wear a mask.’ I have sat alone in the still-cool morning, breathing with the Douglas firs and, every so often, thinking of nothing. I have wished there was more than compost-flipping and cilantro-planting to occupy my body in the garden. And I have taken a very short drive, my first in a couple of weeks, to run an errand. 

It all helps. But I return from each activity to this restless, noli tangere state. Settling to anything feels useless, and nearly any stimulation outside myself itches. Even my husband’s “I love you”s shred my silence. It is only noon.

I can’t sit to a book of poems, but I notice I’m reciting plenty. When my restlessness catches on the future, the plague, on rising cases and closed borders—some calm, understanding part of my brain hands its anxious co-neurons Shell. When I reach for censure, and upbraid myself for the discontent I am trained to see as weakness, I find Psalm 46 holding me up. When I miss my sacred place, it’s The Lake Isle of Innsifree. “I will arise and go now”— and of course I won’t. 

Yet—this home I’m not to leave is sacred, too. I am more than fortunate. Here I have peace, and aloneness when I need it, and nine bean rows (well, kale), and evenings full of the birds’ wing-susurrus. 

If I also hear my river in my deep heart’s core—that’s only the usual call and consolation. Ki is my constant soul-companion, not just now, and it’s always just a little bit hard to be physically distant. 

So. I will trace my river in my green wrist-veins. I will give the money I would have spent this week on camping fees, to an organization that works for my river, preserving and protecting. I will still write poems to twine with riversong. They’ll taste a little different; the song this year is bloodrush, and the memory of living water. As it always is, the other 51 weeks. I will arise and go now, as I always may.


2 thoughts on “The Smith River and the Lake Isle of Innisfree

  1. Having forgotten an open tab playing soothing rainy walk sounds, I first thought you’d recorded this sitting by your river and it felt very right. When I realized my error I went to silence the other tab, but it was so nice that I immediately put it back on. These are always a gift—I love that you’re recording them.

    Liked by 2 people

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