Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Friendship Thing

In my experience there is an old-fashioned kind of novel that mines the intricacies of friendship.

A Separate Peace was an early favorite of mine, introduced to me in my first year of high school, a few years after the book’s publication in 1959. It is about loyalty and jealousy and the delight of being openly acknowledged as the choice another has made for best friend. Once a year until I was well into college, I reread the same paperback copy of the John Knowles story of adolescent affection at a boys’ prep school. A certain New England landscape became familiar to me even while I lived in New Orleans.

In the past twenty-four hours I have entered upon a third reading of The Fires of Autumn, another 1959 publication, a novel by Helen Howe. The first chapter opens on the day after Labor Day and an afternoon gathering of friends around a fireplace on Mount Desert Island. They have just said goodbye to children and grandchildren who had been summering with them. Here are five women whose long ties to one another are complicated by how they carry their lives as widows. The fall they see arriving in the coastal Maine village around them brings them closer to the reality of the fall within.

What kinds of friends do people need? What kinds of friends can they expect in the normal course of their lives? Does the way they looked for and made friends in adolescence bear a resemblance to how they find and maintain them late in their lives?

In my sixties I catch myself from time to time sensing a friend closing the valves of attention. I seldom know immediately what to do when that happens. I can too readily suspect that an underlying problem with a long history is behind the quiet emerging between us.

At other times I am the friend closing the valves. I know that time may pass and the avenue to contact might reopen. I am seldom happy about the quiet settling between a friend and myself. I can jump to the conclusion that there is something faulty with my emotional wiring.

I suspect that there are people who do the friendship thing better than I do.

I suspect, at the same time, that I could be wrong in harboring such a suspicion.

There are writers to warn us off reducing friendship to any one need or motivation, any one formula, any one history.

Friday, September 1, 2017

When to Stop Watering a Garden in Fall

The first day of September hardly registers as fall by any official calendar. In New England, however, an early morning walk on a day like today is able to surprise. A long-sleeve shirt can feel not quite enough when the walk goes past a first half hour.

The sidewalk in front of more than one house was still wet from early sprinklers this morning. No high arcs of water to walk around and avoid at seven o’clock, I was able to slow down near borders of perennials. The open faces of the newest blossoms reached up, still wet.

The trees on either side of the street were summer-full, thick and leafy. The air beneath where their branches met was shadowy and moist.

There was no doubting that summer had done well by the gardens down this street. No doubting, either, that the seasons were moving forward. Such walks a month or two down the line might require a first donning of flannel and corduroy. The borders of perennials will start wearing winey hues.

At some point homeowners down this street will discontinue the early morning sprinklers. We will all of us resort to an alternate wisdom about what growth requires. We will grow into that wisdom.

When do we do things differently?

How will we know when to stop watering our gardens in the fall?

When do we start living differently?