SOMETIMES, NO MATTER HOW you try, life just will not resolve itself into a blogpost. It won’t cohere, it won’t follow a theme—it’s just an all-over-the-map mess.
Or so it seems.
True confessions: my original title for this post was Love and Romance, but it just would not come together. So, I’ve been putting off writing it, and if I don’t do it soon, February will be over! So, now retitled Real Life and Blogging (though I couldn’t give up on my original title completely), here’s my best shot at getting a few of the things swirling through my mind right now out on paper (or screen).
It’s that tricky season I wrote about last year around this time: midwinter spring. Though I’m starting to get enticing glimpses of a few early hardy flowers—snowdrops, cyclamen, and tête-a-tête daffodils—the wind still has that ARCTIC edge to it. There was even a dusting of snow this morning, and while I love the way snow remakes the world in white, I’m still impatient. And it’s Ash Wednesday today, the beginning of Lent, another liminal season I don’t always find easy to navigate.
I should be working in the garden, but I much prefer the comfort of my couch with a nice cup of tea and a stack of books nearby.
Here’s a look at some of the things I’m reading at the moment
I’ve recently reconnected with one of my cousins, Karen, whom I hadn’t seen in years, and together with her daughter Kristi and my sister Sharon, we’ve been doing a deep dive into our shared Dutch ancestry. Our grandparents immigrated (separately) from the Netherlands in the early years of the twentieth century, so we’ve been looking at old photographs and trying to piece together family history, with the result that my grandfather’s family and early life in Amsterdam seems almost more real to me than my own twenty-first century life right now!
And the mysteries of his life are tugging at me again—like why did he leave his well-to-do family in Amsterdam to farm on the plains of South Dakota? He met and married my grandmother there and they had three children (my mother was the youngest), and moved to Washington state in the 1930s. My main childhood memory of him (after my grandmother died) is Grandpa taking off by himself every summer in his old green International Harvester pick-up to drive the Al-Can highway like a pioneer searching for the final frontier. I wish he’d kept a journal. What was it he hoped to find? I don’t think I will ever know.
Saakje Kaastra (Grandma Sadie) and Jan Coenraad (Grandpa John) Stroeve on their wedding day in 1917
Yesterday I received the news of my cousin Roger’s passing, the last of my cousins to bear my grandfather’s Dutch last name, Stroeve. Though our grandparents’ Dutch heritage lives on in me, my siblings, our cousins, and our children and grandchildren, the named descendants of John Conrad Stroeve (born Jan Coenraad in Amsterdam in 1895) in western Washington have come to an end.
Why is this important? I think we’re all always trying to solve the mystery of who we are, in part by trying to figure out who and what kind of people our ancestors were. And it’s Ash Wednesday, with its earthy reminder that we are all dust, and will return to dust. Every day, some tiny scrap of that old world most of us didn’t live through and don’t remember slips away from us and is lost forever. And even when we don’t know exactly what it is we’ve lost, I think we still feel the grief of it at times.
On a completely unrelated note, I’m going to the AWP Writers’ Conference in Seattle next month. I went to AWP in Chicago, Boston, Seattle, and Los Angeles during my grad school years and just after. This will be my first time going as a published writer (rather than a longing-to-be-published-and-not-quite-sure-it-would-ever-happen writer), and I’m wondering how that will feel. If you happen to be going, please let me know. I’d love to connect with you in person!
I wanted to end this unwieldy post with a line of poetry: If winter comes, can spring be far behind? Then I looked up the reference, thinking it was Shakespeare, but it’s from Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the lovely last stanza (strophe?) seems in some mysterious way to tie everything I’ve written about together (except maybe AWP). Shelley is addressing the west wind here–read it aloud for full enjoyment!
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened Earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
All photos my own