We all agree that the visit was too short, but we remember a different visit that was too long, so we’re content to leave this time before anyone gets worn out.
All six of us flew in via Halifax and drove up to stay at the family homestead with my parents ten kilometers from town, outside the range of street lights and freeway sounds. In sight of the pink mud of Cobequid Bay, fields of alfalfa and Holsteins on the pasture. A steady wind comes in all the way from from the Bay of Fundy every morning, blowing warm and moist all day, loosing the scent of clover in the field and butterfly bush on the edge of my mother’s garden. We take a walk up the former railroad track, now a recreational trail also used by landowners to get to woodlots and back fields, and the honey producer to his beehives. The path narrows and fir and aspen lean in; the air is calm and we are swarmed by mosquitoes, no-see-ums, and a few horse flies and deer flies. Not to panic, as my daughters and I don’t swell and itch for days like the males of the family for some reason–me least of all. Next day there’s not even a sign of all the epidermal injections and extractions I’ve endured. My husband is hit worst of all–attracts more flies, swells, itches, and occasionally gets infected and needs treatment, though usually lavender essential oil usually does the trick.
Along the main road, the wind keeps off most of the flies, and keeping ourselves at a jog confuses our enticing scent. It’s a wide, red, graded gravel road, built up over the years, never paved because local farmers have lobbied against it, the gravel being easier on their tractor tires as they tear up and down between fields and barns. Easy on the knees and feet, too. The Shore Road connects to the provincial route and runs along the bay and through the rolling, green hills, back to connect folks farming along the tidal Stewiake River, then back around past the Plum Hole where I used to fish.
The hedgerows alongside the road are alive with birdsong–song sparrows perched on power lines, starlings swarming in the poplars, red winged blackbirds by the pond. Vetch, three kinds of clover, knapweed, fireweed, goldenrod, coltsfoot, and Queen Anne’s lace bob and weave with the long grass in the ditches along the road. Each lace flower hosts oblong orange beetles–at least one, and many a mating pair or two. Ants and flies are also there sipping nectar, and on one, a white flower spider grasps an ant by the head. We stop to see if it will let go to seize any of the flies that alight periodically, but it only tenses slightly when touched by one.
From the road the house is almost entirely hidden by foliage. It sits on a rise and is screened from the road by an ancient apple tree, one of the oldest in the region, probably. Smaller apple trees and plums stand around. A sagging grape arbor fronts the vegetable garden, which includes a row of currant bushes along the driveway. A stand of sun chokes and various flowers and herbs thrive on the gray water from the kitchen sink. The lawn consists of dozens of types of grasses, low growing native weeds and violets. The red and white currant bushes are loaded, and we pick quarts for the freezer. Apples from the Transparent tree have already gone into a pie, Transparents being the queen of pie apple, even better than Gravensteins. My father shows me which weeds he’s been eating–lamb’s quarters, wild amaranth, dandelion. We take a bunch of amaranth up to the house for supper.
I know every sound, smell and trick of that house, more or less–each door has its own voice, certain stairs creek, the wind moans through the heating vents under the floor when the doors are left open. Creak of linoleum, certain doors that stick, old grooves scratched on the doorway to the kitchen by the dog we used to have. I feel the familiar stickiness of surfaces in summer humidity–floors, tables, the stair handrail. The too dim greenish yellow glow of the retrofitted fluorescent bulbs my father uses to limit energy waste. The scrape of a chair, the weight of the salvaged artillery shell set down against an inside door to hold it open. I can recognize the sound of each set of feet on the stairs, walking across another room, on the deck. I hear my own coming down the stairs. There are gaps between the treads and risers, and my feet sound like my mother’s. In the kitchen she makes little noises as she works on supper–no words, just tuneless but expressive little noises as if stuff keeps rising up in her consciousness–images, memories, feelings evoked by the presence of family not seen in years and an intensification of homemaking work to serve them. Some noises to fill some gap in her ability to express something in words right then, or marks of self-restraint. Though I know she can be a dragon when in pursuit of justice, or condemnation of hypocrisy, pretension, instead she comes across as nervous and eager to please. Her shoes scuff quickly along the kitchen floor as she assembles salad and bread plates, gets out the margarine and tests the potatoes to see if they are cooked all the way.