Another Move

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The cat is not happy.  It’s moving time at the Atkins household.

No, I am not leaving my beloved Vermont.  But my daughter is settling into her first apartment. She took a job down south (Her beloved place.) and yesterday I packed up a trailer full of furniture to haul down her way.

I was probably a cat in another life. I hate moving. I like to get settled. Get things the way I like them and forget about it. But this is a good move. An exciting one. a positive one. And that makes a difference.

Twenty-five years ago, I thought I had found my dream house, a great big rambling farmhouse on the edge of Troutville, Virginia. Built in the 1790’s it was a semi-fixer upper, but it had everything I ever wanted in a house – history, big rooms, high ceilings. It had presence.

But life has a way of reshuffling our dreams. Fourteen years, two kids, four cats and one divorce later, I moved to a small 800 square foot basement apartment. It was such a terrible thing for me, re-arranging life and my space at the same time.

Actually, it was a charming little place. It was in an old college building, and you had to go under the front stairs to get to the apartment. You could clean it with a good sneeze. And if my furniture barely fit? Who cared? It was just me. But still, moving there was, I felt, a tragedy.

My next apartment was just 300 feet away, in an old building that at one time (1800’s) had been the county jail. You could look at the windows and see where the bars had once been attached. It was larger (my furniture finally fit) and cozy. It had a fireplace. Still, whether you are moving 300 feet or three hundred miles, moving is a pain. Pack everything up. Haul it. Unpack. A week or two of chaos.

But, this move did not have the pain of the first. There was not the pain and confusion of a 25-year marriage ending. Unlike the move to the apartment under the stairs, this move was made by choice. And that made all the difference. I tolerated it fairly well. But I still didn’t like it.  I really am like a cat.

Then, of course, there was the move to Vermont. An 11 hour drive away.

Actually, it was no worse than the 300 foot move. I still had to pack everything up and unpack everything. You know the drill, you’ve done it. Maybe more times than me.

I’ve been here 9 years now. I thought I was pretty much done with moving. But I had not factored in kids. You see, originally, my wife had custody of the kids. I got them on holidays and summers and such. I was, to my dismay, a bachelor again, at 54.

But life has a way or scrambling reality as well as it scrambles dreams. A year or two after coming here, my daughter decided to move up with me. So I moved her up. And a few years after that, my son made the same decision. Another move. Then four years of twice a year moves for my daughter in college in Virginia. And a little over a year ago I moved my son to college in Florida. Then my daughter moved from DC (where she had a job) back up to Vermont. And now, I am moving her back south to a new job, a new apartment and a new life.

I’m moved out.

But this is a good move. And it really does make a difference. When I moved out of the dream house to my cubby under the stairs, I was miserable. When the kids moved from Virginia to here in Vermont, they were miserable. It was more like a fleeing than a standard move. We had just a few short hours to pack up and move everything. (and everything was more than you can imagine. Teenagers have more stuff today than I ever did.). Those were not good moves.

This is a good move. New work. New place. New life. I am not so old that I can’t remember the excitement of that. In fact, it is still kind of fresh in my mind, though my last move was nine years ago.

It’s good for me too. My parents died a few years ago and I and my two sisters had to do what all families have to do, break up a household collected over fifty years. A lot of the things I took from the family home, I took because the kids wanted them.

Of course, the kids had no place to put them.

So my house has felt like a furniture warehouse the past few years. And now a lot of that stuff leaves. As I loaded the last piece of furniture on the trailer yesterday, I looked around the house. It’s still full. Minimalist that I am, I seem to have a furniture problem. Maybe I should look up furniture addicts anonymous.

So out goes another load (this is not my first). My cat is not happy. She believes that all flat surfaces belong to her. And I was taking her flat surfaces. Lots of them. She sat firmly on the furniture yesterday as I packed the trailer.

She’ll adjust. I’ll adjust. Change is good for us, to a point. It is movement in a world where it is too easy to become stagnant.

That’s what I have learned in all these moves. Whether I wanted them or not, good came from each of them. I grew in all of them. Yes, I like growing comfortable in a place. Yes, I resist moving and change with the best of them.

But not too much. Adventure lies in every packed box, every mile moved, every re-arranged room. It keeps our brain nimble. It moves us forward.

Even if we are kicking and screaming, or like the cat, perched with a scowl on our face. I mutter that this is my last move. I am too old for this.

But we all know I am lying.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

 

Poem: Uncertain Season

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Uncertain Season

The bones of the old house moan in the wind.
The barn begins to flood.
The mere act of walking becomes a task,
the slogging through mud, long frozen.

This is the way of winter
This is the way of spring.
The thaw is never easy
and for a brief time, you are unsure

which season
to yearn for.

About this poem

Driving home from Massachusetts today, the temperature hit 32 degrees. It has been so cold here – several days hovering around -20, that the snow and ice must have been eager to thaw. As I passed fields and farms, I saw half-melted ice, the dark melting water below, the last of the frozen snow skimming the surface.

It won’t last. Winter came early and hard here in Vermont, and we have a few months of it yet, but the mess reminded me of what we call flood season up here and the uncertainty of weather, and beyond weather.

And it made me think of not just weather, but change. That wonderful, scary thing.

Smiling at the thought,

Tom

Poem: Improv

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Improv

You are a cat-like creature
who never moves the furniture,
who likes places where the dust settles,
where you can walk in the night, sure
of your footing, sure that even not seeing,
everything is in its place.

But that is not your fate.
You live in a world of transition,
of comings and goings and rearranging,
constant rearranging,
a place without peace,
never quite finished, never still.
never the same long enough
to be able to move and flop unthinking
without fearing a fall
or stumbling in the dark,
never quite sure where anything is
at any given moment.

It is good for you, this chaos,
even if it is uncomfortable.
You are not allowed to become stagnant,
stale, certain.
You are forced to always be thinking,
to grow despite yourself
and it all bleeds
into the rest of your life,
a strange swilling of space and color and purpose,
a mystery to be solved, a playfulness,
improv theater,
half comedy, half tragedy,
where the audience and actors all hang on the edge of their seats
for what’s next.

About this poem. 

I am a guy who never moves the furniture. I like my routine. But the last few years, and the last year in particular, there has been no routine, change and more change in every aspect of my life has become my norm.

Even the furniture and walls are re-arranging themselves constantly. In the last year alone, only two rooms in my four bedroom house have not been re-arranged dramatically, a symbol, it seems, of life in my world.

I haven’t decided if it’s good or bad yet. It just is.

Tom

Poem: A Loss of Anchors

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A Loss of Anchors

You have been too long at sea,
accustomed now to the shift beneath your feet,
the constant adjusting
to wind and wave that shapes your journey,
too accustomed to the lack of firm ground,
to cramped quarters and distant shores
that come and go.

You are sensitive to the moment
when the anchor pulls loose from the muck
and you are no longer bound.
You feel it in your legs,
in your gut. You know, without doubt,
that once again, you are cut loose,
forced
to choose between drifting
and setting sail.

About this poem

My life the last ten years. (sways with sea legs).

Tom

Poem: New Lands

African Delta

New Lands

The first time your feet touched foreign soil
you expected more difference,
to feel more out of place and lost
and less like you had come home
to a place you had never been before.

Life became a puzzle, the figuring out of signs
and places, strange foods and drink.
There was an Alice in Wonderland feel
as every ordinary thing became new,
the simplest act a new discovery.

Landscapes. Flowers. Homes. Roads.
The buying of foods. The foods themselves.
The smells! The colors! Ah the colors!
Rediscovering green in England.
Sunlight in Italy. Beautiful mutedness in Amsterdam.
Munich’s rainy nights of light.
Colors and fashion and commerce
that do not exist in your quiet corner of the universe.

It is exhausting, all this newness.
And exhilerating your brain,
once so comfortable, suddenly challenged,
unsure and eager, both,
history and fantasy and film suddenly
the stuff of reality,
Stone you can touch,
lawns your bare feet can walk on,
Strange animals that come to your oustretched hand.
Tastes that change your very concept of food.

And so it is that you come to this place in your own land
where change is bearing down like a summer storm,
and you prepare your heart for all that is new,
half afraid, and half eager as a child,
wondering what new thing
you will become.

About this poem

Life is changing. Again.

I love to travel. I would be happy traveling all the time.

That place of half fear, half anticipation is pretty much my constant state.

The painting is titled “African Delta.” It is by Sandra Spahr and is on display at the Southern Vermont Arts Center.

And from that mix, this poem.

Tom

 

Poem: Tango

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Tango

Your father taught you to sail when you were six,
barking out orders like a modern Ahab
fueled by anger
and a sense of warfare with the elements.

The learning came hard,
trying to make sense of ropes and pullies,
of shifting seas and fickle winds,
of a new world where nothing stood still

where waves and spray and venom
crashed over you in equal measure.
For you, it was a wet hell,
a beautiful hell of teak and canvas

and a certainty that you would never
be enough, be able to master
even the simplest tasks,
much less the seas,

and when you left home,
you left the seas as well, seeking
the refuge of mountains and safe harbors,
of silence and a world that stood still.

But uncertainty is a strange drug
and the ocean called to you like a lost lover
and, weak at you imagined, you answered her call
and found your own vessel,

sure it was madness to return to the sea.
This time, though, there was no battle.
Without your father’s anger, his need to conquer wind and water and

sailing became a romantic tango.
Like the most intimate of lovers
you and the elements became one
and the shifts of currents and weather

and soul intertwined
and there was no need for a safe harbor
for wildness became safe
as the landless sea that surrounded you.

About this poem.

I actually did learn how to sail at six. The first time out the nose of the sailboat plunged into the waves and according to my father, I practically climbed the mast. He drove me hard in many ways, and I thought I hated sailing.

Until he sold his sailboat and bought a ski boat. Suddenly I missed it, and bought a small sailboat of my own. It was amazing the difference when I no longer felt I had to battle the elements, and learned the joy of working with them instead. I became more aware. Without the battle with my father, it became a thing of joy.

Later in life, my dad bought and restored a larger sailboat, and by then my love of sailing was my own. And everything changes when something is your own.

Tom

Poem: Mystery in the Workshop

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Mystery in the Workshop

Less a person
than some grand science experiment,
the victim of a God with too much imagination,
a God too young and capricious,
never satisfied.
always striving, changing,
leaving nothing long enough
to settle into itself,
to become comfortable,
always building
and breaking down
to build again,
leaving me breathless and wondering
whether I am one step from perfection
or Frankenstein’s lurching monster.

About this poem

Life is changing. Again.

Tom