After packing and saying our goodbyes to Jean and Vicki, Gilda and I drove south towards Alligator Alley. I was excited to be driving across Florida and to get a view of the everglades. My father, a civil engineer for the Army, had worked throughout South Florida on various projects before I was born. The names of towns were familiar to me because I had grown up listening to him talk about them.
While I felt as if I were home and had hopes of catching a glimpse of an alligator, Gilda’s husband Stu had warned her not to get out of the car because he’d been warned there were large snakes in the area. Gilda wasn’t sure what to do when I pulled over and asked her to take a photo of me by the water. But she did! Then I took one of her. Just don’t tell Stu, she said. And we laughed.
We arrived in Miami in one piece and were struck by the change in scenery…busy highways, hotels, so many Spanish-speaking people. Our time in Miami was filled to the brim with non-stop activity. But a few things stand out in my mind.
The Friday night Meet and Greet was busy and loud after our quiet time at the beach in Naples. Authors were invited to leave copies of their books and business cards on the hotel counter. By the time Gilda and I arrived, there were so many books and cards, we had to squeeze ours in.
We met Laura and her sister Christina at the bar. They waved us over and introduced us to authors they had met. We talked for a bit, shouting over the noise. I’m always struck by Laura’s beauty and vivaciousness and enjoyed watching her interact. She’s a natural publicist, always sharing warm words about her authors and listening intently to the stories of others.
After the social hour, we were ushered into a large room where several presenters gave talks. The room was so full, we had to split up in order to find seats. After two presentations, Gilda and I stepped out to look for Laura and Christina. We found them in the hotel lobby and ended up pulling up chairs and spending the rest of the evening in this less busy setting.
Around the table, the four of us shared pieces of our lives and got to know each other. I couldn’t help but think how it was as if the conversation that had started in Naples was continuing. My mother, who loved stories and intimate connections, was surely smiling down on us all.
The next day, Laura, Gilda and I met in the lobby, so that we could ride the shuttle to the Miami Book Fare. It was a gorgeous day in South Florida with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid seventies. Our plan was to find the Readers’ Favorite booth, take photos of our books and then just walk around and enjoy the scene.
The Miami Book Fair is recognized as the finest literary book fair in America. I’ve never been to a street fair that was made up of so many booths of books. It lasts for eight days and is a veritable feast for a writer. More than 250 publishers exhibit and sell books and over 450 authors read and discuss their work. Everywhere we turned we found something to marvel at!
The four hours we had planned to spend at the book fair evaporated like water on a hot sidewalk. And before we knew it we were back on the shuttle to the hotel. But we had each had a sweet taste of this special festival and even had the opportunity to celebrate with other authors and meet Mitch Kaplan, co-founder of the Miami Book Fair.
There was just time to touch base with Laura’s sister by the pool, then run out to pick up some gluten-free, dairy-free food for Gilda and me before we had to get ready for the main event, the Readers’ Favorite Award Ceremony.
We had heard the event was formal. But it wasn’t until I saw a few women dressed in ball gowns and sparkly, sequined outfits that I truly took that in. Gilda and I were impressed with how the event was set up with rows of white, cloth-covered chairs, a stage and photo area with a Readers’ Favorite backdrop, a bar at the back of the room, and two side areas where a buffet dinner would be laid out. If you had a good imagination, you could pretend you were in Hollywood.
Gilda and I joined Laura and Christina in an area to the side of the stage. The host told Laura it was prime seating because you could see well and make an early escape if you didn’t want to stay through all the awards. It turned out to be perfect.
After a short introduction, the host called authors in different sections of the audience up to receive recognition and awards. It was thrilling to hear my name and Motherhood: Lost and Found announced. And just as thrilling to join the applause when Gilda and Laura’s names were read!
Christina took photos of each of us on stage. Then we proceeded to the photo area where a professional photographer took pictures and we, of course, took our own with our phones.
One of the most interesting parts of the evening was getting to talk with other authors. Gilda and I noted how it was unusual for authors of a certain genre (memoir, in our case) to mingle with authors of another genre. In my typical day-to-day interactions, I tend to have blinders on, blithely ignoring writers of fantasy or science fiction. Yet, here we were in a room where no two authors had written from the same perspective. Once the blinders were off, I realized how much I could learn from these writers.
We happened to be sitting in front of Ben Burgess, Jr., for instance, who is a New York detective and has written multiple award-winning novels focusing on crime and prejudice. We all commented on how fascinating it was to hear his stories, and we ended up trading copies of our books with him for his latest novel, Black & White.
By the end of the evening, we gave hugs all around to each other and our new friends. Gilda and I were buzzing, though we hadn’t had anything to drink. We could have stayed up all night talking, but we made ourselves lie down in hopes that we could get a few hours of sleep before our alarm went off at 2:15 a.m.
Perhaps we dozed a bit because when we woke up, we were much more groggy and tired. But we managed to gather our belongings and head down to the hotel desk to checkout. We asked the young fellow at the counter if he would accompany us to our car. This was Miami, after all, and it was the middle of the night.
The dark streets were ribboned with light from the street lamps, and we made our way to the Fort Lauderdale airport easily. We turned in our rental car and stood in line at the airport. We made it through security without being searched or even taking off our shoes.
When we settled into our seats on the plane it was close to 6 a.m. Once we were up in the air, we could see the Atlantic Ocean to our right. A thin line of light hovered at the horizon. I made Gilda stay awake long enough so that we could take photos of the sun rising over the ocean. Then we both closed our eyes and slept.
Before drifting off, I thought of Jean and Vicki and our intimate bond through AlzAuthors. I thought of my deep friendship with Gilda and our affection and admiration for Laura. I felt the warmth of each of these relationships and sensed my mother’s hand on this trip, as if she had somehow helped orchestrate these sweet connections, bringing us all together so that we could reach out to others. I said a silent prayer of thanks.
Later that day, Laura sent us a photo of the sun setting as she on her way home to New York. It seemed significant that all of us had witnessed the sun in its transitional state. Laura, who had been so instrumental in the flights of our books, generously ushering them and us through an amazing experience, while Gilda and I were coming home to what felt like a new chapter in our lives, a doorway filled with light, opening towards something yet to be revealed.
The evening after the eclipse, Sunny and I take a walk. The sky is mostly clear, except for a few dramatic clouds hovering behind the tree line. The horses are grazing as usual, their coats covered in fine sweat that is just beginning to evaporate as the heat and humidity slowly lift. It is 8 o’clock, four hours after the sun and moon finished their dance through the sky.
Joel, Sydney and I went down to the barn and watched the eclipse from there. We did the pinhole through the cardboard trick and used eclipse glasses to take short peeks at the scooped out sun.
Sydney and I let the horses out because they seemed eager to enjoy the grass under a slightly cooler sky. The temperature gradually dropped from 91 to 87°.
At one point I brought a chair and sat in the shade under a tree. I was surrounded by the shapes of crescent moons created by the sun filtering through the leaves.
As the moon covered 97% of the sun I looked and listened for anything that might be a sign. The cicadas continued chanting, a single bird chirped behind me, the horses eagerly cropped grass. Sydney noticed that one of the cows from next door was looking at us and the herd was slowly making its way toward the neighbor’s barn. Maybe the unusual light made them think it was time to come in.
And suddenly the crescent shapes shifted from one side to the other, and the scrim over the sky seemed to lift.
I thought of all the people looking up – friends and family in the mountains, at the beach, in town, in faraway states. For that one moment, we were linked. Held together by a celestial ribbon, an awareness perhaps of the beauty of our sun – its strength and fragility.
When the eclipse was over, I was exhausted and empty, as if a part of me had been scooped out. I hadn’t expected to feel that way. Actually, I hadn’t thought about what would come after. Maybe I was picking up on the collective sigh from our country.
Tonight, I am grateful for the presence of horses grazing in the fields, the dog who walks by my side, my family and friends who share this wide world with me and the glorious colors left behind by the setting sun.
Three days before the eclipse and the sky is on fire. Not in the west, like it normally is when the sun is going down, but in the east. What does it mean?
Sunny and I were heading back up to the house. But the glow was so beautiful it stopped me in my tracks. We had taken a walk, and I finished the barn chores while Sunny patiently waited for me.
I wasn’t in a rush. I had spent the day with writing friends. It was early evening and the air was still warm and humid. My skin was slick with sweat. Once you step into a barn and the dust settles on you, there’s nothing to do but surrender and enjoy being dirty.
I’d walked up to the ring to check the water for the horses. I caught Foxie rolling and Shady studied me with his ears pricked up, alert.
Earlier in the day I had read a funny strand on an equestrian site about horses and the eclipse. A woman was wondering whether she should do anything special to protect her horses during the event. Several people responded jokingly: “Buy the extra extra large eclipse glasses,” “Have you ever seen a horse look up at the sun?” I couldn’t help but laugh.
I remember a partial eclipse I witnessed back in 1984 in Charlottesville, VA. The sky darkened slightly, as if storm clouds had gathered. But they hadn’t.
William E. Schmidt, a reporter for The New York Times, described the eclipse in Atlanta, where it was close to full. “The temperature dropped six degrees, flowers closed their petals, dogs howled, pigeons tucked their heads under their wings as if to sleep and the whole city was bathed in a kind of diffused light….”
“As the light from the Sun passed through the leaves of trees,” Schmidt continued, “it projected on to the sidewalk pavement tiny wedgelike images of its own crescent silhouette.”
Thirty-three years ago I was on a farm in Virginia, and I noticed those crescent silhouettes sprinkled around in the grass under the trees. So many years later, they are still vivid in my mind.
On Monday, we will experience a 97 percent solar eclipse here on the farm in North Carolina. I don’t believe that horses need special sunglasses or that the world is coming to an end. But maybe the glow in tonight’s August sky and the coming eclipse are simply reminders. The world is full of incomprehensible beauty. The least we can do is pay attention.
The beach has always been a place of deep nourishment for me. When my mother passed away, after living with Alzheimer’s for 14 years, I was physically, emotionally and spiritually depleted. I fled to the coast in search of the parts of myself I had lost.
Each morning, I got up early and walked the damp sand, studied the shore birds, listened to the roar of the waves and inhaled the salt breezes. My mother had always loved the ocean and images of her inspecting shells or pointing out dolphins gradually began to float back to me.
As I remembered and grieved for my mom – the woman I had lost, the mother whose physical form had departed this world – tears filled my eyes and slipped down my cheeks.
At the same time, descriptions and words filled my head. and I began jotting down lines of poetry that turned into poems. In this period of solitude, I gave voice to the myriad emotions that came to the surface.
Little by little, a lightness began to permeate my soul. It was as if my grief had been clogging the pathways to joy. And as I gave my feelings permission to take flight through words, a sense of the sacredness of life filled me. Gradually, I awakened to some of the day-to-day blessings I had been blind to over the years as I numbly cared for my mother.
I’m excited to share my journey from grief to joy in my new collection of poetry called The Beach Poems. It will be available through Main Street Rag Publishing Co. The list price is $12. But If you live in the U.S. and you order now, you will receive the pre-publication discount of $6.50 (plus shipping).
Click here for your pre-order discount. The collection will be mailed to you upon publication. Thank you for your support, and may your beach days be blessed!
I was just chatting with a “friend” on Instagram. We were connecting about our love of animals and nature, and our conversation suddenly took a turn. She told me that her mother’s birthday was tomorrow. I knew that her mother had died and sensed that she felt this loss intensely.
I felt a sudden deep empathy. My mother is gone too, and her birthday was in late June.
My Instagram friend is a writer like I am and her words made me pause. “We never fully stop grieving. It is an ever evolving process, and through writing they live on with us and through nature and animals communicate to us. Never the same, but comforting.”
As a poet and a nature and animal lover, I know this to the core of my soul, though I’m not sure I’ve spoken it out loud. My mother was deeply in tune with nature. I remember her awe over the spectacular winter sunsets on the North Carolina coast, her silent reverence for the beauty of Lake George and its wildlife as we paddled her green canoe, her passion for protecting undeveloped land.
Like nature, she was never in a rush. Mom taught me to appreciate the mountains around the lake and the long stretches of damp sand along the coast. With her eyes, I take in the tall pines that line the bay, and I scan the ocean’s dark grey green waves for the fins of dolphins.
I follow her footsteps as I hike the rocky hills of the Adirondacks. Is it her feet or mine that sink in the sand as I search for shells beside the ocean as the salt air caresses my cheeks?
Each time I walk on the beach or return to my ancestral home in upstate New York, I am soothed by visions of her.
To read more about my mother and her influence on me, order a copy of The Beach Poems, a collection of poetry about the Carolina coast and the crescent of sand we called “the beach” at Lake George in Upstate New York. To receive the pre-publication discount, click here.
Also, check out my friend @meditatingwithanimals on Instagram and learn more about her lovely book here.