Pay Attention

After a cup of very strong dark-roast coffee made silky with a dollop of half-n-half, I greet the morning from my front porch.  Two double-coated English shepherds, Cappy and Luci, lay at my feet, anticipating my next move into the day.

The walk.

Yesterday some kind of front moved in, laden with moisture and heat.  Dew point and air temperature met, and the curtain that rose skyward from the lawn clung to any fiber or hair with summertime tenacity.  Muggy. Humid. Words just don’t do justice to the heaviness of the air.

We headed over to the park before the sun climbed too far up above horizon. It was our regular routine. Out of car to the “registration desk”–a patch of grass littered with dog pheromones. Sniff, pee, sniff, trot.  Up the hill. Sniff, pee, sniff, trot. Nose to ground, walk, sniff, walk, sniff, pee, trot. Along the main park road to the campground entrance.  The trot sniffing continued as normal, all the way down the hill, round the corner, past the place of herons and turtles, down the straight-away where the hillside forest meets lake, a game of pheromone tag.

This is an out and back two-miler, shaded at this time of day, with just one hill in each direction.   We have been easily negotiating this hike for over a year.

But not yesterday.  Cappy made the loop around to head back, and walked.

One paw lifting at a time.

The water was waiting for us back in the car, as usual, and I could only promise to not do that again.  Luci was oblivious to her companion’s discomfort, continuing her trot explore, content with the many opportunities to pause for further message-leaving.  But I was exquisitely aware of the new pace, and concerned that whatever distress Cappy was feeling got managed well.

I let him set the pace as we wound back around the place of turtles and herons, up the hill still shaded by oaks and beech, passing the empty ball field. As we turned left onto the main road, Cappy perked up, smiling, picking up the trot, and joining Luci in a couple of last minute sniff and pees before jumping into the car’s hatchback.

I toweled off the liter of cold water before unscrewing the bottle and filling the collapsable bowl.  Cappy lapped until his muzzle was drenched, while Luci, still in her own world, clipped out orders to a passing dog.

Move on! Nothing to see here!

But I saw something.

I saw my Cappy as an elder dog, for the first time reckoning with his imperceptible decline.  My tri-color lad will be 12 this September, and with some reasonable accommodations to humidity and heat, we will continue our morning constitutionals.

Carrying water with us.

Move on.

Still Waters Run Deep

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In the center of the lake water rings ripple toward shore. The fish whose jump started the pulse swam anonymously away.  Until I started this morning constitutional I thought “catfish were jumping” was just a lyric in the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water.”

 

 

A Family Tree Can Provide More Than Shade

wood-nature-leaves-tree.jpgI think most of us who succumb to the genealogical fever scramble to collect names and dates, and align them in some order.  Bits and bobs of family history hang from stout lines of inquiry, like leaves on a June sugar maple.

I want to spread a blanket over its roots, and linger in the shade of these ancestors, telling stories of prosperity and perseverance.  But when I look up into the Dodson-Rowlett-Green branches, I see what those leaves are blocking, what is providing the shadowed comfort of family tales.

The light of ingenuity and survival contains the stolen humanity of enslaved people.

I can feel their presence, though I may never know more than an age, sex, or first name.  And I feel impelled to reframe my family’s progress and reputation, to fully account for their choices and the impact that those choices had on their children, neighbors, community, and on the very ideals of a developing democracy.

I am climbing my family tree, again, adding leaves and uncovering roots that go well beyond my known kin.  I wonder what I will learn when I step out of its shade.

 

 

this week in Gratitudes

My nights have been punctuated with bad dreams and periods of wakefulness this week.  I am puzzled about how/why anxiety has crept back under my covers.  I thought I had figured out a way to banish it from the dark, and keep it contained by rituals and healthy habits during the day.

The mind is a strange place, in constant need of tending, like a garden.

*sigh*

I think I will plant some gratitudes into the morning and move on.

  1. Several newcomers have appeared at my bird feeders this morning, including a Purple Finch pair, a Brown-headed Cowbird trio, a Red-wing Blackbird, and a Common Grackle.  The American Goldfinch flock continues to enlarge, with about 2 dozen beauties in various stages of spring molt.
  2. Yesterday’s snow has completely melted.
  3. A Snapping Turtle remains on the edge of a rock outcrop, ready for my continued scrutiny this morning.
  4. I had an email this week from a reader asking for help with our common Samuel S White ancestor, a request I unfortunately can’t fill.  Record gaps are so daunting, but new connections are refreshing!
  5. I had another email from a long-time reader and cousin with kind words of encouragement to continue writing about the Dodson family, a timely nudge because my research has become such a tangle of intertwined Rowlett, Dodson, and Green stories that I have written nothing instead of something.
  6. Which leads me to my last gratitude of the morning.  I am thankful for all those writers before me, who have taken time to commit their thoughts to paper–wood pulp or gigabytes.
    1. J. Russell Rowlett, who built a web page in 2003 to share his documentation of the Peter Rowlett [Chesterfield County, Virginia] family.
    2. Audre Lorde, whose words lift my lethargy.

“Silence will not protect you.”

Research. Review. Connect. Speak out. Stand up.

Write on.

 

Sunday morning musing

I have been getting acquainted with my 19th century grandmothers during the last few weeks, creating more questions than stories at the end of each day, which is frustrating at many levels.

I catch myself re-centering the family account around the men, specifically the white men, who populate the records.  It is a habit.  A learned way of processing the world that I resist, unsuccessfully, as I try to bring womenfolk out of the past’s shadows.

So I end up tossing the paper into the bin, or cutting whole paragraphs of text, or moving the whole post to trash.

And I begin again.

This week I will (re)focus my attention on Mary Green Dodson, 1787-1858, daughter of William Wills and Martha [Archer Rowlette] Green; wife of Edward Dodson, Junior; mother of James H, my 2nd great-grandfather; and cousin to Sarah Jane [Rowlett] Dodson, my 2nd great-grandmother.

Mary grew from girl to woman, wife to widow, mother to elder, in the watersheds of  Allen’s and Butcher’s Creeks, Mecklenburg County, Virginia.  I have looked out on those woods, walked those hills, with red clay, that Mary saw every day, clinging to my shoes.  Childhood treks from Chase City to the country that had held generations of ancestors made little impression on me until I strolled up cow-worn paths with my father, his drawl spreading stories of his childhood on my children.

I have lots of records for many branches of my families, but I return to those from Mecklenburg County time and again, because of this connection to the white feldspar-studded land.  And this genealogical homecoming has prodded my reckoning with the unspoken family lore.

The land and its tobacco guaranteed food security, housing security, community esteem.  And none of that was possible without the work of black people-enslaved, sharecroppers, tenant farmers.

When I reconstruct pieces of Mary Green Dodson’s life, I also feel those African Americans emerging from shadows.

I hope I do all of these folks justice with my story-telling.

Their hopes, dreams–and nightmares–built this country.