You don’t need to buy a ticket to get to Walden Pond. I read this recently in Annie Leibovitz’s latest book, but really I can’t remember when we didn’t always think we knew it—our grandparents were caretakers on a remote peninsula. We thought we had our own Walden, our own sort of golden pond. Sure, Flathead Lake is bigger than a pond, but the silence as profound. It can reach us even now, if we remember how it sounds.
My oldest brother sent this from his cell phone, promising better pictures on his big camera. Said this was as close as he could get, legally, to where our Grandmother used to live. We were the caretakers’ grandchildren and when the owners were out of the country, we were allowed access to the Big House and the small cabins each with their own sun porch, piano and fireplace.
With hummingbirds visiting their front cottage doorstep, we thought our grandparents had the best spot on the peninsula. And now, are they gone—the hummingbirds? Did they leave when Grandma passed away? And what about the rock ledge we built in the underbrush on the west side of the cabins? My brother stood on this shoreline snapping photos of the fencepost marking the No Trespass line.
Five days after Christmas, the wind blows strong. The climate, dry. The gully, cut deep between the river and the cottonwoods. Trash fills the narrow ravine. My parents come here every day to run their dog, half Labrador and half Rottweiler. Dismayed, my mother picks up trash and when my father sees there is no end, he joins in until they’ve filled the back of his pickup with left-over cardboard boxes, Christmas paper, garland and turkey bones.
And then, Mom comes across a Christmas card, unopened and apparently not quite delivered. She sets it aside and on the way home they come across an empty dumpster next to a lively house. They stop and ask for permission to empty the trash in this dumpster: Yes, please help yourself. Not until later that night does Mom realize Dad must have accidentally tossed the letter in the dumpster as well.
She lies awake all night.
In the morning, she retraces their steps. Knocks on the stranger’s door and asks: May I look through your dumpster for a letter? Yes, please help yourself.
We tell stories at a large table in the back room of an old Mexican cafe, lit with Christmas lights—red chili peppers. Everyone at the table has known the owner for the last thirty years, except those not yet thirty years of age. And then, they are the ones who can say they’ve known her all their lives.
One side of the table hasn’t seen the other side of the table in eight or nine years. We’ve so much catching up to do over plates of enchiladas and burrito specials. Twenty-four handmade tortillas served up like bread. Bursts of laughter, everyone talking at once: Rock climbing in Barcelona, graduations in May, snowboards and avalanche shovels, camping in the Beartooths.
And when the waitress plugs the vacuum cleaner in the wall socket in the main dining room, comes the story of diving in Honduras with an East German guide. Seems the guide was twenty-something when the Berlin Wall came down, our friends tell us. And what did the guide think, when she gained her freedom, we ask. From wife to husband, father to son, that side of the table shares some sort of moment with each other before the eldest son replies: Until the wall came down, she didn’t know bananas were yellow and that you didn’t eat the peel.