by Mimi Hedl
In rain, snow and the heat of summer people from the past show up at Strawdog. With a knock on the door or a look up from mowing I’ll see a strange face. After a few moments as I travel down once well-trodden paths, the memory’s rekindled. I can usually attach a name to the face. Sometimes it’s shocking to see what time has done, other times, like the latest, pure joy.
Since I’ve started writing for Barbara on her blog, I’ve had several of these knocks on the door, via an e-mail. Barbara figured out, by Googling Strawdog, that my writings come up and people who know about this piece of paradise, can enter. And this is what Saori did.
Saori was one of three Evergreen State College classmates who came to Strawdog in 1992. My niece Zoë, Barbara’s daughter, had asked Ron and me if they could come. They were 19 years old. They came for 3 weeks to do some sort of research project. We all know how much research most of us would do at this age. Still, it sounded like a fun adventure for them, and us.
Saori, Stacy, along with Smasher, her dog, and Zoë came with boundless energy and enthusiasm. We had lived on Strawdog for 10 years in what most Americans, even in 1992 would consider, old school ways. Cooking on a wood cook stove, doing laundry with a wringer washer, no television or stores close by, and an old truck for transportation. I can only imagine the shock for Stacy and Saori. Zoë had come to Strawdog often, with Hilary, my daughter, flying together from Boulder.
Now, and over the 29 years since their visit, I’ll flash on something about that June, stimulated by who knows what, just the fickle way memory works, and laugh. Sometimes I’ll cringe because my step-daughter Suzy didn’t give me the name of ‘Commandant’ for nothing. She gave me this title with affection and humor, but I don’t think everyone who has dealt with me sees me in the same light, and I may have pushed these neophytes too hard. No one complained to me directly, but….
Saori struggled with English back then. In the letter she wrote a few weeks ago, her English flowed smoothly and effortlessly. Still living in the North West, she makes jewelry and grows spring ephemerals from seed ─ mostly seed of bulbs that thrive in rocky locations, many from her native Japan. Her letter was thoughtful and filled with gratitude for the experience she had here. She also offered condolences for my loss of Ron. Needless to say, her letter filled me with longing and happiness. What a gift to be remembered, fondly, after so many years.
Saori sent photographs too. This one, of her milking Flora, is my favorite. When she came to Strawdog, she had one ambition ─ to learn how to milk a cow. None of the others shared her enthusiasm. I don’t remember how her lessons fit in with her schedule because rising early was not on her radar, and Flora came in early and expected to be milked and have her breakfast. I do know Saori succeeded and was so happy. In fact, to this day, when I’m really happy, I’ll shout “I so happy!” because this is what Saori said and it was infectious.
We’d drive to Westphalia, a German-Catholic town about 20 miles away to buy feed for Flora and the chickens. On our way, in the Ann Elizabeth, a truck we bought with money my mother won in the lottery, the girls would sit in the back, singing and mooing at the cows as we drove by. Here you can see Zoë and Stacy.
When Ron and I drove this way, we’d always stop in a little town before Westphalia, another German-Catholic town, Rich Fountain, where we bought a double-dipped ice cream cone for a nickel. When the older woman who ran this tiny store out of the bottom floor of her beautiful stone house died, we mourned her loss and the wonderful moments we had buying a treat from her. Zoë couldn’t remember if the store was in business when they visited. In my imagination, it was.
Ron loved this grain mill. He became friends with the men who ran it, always covered in dust from head to foot, the eyebrows especially, coated, covered, thick with this grain dust that had a lovely fragrance. The entire mill felt like a relic of the past that these folks in rural Westphalia kept alive. Ron would visit with the men over the sound of the grinding gears as I’d walk around, admiring the view from the hilltop where the steeple from this Catholic Church competed with the one in Rich Fountain.
The five of us spent quiet summer evenings. I remember one evening especially. All of us were sprawled over the sofa or chairs, maybe on the floor. I knew Saori wrote in Kanji, a logographic script. (That means that a character, instead of letters, represents a word or thought.) I had begun to study and enjoy haiku. I loved Basho. I asked Saori if she’d write Basho’s famous haiku about a frog jumping into a pond. She agreed and we proceeded to find a proper pen and paper.
Watching Saori quietly collect herself, and practice a few times before committing the haiku to paper, I watched a self-assured, confident, skilled young woman. Quite frankly, I was mesmerized. Inside me, the desire to learn kanji began to form. Seven years later I would meet a young Chinese woman at the library in Jefferson City who would help me begin the journey that Saori’s poise inspired.
These are the Japanese words for Basho’s haiku, and the English translation:
furuike ya old pond…
kawazu tobikomu a frog leaps in
mizu no oto water’s sound
As I admired the photographs from all those years ago, I was struck by the plants growing in the first quarter-acre. Everything looks so well-mulched and luxurious, especially the bed of comfrey and the garlic. Now that quarter-acre slowly returns to nature. I can no longer take care of so many gardens, and little by little, I give back what we once took.
Redbuds have volunteered in this plot. I’ve said yes to a half-dozen of them, pulling weeds and grasses from around their base. I’m still debating what large deciduous tree I’ll plant, maybe a pecan, maybe an oak of some kind. Or perhaps I’ll see what volunteers and take that as a sign of divine intervention. Whatever happens will seem good and lovely. To watch a piece of land you’ve grown to love become a new character seems as beautiful as watching a young woman grow into her beauty, like the three young women who came to Strawdog all those years ago.