I. We haven’t gone to the grocery store in four weeks, as we’ve managed to survive off of our pantry and a local farm bagwe already subscribed to pre-pandemic. That, and foraging in the yard. We don’t use chemicals, so we have plenty of weeds, and Nikki has identified which are safe to eat: hawksbeard, cat’s ear, plantain, pennywort.
Each morning, she goes outside to collect before the plants close themselves against the midday sun. I join her sometimes, but I’m bad at it, nervous I’ll make a mistake and kill us both “Into the Wild” style. I used to pick weeds on the farm, but they were more obvious: purslane, nettles, lamb’s quarters. I chewed on them like cud.
These are sometimes bitter, a defense against being plucked. This does not stop us. We have been discriminating about mowing the lawn, having identified hot spots of flowering food. We act fast, before the light slips in. Which it does every single day, regardless of any human or the mistakes we make.
II. My father introduced me to most of the music I listened to well into my 20s. He was obsessed with music, always drumming on something, singing in his oddly feminine vocal fry falsetto. Sometime in his 40s, when the world had done enough numbers on him, he stopped. The house went quiet.
I followed in his footsteps until, five years ago, my father died and I, too, stopped listening. I suddenly couldn’t multitask anymore and couldn’t sit alone with it, either. It all made me too sad, or too anxious.
During all this, social media has been most people’s method of staying connected to the world of other humans, and I got tagged to post my top 10 most influential albums, one per day. I thought hard about what “influential” meant and how to separate that from “favorite.” I spent time listening to old albums and thinking about their place in my history. I learned again to listen without allowing the past to be a problem. I have listened to something every day since. It feels like an opening. Light slips in.
III. My alma mater is a small women’s college, one of the seven sisters. Those on the outside believe us to be cult-like, and it makes sense that they do: tradition is a pillar of the college’s values; we even elect Traditions Mistresses each year. We carry lanterns, gather in the dark to sing, keep organized secrets even from each other, speak in code.
On May Day, we gather in all white with flowers in our hair, drink champagne and eat strawberries and cream. There are hoop races, a maypole dance, and my favorite, the mayhole: a parachute full of rose petals we tent into the air as a feminist response to the phallus of the mayhole, singing Dar Williams’ “As Cool As I Am”: “I will not be afraid of women.”
Classes of 2020 everywhere are feeling robbed, but I think that the Class of 2020 at Bryn Mawr is properly devastated at their loss. They are grieving for the bizarre magic of their final traditions, the dreamscape of our castled campus, the Taylor Hall bell, which you ring upon finishing your final final exam. I grieve for them, too, thinking of my own last months there, so profound and full of cherry blossoms. The end of one’s career at Bryn Mawr is a singular experience, with the graduation ceremony actually the least weighty of them.
This year, rather than eschewing May Day festivities, they went online. Dar Williams actually did a live stream of her song, though no mayhole could be simulated. It might have been sterile, and I honestly expected it to be, but somehow, watching the viewer count climb into the hundreds, I cried. I was reminded of some of the most formative days of my life, and of daily beauties I am always taking for granted.
Afterward, I looked around my quarantine space and let things hold my gaze. I remembered the moment I found the first of a dozen prairie dog skulls in a pasture in Colorado.
I fixated on the three-tiered wasp nest that lived for so long on my grandmother’s bookshelf, and now lives on mine. I homed in on this rock, that one, and knew where each was from. I gently shook a jar of red dirt from my father’s grave, watching the small detritus rearrange itself. I counted the framed nests Nikki has collected for me, unlatched the box that contains every note Nikki has ever written me.
These things go unnoticed most times, seeming just to be décor, but in isolation, surrounded by the better parts of my past, I feel these rooms fill. In all this darkness, the light. It just keeps slipping in.