Letting some of it trickle out while trying to soak it all in

Monday, September 8, 2014


I went for a walk tonight to think about Archana. Two steps and I am off the road, setting across the neighbor's field. I've always been a trespass. I walk towards the moon, following the curve of the ground—following the tractor tires that followed the curve of the ground. Only the strongest stars are visible behind the gray cast of the full moon. I wonder where Archana's spirit is right now and what she is wondering.

Archana sat next to me in our trailer office. Not that she ever just sat. She was constantly up to something and the energy she pressed into it made you want to know what she was up to. She was working on caribou and mosquitoes but she looked forward to snow leopards. We had a weeklong argument once about whether big cats were an evolutionary dead-end. A superpredator too specialized to speciate. I thought it was rubbish but she had heard the idea from a prof in India and thought it might be true.

At the bottom of the field a line of five trees stand facing me. To my left a remnant of the great forest that used to cover this whole country. Corridors of oak, elm, and alder surround most of the fields in Brittany. These bocages protect the fields and pastures from the wind and also provide cover from Germans or Romans or French depending on who and when you are. I can hear the birds shifting above me and when I look up they are hunched over their branches, resentful that it's light enough to be seen but not light enough to forage.

When I told Archana I was allergic to mangos she said, "No, it is just the bad mangos you have here in the States." I explained that I get blisters all over my face. She brought me a ripe mango from India, yellow and small like a computer mouse. I held the thin-skinned fruit to my face and finally bit into the orange flesh. The flavor was impossibly colorful and complex, distilled earth and river dripped from my mouth. The next day my skin was fine.

The ground breathes out steam to the moon like smoke from a burnt offering and the five trees are stoic as sacrificateurs. I hop over the ditch running at their feet and walk out of the riverbottom through tall grass dotted with nettle and thistle. I realize I was in France the last time one of my close friends died. I got a call from President Hamilton, "Your mother was trying to get ahold of you to let me know that Syd Riggs passed away. I understand that she was very close to you." She was my other mother and her son Tim was my other brother. In a strange streak of autism or denial, the possibility of calling Tim didn't ever occur to me. He certainly had other things to deal with than a call from me, plus it wasn't Mother's day or Christmas so it didn't seem like an option.

This time I'd been meaning to call for weeks, to check up on Martin and Archana. Since we packed up our house in Fairbanks I just called once, to tell Archana I defended. I didn't tell her the defense was dedicated to her because it seemed hollow and braggart compared to the contribution she made to my years in the trailer looking for learning. The last five months of my Ph.D. we set goals together of when we would have drafts done. Neither of us kept to our timelines but we would pester each other into working longer. She had every excuse to stop: reactions to chemo, foggy thinking from the pain meds, a medieval prognosis. She never stopped though.

As I step out of the moonshadow onto the beaten dirt road I shiver and my face contorts involuntarily into a grimace as I realize that I won't share a meal with her again. That is the problem with living in France, I miss being there to hold Martin, to say goodbye to Archana, to talk through the night with Tim. Damn this world where we scatter like nervous wolves and everywhere is less than a day away. But were it not so I would not know my friend Archana. I would not have seen how one person's motherly kindness connects hundreds of strangers. She and Syd are the same that way: so fierce and so utterly focused on what is best for you. Hubs of the wheel, holding a constellation of life around them.

The horses are grazing as if it is day and I am bitter and so sad as I walk by them. I miss my friends and I am sorry to have missed their moving forward. But the night is douce as they say here, and the warm dark air makes me feel like I felt as a child when I would tangle myself in the heavy velvet curtains at the theater—hidden and safe. I do believe what the angel told Alma, that we will find each other again at home after this life. I believe it is a reality that our minds and our feelings are eternal as the water standing in the neighbor's pond.

It is black in the house. The windows are shut but I can see by the light around the doorframe. I open my computer and read what I wrote yesterday after Martin told me she was dying.

The sun has gone down here. The hedgerows are still glowing and the birds are looking for a place to sleep. Sleep my sweet Archana and go ahead, to the place where we all have been, that we all are in. And your eyes will clear and you will look back and smile and feel sad, that we will still be here in this windy and crowded isolation. But we will be together soon. We are alone in this together.

Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. Alma 40:11


  1. I spent 18 months eating several mangos a day in El Salvador only to come back to the states and find that I'm allergic to them. So it MUST be the bad mangos we have here.

    I'm unequal to respond to any of the rest of this lovely tribute.

    1. Archana said it was because the mangos here are picked before they are ripe. If you let the ripen on the tree the sap leaves the skin and you can eat in peace. Another point for Archie.

  2. Ben,
    I'm feeling with you, for you.
    much love.