the woods in maryland smell totally different than the woods in portland: like honeysuckle and pepper, damp from the humidity. on my first day home I run down the back roads near my mom's house and by the time I come back I have sweat dripping from the end of my braid. the sun is beating down and the air seems to be trying to stuff a wet rag down my throat.
it's pretty great. welcome home.
the dog is stiffer with age, the fat cat is fatter. my mom has saved the front fields for me to mow. I've flown in on a red eye and therefore haven't slept at all (I already can't sleep on planes and this is made worse by being stuck in the middle seat), but we still stop on our way from the airport to have lunch with my two aunts. there are birthday cupcakes.
on my birthday it's cold -- 52 -- and rainy. plans to go paddleboating in the harbor downtown are scrapped in favor of a decadent brunch at miss shirley's, where we order, in addition to our own breakfasts, an extra plate of jalapeno bacon cinnamon rolls. my mom buys me shoes and then we pick my brother up from school and head to cold stone to get a cake. "do you want something written on it?" the girl asks, and we blurt out "...happy birthday, jessica?" since none of us has even thought about it. I immediately regret not having the cake read "DANG GIRL" but short of having the text scraped off and rewritten, it's too late.
at home I fall asleep on the couch because I'm 33 now so I guess my transition to grandma is complete. it's 3:30 in the afternoon.
we drop my sister at 4H and then go with my brother to boy scouts, where it is election night. we listen to a series of adorably awkward speeches. my brother's friends are all amazed to meet me, the mythical older sister. my brother is elected senior patrol leader -- top dog. as they close the meeting, he gets the entire troop to sing me happy birthday. it's my first birthday at home in 13 years.
I go home and sleep for 10 hours. jet lag is a bitch, y'all.
the next day my mom and I drive down to fells point and walk around. we eat sandwiches on the water, peruse galleries, stick our heads into touristy shops, trip on the cobblestones. I miss my mom and I wish we could do this all the time. being away is hard.
I run my favorite trails. my calves hurt all the time (I need a travel-size foam roller but keep electing not to buy them. I don't know why) but it doesn't really matter; I strap on my oldest shoes and bounce down the archery trail to the ridge trail. I lament the loss of the sign we used to kiss at the top of the ridge. it had a deer on it. I make the same wrong turn I always make, and realize it at the same place I always realize it. I cross the stream three times and dunk my right foot twice. running in these woods always feels like a benediction somehow. there is love in every step. I am thinking of the boys in cross country, who used to tear through the woods and fell small trees; I am thinking of my best running friend, lindsay, whose braid was always bobbing along near me, who was always faster and smarter and who was always, always my favorite; I am thinking of mr. mig, our coach, who has just been diagnosed with stage 4 gastric cancer. I have his address and need to write him a letter. he used to watch me run cross country meets -- I was awful at cross country and I more or less hated it because I never figured out how to pace myself -- and he would turn to my mother and say, 'your daughter has got so much heart.' it's been 18 years since my first xc season and I still think of him, and of his faith in me, every time I race.
on the quarry trail, my sister joins me and leads the way and we talk about our running goals, about times we got in trouble, about the differences between our high school experiences. hers is much more regimented and sterile than mine was; the school is bigger, the track team is highly competitive, and everything is so busy and structured. during my track years, we'd deviate from the trail to jump in the river; we'd swim and eat mulberries from the path and get covered in mud. she just runs.
we order crabs for dinner one night. I grill chicken one night. we go out for ice cream and snowballs.
we spend one afternoon working in the yard, dragging downed branches from all over the yard, debris from this winter's many snowstorms. the grass is knee high in places (because the branches make it impossible to mow). we break it all up and saw it into pieces and burn it in the fire pit until we are too tired to move. the branches still outnumber us. I once again wish I could stay for two weeks, tell no one except my immediate family I'm home, and help my mom clean up the yard. it is clear how much easier it is to have a second adult in the house -- a second driver, a second wallet, a second cook. my mother is overwhelmed and exhausted. it never gets easier to leave.