The stretches and growth pains of this year have been magnified this month, as though
everything has risen like dew from the grass and lifted back into the sweltering ether of August -to linger, to stick to my skin, to make it hard to breathe as I run muddy trails winding through thick woods in a Mississippi suburb of Memphis. I can run dirt roads, I can drive miles of endless highway through cow and hay and corn country, but I cannot not be with myself.
This year has been a slow acceptance of hard things, a loosening grip on things I cannot
control, and re-routing of a lifetime’s worth of roads traveled between my spirit and soul and my heart and head.
We first met the Mississippi as a family last October in St. Louis. Asher slid down into its slick mud, barefoot and caked up to the pits of his knees. I took a picture of myself on my phone, then asked Vinnie to take it with me, then asked Lila too. Anything to not be the focal point.
Last week, we met the mighty river again in Memphis and walked the length of Mud River Park, stepping back and forth over the topographical map of her inlets, her curves, past the bridges stretching over the cities she birthed with her power and stature. This time, I gathered Evie to my side and asked her to pose with me.
On the wooded trail in Mississippi, dripping with sweat, I paused and watched a dog, watching me. He surprised me, appearing out of nowhere when I thought I was alone, huffing through the humidity. We eyed each other for a moment before I continued to walk toward him and he took off up a long stretch of a drive, howling, warning everyone, she’s coming.
I sprinted past the barking and changed my route for the rest of my laps to avoid setting him off again.
In some ways, this is how I am, have always been. Letting myself be seen just enough to cause a stir of any sort – then running hard past it, away from it, not wanting to face it (or been seen) again.
There is a fear of being simultaneously too much and not enough.
There is a balancing act of wanting to be a mighty force and also be undetectable.
There is always a yearning to connect and a desire to escape.
This is how it’s always been.
And, it’s what I am trying to overcome.
And this year has also had months like July, where I had an unseasonably light workload and was able to spend most weekends with my family – where we hiked and ate ice cream smorgasbords and took long walks and fumbled in hysterical fits of laughter through the rain to a grocery store when we were caught off-guard in a deluge.
But, August came in as a hard stop – a heavy pause.
In it – I visited a couple and their family that I’ve been shooting for years, whom I’ve seen from engagement through two newborn sessions and everything in between, leading up to this larger family session, in which we recognized their son who passed away unexpectedly at only five months old. I felt the immeasurable grief and weight of gratefulness to have been welcomed into this family’s life, to tell small glimpses of their story.
In it – I turned forty and had days of reflecting on exactly what that means to me – when in reality, it meant working a shoot, sitting in traffic, sitting in the DMV and telling the clerk that, no, I didn’t need a retake on my photo. Not because I liked the picture she took first, but because, I realized, I just. Didn’t. Care.
That revelation was only four decades in the making.
Now, we’re closing out the month on the road. Our trip home been a slog through tipped tractor-trailers and navigating Tennessee back roads with physically and emotionally exhausted kids.
The differences in our family between our journey west last October and this shorter one in August was a little starker than I was ready for. And I’m realizing that you don’t always recognize the changes happening right before your eyes – the growth, inner and outer – in those you see every day (or in yourself) until you take yourselves out of routine and habit.
Lila and I took turns catching ourselves in the mirror and for a brief moment thought we were looking at the other person.
Alex and I took turns butting heads and splitting hairs over things that wouldn’t matter at all,save for our blood sugar levels. And I realized he’s officially a teenager now.
Evie held her Kindle to the window of the van as we scrolled past farmland, capturing the scenery to share with her best friend back home because she HAS to show her where we’ve been.
Asher, my constant encourager, just now, leaned forward as I’m typing and asked if I have any followers who read my blog. When I shrugged and told him, “not many,” he still smiled and reassured me – “some is still pretty good.”
We left for this trip early in the morning last week, in a rush after a late night with friends by a fire, followed by hours of processing while packing through midnight, through one in the morning. Distracted, I piled more clothing than I could possibly wear in seven days.
I filled an entire suitcase with only my things, yet still, pulling out of the driveway, there was the lingering feeling as though I’d left something behind, that as the miles passed, something important was further in the distance behind us. And, that somehow, part of what was lost was deeper and more meaningful than a thing at all.
My favorite part of the map of the Mississippi at Mud Island River Park was how it showed how the shapes of the landscape had changed over time, as the water flowed mightily through. There was the place where the river flows as she does today, full and moving along, but above that, the layers of her path that had been carved over years of her rolling through these landscapes and shaping them, over and over and always by her moving forward.
If in this heavy month of August, I am leaving something behind, it’s only because I’m moving forward. And it isn’t forgotten, it’s an imprint. It’s the curves and depths and unique patterns carved out by the force of my progress.
These have been the roads, leading to the river and back again; the reflections, winding in and out of my spirit as we’ve been away, and in many ways, this whole fortieth year.
August began with the addition of larkspur crawling up my arm, curving carefully around the dog roses of Romania. It symbolizes the desire for laughter and love – things I want to always be open to, things I want for others to find in me…and things I want to remember to always find in myself.
It’s larger than I had originally envisioned, but it rises to meet the hummingbird, the fluttering creature who is here and than not, seen and then disappeared – but who also knows the sweetest nectar is within.