It’s the first snow of 2020 in Delaware. The curtains are parted and the blinds lifted, to give an uninterrupted view of the white flake gala. As if on cue, flurries land softly on thin grass blades; the air turns still in suspense, and the sky turns grey like freshly-laid cement.
It’s a drama that’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful, depressingly comical. A play of ironies, a dance of opposites.
The window bravely stands between the conditioned warmth inside, and the wild cold outside. While the branches languidly shake off the shimmering flakes, inside, a lavender-scented soy candle fights the gloom with its single wick. It throws light on everything at reach —the beige carpet, the grey paper cranes, and a dusty black heater that oscillates a continuous stream of hot dry air.
As the wax melts, the snow thickens. From somewhere far, the sound of traffic comes in like a muffled storm.
The phone blinks, a reminder of unanswered texts, story deadlines, and blocked calls. On the table rest a pile of handwritten letters and Thank You cards, to-do lists and recipes noted down in a haste… each yearning for a glance, some attention.
But all can wait. For, what’s on is a performance by the band of clouds. ‘Tis the premiere of snow in Delaware.
“There is something strange about settling in to a new place, the laborious adaptation and familiarization…” wrote Mann in Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain). And as my husband and I journey through these times, I cannot help, but think about the home that we moved from.
We started our lives there as a newly married couple. Everything was new, right from the feel of the carpet to the workings of a relationship. But as we grew familiar with sharing a holder for our toothbrushes, a rack for our bath towels, and one closet for all our shoes and clothes, we also grew familiar with the grey doors, eggshell-painted walls, and the smooth wide kitchen counter top.
Together, we made the house our own; covering the floors with purple rugs, and walls with paintings — some done in the quiet of a weekday afternoon, some done on a cheerful evening after a glass or two of wine. Some mornings, as we sat soaking in the first rays of sunlight leaking in through the window, we sensed the sound that was unique to our home. It was a mix of the traffic noise on Philadelphia Pike, the melancholic call of mourning doves, and the muffled footsteps of our neighbors upstairs.
These days, on afternoons, as I sit sipping tea, I can’t help but think about the goings on in the world that we left behind. Around this time is when an elderly lady in her long skirt, and full-sleeved shirt came out with her Chihuahua that had a small limp; she would most often pass a group of kids walking back from the pool, still in their colorful neon swim clothes. Here, in the new place, afternoons are marked by the sight of a jet black cat lounging under a pine tree, grooming itself leisurely. There is indeed something strange about settling in to a new place. The laborious adaptation and familiarization…
Home is where the bathroom door groans resisting a push; where a black cotton curtain hangs limply over the bedroom window trying its best to keep away the fierce morning light; where a faint smell of rose petals hangs loosely in the air like a fragment of memory.
Home is where a row of Lego toys sits perched on top of a shelf of books; it’s where the paint on the bathroom wall is slightly peeled off because of a stubborn artwork that refused to let go. Home is where hats and bags adorn a coat stand, and a cactus called ‘Pokey-Mon’ rests on top of a wooden chess board. Home…it’s where mornings are defined by the uproar of Nespresso machine; the clunk of the toaster; and the sight of a listless white cat that sits solemnly at the neighbor’s window.
Home is what we left seeking great adventures, but always came running back to for its yellow lights, soft mattresses, and the familiar cool temperature. It is where we loved, laughed, and grew to be better versions of ourselves, in the last two years.
Home, sweet home, is from where we leave now, with our bags, and a truck load of memories, to start anew. Only, this time, we won’t be back.
At White Clay Creek State Park, we walked in a single file for five miles. Shrubs rose on either side of the slim trail, some reaching our height, some towering over us. Daisies, shamrocks, and anonymous wildflowers popped their heads out from between the curtain of greenery. We slowed down, paused to see butterflies land softly on the petals. When they took flight, we fastened our steps. Our muddy trail was punctuated with puddles of water and fallen logs. We walked over small bridges, with thin creeks running jauntily below them; stopped to pick up a hawk’s lone feather from the ground; and sat on giant trunks to sip water. Around us the air smelled of wet soil, and somewhere far, the sound of stream synced with the call of birds.
A second road trip to Ohio in less than a week. This time, we started just when the sun came up. Trees turned from blue to green, and houses from grey to brown. We drove, a light brown bag of sandwiches and Terra chips next to our feet. Every once in two hours, we stopped at a gas station, sometimes to feed our car, sometimes to simply buy a Hubba Bubba. For the rest of the journey we blew big bubbles and saw the world turn pink from inside it. We took turns to be at the wheel. While one steered, the other reclined the passenger seat all the way back, and watched the world pass by at 80 miles per hour. Trees, poles, bridges and birds moved at dizzying speeds. Above them, like a dream, floated soft fluffy clouds. If you looked hard, you saw faces in it. A kid, a monster, a man swimming, a woman sitting. All evasive, quick to hide. And just like a dream, they passed. What remained is the clear blue sky. Our only constant as we drove along an ever-changing landscape.
A mourning dove. Her presence is now a habit. We would open our patio door, to soak in some sun, and sip some coffee, and there she would be, as still as a wax model. We saw her first, when she perched on the railing holding a thin twig in her mouth. Soon, the diligent one built a soft brown nest for herself on the ledge. Whenever we wanted fresh air, we turned the door handle slowly, cautiously, without the slightest squeak, like robbers. Once outside, we whispered, about her, about other things. She eavesdropped openly. It took us a while to realize she had laid eggs, and was now incubating them. One night, it rained non-stop. Thunderstorms. Heavy wind. Would she be alright? We wondered, plastering our faces on to the bedroom window which faced the patio, and her nest. Next morning, we stepped out, on the wet wooden floor, to see a litter of egg shells. Oh the horror. We imagined the worst. But it was the opposite. The family had grown. There was more than one bobbing head. Our little dove was now a mother, feeding her two chicks. It’s been close to a month, and now, walking around dried drops of bird shit in the morning, is the new normal. We don’t whisper, we don’t sneak out. With hot mugs of coffee in hand, we rock in our patio chairs, talking, laughing, while she and her mate sunbathe sitting on the center table. Fearless, secure and in harmony.
It’s a cloudy morning. A number of cars are parked in line outside; inside a table is spread with Japanese seaweed salad, Brazilian bread, Indian motichoor laddu, and Mexican leche frita. There is a coffee pot, a tea pot, and about 20 glasses filled with champagne, on the kitchen island. Conversations start with Guten Morgen, and Bonjour, and pick up pace in English. Broken and fluent. It’s International Women’s Club morning coffee meet-up, in Delaware.
I go around, gathering tiny tales from people to of different origins. All of them, though from different parts of the world, made America their home at some point. Each has been on a journey strewn with challenges and excitement; their stories ebb from what once was, to what is.
Some stories stay (scroll down to see them), and some fade away. But that’s alright. What matters are the moments of laughter, words of love, and sparks of friendship…They blur borders a little. Broaden your mind a little. And make you love life, a little more.
A flock of chocolate brown geese trundle along the rolling hills of Carousel Park. A row of goslings follow the adults in obeisance. The sun shimmers on their fur, giving them a golden glow. Tempted, we go closer, but are chased away by the strong, vigilant adult geese. We let them be, and instead, immerse ourselves in the beauty of the steel blue lake, luscious green trees, and clear skies. The trail is a soft carpet of fresh grass, peppered with yellow buttercups. Above us, trees merge their heads forming a thick canopy. We stop to notice the names of trails (Robinhood, Lady Marian), listen to the neighing of horses, and observe the wide green leaves of a certain plant that, we are warned, stinks! Just when we are about to end our hike, we make a plan for another — New Castle County Police Mounted Patrol is organizing a 5K run to raise funds to support the active duty and retired horses, on May 19, 2019. For details, log on to ClydesdaleCops.org.
The bluish green Brandywine creek followed us for a while, before hiding behind a cluster of brown branches and trunks. Then there was just us, the hard paved road, and the quiet of the woods. In that almost meditative silence, we heard the wind howl, and birds sing. As if lured by these sounds, we walked towards them, not minding the steep slope, the wet ground, or the slim paths that grew slimmer. The woods now seemed thicker and chaotic, like a brown crayon scribbling by a child. Our shoes brushed fresh yellow buttercups, while our eyes grazed the flawless blue sky. When we returned after an hour-and-a-half walk, the bluish green creek still stood calmly waiting for us.
When we started our walk at Valley Garden Park, Delaware, we hoped to catch sight of some stunning daffodils. What we came across along the way, was so much more. At every crossroad, we took a cue from Robert Frost, and chose the one less traveled. And weren’t we glad we did. For, through a mesh of white pine, oak and beech trees, we saw a herd of deer galloping by at a distance. Our trail rose and fell, with the ground alternating between a bed of dried leaves and a blanket of fresh green grass. When the sun shone brighter, we peeled off our jackets and beanies, and let our skin soak in the warmth. A pair of glossy frogs leapt into a thin stream of water, as we slowed down to see a splash of color — new born lavender crocuses, white snowdrops, and a thin line of graceful yellow daffodils at a far distance. For all the beauty that surrounded us, we said thank you in the best way we could — by giving a tight hug to a faintly greening tree.
We walked close to four miles, for two hours, at Carousel Park, Wilmington. Tall trees, still leafless, rose above us, guarding a trail that changed from paved roads, to graveled paths, and wet and muddy stretches, with every turn. On our way, we saw a tree with a mysterious dark cavernous opening; a little distance away was a giant trunk etched with names of those who had been there before us. As we inched closer to the Enchanted Lake, a brace of ducks shooed us away. So we made our way to Huckleberry Hill, where a pair of donkeys looked at us with a sense of disinterest. We also made a quick trip to the stable to meet our horse friends Lil Red, Diesel and Cutie. And just as we were about to leave, we stumbled upon an interesting arrangement of pebbles on the grass; it read ‘Joy’ — quite aptly summarizing what we felt at the end of the walk.
I am back home, in Delaware. Outside, the snow is forming a thin blanket. On any other day, I would have jumped out the window and waddled on to the ice cold grass. But today, I am drenched in thoughts.
…of the time I lay on a wicker recliner with the cool breeze ruffling my feathers.
…of that bright evening, when I stood so close to a lamp, that I could see the wick slowly drinking up the oil.
…the sound of the ocean, the green of the coconut tree, and the smell of ginger tea and filter coffee that made mornings official.
These days, the dreams I have are of steaming hot idlis, rolled-up sweet paans, and pots of payasam (sweet porridge). In the deep quiet here, I imagine walking along the street-side stalls of Chennai, soaking in the smell of camphor and incense sticks, the sound of temple bells, and the feel of salty air from the sea.
Is there a cure for a holiday hangover? Maybe a plate of paneer tikka would help.