We all are tired and dirty. My sons’ faces are streaked with perspiration; their bloodshot eyes stare back at me from dark circles of dust. For an instant there is silence, until they realize we are finished. Then they race off toward the house, arguing over who will take the first shower, leaving me alone to survey the harvest.
One hundred bins stand full of raisins following a month of twelve-hour workdays in the field. A pinkish-gray haze lingers over our vineyard, surrounding me with the mingling smells of human sweat, smoldering paper-tray fires, and the incredibly sweet odor from fifty tons of dried grapes. The setting sun illuminates rain clouds slowly rolling into our valley from the southwest, but they pose no threat to us now. For just a moment, I allow myself to languish in a delicious feeling of safety, while I experience this sight of a job well done, a crop harvested and ready for delivery.
Watching the vines become shadowy in the dusk, I marvel at their faithfulness to life and its seasons. Soon, the vineyard will quietly slip into a period of dormancy, from which it will spring again into life with tiny buds and leaves, drawing sweetness from the earth to share with its caretakers.
I lean back against the solid, twisted stump of an old vine and feel my father’s strength touch my memory. There was a time when I believed he would be as eternal as his vineyard. But he has passed on, as will these leaves at the end of their task. I touch the cooling, sandy soil beneath me and remember holding his head during his last hours, while he cried out in agony.
Once, he had slipped his powerful arm under my sleeping head to wake me in the early-morning darkness, when clouds heavy with rain threatened to destroy our crop. We rushed into the field and worked hard to save the raisins from the stinging drops of moisture. How I wished, on his last morning, that I could save his life as we had saved that crop so many summers before. “I love you, Dad,” I said. “I love you too,” he murmured.
The thunderheads now spreading in the sky overhead are the reality of the moment, so the tarps must be fastened, our income protected. My husband comes along and reaches down to help me to my feet. His smile is reassuring. We walk together to complete our evening chore, listening to the rustling leaves that whisper behind us of our love and our life and of change.
It was a beautiful Saturday in September. Our wives were working at a yard sale, and Tony and I had brought his two kids and three of mine to Lincoln Park. We spent a couple of hours at the zoo and ate our sandwiches and apples in the grass by the lagoon, watching joggers and rowers speed past. We held snakes and lizards in the Herpetological Society’s big tent next to the Chicago Academy of Sciences, and decided to wind up the afternoon with a visit to the Academy itself.
The Academy of Sciences has a museum at the edge of the park, a rather old-fashioned one, with mounted animals and dioramas, many of them portraying the history and ecology of the Great Lakes region. I used to visit it when I first moved to Chicago, but it had been ten years or more since I had been inside the museum.
We trooped through the door, across the lobby, and up the big staircase that led to the exhibits. Old memories came back to me. There was the polar bear at the head of the stairs, gigantic on his hind legs, coarse, creamy fur you could touch, one massive paw poised just above the level of my eyes. There were the voyagers by their campfire, just inside the door of the big, darkened exhibit hall. I had shivered at that scene many winters ago, imagining the long, cold days of oaring and portaging, the colder nights by little fires like this.
I looked to my left, and there was the moose — a young bull. It stood in a replica of a shallow stream, its head lifted as if listening, or attending to a scent from the woods. Fern fronds and the leaves of bushes nodded over the sculpted water, close enough to touch. The background showed deep forest, cool and green, dark at the height of a summer day, secret as dreams at night. Suddenly I was a young man new to the city again, understanding for the first time that these flat lands had a life and a beauty of their own, feeling my spirit touched and healed by the stillness and grandeur of the lakes and woods of the north. I looked at my children, who perhaps were binding their hearts to discoveries of their own that day, and I was grateful that this place was here to awaken our love for the natural world.
Richard A. Stewart
A sight that always captures my attention is red hair. I can feel my pupils dilate to allow more of the wonderful spectacle into my hungry eyes. Even if it’s in a photo or on a screen, I still pause to look long and remember.
I used to be indifferent to redheads. But then I met Cathy. Cathy had hair the color of a wheat field at sunset, with bright blue eyes and blond eyelashes and brows. She was my first love — the one teenagers are so sure will last forever.
I met her at church and we developed a delicious affection for each other that I had never experienced before. I began to spend every free moment with her. Because the apostle Paul said, “It is better to marry than to burn,” we discussed marriage.
We somehow succeeded in remaining chaste. As time went by, I began to challenge several of our church’s doctrines. I tried to persuade Cathy to question what we were taught, but she would not. Eventually, we drifted apart.
Fifteen years later finds us still apart. I don’t know where Cathy is, though I heard that she got married and had children. Her memory has become something of an archetype for me. When I see a lovely head of red hair, it evokes the longing I felt, and still feel, for the tender (if naive) first love I had for Cathy years ago.
At the beginning of summer, I paint my toenails crimson. Since my hands have grown clumsy over the weary winter, scarlet splotches the edges of my toes, smears on the middles.
I lie in bed and read while the polish dries. Every so often, I look at my outstretched feet. From a distance, the toes breathe mystery, glamor. These feet belong to a gorgeous high-cheekboned woman who wears bright lipstick and ebony stiletto heels. These are toes that lovers nibble on. They are toes that linger long in a gardenia bubble bath before a silk ivory gown drifts over them.
These seductive cerise toenails have nothing to do with uncoiffed hair and hand-me-down tennis shoes. These toes have never slipped into a well-worn pair of thrift-store jeans. They have never wiggled down into the sheets and found nothing but a daughter’s outgrown teddy bear and an unread Self magazine. That is why it’s so remarkable that they are attached to me.
I have a theory that when I was an infant, I was laid to sleep upon my father’s chest. How else to explain the feeling of safety and bliss I experience at the sight and feel of a man’s chest? Especially a certain type of chest — not particularly broad or muscled, not matted with hair, not too skinny and hairless either, but warm and solid, with a fine pattern of hair toward the center. This kind of chest seems vulnerable yet totally trustworthy. It is this combination that both offers me tenderness and allows me to express it.
At night, after a long day with our toddler, I love the sight of my husband Tom with his pajamas opened, waiting for me to rest my head.
Before I left Boston in 1973, my favorite sight in the world was white clouds of steam issuing forth from the factories down by South Station. I never understood why factory buildings produced huge clouds of white, white steam in the black winter nights, if not for me to look at as I walked with my friend Carol to Chinatown, to get the only hot food in the city at that hour. Both of us were thirty, both artists, both on winter break from teaching and on painter’s hours — the hours when the phone doesn’t ring, when no one drops by, the middle of the night.
Our streets were not well lit at night. The steam would stand above us, white in the moonlight and in the glow of the streetlights by the railway station. The curves of the clouds of steam were so large and so tall above us that they didn’t appear to move much. There was comfort in knowing the white clouds were warm. It was a cold and lonely winter, and the whiteness and warmth and roundness of the steam clouds did me good.
Later, I went to Port Townsend, Washington, with the person who is now my husband. Once, as we were walking on the beach, I pointed out some beautiful white billows coming from tall, elegant smokestacks, floating high away into the blue sky. These white clouds seemed romantic and lush in the vital, serene landscape I had claimed as my own. But Rick didn’t see how beautiful my steam clouds were: he saw, instead, how toxic they were. It was our first fight, our first inkling that we didn’t see life the same way.
These days both of us know there is a difference between what is beautiful visually and what is good morally — he taught me that. We also both know that what is beautiful visually is beautiful visually — I taught him that.
At this time the year before last, I left to America for the first time. We visited ten places for three weeks. It was very, very impressive travel. I remember to have found out a very beautiful thing in unclear New York City. My friend and I got acquainted with a Japanese young man in New York. As we had him for a bodyguard, we could enjoy jazz and walk about Broadway or Fifth Avenue at midnight.
Last day he leave from New York, we met at about setting sun, and we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on foot. It was a very, very beautiful evening sun, and I was full with many sweet memories of my youthful days. Then there were only smile on our faces. When the sun had set, we finished crossing the bridge. We walked for short time and arrived at Hudson River. When we passed through a dark and lonely street and turned left, there was a fantastic night view of Manhattan! I have not seen such beautiful night view. The city that was dirty and bad smell at daytime, transformed beautifully. It was a romantic night. We, three people, just exposed ourselves to the wind there. There were only three spirits.
The light in the dark, it is very mysterious and attractive for me every time. I gaze it without word every time.
(from a letter to a friend in the U.S.)
I want to get to the point where whatever I see is my favorite sight.
Last year I bought a full-spectrum light bulb. I put it in my desk lamp. I know that regular incandescent bulbs have too much yellow light in them, but this one is so lavender. It seems too full.
Tonight, I am sitting on my bed. The desk lamp is on. My old purple sweat shirt, the one that Ellen gave me for my birthday all those years ago, is neatly folded over the back of my desk chair. At first, I don’t notice it. But then the phone rings. I look up. In the full-spectrum light, that purple is alive.
Brooklyn, New York
When I hear a whoop followed by laughter, I know instantly that Susan is on the phone with her best friend Linda. Surreptitiously, I shift my attention from whatever I’m doing, so that I can watch her talk. Her eyes and voice are always bright with mirth, and I am warmed by the radiance of her joy. I can usually tell just by walking through the room who is on the line. With Linda, she is exuberant and playful; with her younger sister, Laurel, she is quiet, concerned, and caring.
I also watch Susan when she is sleeping, with only her face showing from underneath our down comforter. Her softness and vulnerability bring out my own gentleness. I love to see her when I return from a trip, her smile filled with welcome, or when she is in the kitchen cooking, sleeves rolled up, a master in the midst of apparent chaos.
Our marriage has given me the chance to observe Susan, but love has allowed me to see her. I have heard the expression “blinded by love,” but I don’t believe it. Desire, emotion, and need blind us, but I think love lets us see each other as we truly are — miraculous. If only I could see with those eyes when I look in the mirror.