Stranger in a Familiar Land

by Elizabeth Cunningham

Of course High Valley is familiar. My first stay was a two week stint at High Valley’s summer camp at age eleven. I was warned then to “stay away from Olga’s son.” (My future husband) “He snaps people’s butts with towels.” When I was kicked out of school at sixteen, my brother suggested: “Send her to Olga. Olga will find her something to do.” So for two years I served a sort of tweeny maid at High Valley School. Later, married to the son and heir, I worked for a time as a cook and a drama teacher. My kids attended nursery school here. And when the school closed, I started The Center at High Valley, which I ran as a sort of back burner operation, always careful to defer to my mother-in-law’s sovereignty and always able to retreat to our house a mile away on the other side of the hill.

Now, as those of you who follow this blog might know, we have moved to High Valley to an upstairs apartment—which I had painted in many intense colors after years of living with white walls. It is a rabbit warren of an apartment where people get lost and where tall people look too big in the narrow hall. (My husband and I are both short). Our bedroom—two walls raspberry, two a rich green to match an old oriental carpet—is the one my husband’s parents shared. It has a commanding view of all there is to enjoy—and tend!

All my adult life, I have kept to an unvaried schedule: write in the morning, work at whatever the job I had in the afternoons and evenings. I raised kids, kept a comfortable house, without paying much attention to detail or dust, and enjoyed an undemanding yard surrounded by the friendly trees of a deep wood. Now that whole part of our life is past. Though our apartment is small and will be easy to keep, we have many other spaces to maintain for the Center, not to mention lawns and endless overgrown gardens.

And, for the first time in twenty years, I am not working on The Maeve Chronicles. (They are complete. Red-Robed Priestess is coming out in November.)

I have no schedule—at least not yet. I wander here and there, tugged by this or that task. Though I still write and have a counseling practice, I am feeling more and more like an arch-housewife and inept groundskeeper. Sometimes I long to go home to my old house and life, and yes, sometime I weep. More often, I feel tickled. I am enjoying being a stranger to myself, growing willy nilly into a new life. I like that every day is different and that the weather plays such a big role. It’s dry, so today is the day to mow. It’s cool and damp in the morning, time to weed. It’s raining…rest!!!

I will close this post with a recent poem:

Reluctant Gardener

Overwhelmed by weeds
besieged by poison ivy
overrun with grass

I weed-whack away at a bit
of lost garden and give
it a bad haircut.

I must plant something here,
something that will spread
and take care of itself.

Oh the choices! A low yellow bloom
whose name I forget, whose leaves
turn red in the fall.

Butterfly weed, iridescent orange,
and a butterfly bush that promises
to grow and grow, adding butterflies

to its blossoms. How tenderly I mulch them
as instructed: cardboard, dirt, hay,
how anxiously I water them,

how I plan to seek more plants
today, ground cover, dark red daisies,
lavender. Now the garden

is becoming mine, has called me
to itself through my ineptitude
and so we will grow each other.

PS: I don’t seem to be able to comment on this blogpost anymore. Maeve has something to say. Here goes:

“I still exist and have a voice, even though my Chronicles are complete. My friend, Tim Dillinger, and I have plans for me to take back this blog at some point soon. Though she is not writing my story, Eliz is still performing portions of it live (and perhaps livestreamed). Her next performance is at the Barn Theatre at High Valley to celebrate my Feast Day Friday, July 22nd. Details on how to tune to livestreaming in will be posted on the blog!”

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5 comments

faerian July 12, 2011 - 5:25 am

hearing how big this change is Elizabeth… (and a little dizzy imagining the colours in your room!) and i am so going to be with you even if the livestream is at 3am i will be there SO STINKIN EXCITING!!!!

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Meredith Gould July 12, 2011 - 3:17 pm

LOVE the colors of your bedroom…can easily imagine the joy and passion. White walls, feh!

Most disturbing lines in your blog post: "And, for the first time in twenty years, I am not working on The Maeve Chronicles. (They are complete."

Ok, back to my denial.

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Unknown July 12, 2011 - 3:22 pm

I can attest: Elizabeth's presentation is wonderful, and I saw it when she was suffering from an earache and many sleepless nights.

Yes, it is a big change, but things are calming down a bit, and we are slowly getting rid of the poison ivy.

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Brooke July 13, 2011 - 11:59 pm

Dear Elizabeth,

It is amazing how much it feels you are speaking to my experience–relevant right now! down to tending an unruly garden.

I was so touched by this post. I can't even put my finger on it. You open my heart, and, I have to say, that you make me just want to be here on the planet.

xo

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Roswila July 14, 2011 - 12:08 am

Congratulations! Since I've been feeling like a stranger to myself, too, I try to look at it as an opportunity. To be surprised. To become who I had no time or maybe even no ability to be before. To pick up stitches long laid aside or forgoten or lost. (At least I say that today when depression is only a tiny grey cloud in the distance.) Thanks for the beautiful poem! Patricia a/k/a Roswila

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