Road Trip 9: West Virginia, love, grief, and mortality


I went out to visit my niece,

Grateful I’d brought along fleece

     It started to snow

    As we heard, don’t you know,

The honking of south-flying geese.

I’m visiting my niece and her three children, five-year-old twins and a three-year-old singleton, in West Virginia.  The house sits on thirty acres with five distinct ecologic zones; fossil ammonites decorate the kitchen floor.

I like children, and I had the chance to play with them.   I did yoyo tricks and I tried to teach them how to flare their nostrils and make other faces.  After supper I played with the kids some more and told them stories and sang them songs at bedtime.

 We talked a lot about dinosaurs.  Well-versed at an early age on the fine points of fossil creatures, they don’t shy from words with six or seven syllables.

As an undergraduate I worked at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, separating bone from stone with a microscopic sandblaster called an AirDent.   I worked the most with Deinonychus inflexus, a carnivorous dinosaur that hunted in packs.  This reptile received a lot of publicity in the years after the movie and book Jurassic Park.  My great-niece brought up a picture of a bipedal dinosaur with a tail projecting straight back.  I asked her if it were a Deinonychus.  She looked intensely at the illustration and said, “No, it doesn’t have an uptoe.”

Portia and I share nerdliness; we enjoy geology and paleontology and can bandy about terms like Permian and ornithischian and understand each other.  Last year when I visited we went to a privately owned tourist exhibit cave to see cave orchids. 

She illustrates dinosaurs for magazines like National Geographic and Scientific American.  In 2003 she drew a picture of a four-winged feathered dinosaur.  A music group picked up her art work and did a song about her; we found it on the web and listened to it.  I had no idea.

I told her about my current career hiatus and the people I’ve connected with on this road trip and the things that I’ve done, including going to my mother-in-law’s headstone unveiling yesterday.

I loved my mother-in-law, and I grieved for her when she died.  Easy to love without ambivalence, more than a hundred people came to the cemetery on a Friday in windy, cloudy, rainy weather.  My brother-in-law did a great job leading the service. 

My father-in-law, widowed after sixty-one years of marriage, misses his wife, and stands as an example of marital loyalty.

My niece listened patiently while I held forth my theories on gender and the human condition.

Certain closely linked realities transcend deniability: mortality, human love, and grief.  We wouldn’t grieve if we didn’t love, we wouldn’t love if we were immortal.  All people carry imperfections, we can improve the imperfect world but we can’t perfect it. 

Outside, the first snow began to fall.  Winter approaches quickly, I’m on my way to my next assignment.

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One Response to “Road Trip 9: West Virginia, love, grief, and mortality”

  1. Suzanne Carty Says:

    I don’t know that immortality would make us less prone to love, but it certainly lends a sweetness to the days we have and makes us vulnerable to the most terrible grief. Maybe what mortality gives us is fear and a keen appreciation of passing time. I very much enjoy your blog. May peace be with you.

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