I work upstairs in a bedroom at the end of the house in what used to be my daughter’s room, before this penultimate child burst out into the world, leaving home at twenty, coming back only for visits — an ending I didn’t see coming, for sure. In that room, my sewing machine sits on a desk that runs underneath a double-wide window, and my view is visually sheltered there by the boughs of a silk oak tree, like a frame.
Just below the window, and sometimes climbing up the screen, is an enormous wisteria vine — no it’s really two vines — stuck in the earth some thirty years ago when we moved to this house. In the spring it’s an uncontrolled explosion of heavy blossoms, followed quickly by incessant leaves and sinewy vines and tendrils, climbing, growing, spreading, taking over the old arbor full of termites and carpenter bee holes, and reaching over the pathway to the silk oak.
Two days ago I was startled by a squirrel that leapt from the roof of our house onto the silk oak limb, and as the wisteria has its tendrils wrapped around that one, too, the whole green carpet above and just below my window was set into motion with the squirrel’s landing, a rustling that kept me watching until everything stilled and the squirrel descended down the trunk and onto to other things.
I took a leap of sorts last year when I figured out how to do everything Guild-related from this desk in front of this window: videos, Zoom lectures, demos with two cameras on camera stands that I always have to wrestle into submission for at the time, I was unaware of the fancy ones that moved at the touch of a finger. I loved the Zoom teaching, especially.
I loved all the students in their places and their spaces, their fabrics right at hand, the mess underfoot, the walking back and forth from cutting station to ironing board to sewing machine. It was a rich, varied tapestry of individuals all honing their craft, this pattern they’d chosen, and we worked together as a very long-distance team. Most of the time.
I had a few failures, when I couldn’t reach through this digital space to show them how I trimmed, or to look at the blocks arranged on a wall that was in the hallway just around the corner, with no way to show me. I’ve had classes where it was deathly silent, everyone on Mute, watching my class videos or just being extra-respectful to not bother everyone with their usual noises: phone calls to friends, TV on for company, or the singing along to the radio. I could see them having a life, but there I was at the desk, sipping my water: the girl in the digital box.
I loved the Guild Presentations, too: the rows and rows of shining-faced quilters, and before I start, we are all expectant, all of them present in their easy chairs, propped up against their pillow towers on their beds, or the living rooms where husbands/friends/children/dogs wander through, and at the kitchen tables, all of us beaming at each other.
As you know, I recently taught a second class for the Santa Clarita Quilt Guild and my husband asked me if I had any repeats from the first time. I hadn’t looked up the previous class, but when I saw one student’s beautiful wall, I knew she had taken from me before. The space was familiar, for, in a way, I’d spent several hours there last year.
I now have two lectures, four online classes, but almost no gigs lined up. Is this an ending? I love teaching, but maybe it’s time to take longer to watch that squirrel with her descent or
“To follow the notes of a disappearing bird
out into the trees, up and out along the farthest / branch…”
I don’t know. Maybe it’s not?
I recognized an ending last time I came to this familiar junction. And I recognized when I had written everything I needed to say at another place in time. But this is all sort of unfamiliar to me now, for I don’t think I’m done, but yet somehow it feels like it might be that way. Or, it might not.
I gave the final scheduled lecture for 2021 last week. It was a hybrid: with a small cohort in their Guild’s usual meeting place at the Fellowship Hall, and the rest of us on Zoom. It was an interesting push-pull, a tension between the recent months of Covid and our isolation and this guild meeting was kind of at the reverse place — wanting to get out, but also wanting to stay in.
I recognized the impulse. Here in California we are all feeling sort of safe with masking in place, numbers down, vaccines in arms, and so we are venturing out to normalcy. However, I figured out some time ago that I would never visit a Guild in person again to teach or give a talk, much preferring the Zoom format. So perhaps this hybrid meeting was the opening of that proverbial door, the notes of that disappearing song beckoning me to the edge of a different wood, in a different territory.
I’ll still be quilting, I’ll still be writing here on this website. I have a thousand-and-one projects lined up, and I may yet figure out how to schedule my own classes, turning students loose in my videos and handouts and structure. And I know Santa Clarita wants me to come back, too.
“Some Ants for Henry,” by Ralph Black
To begin each day among the weeds, crouched
and hungry for a sign of complete desire, this
is my small prayer. To pull a blade of grass and watch
a single globe of dew fade and blink out.
To follow the notes of a disappearing bird
out into the trees, up and out along the farthest
branch, laying my fingers against the pulse
of that blue-fletched, warbling throat.
Such moments can kill a man, or startle him back
to his senses. [….]