Blustery days put me on edge. The South Carolina Lowcountry isn’t supposed to be wind-whipped but today the seasons are battling it out on the banks of the Beaufort River. The water is the color of Spanish moss flailing from the massive boughs of Live Oaks. I can’t relax, settle into my thoughts, with palm fronds scraping the window. And I’m not sure why.
When I lived here with Byrne, I could always toss these questions into the air between us. There would be wine, on the porch, and maybe a sliver of cake. And stories, always hers, that I scoured for meaning. She was confidant and fortune teller. I could interpret my life through hers.
Now that she’s gone, I unravel truths from books instead. I wrap the ideas of other writers around my shoulders, seeing how the words fit. Like these, from Willa Cather’s “Death Comes for the Archbishop.”
“It was the Indian manner to vanish into the landscape, not to stand out against it,” she wrote. “The Navajo hogans, among the sand and willows, were made of sand and willows. None of the pueblos would at that time admit glass windows into their dwellings. The reflection of the sun on the glazing was to them ugly and un-natural – even dangerous.”
I have tried to change the landscape, living in this house that Byrne and Duncan Miller loved. Hiding behind its windows and walls, I pretend that all I see is permanent and predictable. Something I can draw from, and write about, at will. The wind reminds me I am an intruder.
One of Byrne’s first adopted “children,” a Navajo elder I consider my brother-by-Byrne, if not by birth, wrote a letter to me when he found out I was writing a memoir of my time with her. We were planning a reunion, here in the house he had visited on momentous occasions in Byrne’s life: major dance concerts, anniversaries, memorial services. One line in his letter has confused me, until today.
“At times I want to see the house and the trees again, but did not know ways to them.”
My brother-by-Byrne sees himself as walking through landscapes, not discovering or claiming them. What matters are the memories and feelings they evoke. The path is not one he controls. He is at peace with that. I sit at my desk and wonder when the wind will stop and I can settle into certainty again.