Excerpts from My Encyclopedia


In my own yard, the summersweet have failed to put on their usual show of glorious gold. Outside my kitchen window, all is brown, brown. Faded hydrangea, reluctant sedum, potted chrysanthemum, even Japanese maple—everything has suffered from those weeks of drought and inertia. I could stop looking at the work I haven’t done and drive down into the valley instead.

Of course, the drought has not been confined to my own estate any more than the inertia is. I text my daughter a photo of the cloudy sky, the clouded lake, the canopy that is the color of soot and burnt toast. Not every day is a calendar shot.

Looping back toward the car, there is a single red leaf along the side of the trail. I look all around: there is not a red tree in sight. What breeze or observant toddler brought this here? No proof to the contrary, I can choose to believe in the artistic intentionality of the toddler.

Oak Hill trail, Cuyahoga Valley National Park


We have organized a “no-guilt” bookclub. Members don’t read the same book. Sometimes, members don’t read any book, but they can still come, sit around my kitchen, and be reminded of all the good books and good people there are.

In September, Denise brings pawpaws from her treelawn. They are a wonder to us. A little squashy, a little bruised, packed with shiny black seeds the size of buttons. And delicious. “They are indigenous,” Denise pronounces, with some measure of amazement. Nature has been generous to America.

We scoop out the juicy flesh with my favorite tiny spoons, and suck the pulp from the seeds, and talk about our grown children and our books.


We stand in the street and glumly consider my ineffectual gutters. Tom assures me he will come over to help me replace them, when he can spare some time from his part-time job maintaining one of Cleveland’s many aging churches.

He describes those old buildings, and something sets my story senses tingling. I abandon the awful gutters in favor of some quick research. It takes less than ten minutes to catch the tail of a wild tale about a renegade priest. Hours later, I realize there is nothing for supper.

On the other hand, as long as I have this century-old story to excavate, I will be less likely to be sucked into the Twitter vortex.

Puerto Rico

We never made it back to St. John after spending our honeymoon there, and now I wonder what’s become of the sugarbirds.

I don’t know how to swim, so there was no snorkeling in Trunk Bay, no gazing down into the corals, anemones and tropical fish that were still rumored to proliferate. And we had only a little bit of money, so there was no dramatic view of the island’s undular green hills from helicopter or parasail. My earthbound view was upward: early in the morning, before the lazy groom was awakened by the humidity and the sunshine filtering through the canvas of our tent.

And up there in that canopy, there were dozens, hundreds of yellow-bellied bananaquits. They flitted down to gorge themselves on the bowls of sugar left all over camp. Yellow, flashing under green canopy, flickering under blue sky.

It’s true that I cannot remember there being other people on St. John, although I realize now that there must have been. But on Puerto Rico, there are the extended families of our neighbors and our friends. There are 700 times as many sufferers. So we send the donation to PR, and hope for the best.

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