Mycelium

We all want to be connected but sometimes we don’t know we are. They say that all the ants in California can smell each other and move through the soil like a river and that trees are not single units but calling each others’ names and sending messages. As are we with our mycelia…

A few years ago in the middle of summer I was sitting on a bench in the countryside near Rhinebeck, New York. I love summers outdoors on the East Coast, so much moisture, often thunderous rain, and all the creatures sawing away on their ribbed legs, pulsing their life force at double speed because the summers are so short and the winters so long. I sat alone on the small wooden bench watching trapeze artists. For a fee one could learn the basics and fly through the air above. The afternoon was quiet, nap time for many, except for the squeaking of the aluminum poles and an occasional shout as the student missed the grab hold and bounced in the safety net below.

A woman sat down next to me and we said hello and where are you from. When she said Montreal I asked if she knew my one friend B in Montreal, someone I had worked with in Western NY years ago. She said yes, their children went to the same school. Mycelia? Coincidence? Circles of age and education meeting? We laughed and agreed that the trapeze was tempting but terrifying.

The following year, in Ashland OR, I was out for a drink (rare for this single mother) and we ran into a loud bunch celebrating a visitor from Montreal. I laughed and said, I have to ask, do you know my friend B? My one friend in Montreal. He said yes, they grew up together. He was a jovial funny guy and I thought he was pulling my leg but then he got out his cell phone and showed me her picture in his contacts. Coincidence? My friend does know everyone in Montreal? Mycelia?

A pretty place in Canada
A pretty place in Canada

Yesterday I went for a coffee at Ras la Tasse and an American woman dropped her bag on the chair next to me so I offered to watch it. In the last six weeks here I have only met one other American out and about. I hear English in the streets but very few actual Americans, at least judging by their accents and the volume of their voices. The woman and her husband sat down and we chatted. So loudly! Yes! They live in the Middle East and he’s an academic in a field I’m familiar with. I laughed and said I didn’t think we’d ever met. He paused and corrected me. Twelve years ago he was at my stepson’s funeral in Western New York. Exactly twelve years and six months ago. This friendly couple had come to Toulouse to eat yummy pork and have a little dose of fall for a few days and they sat down next to me on a tiny street where the coffee is pretty good.

That day in April 2007 was a terrible day. I don’t remember meeting this man. I was there to say goodbye to a child I dearly loved and had known/helped to raise for seven years. At the funeral my son was an infant, my other stepson still in high school, my ex-husband not yet ex but the fight had begun, and we all stood on stage in a Catholic Church to mark the most terrible experience. Jeffrey was only 14, in great health, funny, athletically gifted, loved by all and an aneurysm, completely unexpected, struck him down.

Jeffrey was born on my 25th birthday, when I was in sunny Santa Barbara, finally graduating from college and my life was full of glittering possibility. I did not know then that a little baby had shown up thousands of miles away, who would give me so much joy. I met him for the first time in the first year of this millenium, in the aisle of a dingy Wegman’s long since remodeled. I got to be a stepparent long before I gave birth and I loved Jeffrey and his brother. Their mess, their chaos, their dirty socks and the thwacking of a lacrosse ball against the garage wall, even in the dark of early night, were my first taste of what it meant to be a grownup with a family. Burnt pancakes, gallons of maple syrup, forgotten trumpets or shoes in the wrong car, homework bribes, pants with holes in the knees, running around like goofballs in fancy places. I remember so many hours in the car, lost in French tow trucks, doomed chipmunks, a stinky hitchhiker, two boys wrestling and pounding in the back seat all over the US.

Yesterday I had a good cappuccino and a good croissant and I struck up a conversation with some compatriots, like a shovel to my soil, and there it was: mycelia, connections, wounds, grief, time passing, familiarity. All under the cobblestones of this pink and orange city. Always there, but so rarely seen.

I forgot to ask if they’d ever been to Montreal.

P.s. If this website looks better, it’s because of one of my favorite people who I met, over free cheese, that year of Jeffrey’s birth, and who continues to be such a good and supportive and interesting friend. Thanks for everything, Miss J.

1 thought on “Mycelium”

  1. So lovely, Kimberley! I’m glad you’re writing— it’s what you set out to do. No? I didn’t know all that about your step-son… terrible. I’ve experienced this connectedness with strangers far away though too— wherever I go, it seems.

    Like

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