Late Bloomer

Remembering Colorado by Laura Marshall

A reader recently called Rough Beauty—a fairy tale.  She was not being kind.  At first I laughed.  Anyone who knows me knows I am no princess; not once have I been a damsel in distress.  The course of my life has been a dirty mess, traversing the scarred landscape of family and fire, the misery of isolation and working too much for too little.  I could go on, but you get the picture.

And yet, I’ve had the kind of year that you get in story books:  I published my first book to critical acclaim and I bought my very first house—a real beauty on an acre and a half of land where I wake every morning to a tree-house view of the forest through French doors in the bedroom. That I never thought either event was possible makes 2018 sparkle with fairy dust.  And I recently agreed to marry Greg in the 7th year of our courtship.  This small thunderbolt arrived in the most unexpected way, as we were hiking a new trail near Rollins Pass, and for the third time this year, my landscape shifted.  I can’t decide if the fact that these firsts have come now—when I am in my fifth decade—makes the tale more saccharine or sweet, but it does write the not so traditional nature of my life large.


Lately, I’ve been mindful of the late summer blooms, counting every sip of color, each delicate petal—savoring the last of the season.  And so it is as I watch the course of my days, as I seem to be coming into the kinds of things we call milestones rather belatedly. I recently read Rick Bass’ memoir The Traveling Feast in which the writer, now sixty and ending his long marriage, wonders how many more books he might be able to write, and, I think, if he will ever love again. Does he have either in him?  is the subtext of what is a beautiful but mournful book. My trajectory is almost the opposite of Bass’, a writer whose first publication came early and in The Paris Review, whose champions were Gordon Lish and George Plimpton.  Just like the aster, which doesn’t imagine itself tardy to the riot of summer; growing instead according to its own sense of season and instinct, I try not to be bothered by time or the question of what I’ve been doing all these years.

Clearly, mine is the tale of the late bloomer, written about most poignantly in the last lines of Sylvia Plath poem, “Poppies in October”:

Oh my God, what am I

That these late mouths should cry open

In a field of frost in a dawn of cornflowers.

The circumstances of our lives are made more beautiful by context and timing. Here, Plath finds the astonishing—made even more so—out of season and surrounded by death.  That my life has burst forth with so much now is a kind of miracle.  But that doesn’t make it mythic.  No one’s life is easy—it only seems so from the outside looking in.  What’s true is The Story is Ours.  And like the poppies in Plath’s poem, it can be “a gift/a love gift” if we’re willing to see it for what it is, if we have the guts to tell the tale.

Join me for From From Memory to Memoir, a 4-week class at The Light House North beginning September 11th.

The path to a proposal Aug 17th

Oh Fall! How do I love thee?

Let me count the ways.

I love thee for cooler days and the return to roasting succulent cuts of meat, for rich sauces made from boiled pan drippings, and the serene pleasure of mashed potatoes larded with butter.

I love thee for sweet baked squash paired with pork, for pan-roasted Brussels sprouts, for Greg’s chicken curry and green enchiladas, for spicy green chili served with apple-jack quesadillas.

Cranberry Sauce
I love thee for cranberry sauce.
I love thee for the return of foods that warm and comfort and transform home into an opulent elsewhere with candle lit dinners and evening baths, red wine and Beethoven.
The Big Pancake
I love thee for Sunday mornings when the sun angles through bedroom window, and Greg and I take many indolent hours with The New York Times, the big pancake and River .

River and The New York Times

I love thee for the jars of San Marzanos suspended with basil and garlic, every bit of it grown by our own hands, and the knowledge that the first blizzard’s spicy rigatoni will have its seeds in July’s hundreds of yellow star-like blossoms, in August’s ripening heat.

Spicy Rigatoni

 I love thee for the color of aspen lighting the mountain, the sound of leaves skittering across the road, and for the return of winter birds:  Junco, chickadee, nuthatch.

I love thee for all the flowers of the garden in their last poignant bloom.  I love thee for the fields steeped in honeyed gold, for the last thunder of the year and the anticipation of first snow.
Greg’s Black Hollyhock – photo by Greg Marquez
And finally, I love thee the most for cozy nights when I can crawl into the skin of sleep—after too too many months of nights too hot for touch—suspended in my artist-lover’s embrace.  

The Clock of August

In the yard this morning
Let’s face it, August is heavy with expectation. We’re all thinking about what’s to come, all the while larding our calendars with things to do before the golden days of autumn settle in, before the evenings are too cold to sit outside, before the early mornings are perceptibly darker. Our bodies swing between hurried preparation and a kind of manic relaxation:  One more vacation, one more weekend getaway, one more long hike, one more fourteener before bad weather and back to school. My Facebook feed has been one non-stop pleasure-fest, so full of friends’ exploits and accomplishments that next year, I’m banning all beach photos.  You think they’d have an app for that.

Plainly put:  August is a ticking clock. 

Our Giant Sunflower
For me, it’s been rather a time bomb. I woke up this morning realizing I’ve washed up on the shore of summer feeling as if I’ve missed it. There have been no vacations this year, no camping, no Persieds, not even one hike, though Greg and I managed a few bike rides. I’ve barely set foot in the garden.  Instead, I’ve merely glanced at it from my office, an 8×10 space where I sit and write for four, six, eight, or, as on one fevered day, thirteen hours. And while it’s true that writing every single day is the dream of a life I’ve long had, the bubble popped this morning on its romance.  This summer, my artistic life has obliterated all else.  

The Glory herself
Of course it’s my own damn fault.  In some ways, it’s been easier to sit at my desk as an excuse to escape the string of 90 degree days appearing more often than not since the beginning of June. But that’s not the whole story:  I’m nothing if not a toiler and a doer and, whether rocket fast (kitchen prep, cleaning, weeding, chores) or slow and plodding (writing and writing and writing), I manage a sturdy, cement-like focus, letting all else—pleasure, anyone?—fall away. 

So I’ve arrived on the eve of September realizing I need to take not only a breath, but a sledge hammer to all this concentration. It began this morning, when I broke routine (coffee, journal, work on book) and stepped outside before 8am for the first time all summer. 

A fat morning glory yawned open against the garage and I plucked three strawberries and a handful of beets. Lemon basil bolts from neglect, but the vegetable garden is thick with the promise of tomato and peppers.  My monster sunflower, pregnant with blossoms, towers fifteen feet in the air and the rosehips are fat as raspberries.  Taking it all in,  I resist the urge to plot and plan.

This holiday weekend, though it makes me breathless, I vow to take all three days off from writing.  Plans?  I have a few which include poetry and Greg and hammock time, or perhaps a bike ride to the Farmer’s Market along with a drive up to the hills.  Whatever it is, no matter how much fun or spectacular or beautiful, I will not be posting the pictures on Facebook.