A Son's Gift of Solitude

Do you realize this is the first Mother's Day we've spent together in 15 years?" David says. "I want you to come live here."

He's just thrown me a curve. To be close to him again, to live in this jeweled atmosphere of evergreens, birch, pine, spruce, clean air, and blue Canadian lakes is a hunger I may never satisfy.

He searches my face as one searches a map, to see if I speak the truth - that I am well, that I'm happy - his eyes sharp as the glint of a needle.

At times I am both; at times I am neither. I give him the clichd argument, "I'll be lonely."

"You won't be. You're one with nature here. God lives here."

Lamely I add, "I need my own toilet."

"I'll build you your own outhouse."

We laugh. Already he has built a cabin with northern light so I can paint again.

My life has been a series of rootings and uprootings. Can I afford another uprooting - and can I leave my friends?

I'd have to leave behind Lee, who has been like a father to me. He once heard my desperate cry, "Don't forsake me," and he never did.

And my friend Gloria, the concert pianist who gives me private concerts when she feels my need. Other friends call and say, "Meet me for breakfast," and the morning fog vanishes. I've measured out in inches an independent life for myself. Can I cast off the present like clothes gone out of style and start another life?

Here where my son lives, wild things grow, the air smells like rock candy, and there's a tangible serenity. Yes, I have a hunger for it all.

Nearby, Dancer, David's dog, slowly shakes herself awake and comes to lick his hands. Dancer is a beautiful black and white mongrel who's been with us for years. The day David left with her from our house, he said, "Girl, you'll be happy with me and you'll breathe fresh air."

That was a double whammy. He put his hands on my shoulders and said, "Ma, I have to live my own life."

I know now that for his sake, and mine, he had to leave.

"How will you get along?" I asked.

"With these hands I can do anything."

They're good hands, strong, steady, capable. He found himself a piece of wild land in Canada.

"I can tame the land," he wrote, "but not the mosquitoes."

Among the trees is a green stretch of garden. Strawberries and blueberries run helter-skelter across the land. My son made it through snowbound winters without electricity, gas, or water. Slowly he built his house. For money he fixed cars, toilets, anything; and people began bringing their cars up to him, that young man alone with his faithful dog up on Silver Star Mountain.

"Here's where I want to bring up my children," he wrote. I wish I had grown up here."

I look at him now, standing straight and tall and tanned, eyes as intensely blue as the lake viewed from his mountain.

In my ornery way I continue telling him why I can't move up here: "When the snows come and bar the doors, and the wolves howl with the cold, I'll be as immovable as your evergreens."

"You? You'll never be immovable! I'll get you a horse, an oldie but a goodie," he says. "Up here, winter's the loveliest season. The cold's dry, and the snow's like talcum powder.

"We'll get you some thermal underwear, good boots, tie a pair of skis on you, and you can ski to the stream every day."

We have this conversation every year that I visit. I hug him, "Maybe, who knows."

He kisses me, and his smile is lit by the shadowless British Columbian sun. How sure he is, lithe, capable of living a solitary existence, sometimes sad in its flawless isolation but always meaningful. He has given me the loveliest Mother's Day gift, the gift of love and of choice.

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