The View from Mattie’s Pillow

Past the equinox now and the light increases daily. By the end of April, light will begin to compress the deep dark of night to a few hours and we’ll be restless for the heady time of summer with nearly endless days and fizzy energy.

But now, we’re still firmly frozen in March; for us, it’s the cruelest month. The light brings promise of spring, but even a week ago the temperatures dropped to 30 below and we know more snow will fall. This is the month of divorces and suicides-not to be too dreary about it all. We know that other places are already past crocuses and daffodils. We start our seeds inside under shop lights or in south facing windows and hope for the best, for the garden is still covered in two feet of white stuff. Now is when hope fails some of us, when even all the love and care we can spare to others in our small community is not enough and, each March, a few drop away.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I heard the news of the death of Nick Hughes, here in Fairbanks. I first heard of him in the 80s when his father, Ted Hughes, came to the Midnight Sun Writer’s Conference as faculty. It seemed like a great coup to us young writers that we had gotten such a “presence” to come to our conference–though we also had Ray Carver, Tess Gallagher, Annie Dillard, and others who were rising at the time and are the literary establishment now. There was the usual gossip of writers’ conferences–who got special favor, a private reading, and why–but among the buzz was the astonishing news that Hughes was here in part because his son, Nick, was a Ph.D. student at the university and was working as a biologist and researcher here.

“Nick?,” I said, “of ‘Nick and the Candlestick’?” Yes, that Nick, whose mother, Sylvia Plath’s, passionate poem about his birth meant so much to me as a, then, young mother. The child that figures so prominently in what’s shocking, poignant, and fascinating in Plath’s own death. I don’t want to dwell on this; what’s been important about Nick in our midst is that he lived a life as remote as could be from all this history. Those of us in literary circles who knew of his presence among us, knew, too, that he wanted nothing to do with the literary world. For all I knew, he lived among friends, was loved, loved the plant and animal life of the Interior and the wild, expansive beauty of the landscape much as all of us do who live here. For all I knew, that and our careful mindfulness not to bring the past to him, was enough. Sadly, it wasn’t.

So, now, March drifts toward April. We look around, emerging out of winter cautiously. Who is still among us? This is the time to smile at our neighbors, to give that hug–flu or no flu–to share what we can. We remember who we’ve lost and the lessons of their lives. We live with them; we incorporate them into our vision. We plant seeds; they emerge, threadlike, vulnerable, pale; we hold them in the light and hope they grow.

(To read more about Nick Hughes, here’s a link to Dermott Cole’s column in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner

and a link to Plath’s poem, “Nick and the Candlestick” <>  )

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7 Responses to “The View from Mattie’s Pillow”

  1. William Lawson Says:

    If you think March is bad, consider these lines from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land:

    APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
    Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
    Memory and desire, stirring
    Dull roots with spring rain.
    Winter kept us warm, covering
    Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
    A little life with dried tubers.

    Sure you don’t want to reconsider? 🙂

  2. mattiespillow Says:

    Well, true–it’s Eliot’s rebuttal to Chaucer’s sweet showers of April. Here in Interior Alaska, April brings above freezing temperatures, a glimpse of mud, the rediscovery of things we’ve lost in snow, and a wealth of light. We know the end is near, and by mid May, we’ve forgotten that winter ever existed. No, it’s March for us. A tough month, but almost over.

  3. William Lawson Says:

    A glimpse of mud? My dear I’ve been up to my knees in mud for the past month. Everything I own has mud on it. Everything I don’t own has mud on it. I’m getting desperate for some dry (even frozen) ground. You wanna trade? You’ll get green grass, spring flowers, budding trees…and plenty of mud. Not, of course, deep enough to lose anything of consequence…except one’s sense of humor. (Which I lost about two weeks ago somewhere between the house and barn.)

  4. mattiespillow Says:

    No mud yet, here. Today, it’s snowing thickly in the hills. Just when we got our hopes up! But I have tomato seedlings and will be planting peppers and eggplant for the greenhouse.

    Where are you, again?

  5. William Lawson Says:

    Sweet Home, Oregon. Located in a small, river (South Santiam) valley in the foothills on the west side of the Cascades. As in, 360 degree eye-candy. Temperature seldom gets more than 2-3 degrees below freezing in the deepest part of winter. But only at night. Daytime typically mid to high 40’s. Small amount of snow, but usually rained away in a couple of days. Grass stays green year ’round, which is great for pasturing, etc. But I’ve also lived in northeastern Washington, where winter temperatures aren’t much better than where you are, and snow isn’t completely gone until late April or early May. Only the days aren’t quite as short. So…I know what you’re talking about, including the resulting depression. Been there, done that. Ergo, Sweet Home. Despite the mud…

  6. mattiespillow Says:

    I’ll have to go back and look at your blog again. I lived in Portland in the 70s and have been through Sweet Home.

    Still snowing here and my laptop’s on the fritz. Sigh.

  7. William Lawson Says:

    Perhaps tale a look at the site I’m just beginning to develop. It’s a child of the non-fictional half of my brain. On the ‘About’ page there’s a small video clip that effectively (and lightly) summarizes the core focus of the site; i.e., serious change is in order…probably even more radical than “greenly progressive” Portland has in mind. 🙂

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