This weekend was beautiful here in northern New England, with sunny days, briskly cool nights, and the first hint of autumn color. Tonight there’s a frost advisory for my neck of the woods: in early September, it’s always later than you think.

Lily pads

At a potluck with English department faculty and families yesterday, I remarked on the beautiful weather, and the wife of a colleague remembered that September 11, 2001 was similarly lovely. One lasting remnant of that day is an abiding sadness I now feel whenever the sky shows the saturated shade of blue that happens only in autumn, when shortening light shines with an antique gold gleam. Five years ago, a clear-skied September day seemed intentionally inappropriate: how could the heavens shine not just indifferently but beautifully on a day filled with mourning? A wet or cloudy day would have been more fitting, but instead I still find myself scanning the skies for planes whenever a warm September sun heartens an otherwise chilly day.


Time is like a river in that it flows without ceasing, but time is riparian, too, in that it carves and cleaves. Just as water sculpts canyons through its inexorable abrasion, the trickle of time wears a place in stony hearts and dry minds. Even now, five years later, I remember where I lived and worked–who I was–on that September 11th even though where I lived and worked, and who I was, is different now. In September, 2001, I lived with my then-husband in Hillsborough, NH in a house we since sold; in September, 2001, I was both wife and housewife, an identity that’s since died. In September, 2001, I had just started teaching at Keene State: I’d just met the colleagues with whom I potlucked yesterday. In September, 2001, I also taught, unbelievably, at two other colleges and online while juggling a temp job and unfinished dissertation.

In September, 2001, I was working too hard and in too many places, wearing myself thin as I drove too many miles to teach too many classes at too many schools. September 11 clove like a sword my carefully constructed existence, centering as it did on work, study, and a failed attempt to be the perfect wife. Why did work and the money it brought, a house whether tidy or neglected, and an unwritten dissertation matter in the Larger Scheme? At a time when I could no longer cry for a life that felt like a dead-end, September 11 reminded me that there are things worse than dead-ends, and no shortage of tears.


In the days and months after September 11, I’d often find myself weeping as I drove to or from school, work, and now-forgotten errands. In retrospect, I don’t know if I wept for others or myself; in retrospect, pain is a liquid that blurs and swirls, undiluted. Looking back on where I lived, where I worked, and who I was five years ago, that place seems like a different life from what I live now, with only occasional threads to point to the disconnect. Sometimes time like a sword lunges forward to sever you, slicing life as you knew it into the clean regions of Before and After, leaving an ache to remind you that hearts like bones might mend but never heal.

    Today’s photos come from Saturday’s walk at the Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary in Natick, MA. Click here to see a photo Leslee took along the way…and while you’re there, be sure to wish her a happy birthday.