Cleaving


v. cleft (klft) or cleaved or clove (klv), cleft or cleaved or clo·ven (klvn), cleav·ing, cleaves
v.tr.
To split with or as if with a sharp instrument. 
v.intr.
To split or separate, especially along a natural line of division.




This past weekend I drove down to North Carolina, just south of Danville, for an important interview. On the way back I stopped off at my beloved Virginia Center for Creative Arts to take in the derecho damage, which they'd been reporting on over at the VCCA blog (including multiple days without power). The staff has been great, particularly Barbara Bernstein and David Garratt, who had to monitor the emergency generators for the kitchen--above and beyond the call of duty for artists in residence--and fellows rallied, trading in the usual serenity of the grounds for the bond of literally weathering the storm. 


But there is no way around the devastating loss of trees. David took me around to the swimming pool, where derecho probably came roaring straight up from the hillside below. Mammoth poplars and ancient pines, wrecked. And these were not hollow trunks or deadfall waiting to happen--these were healthy trees in the prime of their multi-century lives. It was hard to see. In some cases the downed trees took others with them that otherwise would have survived the storm, the weight of one body breaking the other. 


As David said, you can't help but develop an attachment to these sentinels, seeing them day in and day out. Shape begets personality: the proud pine the, voluptuous poplar. The practical naturalist in me knows that storms have been devastating forests for eons. But humans see thing on the scale of our own lifespans, and so this feels like a death in the family. You think the shade is gone. You want to gather it all up in your arms and sit for a long minute. 


In Lynchburg, the closest major town to VCCA, I discovered a wonderful fresh farm market. I splurged on a big watermelon, tomatoes, bi-color corn, and a mix of heirloom beans. Hunkering down on the balcony to cut the watermelon, I missed Mississippi something fierce. I have fond memories of puttering around the Grisham House's mint-green kitchen, barefoot, listening to Sam Cooke or Valerie June, making do with hand-me-down knives and pots to fix a meal. Hacking hunks of watermelon off for Beth Ann Fennelly & Tom Franklin's kids while the grown-ups played bocce and sipped beer. Mixing beans and rice for the Hill Country Picnic. Roasting corn soaked in the husk (five for $1) to feed Ole Miss MFA students. 

I fell asleep early last night, in the midst of a thunderstorm, and woke to 5 AM light. This was the view from my bed. I moved to this apartment in the midst of my own violent change, the cleaving of a life in two. Trusted sentinels were falling. I wasn't sure if I'd stay; I half expected to be in Mississippi by the end of the year. But, two years later, here I am, more in love with DC than ever. There is an alternate definition of cleave: "to cling or adhere," from the Old English cleofian and/or the Old High German klebēn, "to stick." When a hull splits sometimes it is a gesture of dying, and sometimes the revelation of something sweet inside, something to cling to. Either way, what is lost affirms what remains.