My parents lived on nine acres in a rural village and had built a pond behind their barn. The pond was a popular place for exactly the beings the Metropolitan was focusing on that year: Creatures of Heaven and Earth. Birds actually inhabit both worlds. How else would they leave footprints?
The Metropolitan Calendars were always laid out in the same way: a beautiful image of an item from somewhere in the Met on one page; facing it, a page, divided into seven quadrants for recording appointments. Mom begins the year not recording a future appointment, but something they have already done—they saw heron tracks. In that one notation, I find not a calendar as a reminder book, but as a remembrance book. That’s why I turn to it now, today, on the anniversary of her birth.
My mother’s excitement at seeing the heron tracks is conveyed by the simple fact of notation, and that exclamation point.
Midway in a stack of 39 calendars, with 20 years of calendars behind her, and (though she doesn’t know it that day) 19 ahead of her, as the New Year begins, she is noticing something special. She didn’t know what the next day or the next years would bring. She didn’t know what was on the next page.
The next day, January 2, she and my father again saw the heron tracks in the snow. She turned the page to record this new fact. And there, facing her was the illustration the Met had selected for the coming week:
She wrote: “We found traces (footprints 8”) of the great blue heron around pond and signs of eating fish!” After writing this with a blue pen, she took a red pen and underlined “great blue heron” twice to register the correspondence between image and experience; calendar and notation.
In forty years of calendars, more than ninety percent of them Metropolitan Calendars—in 40 years of 52 images a year (plus cover), of at least 2100 images in all, this one appears to be the moment, the only moment of serendipity between an image and her life. Jung famously described synchronicity as that moment when he looks outside and sees a butterfly flying past just as his analysand refers to a butterfly. The Met shows her a blue heron just as she is thinking of one. It pleased her so much.
Forty years of calendars sit before me now.
The calendars heave their facts at me: our doctors, dentist, orthodontist appointments. More significant events: the dates of graduation, weddings, the birth of our children. (In 1989, on May 24, she writes, “Carol in labor, 4:10”.). In the calendars from the 1960s I can find notations regarding our allowance or the amounts or our indebtedness. What had I splurged more than three months of allowances on in 1965? I do not remember being that much in debt when I was 13.
Calendars seems to promise orderliness, but life rejects such orderliness.
“Cyrano bit by a rat,” she writes in October 1969. (How did she know?) So she dropped everything and got him to the vet. In western New york, west of Buffalo, snow erupts off of Lake Erie causing cancellations of events that were anticipated in the calendar.
Calendars unfurl the tracks they know, partial as they are. And these tracks offer enough to form my mother in my mind.
What I want: To reach through the page to touch the hand that wrote “blue heron tracks!”. Or “Carol in labor 4:10.” Or “Lee ushers.”
These, her heron tracks in the snow. The exclamation point, her stab, the track going deeper into the snow marking the out of the ordinary.
Like the heron, she is not here now. But her tracks show that she was.