I started the book yesterday, parked in the grocery store lot, waiting for Emmett to wake from his nap. I read it last night and then in stolen moments this morning, finished at lunchtime, wiped the tears from my face and immediately hopped on my bike, pedaling to go press it into the hands of my dear friend who is expecting her second baby in late December.
Cara sent me The Blue Jay’s Dance months ago as part of a care package from California. The cover is a lot bit 1992, and it didn’t scream READ ME, NOW — so it sat on a side table until what was apparently just the right time.
This was a gorgeous, richly worded essay for me to appreciate at a moment my baby is growing into a toddler, when I can see that birth year from a close distance. Louise Erdrich is my mother’s age, but with this book she is my sister. She and I share “mother-writers,” a heritage of the Brontes and Virginia Woolf and Joan Dideon, the same primal need for long, rambling walks in the woods and to feel deeply, inviting in a profound sadness and longing alongside the joy.
(For those of you who share my canon, The Blue Jay’s Dance felt like Great with Child, that fantastic book of letters to a young mother that my friends all passed around when we were pregnant, mixed with the natural/spiritual existentialism of Annie Dillard, mixed with the frankness and humor of Anne Lamott.)
Erdrich lives the writing life, introspective, and reflects herself back so honestly to us that I see myself in her words. The book is divided into seasons, and within each season snippets of life on the acreage, with her family, the flowers, pets and wildlife, and alone with her thoughts, and even a few recipes — meals that punctuated that birth year for her. Erdrich’s lyrical prose:
“I see myself frozen in a clutch of mothers, a flock, a panic of mothers…In talking to other women over the years, I begin to absorb them somehow, as if we’re all preamble…Mothering is a subtle art whose rhythm we collect and learn, as much from one another as from instinct. Women without children are also the best of mothers, often, with the patience, the interest, and saving grace that the constant relationship with children cannot always sustain. A child is fortunate who feels witnessed as a person, outside relationships with parents, by another adult.”
I urge other expectant and new moms to fill their shelves not just with baby and toddler-rearing instructional manuals but with works like these to nurture the soul.