Writing the Distance: Svaya Worthington

The Covid 19 pandemic is isolating Alaskan writers. We can no longer attend workshops or public readings. The coffee bars where we met with other writers are closed. To bridge these physical gaps, 49 Writers is providing this on-line forum for Alaskans writing the distance. Today, Svaya Worthington shares a memory illustrated by an exceptional photograph by Noel Hutton.

Convergence in a Time of Social Distancing

In Santa Fe, down Bishop’s Lodge Road, three roads converge at the white boulder above Tesuque Creek: White Boulder Road, White Boulder Court, and White Boulder Lane. I live on the lane, between the creek and the acequia, an irrigation ditch from the 1700s, which both flow through a deciduous valley with tall elms and the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the east. Nearby is a roadside shrine to our Lady of Guadalupe and a little river joining Tesuque Creek – a confluence at Camino de Dos Rios that reminds me of the confluence of the two great rivers of Lithuania: the Neris and the Nemunas (Nieman).

On my morning walk, I hear neighbor Larry across the creek call “Good morning Svaja.” He’s a lawyer; his favorite author is Joseph Conrad. We chat at a safe distance. He’s a good neighbor.

I see that the potholes in the dirt of White Boulder Lane have been filled. A police car is parked in the driveway of the gated mansion above the acequia. Further up the steep paved road, another steel gated adobe mansion. At the top of the road, still another gated mansion. As I pause to catch my breath, a magpie swoops down in waves from the mesa to land on a creekside tree.

Bishop’s Lodge itself is being renovated. Originally to reopen in summer 2018, it’s still not open. I dread to see what has happened behind the new huge stone and steel gateway. The lodge sits on land purchased in the 1880s by Santa Fe’s Bishop Lamy. I hope the old apricot tree, said to be from the Bishop’s time, is still there. In her novel based on the Bishop’s life, Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather describes it as “an apricot tree of such great size as he had never seen before…two trunks, each of them thicker than a man’s body.”

Back at home, the finch nest under the eave of the front door produced at least four babies that now fly around the courtyard. The babies look bigger than the poor drab little mother bird, who looks exhausted.

The black-headed grosbeak nest held three eggs my son nearly stepped on when a cold snap at Easter buried the nest in snow. All we could see that day were two very still tail feathers sticking out of the snow – a parent sitting on the eggs, trying to keep them warm. That night it froze hard: 17 degrees. When the snow melted, the eggs were gone, the nest deserted.

Earlier, a gravel truck struck a huge branch of a box elder in our driveway. In the downed trunk we discovered a perfectly round woodpecker hole—probably the nest of the two Northern Flickers I would see flitting in the courtyard eating Virginia Creeper berries. Now they’re also gone.

One day, a chickadee appears at my backyard bird feeder – a healthy big one. It made me long to be back in Alaska, my return delayed by the Covid crisis. The day before we return to Alaska, a hummingbird sits on a nest in a low bush beside the creek. I wouldn’t know until later that her eggs disappeared, too.

Little dramas and convergences of roads, rivers, birds, past and present, far and near, have filled my days.


Svaja Worthington has lived in Chugiak for 45 years and is Alaska’s Honorary Counsel for the Republic of Lithuania.

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