A Weathervane in the East End

Written By: Alexandra Newton  Rios

The weathervane was a wrought iron horse fastened to the shingled gable of our garage facing Little Plains Road. It waited for the wind to give it direction. It was ready to go. I was fourteen, my father Nicholas thirty five when we bought the weathervane. We were both ready to go, too. Neither of us then knew how important direction would be in our lives.

No one told us how to grow up. We did it on our own. Separately. What is love? Do we follow it or do we lead? Do we wait to be given direction, a path to follow? Do we create our own path?

A few years later I was preparing to be married at my father’s home on Noyac Road. My father had remarried. The wedding reception was to be at the Southampton Inn. My father had planted flowers next to the path where he would lead me in my white gown to my betrothed in a joint Catholic and Jewish ceremony in his garden. Late that afternoon at my mother’s home in Southampton I looked out through my bedroom window at the weathervane. My bridesmaids were resting in our bedrooms. The horse seemed to smile. It did not tell me which way to go. Neither did the sun slanting its rays across our two hundred year old birch facing the weathervane, nor the ocean at the end of Little Plains Road give me a direction. I did not have time to listen to my heart. I would have to learn that uniting with another in marriage needed passion to fuel the marriage over time.

How do we prepare for a life of love? Does gentleness come from the east or from the west?

When I married my second husband from Argentina we walked to the County Court on Hampton Road in Southampton to sign our documents. The following day my sister and mother gave us the gift of a wedding ceremony with a judge at my sister’s home. I wanted to have children right away. I wanted to leave for Iowa City to the Writers’ Workshop where I had just been accepted for my writing. I had only known my beloved for several months. I wanted to begin a life of love. I was bridling to go. The weathervane horse was bridling to go. I was thirty three. Again the yearnings without direction. Without training in action.

It was Pope Nicholas I who ordered that a cock be placed on church steeples in the ninth century as a reminder of Peter’s betrayal of Christ before the cock crowed three times. Basilicas and monasteries added a rooster to their weathervanes to comply.

Our weathervane horse’s flanks in Southampton contain the beauty of the wild knowing its direction. This was before I read Dante and felt the barely restrained power of language for the first time.

Far away from the intellectual centers of the world in San Miguel de Tucumán, a small, city in northwestern Argentina, I read Dante Alighieri, Etienne Gilson, Teilhard de Chardin, Julia Kristeva, Giambattista Vico, Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in Spanish translation, and when available, in English. I raised five children. Distance allowed me to see from what Hannah Arendt called an Archimedean point, a vantage point outside. I wanted not only to see like the horse of my weathervane. I wanted to give direction.

My father is dying. He does not know what to expect. He wants no pain. He has prostate cancer metastasized into the bone. In the operation in Panama where he now lives, when his prostate was removed as a hormone treatment to prevent the spread of the cancer, he acquired another disease called lymphedema, where his body retains liquid. His left leg bloated to an enormous, painful size. He refuses chemotherapy, yet takes codeine and morphine. He negates God, angels and heaven. He is afraid that death may only result to be piles of dead bodies with his mother’s body down at the bottom of the heap. Five days ago my father stopped walking. He is afraid to let go. His journey has not been gentle. Dylan Thomas might have been pleased. “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” I think to myself. Dante’s light has not died I want to tell my father. Having left my children and husband in the northwestern Argentine winter, I traveled unexpectedly to Panama to accompany my father for almost a month. I find it a coincidence, which some believe are divine messages, or an intuition of the transcendental, that I finish reading Paradiso surrounded by the beauty of abundance which is the equator’s tropic. I write near the Continental Divide with enormous fichus trees, darting hummingbirds, banana plants, one iridescent green iguana scurrying up a hill, orange, red, violet flowers, fuchsia bougainvillea, bright green parrots who mate for life flying at dawn and sunset with the heavy, short rain showers of Panama’s late winter afternoons, and suddenly one eagle glides across the sky like Dante’s Eagle – “Once Constantine reversed the eagle’s flight,/ counter to the course of heaven it had followed/behind that ancient who took Lavinia to wife,/ for two hundred years and more the bird of God/remained at Europe’s borders,/near the mountains from which it first came forth.” (Paradiso, VI, 1-6). As I view the beauty before me I sense Dante was inflamed, too, with the power of beauty, of love that could create Beatrice, the white rose of Paradise, even God, as he wrote. His journey reincarnates both narrator and reader. “However, if the clear vision of the primal Power/is moved by burning Love and makes of that its seal/then all perfection is attained in it.” (Paradiso, XIII, 79-81) The rawness of life in a third world country, where the occurrence of the unexpected is a certainty, masked by the beauty of its land, challenges a calm conclusion.

The weathervane wants me to know direction cannot be predicted. Today is the anniversary of the first man landing on the moon. On that day my father and I on the Minot’s Light anchored in the Baltic Sea away from the coast of Finland, toasted the landing. The landing on the moon fired all of our imaginations; made us feel so much was possible says my sister Christina. Courage is the leap into the unexpected. Despite pain. My mother reminds me readers want a happy story. Love is everything, I answer. The windmills, the weathervanes, waters sparkling at the slightest wind, the beauty of the East End, inspire action, the leap of faith, like its galloping waves into love.