Rainy day

loons - 105.18.19

“Tut, Tut, looks like rain”
A.A. Milne

“My mom says that when it rains you never feel like you should be anywhere but home.”
Elise Broach, Shakespeare’s Secret

We are now enveloped in a cold and rainy period for at least another week.  Cliff Mass, the meteorology professor at University of Washington, wrote on his blog that this is “liquid bounty” for the Northwest, with hopes it could stave off forest fire season by a few weeks this year.  It is not good news for Anna’s soccer championship this week-end in Great Falls, in which games were delayed until the pitches were cleared of snow, nor for Fletcher’s outdoor graduation party next week-end.  In California, where they are expecting 500% of normal precipitation through the end of May, Sarah said she was “so over it.”  Just as things felt close to summer…alas, sigh, oh well.

On this cool and rainy week-end, I’ve been sequestered at home, not doing much of anything.  Don has been gone and while I had grand plans for various house projects, I’ve just wandered around the house.  I looked out the window, picked up a book, then stepped out on the porch again, back to the book, a little nippy nap on the sofa, another cup of tea.  The pair of loons on the water have been making their wolf-like calls, so loud that I can hear them with the windows and doors all closed.  I scan the lake, making sure they’ve found one another.  I did have a beautiful walk this morning in light, misty rain, which felt like Ireland, so I looked online in search of holiday homes for sale at the sea, somewhere along the Atlantic Way, and found this cottage:

“This unique property has it all! Barry’s Cottage is located in the hamlet of Cromane, a beautiful fishing village on the famous Ring of Kerry and Wild Atlantic Way. This charming cottage was built in the 1940s with thick walls to protect it against Atlantic winds. It is a solid structure which can be renovated, modernised and extended according to the new owner’s wishes. It enjoys the most magnificent sea and mountain views.”

Then, I read some poetry, and looked out the window again, and reminded myself that we are but ‘fleeting clouds in the sky’, and all I need do is just pay attention, out my own window.

What to Do
by Joyce Sutphen

Wake up early, before the lights come on
in the houses on a street that was once
a farmer’s field at the edge of a marsh.

Wander from room to room, hoping to find
words that could be enough to keep the soul
alive, words that might be useful or kind

in a world that is more wasteful and cruel
every day. Remind us that we are
like grass that fades, fleeting clouds in the sky,

and then give us just one of those moments
when we were paying attention, when we gave
up everything to see the world in

a grain of sand or to behold
a rainbow in the sky, the heart
leaping up.

 

Homecoming

Homecoming - 105.12.19

We were home for one of the finest sunsets, ever.  Joy, Duncan and Anna stayed with us for a couple of nights–traveling across the state for Joy’s work and more soccer– so we all got to photograph it together and revel in the fabulous warm May night.  Ahhh…good to be home.  Everything is growing by leaps and bounds now.  Dandelions dot the spring green fields and Don has already mowed the lawn.  The hummingbirds dart in and out of the feeder hanging on the porch, and there are so many bird songs, including the distinctive Wilson’s Snipe, we heard at the shoreline.  We walked along the head of the lake this morning to the Flathead River, on packed sand which will soon be covered by snow melt from the mountains.  I hung sheets to dry on the clothesline today, took a bike ride, and canoed down the lake for a bit.  With Memorial Day week-end but two weeks away, it really truly feels like summer is around the bend.

So many birthday celebrations this month, and Don and I are officially another year older.  Fletcher’s high school graduation takes place over Memorial Day week-end–a reminder of just how fast the years go by.  In what feels like a miracle, the trees are bursting with new leaves for another season, yet, at my age, there is a whiff of melancholy in this time of year.  As the  poet, Phillip Larkin writes, “Their greenness is a kind of grief.”   But, still, and yet, we get to begin “afresh” once again.  Afresh, Afresh, Afresh–such hope, and grace, in beginning afresh in this new season.

The Trees, Phillip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

May Day

May Day - 1.jpg05.01.19

The North Wind

The North Wind doth blow,
And we shall have snow,
And what will the robin do then?
Poor thing!

He will sit in a barn,
And keep himself warm
And hide his head under his wing.
Poor thing!

April finished off in lashing rains, snow, and ferocious winds.  We were in charge of the Billings grandkids this past week-end, with the parents off to sunny San Diego.   I drove over on Thursday, and Don stopped in Missoula on his way, so he could watch Fletcher’s tennis tournament Friday and Saturday.  There were fits and starts of the matches as high winds and pelting rains stopped play.  Over in Billings, Anna’s soccer tournament started out on Saturday quite cold, but sunshine blessed us.  By Sunday afternoon’s final championship game, the airport reported gale force winds of 57.6 mph, 36 degrees, and snow clouds approached from the northwest.  Joy keeps a trunkload of soccer-watching gear in her car, so we were as prepared as we could be.  The sport tent/umbrella would have blown away in the wind, but we had these hideous sleeping bags with arm holes, which were surprisingly amazing.  (Don would not let me publish the photograph of him in the camo-bag).   Just as the game got underway, Duncan texted me that the upstairs bathroom window had blown out, but the glass hadn’t broken.  I told him to just shut the door and we’d deal with it when we got back.  Out on the open fields, the wind roared through tall leafless cottonwood trees, and the loud freight trains nearby made the air feel dangerous and electrically charged.  Maybe it was just those final ten minutes, while Anna relentlessly defended the goal, fending off corner kicks and a heart-stopping penalty kick.  By the time she joyously ran across the field to our hugs, the port-o-potties had blown over and trash cans were rolling across the now-empty pitch.

It was good to get back to the warm house for my chicken soup supper, with extra noodles.  Don repaired the window in Duncan’s bathroom.  Fletcher had arrived home late Saturday night, after a seven hour bus ride in driving rain, and said he had never been so cold in his life at the tournament.  We all toasted Anna for the championship win, and regaled the boys with tales of her daring saves and repeated blows to the face in front of the net.  Oh, it was good to have these little robins of mine safely back in the barn!

Today is May Day, that cross-quarter day where we are halfway from the spring equinox to the summer solstice.  On Monday’s drive home across the state, the lakes through the Seeley-Swan Valley were finally free of ice–just ten days before, on another cross-state trip I’d made to Bozeman– they were still frozen.  It’s cold and blustery here, but definitely greener.  The lake level is rising, and the last snow bank up by the garage disappeared yesterday.   We are just touching down here at home for a few days, then fly off to the California families, for a week of birthdays, baseball, and the finale of a school play which Norah has worked on for her entire school year.  Like the whiplash of unusual and unexpected changes in the weather, this coming and going, here and there, leaves me somewhat disoriented, but I understand how important this season is in my life.  It will not be like this forever.   Especially with grandkids who’ve hatched into teen-agers, every time there is a point of contact–a spontaneous hug on the soccer field; a kitchen conversation about being away at college; or sitting next to one another and comparing favorite artists’ websites on our phones–these are moments that are as fleeting as a butterfly skimming over a petal, and very much that luminous.

The Merry Month of May has arrived.  The lilacs are but a month away, and I’m about to become another year older, feeling quite lucky, actually, for more time to chart the weather, and all my changing seasons.

To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring. George Santayana

Sixty degrees

60 degrees2 - 1

04.18.19

NOAA weather discussion for 4.18.19:  “It will be a delightful spring day in the Northern Rockies today as high temperatures rise into the 60s in western Montana and low 70s in central Idaho.  Missoula has only experienced a 60 degree day once this spring on April 2, Kalispell hasn’t seen 60 since October 24.

At 52 degrees yesterday, after the rain had stopped, it felt warm enough to drive to the other side of the lake, down to Dayton, where our sailboat has been dry-docked all winter.  It was time to see what kind of damage she may have suffered.  We park the car and then walk around trying to find it, hoping to remember what it looks like.  We are all alone there and the only sound is rigging slapping against masts in the spring winds.  If I were a composer, I would record that sound and write haunting music to accompany it.  I often say that my favorite thing about owning a sailboat is seeing how the rails catch golden light in a sunset, as she is moored to the blue and white buoy off our dock.   A second favorite thing is going to visit her, standing tall and regal among her mates in a dry-dock field, with the snow-covered Mission Mountains in the background, and that sound of rigging being lashed by the wind.

The full moon was a soft yellow as it set over the western mountains this morning, in blue-pink light.  The geese went honking by and the loon is out there somewhere.  Don’s been burning a slash pile in the woods the past few days, and wood smoke fills the air.  The stone terrace and steps are dry, and waking up to a weather forecast that begins, “It will be a delightful spring day…” is a grand way to start a morning.  I’ll believe it when I see it if it reaches 60 degrees down here by the water, but it’s moving in that direction.  We wait so very long for spring in the north country.  Friends are pulling out with their campers and headed to southern Utah, so they can soak up the heat of red rocks in sunshine.   We’ve been saying to ourselves, “why are we not leaving?”, even as we have a trip booked to Berkeley in just a few weeks.  We reaffirm to ourselves that April really is the hardest month.

And yet, with 60 degrees in the forecast, on this moon-lit morning, it doesn’t seem quite so awful.   In fact, as John Koethe writes in his poem, “Now the clouds are lighter, the branches are frosted green/And suddenly the season that had seemed so tentative before/Becomes immediate, so clear the heart breaks…
The Late Wisconsin Spring
By John Koethe
Snow melts into the earth and a gentle breeze   
Loosens the damp gum wrappers, the stale leaves   
Left over from autumn, and the dead brown grass.   
The sky shakes itself out. And the invisible birds   
Winter put away somewhere return, the air relaxes,   
People start to circulate again in twos and threes.   
The dominant feelings are the blue sky, and the year.   
—Memories of other seasons and the billowing wind;   
The light gradually altering from difficult to clear
As a page melts and a photograph develops in the backyard.   
When some men came to tear down the garage across the way   
The light was still clear, but the salt intoxication   
Was already dissipating into the atmosphere of constant day   
April brings, between the isolation and the flowers.   
Now the clouds are lighter, the branches are frosted green,   
And suddenly the season that had seemed so tentative before   
Becomes immediate, so clear the heart breaks and the vibrant   
Air is laced with crystal wires leading back from hell.   
Only the distraction, and the exaggerated sense of care   
Here at the heart of spring—all year long these feelings
Alternately wither and bloom, while a dense abstraction   
Hides them. But now the mental dance of solitude resumes,   
And life seems smaller, placed against the background   
Of this story with the empty, moral quality of an expansive   
Gesture made up out of trees and clouds and air.
The loneliness comes and goes, but the blue holds,   
Permeating the early leaves that flutter in the sunlight   
As the air dances up and down the street. Some kids yell.   
A white dog rolls over on the grass and barks once. And   
Although the incidents vary and the principal figures change,   
Once established, the essential tone and character of a season   
Stays inwardly the same day after day, like a person’s.   
The clouds are frantic. Shadows sweep across the lawn   
And up the side of the house. A dappled sky, a mild blue   
Watercolor light that floats the tense particulars away   
As the distraction starts. Spring here is at first so wary,   
And then so spare that even the birds act like strangers,   
Trying out the strange air with a hesitant chirp or two,   
And then subsiding. But the season intensifies by degrees,   
Imperceptibly, while the colors deepen out of memory,   
The flowers bloom and the thick leaves gleam in the sunlight   
Of another city, in a past which has almost faded into heaven.   
And even though memory always gives back so much more of   
What was there than the mind initially thought it could hold,   
Where will the separation and the ache between the isolated   
Moments go when summer comes and turns this all into a garden?   
Spring here is too subdued: the air is clear with anticipation,   
But its real strength lies in the quiet tension of isolation   
And living patiently, without atonement or regret,
In the eternity of the plain moments, the nest of care   
—Until suddenly, all alone, the mind is lifted upward into   
Light and air and the nothingness of the sky,   
Held there in that vacant, circumstantial blue until,
In the vehemence of a landscape where all the colors disappear,   
The quiet absolution of the spirit quickens into fact,   
And then, into death. But the wind is cool.   
The buds are starting to open on the trees.
Somewhere up in the sky an airplane drones.

April’s midpoint

comings and goings4 - 1

04.14.19

I was in Denver a few days ago, and flew out just after their latest bomb cyclone storm had gone through.  I had joined my sisters and sister-in-law, to be with our brother for heart surgery.  This, after his year-long hospitalization for treatment of leukemia and a bone marrow transplant from my sister.  He’s the only one left alive of the 26 patients in the clinical trial.  Between meetings with the surgeons, and the never-ending weather channel news about the bomb cyclone on its way, it felt like a high-wire act.

On the day of surgery,  the blizzard was scheduled to hit between 1 and 3 pm.  Schools had early outs, the government shut down, and we were told to STAY OFF THE ROADS.  But, off we drove to the sprawling university hospital campus, at the intersection of several interstates, to keep our vigil.   At 12:30 p.m., the team of surgeons called for us to come to a private conference room, which was hours before they said the operation would be over.   Fearing the worst, we four stared out the windows, watched the wind and snow begin, and fought back tears with all our might.  To our great surprise and enormous relief, the team of doctors came into the room and told us that the operation was textbook perfect, our brother had sailed through with flying colors, and we could see him in intensive care within the hour.  Tears and hugs all around, and when we went to the cafeteria for a bowl of hot soup, we were shaking so badly that our spoons barely made it to our mouths.   There are monitors all around the cafeteria, color coded to find your loved one.  We kept watching his number, still in the green zone–surgery–and then it turned blue for recovery, and off we went to the elevators to see him.

Donning gowns and gloves, we found him alert and happy to be alive, and we hugged and kissed amidst all the cords and wires and beeping monitors of a cardiac intensive care unit.  We sat on the fold-out sofa and breathed in oxygen for the first time in hours.  It was after 3:00, and when we looked out the windows and saw the blizzard was in full force, we knew it was time to immediately leave, or we’d be spending the night with him and our sister-in-law.   The trip home to my sister’s house had its own drama.  She needed her insulin which she’d left back at the house.  The road was jam-packed with cars off in the median, flashing emergency vehicle lights blurred in the white-out, and we needed a gas station as we’d been running on fumes forever.  I could see the headlines:  “Three elderly sisters–one in diabetic coma– run out of gas on interstate in bomb cyclone”.  But, we found gas and made it home, including a stop at the liquor store, which turned out to be our dinner that night.  We couldn’t get off the couch to make anything to eat, and just watched funny TV shows until we collapsed into bed.

The clouds were stunning, all the way to home.  It felt like I’d been gone a long time, and even though I know that nothing changes by mid-April, I was still surprised that nothing had changed.  Away but a few days, it was easy to imagine that the temperatures had risen into the 60’s, the snow piles were gone, and summer felt just around the corner.  Convinced that this April is colder than past years,  I went back through my blog posts and found evidence that it is always like this.  The dirty snow piles, the clouds, the rain and cold, are always here mid-April.  We become delusional around the mid-point of April.  Patience runs thin and gloom hangs just beneath the rain clouds.   I’m tired of the world’s bad news.   None of my soup recipes sound good anymore and I can’t remember how to cook anything else.

When I went to the grocery store, the young clerk told me she really likes the gloomy days, and that sunny days make her anxious.  Sunny days make her feel like she has to do something, but on dreary days, if she doesn’t want to do anything, it’s perfectly acceptable.  She does have a point.  Why not just conserve energy for the wildly energetic long summer days out there in the future.  And, turns out, I need a bit of rest anyway.

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.”
–  Robert Frost, Two Tramps in Mud Time 

Violets

violets - 1.jpg04.05.19

“The first wild-flower of the year is like land after sea.” –Thomas Wentworth Higginson in April Days.

“We have violets!” Rita texted me yesterday morning.  When I asked “where?!”, she sent me a detailed map of how to find the alley in which she had discovered them, so I could go see for myself.  “The flowers of late winter and early spring occupy places in our hearts well out of proportion to their size.  “ (Gertrude S. Wister).  That’s most certainly true.  But, I don’t know which gave me more joy–that violets have appeared, or that Rita and I are in this together.

I had two long back-to-back days in town this week, and by the time I got home to the lake, I was almost out of oxygen.  I couldn’t wait to get out on the porch–now we’ve moved to the main porch since the sun has traveled north behind the big Ponderosa off our bedroom.  I’m still in a parka and a wool blanket wrapped around me, as the sun is filtered by clouds, but it fills me back up to hear lapping waves and watch waterfowl skim over the water.  Any day, I’ll hear the loons.  Yesterday afternoon, at last, Johnson’s pond was clear of ice, and the pair of Canada geese who stand way too close to the highway, can make their nest at water’s edge.  The final piles of snow have melted off our roof, and a narrow path of grass has revealed itself down to the dock.  March went out like a lamb, covering us in sunshine, but leaving us behind in moisture.  So, it’s good news that cool weather and rain is in the forecast for as far out as we can see.  I can get back to my spring cleaning projects inside the house, and read a book by the fire.  Overcome by spring green right now, I decided I needed to paint the bottom half of my red kitchen cabinets in “pea green”, which means that Don has slaved away all week, meticulously painting them, and struggling with the challenging Farrow and Ball paint I love so much.  He can’t wait to get out of the house.

T.S. Eliot wrote in The Wasteland that “April is the cruelest month”, and it often feels just like that when it seems it will never ever be warm again.   But, there is the occasional day when it feels like we should just “go make the call”, as Stuart Kestenbaum writes in his poem, April Prayer.

Just before the green begins there is the hint of green
a blush of color, and the red buds thicken
the ends of the maple’s branches and everything
is poised before the start of a new world,
which is really the same world
just moving forward from bud
to flower to blossom to fruit
to harvest to sweet sleep, and the roots
await the next signal, every signal
every call a miracle and the switchboard
is lighting up and the operators are
standing by in the pledge drive we’ve
all been listening to: Go make the call.

 

Open water

open water2 - 1.jpg

03.29.19

We are coming to the end of March and things are slowly changing.   The picnic table had two feet of snow all winter long.  There is still a foot of snow covering the yard, and walking down to the lake is best done with hiking poles, but look at that open water.  It happened earlier this week.  We were sitting on our sheltered porch, back when there was bright sunshine, and suddenly a narrow channel of water appeared before us.  A strong wind from the south began blowing up the lake and we watched waves fold over the ice, breaking it up, and ice floes began to form and then separate, and flow northward.  Chunks rattled and clacked against the rocks on the shoreline, and great white shapes formed and reformed out in the lake.  Just as it took exactly the right temperature and the right direction of the wind to flash-freeze the lake, the same conditions had to come into alignment to set it free.  And, I got to witness both remarkable events, from the porch of my very own house.  It feels really profound to me–otherworldly somehow–and I’ll think about why that is so in the weeks ahead.  But, my guess is, this it what I will always remember about winter 2019.

Now, the mud season is upon us, and it is ugly.  Cars are lined up at the car washes, as we pay five bucks for five miles of clean driving.  Everybody in Montana has that line of dirt on their pant leg, down at the calf, from stepping out of a car coated in mud.  It’s open burning season, and the highways are covered with dirt from a winter of sanding, so a layer of brown haze hovers over the fields.  I feel like I am Pig-Pen, the Peanuts cartoon character, who walked with a cloud of dirt behind him.  Yet, there are wonderful sights to see.  The Canada geese are hunkered down in fields which are clear of snow, and as they move about in the stubble, often all you see are their black curved necks rising up out of the ground.  Our very own pair are sitting on Johnson’s frozen pond, waiting for it to open up.  Great flocks of tundra swans are flying overhead, dazzlingly white, making their haunting call.  The seagulls have returned, and so many bird songs fill the air in the new light of morning.

We’re having freezing fog this morning, and a cold front is on its way with night-time temperatures dipping back below 32 degrees for a while.  Our rainy season is coming–we hope not too soon, as we need the snowpack to stay up in the mountains for as long as possible.  There is nothing quite so cold as a 40 degree soaking rain in springtime.  When Don takes the outdoor Christmas trees to his slash pile, he’ll need to fill the wheelbarrow with more firewood for the front porch.  Still, someday very soon, after a few sunshine filled afternoons, I’ll get reports from Rita of snowdrops and buttercup sightings.  When the snow finally melts on the terrace, tiny purple violets will suddenly appear out of nowhere between the stones.  Our spring is really just a “handful of separate moments and single afternoons”, but sometimes, on the good days, it feels like enough anyway.

“Poets and songwriters speak highly of spring as one of the great joys of life in the temperate zone, but in the real world most of spring is disappointing.  We looked forward to it too long, and the spring we had in mind in February was warmer and dryer than the actual spring when it finally arrives. We’d expected it to be a whole season, like winter, instead of a handful of separate moments and single afternoons.”
–  Barbara Holland, Endangered Pleasures