December 1, 2020

12.01.2020

It’s going to take some vigilance, some intention, to keep spirits bright in these December days with dim light and long dark nights.Findinghomeinmontana 12.01.2019

Did I really write that here, one year ago today? I thought things were that troublesome, even before the pandemic? I did not have a clue about how bad it would get. As Carol wrote in a text last night, “The world is spinning way too quickly, as it spirals sideways and downward…”. My Covid nightmares are back, and at 3:00 am this morning, all I could think about is where and how will I get parsley for the turkey soup I plan to make today. Sigh.

Thanksgiving turned out to be a lovely day, all day long, just the two of us, as the house filled with the smell of pumpkin pie and turkey. The champagne was popped at 2:00 in the afternoon and we listened to a cheery Spotify Thanksgiving playlist while we cooked away together in the kitchen. Late in the afternoon, just before it was time to pull the turkey out of the oven, we took a walk through our forest, across neighbor’s meadows, up their empty roads, down to water’s edge, in stunning golden light. We talked to our families and got to see those California kids via FaceTime. And we finished off the day watching Planes, Trains and Automobiles, laughing through the scenes we know so well.

I had planned to decorate the Christmas tree the next day, but just couldn’t get into it. So many loved ones in our lives are in a world of hurt right now, and Trump is burning down the house, with 50 days to go. I cannot even read the dire predictions about the pandemic’s explosion, after people gathered together for Thanksgiving. The director of our local health department just resigned after months of conflict with a no-mask county commissioner board. As Carol said, it feels like we are spiraling sideways and downward.

The weather outside is hardly frightful, for this first day of December. The temperatures are supposed to get below freezing, but no precipitation is predicted all this week. There is nothing worse for a meteorologist than a stagnant high pressure system, and you can tell our NOAA forecasters who write the weather discussions are getting bored. With no cold fronts or arctic blasts or jet stream changes to talk about, there is but a brief, bland paragraph on the discussion page. I’ve taken to reading the national forecast on NOAA’s website each morning. It’s quite interesting to read about the lake effect snow in the Great Lakes, the freeze in Appalachia, the power outages in Maine. There’s something weirdly comforting to me to have a handle on what the weather is like across the country. It must make me feel like I have control over something.

Well, it’s December now, and time to get after that tree, bring up some twinkling and sparkling ornaments from the basement, and add a little cheer to the house. If I can locate that parsley, it will smell like turkey soup. There’s a sky-blue sky out my window, just a skiff of breeze, 38 degrees, and a great morning for a crisp walk.

“Nothing ever seems too bad, too hard, or too sad when you’ve got a Christmas tree in the living room.” Nora Roberts

November’s Finale

11.23.20

Here we are, Thanksgiving week. We’ve somehow managed to live with Covid for nine months now–I don’t think even my pregnancies seemed that long. But, November has been so lovely, in that November kind of way. After October’s unwelcome snow storm, the days have been above freezing, sometimes raining, sometimes blustery, sometimes foggy, and I swear, it’s a rare 4:00 in the afternoon that it does not look like this in my living room. The sun, so low in the sky, floods the house and I cannot do a thing except sit in the chair with a kitty on my lap, and soak in the beautiful light. We took an afternoon walk in the woods at Wayfayer’s Park yesterday, and it was like one of those late autumn afternoon walks you read about in a British novel, after they’ve had their Sunday roast, when the rust-gold air is scented by woodsmoke, and the path is spongy with decaying leaves and needles, and it smells just like my favorite oak and cedar scented candle. It’s so lovely to return home as the sun is setting, start the fire, pour yourself a pint. I love November.

It’s lightly snowing this morning, coming gently straight down. It won’t amount to much with 34 degree temperatures, but it’s a harbinger of winter which arrives now in less than a month. I’ll miss November’s gentleness and its melancholy and its nostalgia. The light is so bright white in winter, and is there any smell other than that flinty one of cold? I know I’ll see her beauty–even now, it is pleasantly still and quiet as I watch big flakes drift down to earth out my window. But, November, I am reluctant to bid you farewell.

Reluctance, by Robert Frost

Out through the fields and the woods
   And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
   And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
   And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
   Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
   And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
   When others are sleeping.


And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
   No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
   The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
   But the feet question ‘Whither?’


Ah, when to the heart of man
   Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
   To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
   Of a love or a season?

One of those families…

11.15.20

My brother died yesterday, alone with a nurse, in the Covid ICU unit at a Maui Hospital. We had been expecting it with his condition deteriorating over the past week or so, but his wife, Peggy–just out of quarantine–was getting things ready at their home so he could smell the sea and feel the sun one more time. He asked her to get his three sisters on the phone so he could say goodbye, and for over two hours, the three of us, Peggy, and their daughter Dee, were on the phone together talking to him and to one another. He was coherent early in the first hour to tell us how lucky he was to have us for sisters, and we were all able to share our love for him. Erin, the tenderest of nurses, helped us understand what was happening to him, how his face looked, and said it seemed to calm him as he listened to us speaking with one another. So, we shared stories, lots of laughs, pickle recipes. We said a prayer together with the chaplain when she came into his room. We kept remarking to each other that now we’d become one of those Covid families we’ve been reading about–our loved one dying alone, while we talked to them on the phone. And yet, it was a beautiful experience of family to be on that conference call together, and when Erin told us we’d heard his last breath, and said she was so sorry we couldn’t be there, and that he had to be with a stranger, she did not feel like a stranger. She was just so kind.

After we hung up, I walked out on the north shore of the lake to be with the “pale gold light of a November sky” as Albert Camus wrote. Except for a family of Canada Geese resting in the water, I was alone in the sunset. I knew it had been an extraordinary experience– to be together on that phone call as my brother left this earth–to share our love before he was gone. I kept thinking about Erin, hoping when she went home, after that long day tending to my brother and to us, that she was met with a loving family of her own. We learned this morning that she was a traveling nurse…I hope she at least had a phone call. She was so kind.

KINDNESS by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.

A bit of calm

11.11.20

After the long, stressful election week, a bit of calm settled over things. I popped a bottle of champagne Saturday night, and just reveled in the deep breaths I could finally take. As the week closed down, It snowed and was quiet and peaceful. Everyone I talked to said they had been taken aback to realize how much tension they’d held in their bodies for so long. But, it felt like we’d come together, to the top of the hill, for some rest and comfort.

I was tearful when the promising news came out about the vaccine, and I began to imagine the possibility of being with my family again come summer. There is a long dark winter between now and then–but, we always have long dark winters. With Covid raging out of control, we are more hunkered down, more isolated than other years, but this house does winter well. I’m lighting the candles now at dusk and there’s a fire going in the living room by late afternoon. A small flock of winter robins are hanging around in the aspens outside the window, and when they land on a thin bare branch, they look like they are jumping up and down on a trampoline. I could swear they are here just to keep my spirits up. Don is starting his search for the perfect turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner for two. I’m starting to think about holiday decorations for the mantle with garland and fairy lights. Maybe we’ll get the Christmas tree early and decorate it in simple white lights. It will be so quiet in this house, and perhaps just lighting the darkness will feel just right for Christmas 2020. We’ve come so far in this year! We press on–and there is so much to crush the spirit–but, there’s a whiff of hope in the air, in our best moments.

Up-Hill, by Christina Rossetti

Does the road wind up-hill all the way? 
   Yes, to the very end. 
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day? 
   From morn to night, my friend. 

But is there for the night a resting-place? 
   A roof for when the slow dark hours begin. 
May not the darkness hide it from my face? 
   You cannot miss that inn. 

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night? 
   Those who have gone before. 
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight? 
   They will not keep you standing at that door. 

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak? 
   Of labour you shall find the sum. 
Will there be beds for me and all who seek? 
   Yea, beds for all who come.

Morning on Election Day

11.03.20

The Peace of Wild Things, by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Hanging on

10.28.20

When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” Harriet Beecher Stowe

Everybody I know is just hanging by their fingernails right now. Covid numbers continue to explode, and in this conservative Valley, you are likely to encounter your fellow citizens without a mask if you go anywhere. Not that we go anywhere, but people send me photos. Adding a dose of misery to life, our septic system backed up for three days and we suffered way out of proportion to the problem. That’s another sign of just hanging on–any problem can send you over the edge. For serious problems, I have family members in Colorado with Covid, and my immunocompromised brother in Hawaii just tested positive. A dear friend flew to Chicago to be with her mother who is receiving end of life care. I can barely keep up with the emails from friends, as we weep and gnash about this presidency and his administration, and chew our fingernails in fear of the election results next week, lose sleep over its aftermath, watch in horror to learn another Black man has been shot by the police. This is a “tight place” we are in.

You can tell from my photo that the cold front did hit us. Our temperatures went down into the single digits and the lingering beautiful red and golden leaves flash-froze on the trees. Compared to most of Montana, we had only four or five inches of snow, but ice has coated our stone steps for days. Everybody has railed against this early blast of winter, in times that are already hard. There’s light drizzle dripping on us today, and we are under an “air stagnation” alert all week. The fog which hovers over the lake feels appropriately dreary.

In an upbeat footnote, when the septic line was repaired yesterday, and I could use the bathroom, and finally wash the piled up dishes, I was euphoric. To use warm water and wash my face this morning felt like the greatest luxury. NOAA reports confidence is high “this Fall season will moderate after the recent wild weather with afternoon highs potentially reaching into the 50’s in many locations.” While it’s exhausting to keep mustering hope, somehow–together–we hang on as the tide may turn. I have gone back to this poem for comfort…Sometimes

Sometimes – Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse.  Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss, sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen:  may it happen for you.


Moving inside

10.16.20

“October extinguished itself in a rush of howling winds and driving rain and November arrived, cold as frozen iron, with hard frosts every morning and icy drafts that bit at exposed hands and faces.” 
― J.K. Rowling

The rains did come. Now, for the month of October, we are 291% above normal in precipitation and the mountain tops are covered in snow. It was as if the maroon velvet curtains were pulled across the stage, after the final performance of Indian Summer. We did have a beautiful sunny 50 degree day here yesterday. Don spent most of the time high up in the blue sky above the roof, scraping off moss that has collected over nearly twenty years. He’s been up there for weeks, harnessed to 100 year old trees, tediously scraping away, making incremental progress it seems to me. But, I know he likes it up there–he tells me about the interesting birds going by overhead, the shifting winds out on the lake. I guess it’s a nice way to escape all that is happening on earth. I’ve been doing as many chores outside that I can think up, putting away cushions and furniture, badminton rackets and boat shoes. I cleaned ashes out of the fire pit down by the water yesterday, wondering if we will really have any friends come over in their parkas to share a socially-distanced cocktail. Maybe there will be some time before everything is dripping with rain or covered by snow.

Under the cover of darkness, our neighbors pulled out early yesterday morning, and never said goodbye. I saw a light on around 5 am, and thought maybe Carl had gone hunting. But, their gate up on the highway was locked and all the geraniums on the lakeside porch were gone. We felt sad. Don was a bit concerned that back in June, when we turned down their invitation to have dinner–explaining our Covid-19 precautions–we had insulted them. They are not really ‘friends’–our politics are so divergent that an enormous chasm keeps us separated–but they are very good neighbors, and over the years, we’ve enjoyed a summer meal together to catch up after their winters in Florida, chats across our docks, family updates. Carl always leaves us some of his tomatoes on the front porch. I texted them late in the day, saying goodbye and safe travels, and they replied they had just checked into a motel in Casper, Wyoming, and sent photos of the snowstorm, and we both said we were so sorry we couldn’t socialize at all this summer, and maybe next year.

The winds are raging again this morning and squalls are coming across the lake. The dreaded east winds are predicted to rage through here late in the night, dumping more snow in the mountains, causing power outages, and perhaps a dusting of snow in the valleys. There is a snow icon on the NOAA site for days to come, and long-range forecasting suggests the possibility of a genuine polar front late next week. With the pandemic and election fears, it feels like a long winter is ahead. I’m already getting those “Best Christmas Ever!” catalogues in the mail right now–nearly outnumbering the election propaganda. They all go directly into the recycling bin.

So, I’m moving inside, to our warm and cozy home. We’ve had our first crackling fire, the wool plaid throws are draped over chairs with extra ones stacked on the bench. I’ve kept the summer furniture arrangement in the living room, with the sofa looking directly out to the lake, and it’s been pleasant to sit there and watch the waves. And, with the afternoon sun so low in the sky, it casts golden light across the amber-colored fir floors, and fills the room with a magical glow. I bought a craft table from Home Depot so I can spread out with my drawing and painting supplies, which I dabble in when the spirit moves me. I set it up in the dormitory room upstairs where I can sit on the window bench and have the light from behind me shine on my easel. It’s my favorite room in the house, a once upon a time space, where all the grandchildren have slept through the years. I think I’ll like going up there in the deep dark days of winter, a little retreat for myself. I’m doing my best to Be Ready.

You Reading this, Be Ready, by William Stafford

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this 
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

Indian Summer

10.09.20

NOAA weather discussion at the start of the week:

.DISCUSSION...And the beat goes on, yet again the Northern Rockies
will relish in a near perfect fall day. High temperatures will
flirt with record highs on Wednesday, along with light afternoon
breezes, and just a hint of haze creeping in for north central
Idaho late afternoon. Not much will change through the end of week
with the exception of increased west and southwest winds on
Thursday, and possibly haze and smoke increasing each day from
regional fires.

If smoke and haze do develop, never fear, a strong cold front on
Saturday will clear out the Northern Rockies. In addition, a
change from monotonously warm and dry weather to cool and wet will
occur.

Only a meteorologist would describe our Indian Summer days as “Monotonously warm and dry weather”. It has been glorious and feels like a gift from the gods to balance out the implosion in Washington, the dramatic rise in our local Covid cases, the collective anxiety which feels like a threatening storm barreling down upon us. Sarah and Nick were here for 24 hours last week-end, and I realized after they drove away, that in the time they were here, there was not a gripping in my stomach nor heaviness in my chest. They were a respite from my over-arching anxiety. We laughed, told stories, took a lovely Fall walk together, and it just felt like hope somehow.

The cold front predicted is moving in this morning with strong winds. I watched from the dock as Don and his friend sailed our boat south for winter storage. As the sails caught the wind, they heeled over dramatically, and I was glad to be on the shore, and very glad that Steve is an experienced sailor. It was a melancholy feeling to watch them disappear from view, a tiny white speck on this enormous lake. It’s another marker that summer is truly gone. Burger Town has put up their “Closed for the Season” signs and the Timbers Motel sign now reads “See you in the Spring.” The friendly Hutterite farmer, always in a black suit, who sets up a farmstand every Friday next to the carwash, said today that it was the final one for the season. He apologized to me that there were no more peaches left, and suggested I perhaps get another jar of his pickles, to enjoy over the winter season.

This is always how it feels in October. The season of farewells. It’s all so beautiful in the ‘dying time’, and I am looking forward to the rain, the brisk coolness of future days, the smell of woodsmoke in the fireplace, and making soup every night. I find comfort in John Muir’s words about the hopefulness in this season and how the ‘seeds all have next summer in them.’

In the yellow mist the rough angles melt on the rocks. Forms, lines, tints, reflections, sounds, all are softened, and although the dying time, it is also the color time, the time when faith in the steadfastness of Nature is surest… The seeds all have next summer in them, some of them thousands of summers, as the sequoia and cedar. In the holiday array all go calmly down into the white winter rejoicing, plainly hopeful, faithful… everything taking what comes, and looking forward to the future, as if piously saying, “Thy will be done in earth as in heaven!” John Muir

Light in Autumn

10.01.2020

“I must say, it helps to be in a pandemic, having been self-isolating for many months and anticipating more of the same–it makes supper with friends around a table feel like a great luxury. Life feels more precious, knowing that danger is in the air. Creating one perfectly beautiful day is a heroic achievement, all the more so for occurring in the midst of an ugly presidency and a savage disease.” Garrison Keillor

Now it is October, and oh how beautiful our skies have been. Last week’s rain showers washed away the smoke, and now we are having a splendid Indian Summer. The days have been heartbreakingly beautiful. I start the mornings down on a rock by the water, a kitty on my lap, to watch pink light fill the sky and water. And in the evenings, with long golden sunsets, I go out to the dock to find the evening star, and get a glimpse of light in the East where the moon is rising. All night long, the Harvest Moon fills our bedroom with clear white light. Each day, I declare that there has not been a more beautiful day.

Just in time for October, the full moon was orange when it set across the lake this morning. Smoke from western fires has silently drifted in, creating a haze which only intensifies Autumn’s golden light during sunsets and moonsets. I know that ‘nothing gold can stay’, but, still, this Autumn light feels so necessary during these troubled times with ‘growing darkness’ in our country.

Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness by Mary Oliver

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends

into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.

And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?

So let us go on, cheerfully enough,
this and every crisping day,

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

Autumn Equinox

09.22.20

Today, the night is as long as the day. As autumn officially begins, we are now equally divided between the light and the dark. There’s an old folk legend that says if you catch a red or golden leaf as it drops mid-flight during the equinox, you won’t catch a cold in the winter. Maybe, it works for Covid-19 as well–I’ll be looking up. I bought a little pumpkin yesterday for the kitchen window box, to cover up all the spaces between the flowers where the deer have been feasting. I’m going to collect a bunch of red fallen leaves and nestle them next to the pumpkin, in celebration of the equinox. I can’t let this important day carelessly pass by. In the Chinese tradition, white is the color of autumn, and I have plenty of white candles for tonight’s darkness. Weeping is the sound of the season, and now is the time to weep for things you have lost.

Thankfully, out my window this morning, it does not look at all like this photo I took last week. The weather fronts that rolled through last week end have largely dissipated the dense smoke which encased us for well over a week. We obsessively checked the air quality, hourly, to see if we were still in the red zone, and except for brief walks down to the water to check out the “view,” we stayed inside. Our sailboat looked like a ghost ship, stranded between earth and sky without a horizon line to orient itself in place. I thought of how pilots in those small planes without proper instruments, are prone to crash when they can’t see the ground in dense fog. When we went to bed at night, we turned on the ceiling fan to move some air in our hermetically sealed house. With no visible lights across the lake, no moon light, no star light, I had dreams I was in a coffin. Such are the times we live in right now.

And yet, this is the start of my favorite season. The weather gods are predicted to bless us with off and on rain all of this week, which is a grand transition from summer to fall. We’ll have a month of gold and crimson against blue skies, wool sweaters, hot Irish whiskey. We move on, we move on.

A Song for Autumn by Mary Oliver

Don’t you imagine the leaves dream now
how comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of the air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don’t you think
the trees, especially those with
mossy hollows, are beginning to look for

the birds that will come—six, a dozen—to sleep
inside their bodies? And don’t you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
stiffens and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its long blue shadows. The wind wags
its many tails. And in the evening
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.