December, 2019

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12.01.19

December is here.  It’s three degrees outside this morning, and we are in that brief moment of time when ice skaters can find clear, solid ice, with no snow, on small lakes.  The neighbor’s pond looks good, but it could easily be gone tomorrow.  In between checking on the ice, Don spent the Thanksgiving holiday removing a big tree which fell on the guest cabin roof, after the East Wind roared down the slope.  With our road blocked by another fallen tree, and the highway open only to local traffic, I’ve had quiet days at home.  It was just the two of us this holiday–we were grateful none of our family members were here, asleep in the guest cabin, when the enormous Douglas Fir came crashing down!  Don came in regularly to warm up in the house which was filling up with the smell of roasted turkey, and I put Christmas decorations on the dining room chandelier, and centered the stained glass fairy light window in the kitchen pantry.  By the time the cork was popped on the champagne, Venus and Jupiter were shining brightly in the sky, and there was a beautiful fingernail moon.  It was a slow and peaceful day at our house, filled with much love and gratitude.

Now, we get ready for the Solstice and Christmas, on a cold, gray day.  The tree is decorated, the wreath is made, and we settle into the darkness, with sparkling fairy lights and candles to cheer things up.   After taking a break from the news over Thanksgiving,  I’m back to reading how all is not right with the world.  It’s going to take some vigilance, some intention, to keep spirits bright in these December days with dim light and long dark nights.  In the past few months, I’ve been alternating my serious-read books with classic children’s literature.  The Little Prince and Charlotte’s Web are guaranteed to soothe one’s heart and soul, in the midst of the despair we feel for this blue planet we are destroying.  And, reading The Wind in the Willows, with a cup of tea next to the fire, is a lovely escape, a tiny moment of enchantment, as Rat and Mole, in the rapid nightfall of December, wistfully look into the windows of a cozy cottage.   They have a way of looking at the world with such kindness, and whole-heartedness, one can’t help but feel softer around the edges.   In twenty days, we will have reached another Winter Solstice, and the light will oh so slowly, slowly, begin to return.  It’s quite astonishing, really, that in the midst of our losses, changes, our fears and sadness, we are guaranteed that on December 21st, the sun comes back to us.

“The rapid nightfall of mid-December had quite beset the little village as they approached it on soft feet over a first thin fall of powdery snow. Little was visible but squares of a dusky orange-red on either side of the street, where the firelight or lamplight of each cottage overflowed through the casements into the dark world without. Most of the low latticed windows were innocent of blinds, and to the lookers-in from outside, the inmates, gathered round the tea-table, absorbed in handiwork, or talking with laughter and gesture, had each that happy grace which is the last thing the skilled actor shall capture–the natural grace which goes with perfect unconsciousness of observation. Moving at will from one theatre to another, the two spectators, so far from home themselves, had something of wistfulness in their eyes as they watched a cat being stroked, a sleepy child picked up and huddled off to bed, or a tired man stretch and knock out his pipe on the end of a smoldering log.”

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

A bluebird day in November

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I’m sure there have been sunny, cloudless days here late in the month of November, but I can’t remember the last one.  We left Chico yesterday morning, in clear 13 degree temperatures, and drove from the east side of the divide back over to our western valleys, with nary a cloud in the sky and temperatures above freezing.  We could see some stratus clouds up north, left from the morning fog over our lake, but even they had dissipated by the time I sat by the water with Chatpeau, to watch the sun drop over the western mountains.  At blue eventide, I sat by the fire in our cozy living room and watched Venus and Jupiter appear in the sky.  A splendid homecoming.

Chico Hot Springs was as warm and soothing as it always is during these cold months.  There is, perhaps, no better way to catch up with old friends than sitting in the hot pool, looking up the hillside to bluebird skies in front of the Crazy Mountains.  We catch up on our families, friends, and tell our stories.  Because we are getting old, we know how important this is, and our bones love the hot water.  In those two days, I was steeped in warm memories I have of Chico, over 30 some years, and thought of the times I played with our Billings grandkids in the water, when they were little, now so many years ago.  They were very much on my mind–not only because of our history together at Chico–but because I knew the family was moving out of their childhood home.  Joy posted photos on Facebook of their house, saying goodbye to the place where they had raised their babies.  Fletcher has already left for new adventures in college, but there was a photo of Duncan in his now-bare bedroom, and one of Anna in hers.  And, a photo of the emoji dormer room, where Duncan and Anna, and their friend, Sydney, found solace together, after their carbon monoxide poisoning in that one cold, dark winter, on the precipice of New Years.  The family healed, and moved forward into the future, and is about to set sail on an adventure to Finland for six months, on the eve of yet another New Year.

We are nearing the time to close down this year.  For those of us with good fortune, it has been filled with love and happiness, but, also–especially as we get older– inevitable aches and pains, sorrows and losses, and the acknowledgement of our vulnerability.  A friend recently told me that she had lost seven friends to death this last year, and there are those in our midst who must brave the future with unbearable losses.  In the darkness of November and December, I think it would be helpful to have an emoji dormer room, where we could sit and look at the icons pasted on the wall, which reflect the crying, laughing, fear, anger, confusion, despair, and love, which we’ve experienced through the year.  Just to review it all, sit with it, sort it out, and then, at the New Year–with enough hope and courage–we could gently sweep up the pieces of broken glass, and move on to our next adventure, or, perhaps, just another bluebird day, a sunset over the water, or twinkling planets in a clear night sky.

…”The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance, our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant and fearful, always at the gates of existence, but never bravely and completely attempting to enter, never wanting to risk ourselves, never walking fully through the door.”  David Whyte, Consolations

 

Moving through November

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“The house was very quiet, and the fog—we are in November now—pressed against the windows like an excluded ghost.” E.M Forester

“The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sear.”
–   William Cullen Bryant

‘In November you begin to know how long the winter will be.”   Martha Gellhorn

“In summary, conditions for the Northern Rockies are anticipated to revert to the recent wet and unsettled character of late.  No real large scale pattern change is evident in the extended forecast.”  NOAA forecast 11.14.19

We are in the heart of November now, the melancholy days.  In the dense morning fog, NOAA’s summary of the weather matches my mood.  Everything is wet and slushy and life, itself, feels unsettled, with no large scale pattern change in the extended forecast.  In November, a big gray cloud covers the valley, creating an inversion of dripping fog on the warmer days, and ice on the cold ones.  It was a jolt to fly home from California into a snow storm, on roads instantly turned to ice.  Thankfully, it was short lived and by the next morning, the snow and ice had turned back into water.  The dehumidifier is turned on in the garage to soak up the slosh accumulating on the concrete floor.

November is also the month of thanksgiving–just because we’ve made it this far, if nothing else comes to mind.  Yet, even Eeyore can find gratitude in the snowy freezing months:

“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily.
“So it is.”
“And freezing.”
“Is it?”
“Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”
A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner (1928)

I had the house to myself last evening and started the fire early.  I turned off the Impeachment news, the school shooting story, and lit the candles, and with a kitty cat on my lap, opened one of the four books which had arrived while we were in California.  (I’ve lived here long enough to know what’s required in the dark, cold months.)  I glanced out the window at one point to see rays of the sun, for the first time all day, and not long thereafter, Venus appeared between streaks of clouds.  I watched with a few long, slow breaths, and then the clouds closed over the bits of light in the sky, and all was dark again.  In the middle of the long night, awakening from restless dreams, the Beaver Moon illuminated the dense fog out my window, and all was white and blank outside, and it felt like morning would never come.  But, it does, if we are lucky.  We get another chance to be surprised by bits of light, and, if we are really paying attention, find a solace of sorts, in the quiet fog which shrouds us, when all the world feels in disarray.

 

November

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Everybody said it was one of the coldest Halloweens they can remember.  It probably wasn’t, but with the early blast of arctic air we had at the beginning of the week, and the leaves flash-frozen on the trees, it did seem unusually bitterly cold.  Yesterday, the first day of November, on an icicle sunny morning walk, crisply frozen yellow leaves stood upright in the snow.  I thought of that children’s game, freeze tag, and imagined the fallen leaves blowing across the ground, and then frozen in their tracks, as the cold front came down upon them, yelling, “freeze!”  We’ve had gorgeous late afternoons in which the sun has risen above the lake fog, flooding our living room in bright white light.  You have to sit with your back to it or you’ll be blinded.  And the new moon has been particularly spectacular, hanging first as a thin fingernail over the water, and last night, a yellow crescent, casting light all the way across the lake.  I could see it from my bed when I went to sleep, and, there is, perhaps, no softer way to let go of the day and move into the dark night.

And, dark it is, as we have now passed the midpoint between the fall equinox and the winter solstice.  The time change happens tonight, and thank goodness there will be more light in the morning for us early-early risers.  But, evenings will descend upon us quickly, and it’s the time of year when I always scurry home if I’m out and about, to get the fire going, the soup on the stove, and light the candles before all is black out the windows.  I’ve been dragging my feet in letting go of October, greedy for every single golden day before the gray cloud of November presses down upon us.  But, as often seems to happen once it turns into November, I’m ready to let it go, give in, and settle into this new season of wool blankets, fairy lights at the windows, candles on the table, stacks of books by my chair, and move into the old story of the darkest night.

November

BY MAGGIE DIETZ
Show’s over, folks. And didn’t October do
A bang-up job? Crisp breezes, full-throated cries
Of migrating geese, low-floating coral moon.
Nothing left but fool’s gold in the trees.
Did I love it enough, the full-throttle foliage,
While it lasted? Was I dazzled? The bees
Have up and quit their last-ditch flights of forage
And gone to shiver in their winter clusters.
Field mice hit the barns, big squirrels gorge
On busted chestnuts. A sky like hardened plaster
Hovers. The pasty river, its next of kin,
Coughs up reed grass fat as feather dusters.
Even the swarms of kids have given in
To winter’s big excuse, boxed-in allure:
TVs ricochet light behind pulled curtains.
The days throw up a closed sign around four.
The hapless customer who’d wanted something
Arrives to find lights out, a bolted door.

 

 

 

 

And the seasons they go round and round

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10.26.19

Golden days have lingered, since our return from the coast this past Monday.  I’ve witnessed several of them from my bed or the couch, after a bad reaction to either the flu or pneumonia vaccine, which I obviously shouldn’t have done at the same time.  I think I had every symptom I found on Dr. Google except that I could still breathe and wasn’t having seizures!  I spent the time, when I was awake, feeling sorry for myself for missing the last of these spectacular days, or feeling fearful, after too much screen time looking at the dreadful news of the day, certain that our institutions might crumble under this president.  One day–I guess after another software update on my phone–photos I’d taken ten years ago on that date popped up on my screen.  There were the very first photos of Gary and Chatpeau, tiny kittens who mysteriously appeared on our porch.  We’ve guessed they were maybe six or seven years old by now, but somehow lost track of the time.  I almost sent Sarah a photo of now-gone Gary, but I knew it would make her sad.  But, she would have appreciated seeing that he eventually grew into those big ears.  Scrolling through the decade-old photo album, there was little Anna in her witch costume, in front of the kitchen table with all the Halloween decorations, at the start of Joy’s annual party.  In autumn, that west-facing room had the most beautiful golden, glowing light.  Now, their house has sold and the family will be moving into a little Airbnb for a month, before they leave to spend half a year in Finland.  I bundled up in blankets and sat on the porch one bright and sunny late afternoon, to give Chatpeau some company, and looked around at all the wicker furniture we had yet to put away before the upcoming winter storm and single digit temperatures, and I missed summer which seemed forever ago.  Don came out and I told him I was sad, and he said he was too, and then he went to refill my hot water bottle, and things felt a little better.

Yesterday, I arose from the ashes and we had a lovely afternoon walk along the river trail, in 65 degrees.  The Tamaracks (Larix occidentalis) were in full golden display and lined the blue water, snow-capped peaks in the background.  The wind blew the remaining aspen leaves sideways, and a garter snake slithered across the trail, forsaking his winter hole.  I thought of the trees we were with last week-end in Bellingham, and how the temperate rainforest of the Olympic Peninsula is so uniquely beautiful.  To be there in autumn in misty rain, is another one of those Irish thin places.  I think one of my favorite moments with Fletcher was when he spent the afternoon giving us a campus tour, all three of us with the hoods pulled up on our Gore-Tex raincoats.   When we got to Old Main, we walked next to the Arboretum, its hillside nestled next to the oldest building on campus, and filled with reds and yellows and every shade of green, all glistening in the mist.  He pointed up to his math class on the fifth floor of the building, and said that his favorite time of day is to walk out the door after class, and feel what it feels like next to the forest.  I like to think that, perhaps, there is something of me in my grandson’s DNA.

We got all the porch furniture put away into the boat house.  All is buttoned now up.  As we watched the World Series from the library, the sun slipped beneath the clouds and filled the empty space on the porch, and bathed the house in golden light.  It felt as if our home was filling up with all the light and warmth it will need for the next long winter ahead.

The Circle Game, by Joni Mitchell

Yesterday a child came out to wonder
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star

Then the child moved ten times round the seasons
Skated over ten clear frozen streams
Words like when you’re older must appease him
And promises of someday make his dreams

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game 

Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone now
Cartwheels turn to car wheels thru the town
And they tell him take your time it won’t be long now
Till you drag your feet to slow the circles down

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty
Though his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true
There’ll be new dreams maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

 

October gold

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10.16.19

As we pass the mid-point of October, it has lived up to its golden promise, despite the early bitter cold winter storm and the continuing below normal temperatures.  There is a duskiness to the red colors and some of the leaves look ready to fall without turning, but the yellows and oranges are glowing.  I’ve been spending as many late afternoons as I can around a campfire down by the water.  We have so much driftwood to burn, and at 45 degrees, with a bit of sun, the fire is just enough to make an hour or two of reading quite pleasant.  A little black kitty on my lap warms my hands.

So that I feel deserving of these afternoon soirees by the fire, I’ve given myself a hefty list of chores to accomplish, including the commitment to do one organizing/deep cleaning/clearing-out project every day.  Last Sunday, I decided to go through a cabinet in the kitchen that includes many cookbooks, collected over the years.  Oh, was that a long journey down memory lane, and in the end, there were only six books I was prepared to take to Goodwill.  I saved the ones with food stains, reminding me of all the times I prepared that dish through the years, when the three girls still gathered around my kitchen table each night.  There was the one from my mom, her crisp hand-writing inscribing my name, and signed, “From Mother”.  All the cookbooks which friends have given me over the years, including several from a friend when I lived in Boston, now 43 years ago.  And, there was one book with Mrs. Chard’s recipes from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, in which she recorded sweet and lovely little stories about her life as a farmer.  Here was one from the harvest season:

“This autumn, Nature first gave us lovely plumes of red here and there, then the oranges came, and last the maples’ gold that makes the woods look like sunshine even on a cloudy day.  Then she spread a beautiful paisley shawl over our big hill and we were treated to Heaven’s finest colors.  We here at the home-place are especially favored when the winds come to bring the golden leaves whirling down like a dance of fairies.  We have witnessed one of Nature’s most beautiful miracles, the grand finale of a bountiful season and the promise of a new one to come.”  —Hollyhocks and Radishes Cookbook

There was a sunset one evening that lasted three hours.  I’d started the campfire about 5:00 and, with nary a hint of breeze, it was utterly quiet. The only sounds were the loons talking to one another, and an occasional pop of the fire.  As the light continually changed, I took photo after photo, each more stunning, and watched a Bald Eagle swoop over the water, looking unsuccessfully for a fish.  I’d never heard this before, but Chatpeau let out a low growl.  I didn’t even know that cats growled.  She then dashed up to the porch to watch me from safety, and I clapped my hands a few times, knowing there is a bear in the woods, and decided it was time to go into the house, and watch golden light from inside.  The Hunter Moon appears full, night after night, and our bedroom is awash in white light.  Come morning, there are sparkles across the lake as it finally begins to set over the mountains on the west side.  It’s been “the grand finale of a bountiful season…”.

“But quite typically, something happens during the third week of the month..  The jet stream sags south, storms–lined up in the Pacific– make their way into the region.”  Cliff Mass, University of Washington meteorologist

It is all coming to an end tomorrow as the Pacific storms make their way over the mountains to our neck of the woods, with valley rain and snow at higher elevations.  I see nothing but wind and rain for at least a week, and temperatures which flirt with snow.   But, October has been grand, and has put on quite the most wonderful show.

A visitor

A visitor - 1

10.12.19

We’ve been the only vehicle on the lake, and then we had company one day last week.  You can hear a seaplane from inside the house, so we rushed out to the dock to see what was happening, and there was this cheery yellow plane doing take-offs and landings on the calm water.   It seemed like he was putting on a performance just for us, and we waved hello, and stood out in the cold until he disappeared high in the sky to the north.  It was so quiet after he was gone, and it felt quite lonely out there on the dock, with all the summer people now gone, and our solitary sailboat bobbing in the water, fresh snow on the peaks across the lake.

The weather gods have blessed us the past few days with crisp, cold autumn days of deep blue sky and golden leaves.  The boat was finally sailed south to dry dock yesterday on such a fine day.  While they looked like they were headed out for the Iditarod, Don said it was glorious to be the only boat on this enormous lake, with tundra swans flying overhead, their feathers so white in the sunshine.  I went for a long afternoon walk over in Somers, so I could be closer when I got the phone call to retrieve them from the Dayton Marina.  Colleen recently returned from spending most of summer in Alaska, and we walked everywhere through the Waterfowl Protection Zone, catching up on our months apart.  There was ice at water’s edge and through the wetland grasses, but the sun was warm and a pair of swans flew low over our heads.  I felt goosebumps to hear the beat of their wings.  At home late in the day, Don paddled out to bring the raft back from the mooring ball and removed the bridle, and we got it all stored away in the boathouse.  Chatpeau and I stayed out at water’s edge all through the golden eventide–that beautiful Old English phrase for “evening”–when the setting of the sun is a magical event, outside of Time somehow.  I took photos of the golden paper birch tree reflected in the water, and the blue and white mooring ball, left alone by the sailboat, and tried to capture the remains of a splendid day, coming to its bittersweet end.  Autumn will do this to us–it always does.

“What, then, of autumn — that liminal space between beauty and bleakness, foreboding and bittersweet, yet lovely in its own way? Colette, in her meditation on the splendor of autumn and the autumn of life, celebrated it as a beginning rather than a decline. But perhaps it is neither — perhaps, between its falling leaves and fading light, it is not a movement toward gain or loss but an invitation to attentive stillness and absolute presence, reminding us to cherish the beauty of life not despite its perishability but precisely because of it; because the impermanence of things — of seasons and lifetimes and galaxies and loves — is what confers preciousness and sweetness upon them.”  Maria Popova, Brain Pickings