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spring - 1.jpg03.22.19

Don got home, the cat came back, and we just passed the mid-point between the Winter and Summer Solstices.  There’s been a week of bright sunshine and brilliant moonshine, and the first of spring rains is forecasted for this week-end.  I’ve been sitting on the porch off our bedroom, for my 5:00 cocktail hour with the kitties, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and having “solar therapy”, as our local public radio calls it.  I am convinced that I’ve actually seen the sun move north in the past four days, as it went behind a ponderosa branch yesterday, and brought a chill to the air at 6pm, which wasn’t there the day before.  The lake is eerily still frozen solid and the shrill of tundra swans over on the river broadcasts across the ice to us.  We saw three deer far out there a few days ago–a suicide walk to be sure.  For, surely, the ice must break up soon?

I’ve been re-reading Henry Beston’s book, The Northern Farm, about life at a Maine homestead in the early 1930’s.  About the coming of spring, he writes:

“If the opening music of the northern year begins with a first trumpet call of the return of light, and the return of warmth is the second great flourish from the air, the unsealing of the waters of earth is certainly the third.”

Now that the light has returned and remains in the sky until well after 8 p.m, and the porch, tucked away from the wind off our bedroom, is warm enough to sit on by 5 p.m., if the sun is shining, I am growing anxious for the unsealing of the lake.  I’m longing to hear its waves and ripples and lapping at the shoreline, to watch the dance of light on its surface, to smell it back to life.   Closing my eyes out there in the warm late afternoon sunshine, I imagine the sound of a fishing boat out on the water, or the distinctive sound of a paddle boarder floating by off the dock.  Alas, I am getting WAY ahead of myself!  With two feet of snow still on the ground, and a return to seasonal cold temperatures, we are a long way away from those halcyon days.  It will be far better for me to appreciate the crystalline fog which hangs low over the snow-covered fields in the mornings, and the hoar-frost on trees next to the open river, and the way the buds are enlarging on the populus tremuloides, those aspens with the yellow-green leaves which will quake in early summer breezes off the big lakeside porch.  And, the robins perched on top fences which are just beginning to emerge up out of the snow, and the shape of icicle swords which hang from the roof, the little birds which merrily belt out their tunes from the tops of trees, and the way ground is emerging underneath the bushes, and alongside the highways.  The lesson of this season is surely Patience.

 “Adopt the secret of nature; her secret is patience.”  –Ralph Waldo Emerson


Comings and goings

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I have come back to home.  The lake is still frozen solid, and while the snow depth looks unchanged, water is pouring off the roof in the afternoon sunshine with above freezing temperatures.  Tall berms of dirty snow narrow the roads and block the intersections, but the pavement is mercifully dry.  I heard new bird songs on my morning walk, and with the spring equinox a mere three days away, there is now hope in the air.  The moon will become full–a supermoon, no less–on the equinox, an occurrence which only happens three times a century.  Already, in the middle of the night, it looked like spotlights were suddenly beaming down from the sky, illuminating the world of white snow and white ice which surround my house.   We have turned the corner now–you can clearly sense it.

I feel like I was gone a long time, though it was shy of two weeks.  The Arizona desert was just coming into bloom, and Carol and I hiked through fields of poppies and up to grand vistas of the brilliant blue sky.  We eat great food, shopped, and talked endlessly, as good girlfriends do together.  In Berkeley, there were many days in which I walked Eamon home from school and the clear air was filled with spring scents and happy birds.  As my youngest grandchild, he is the only one left who stops to smell and touch the flowers, and ask me their names.  I know how fleeting and precious this time is, after witnessing how quickly my other five grandchildren have blossomed into their own lives and their private spaces, as is the natural order of things.

With Don still in Norway, and one kitty missing, it’s a bit lonely here.  But, it always feels like a relief to come home, to settle back down into my homeplace, after fluttering my wings out there in the world.  The grandfather clock’s ticking and chimes seem to bring my heart back into a softer rhythm, and I have my own private space after time away, to come home to myself again, and see what’s new there.

                                       May you travel in an awakened way,
                                       Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
                                       That you may not waste the invitations
                                       Which wait along the way to transform you.
                                       May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
                                       And live your time away to its fullest;
                                       Return home more enriched, and free
                                       To balance the gift of days which call you.
                                       —John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us




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“What else can we say but it is really cold for early March; record levels.”  NOAA forecast discussion 3.04.19.

It was -18 when light began to fill the sky this morning.  I stepped outside to watch the lake fog roll in over the snow, and I could hear the ice floes tinkling and clacking against each other at the shoreline.  Two bald eagles, who’ve been nesting nearby, flew low over my head with their enormous wingspans.  I thought “And the raven quote, nevermore” and quickly returned indoors.  An hour or so later, as the bright sun burned off the fog, I looked out the windows and saw a sea of white–the lake had frozen over for as far as I could see.  I have never seen this before.  Flathead Lake freezes over about one in every ten years, but it’s never happened in the twenty-three years I’ve lived here.  And, it appeared to just flash-freeze–I heard water moving, and a few hours later, it was ice.  I trudged down to the lake in thigh-high snow with snow shoes, and felt such a bitter cold eerie calm.  The trees were coated in hoarfrost and I could see deer tracks down to where there had just been water.  What else can we say, indeed–it is really cold.

I saw tracks in the snow which lead from our terrace off into the woods.  The injured deer has found it much easier to eat the branches of the trees up at the picnic tables, rather than those buried in deep snow.  I see him out the kitchen window, hopping on his three good legs.  He’s eating, there’s no blood, and he looks healthy enough, but it is painful for me to watch him leave the house, and make his way through snow which reaches his underbelly.  It almost looks like he is swimming, and then he disappears into the woods at twilight.

Don is gone and I’m soon to leave, abandoning the house to the cold.  There are lots of things to do in preparation–check the thermostats, close the flue, open cabinet doors to the pipes, put jumper cables in the car, unplug the garage space heater and dehumidifier, stop the mail, take the garbage to the dump.  Then, there is nothing left to do but leave it all behind, and believe that this brutal winter–a terrible beauty–as they say about Ireland, will have released its hold over us by the time I return, and let us ease into spring.

“By March, the worst of the winter would be over. The snow would thaw, the rivers begin to run and the world would wake into itself again.  Not that year. Winter hung in there, like an invalid refusing to die. Day after grey day the ice stayed hard; the world remained unfriendly and cold.”
Neil Gaiman, Odd and the Frost Giants

Waiting for winter’s end

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“Winter collapsed on us that year.  It knelt, exhausted, and stayed.”  Emily Fridlund, History of Wolves.

“This cold outbreak of well below normal temperatures will continue through at least Wednesday of next week, where overnight lows will be in the single digits to below zero every day in western Montana… There are no signs of an early spring, as longer range models are indicating below normal temperatures persisting through the middle of March.”  NOAA weather forecast 2.27.19

“Friday afternoon and Saturday brings yet another arctic into western Montana and central Idaho. Model agreement is very good and depicts this as the coldest air mass yet this winter to move into the regions. Which is ironic since it will arrive in March which is the beginning of meteorological Spring.”  NOAA weather forecast 2.28.19

The final day of February and the cold is unrelenting.  In the deep dark of night, the house wakes us up with the cracking and groaning sound of winter, as the timbers contract and twist, or whatever they do to make that noise.  The snow falls straight down out my window this morning, making ever deeper piles of snow, which are closing in around the house.  It feels like we could all collapse under its weight.  The poor deer.  Every evening at twilight, they trudge down to the water in blue light, and dig under the deep snow for leaves and branches.   I’ll look out the window to see a bush violently swinging back and forth, as a deer digs deep into the ground, searching for roots.  It makes them look desperately hungry, which surely they are, as snow covers their backs in the bitter cold.  Don said that he’s seen one, several times, with a damaged back leg, most likely broken.  But, he’s eating, and maybe he’ll survive until spring, but would never be able to flee from a predator.  Oh, I hope I don’t see him.   I  wonder if somewhere in their DNA, they actually carry hope for Spring.  Does that keep their life force alive, perhaps the memory of bedding down in grass warmed by the sun, the scent of blossoms in the air, and songbirds in a tree overhead?  Or, is it simply that they know how to wait, as Philip Booth writes in his poem, How to See Deer, “You’ve learned by now to wait without waiting”.

How to See Deer, by Philip Booth

Forget roadside crossings.
Go nowhere with guns.
Go elsewhere your own way,

lonely and wanting. Or
stay and be early:
next to deep woods

inhabit old orchards.
All clearings promise.
Sunrise is good,

and fog before sun.
Expect nothing always;
find your luck slowly.

Wait out the windfall.
Take your good time
to learn to read ferns;

make like a turtle:
downhill toward slow water.
Instructed by heron,

drink the pure silence.
Be compassed by wind.
If you quiver like aspen

trust your quick nature:
let your ear teach you
which way to listen.

You’ve come to assume
protective color; now
colors reform to

new shapes in your eye.
You’ve learned by now
to wait without waiting;

as if it were dusk
look into light falling:
in deep relief

things even out. Be
careless of nothing. See
what you see. 


On Monday, during the coldest Arctic air mass yet this winter, Don drives to Calgary to catch a flight to Norway, for two weeks of ski racing.  I’ll leave soon after, flying off to Arizona to visit a friend, then on to Berkeley for a week with the grandkids.  Just getting out of here is a challenge–is our road passable, are the flights taking off, are the two-lane highways all the way to Canada open?  Raccoon tracks have been spotted up at the garage again, so the bowls of food and water we leave for the kitties, who stay warm inside on their heating pads, are likely to be decimated by the pesky raccoon who squeezes in through the cat door.   We can’t ask any friends to risk their life or limb by driving down our road to refill the bowls–maybe our snow plow man will be game?

By the time we’ve returned home, Daylight Savings Time will have occurred.  It will still be cold and snow will not have melted, but we will have gained another hour of daylight at the end of the day.  I don’t even know that I am happy about that.  Mornings will be darker again, and that extra hour of daylight closes down the best part of February–the winter twilight.  When the sky turns blue, we cross over a quiet threshold, into the night.  I start a fire and light the candles, and settle into a chair with my book and a glass of wine, and watch out my window.   Like sunsets from the dock in mid-summer, there is something magical in witnessing a day come to its end.   We are always delusional about March, thinking there will be green shoots suddenly popping up in the ground, and warm sun on our backs as we sit by the water.  We just want to get moving, get things done, but there comes a revising down of expectations as the  weather has hardly moved off winter’s mark, despite ever-increasing daylight.  Don’t get me wrong–I love the tiny little surprises of hope that reveal themselves in March–in fact, I’ve already heard the male red-winged blackbird.  But, I would be remiss to not bid a fond farewell to these winter nights, so beautifully described by the author of the book that I’m currently reading by my fire:

“…the book had been written with winter nights in mind. Without a doubt, it was a book for when the birds had flown south, the wood was stacked by the fireplace, and the fields were white with snow; that is, for when one had no desire to venture out and one’s friends had no desire to venture in.”
Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow

The color of snow

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Yesterday was the clearest, sharpest, bluest sky of all the winter days.  Everybody was talking about it, even as most of us our discouraged by the never-ending pattern of subzero mornings and regular snowfall.  It felt as if February was giving us a gift, so we could just hang on until March, when there will be genuine signs of hope.  There is something about the quality of light, as the sun creeps up off the horizon, that gives the snow drifts and fields such beautiful and interesting colors this time of year.  When I’ve been driving into town in the morning light, the top of the vast fields are that lovely shade of pale baby blue, but, wherever there are snow drifts, the vertical plane of the snow looks like bright white satin.  It’s not shimmering with diamonds dancing in the snow, but it looks silky, and folds like fondant icing over the blue fields.  Last night’s sunset spilled rose gold across the land, and shadows became Bleu de France, that distinctive happy blue found in striped cotton T-shirts, worn with a pair of white capris and red-painted toenails.

And, then, there were the winter stars.  We had been to dinner with friends, in their cozy house in the woods, and when we came down our dark road, we could see that the stars were shining to the horizon line.  The supermoon had not yet risen in the east, and I walked up our road, away from the lights of the garage, to take in the sky.  So many constellations I cannot name, and the broad swath of Milky Way, were in a blue-black sky, that was the same color found in charming vintage Christmas cards, in which golden light spills on snow from a little cabin, and white smoke curls from the chimney into a dark night, with snow flakes dotting the trees.  It was that kind of night, as the heavy flocking of snow covering our tall pines, actually glowed by the light of the stars.

I’ve been looking at photos and videos this morning of Scottsdale, Arizona’s big snow fall last night.  How awful would that be, for everyone who thought they were safe from winter’s wrath.  It’s clouding up here, with more snow to arrive by night fall, and subzero temperatures at the end of the week-end.  March 4th is still the first day predicted to be above freezing.  That’s something to look forward to, and, yesterday, was something to remember.

Lines for Winter–by Mark Strand

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

Broken record


“It seems like a broken record with continued chances for snow.  Expect day-time highs to be 10 to 15 degrees below normal.”  NOAA forecast for today.

After a week-end of snow, we did have splendid sunshine yesterday, on a day that started out at -11 degrees.  We even had a view of the supermoon as it was setting on the other side of the lake.  There was blinding bright light beaming into the house at cocktail hour, and the outdoor Christmas trees looked ridiculous when the timer turned on the white fairy lights.  The kitties have turned into baby bear cubs, with their winter weight, as they spend their days on the porch, staring into snow.

If you are trying to stay committed to winter, you couldn’t have had a better houseguest than we did this week-end–John Miller.  He’s the only person I know who says that winter is his favorite season, by a landslide.  Having him and his family here with us helped keep me in season for, at least, the long week-end.  While they went skiing, I went snowshoeing in the woods–for the first time this year–and wondered why I haven’t done this sooner.  The snow was knee-deep as I trudged along deer tracks, and it was exhilarating to be in such silence, with only the sound of eagles overhead.  Truly, tears-in-your-eyes beautiful.  It’s lightly snowing in this morning’s sky, with blue light coming on so much earlier, now that we’re past the mid-point of this short month.  The forecasters have said there could be a lake-effect intense band of snow hitting the east shore this afternoon, which would give me an excuse to cease all household chores, and lie on the sofa with my book, to watch it fall out the windows.

I confess, I did take a peek at the long-range forecast this morning, and discovered that the first day predicted to be above 32 degrees is not until March 3rd.  Lovely photographs of snowdrops and daffodils are popping up on many of the blogs I follow.  But, sigh, winter lingers on, a broken record, here in the north country, so it’s best to just stay the course, enjoy the view, and don’t worry.

“Don’t worry,” answered Snufkin, “we shall have wonderful dreams, and when we wake up it’ll be spring.”
Tove Jansson, Finn Family Moomintroll


Snow, snow, snow…

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We survived the Idaho passes to and from Spokane, and made it safely home.  Arriving back to the lake, from the west shore, it looked like it was covered in ice all the way across, and a little village of ice fishermen had made camp out in Somers Bay.  But, on our side, it was open water as usual, and another six to eight inches of new snow had fallen at the house.  The plow has been generally keeping up, which is a good thing, with more snow forecasted the rest of this week, and the next.  I put on my tall Sorel boots, grabbed a ski pole, and made a path down to the water.  The snow was deep enough to come over the top of knee-high boots, and the kitties were not the least bit interested to follow me in my path.   There were deer tracks out to the end of the dock, and I thought how they probably do what I do–walk out and survey the lake from north to south, trying to remember warm summer days.

Alas.  Winter it still is, so best get on with it.  I did a little painting up in the dormitory room where I keep my easel.  I listened to music, and watched out the dormer window as a flock of coots bobbed in the water, and I could see waves creating ice at the shoreline.  There is no slow time like this in the high-energy days of summer, when the rooms upstairs are filled with kids, screen doors are banging, and light remains in the pink sky until 11 p.m.  So, best get on with winter’s quiet and lumbering pace, the books to be read, and the long nights of sleep.

When I’m snowbound, I do my best to keep from being sucked into the bottomless pit of the internet, as I wonder what’s happening out in the world while I’m sheltering in place.  But, I heard on the NPR mid-day news that NASA’s Mars Rover Opportunity has been officially declared dead.  I went to the web news sites, and everybody had that headline.  “Our beloved Opportunity remained silent” reported the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  That amazing little rover was only supposed to work for 90 days, but over 14 years, it beamed down photos and data which changed forever how scientists understand the planets.  Last spring, it succumbed to a fatal dust storm.  As the Washington Post wrote:

The spacecraft had survived such storms before. But at more than 14 years old, it was no longer as hardy as it had once been. A fault in one of Opportunity’s memory banks resulted in loss of all long-term memory. Problems with the rover’s wheels and robotic arm looked like spacecraft arthritis. If Opportunity experienced another prolonged power loss, it might not recover so easily.

At my age, I understand this notion of the wheels falling off the bus, so I’m trying to just be here, on this slow winter’s day, as heavy snow falls outside.   As David Steindl-Rast writes:

“So you think this is just another day in your life?  It’s not just another day.  It is the one day that is given to you…today.”