Category Archives: Uncategorized

Waiting for Spring

spring - 1 (2)02.14.20

Valentine’s Day is always such a nice splash of flowers and red hearts with love in the air.  I went into two different floral shops today, just to smell the roses and soak up the good cheer.  Valerie, my Valentine baby, is 45 years old today.  How ever did that happen?!  She, and remembering all the heart-decorated celebrations for her over the years, always makes this a very nice day.  But, as is always the case on February 14th, I am ready for spring.   While our snowpack is above average, the valley never did get what we consider serious winter, and for some reason, that makes me even more ready for spring.  At least when there is serious winter, we have the quiet beauty of snow falling and falling out the windows, and being snowbound a time or two, which is always so exciting.   It was 43 degrees yesterday with beautiful sunshine, and a bit of a squall moved in over night, but it’s still above freezing, and I suspect this is how it will be going forward, as spring nudges closer and closer.  The NOAA forecast for a week out writes, “Next week continues to look unexciting as high pressure moves into the area.”

On my walks, I see the same fat robin in the same tree.  He also appears to be waiting for spring.  The males arrive first, and maybe he has scouted out this particular tree for his potential valentine, so they can make a nest together for the family to come.  Plant Land, a local nursery in Kalispell, puts out a sign in January, counting down the days until spring.  It often feels so bleak to drive by there and see the sign, nearly buried in snow, with so many more days until spring arrives.  But, yesterday, in the sunshine, with dirt and dust kicked up by passing cars on dry roads, it was so encouraging to see 35 days left–now, 34 days.  We leave for Finland on Monday, and when we return, it will be March.  By then, the homestretch will have arrived.

Finland and the nordic countries have also missed out on serious winter this year.  Even in Lapland, the temperatures have soared above normal.  We’re taking a six hour train ride to the Arctic Circle to see reindeer and the northern lights–it kinda feels like one last desperate attempt in search of winter!  When we arrive back home, March’s weather will surely disappoint–serious winter could even appear to torment us.  But, my goodness, in this afternoon’s sunshine, I could almost smell spring, and all the hope it brings.  Until then, bon voyage to us…

“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…” –Frances Hodgson Burnett

“Can words describe the fragrance of the very breath of spring — that delicious commingling of the perfume of arbutus, the odor of pines, and the snow-soaked soil just warming into life” — Neltje Blanchan

Spring is made of solid, fourteen-karat gratitude, the reward for the long wait. Every religious tradition from the northern hemisphere honors some form of April hallelujah, for this is the season of exquisite redemption, a slam-bang return to joy after a season of cold second thoughts.” —Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

Light in February

02.07.20

first week of february - 1 (1)02.07.20

“Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen.”  Willa Cather

The NOAA forecasters have been saying all week that they just don’t have confidence in their models.  Apparently, the atmospheric river, which we ordinarily get from the south or southwest, is coming from west-northwest.  For west of the Cascades, this means they are enduring a deluge of moisture, mudslides, flooding of local streams.  For us on the eastern side, forecasters are saying they don’t have enough experience with this condition to trust their models, so they are all over the place, using phrases like “as this event wears on” and “not every valley has behaved as anticipated.”  You can sense their frustration, and, like many of us, feel that by now in February, winter has become “old and sullen.”  In a separate paragraph of its own, they write this morning, “Sunday looks to be a pleasant weather day with more sunshine and seasonable temperatures.”

It sounds like they are looking for the bright side.  Perhaps, it seems this way to me because as I talk with friends and family about what has happened in our government and national psyche, we wonder where to find the light.  Like the unpredictabiliy in the current weather forecasting, we live in uncertain times.  February’s weather malaise has lined up with our social malaise, and with what often feels like an existential threat, in the midst of the coronavirus, rise of fascism, the destruction of our planet.  Sullen, indeed, and darn hard work somedays to find a bright side.

In looking for bright sides… Last Saturday, another microburst raged through the Flathead Valley, blocked our road with downed trees, and caused power outages to thousands.  There’s been a big local story all week concerning Hawkeye, a rough-legged hawk who had been hit by a car in 2014 and left blind in one eye, and little eyesight in the other.  Unable to be released into the wild, she has been cared for since then by Gabriel, a raptor rehabilitator (isn’t Gabriel one of those Archangels?).  Saturday’s raging winds knocked down Hawkeye’s enclosure and she flew away, with black jesses still tied to her legs.  There have been Missing Persons posters in the paper and on social media, and we’ve talked about her in my yoga class, with rumors of sightings near Russell School and other west side locations in Kalispell.  Every day I was in town this week, I’ve scanned the sky as I drive, looking for a hawk with black straps hanging from her legs.  Last night, just as I was going to bed, Robin texted me that Hawkeye had been found and was safe.  I watched the video this morning of Gabriel and the fireman crawling up a tall fire truck ladder into the tree top, and bring her down.   It was just a little story, but filled with light, in the dark of morning, next to the dark news stories brought to me by the internet.  But, I think we simply must be on the look-out for these beacons, wherever we can find them.  And, as luck would have it, I saw my first robin this morning.

“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.
Anne Frank

“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.”
Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux

 

 

Weather Observations

01.31.20

 “Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”  Oscar Wilde

Finland’s Weather and Sea website has 45 different weather symbols!  This is what’s been happening out my window during the last week of January.

weather symbols - 1

And, then this…

weather symbols2 - 1  I love the one for fog–which envelopes us after darkness.

weather symbols3 - 1

Way back last Monday, at 40 sunny and breezy degrees, I sat on a rock by the water, sheltered somewhat from the onshore breeze, with Chatpeau pouncing around as if it were summertime.  Rita had sent me a message that her tulips have sprouted about three-quarters of an inch up out of the ground, and she can see buds on lilac bushes.  The battery operated candles in my living room, programmed back in November to come on at dusk, look out of place when afternoon light streams into the house.  As does the Christmas tree on the porch.  But, as the week went on, we resumed normalcy with snow, sleet, fog, and ice.  There is much winter to go, but, still, the hunt begins for the little, teeny, tiny signs of the new season, as we start February.

I came across a small notebook in my desk the other day, which I had entitled, “A tale of the gray cloud, first winter on the lake, 2002-2003.”  I had forgotten that I started making short notes about the weather that long ago.   My earliest entries listed details of the temperature, the cloud shapes, the wave action.  As time went on, I began writing such things as:  a silver thread across the water, splash of sun, moon lighting the clouds all night long, always the fog, a quarter moon sliced through clouds.  By the next winter, my entries became sporadic, and there was a two-year break, during the cancer years.  But, I started up again on 3.31.06 with “Barn swallows have arrived!  I saw my first osprey while driving across the head of the lake.  There is hope!”  Eventually, I moved over to this blog so I would have a place for my photos.

In reviewing my nearly 20 years of sporadic notes, I saw how the rhythm of the weather is unchanged.   Sometimes snow is late, or snow is early, and usually there is plenty of gray freezing rain.  Then there are years with lots of winter sunshine, or bitter cold, or so dry, or so wet.  There is ice fog that dances across the pale blue lake in pink sunshine, or there is fog that shuts down the airport.  And, there were occasionally those important observations about a silver thread across the water, the moon lighting clouds all night long, and the arrival of barn swallows.  And, now, there is word that Rita’s tulips are pushing up through frozen soil.  Weather observations.  We look out our window to see what the weather is each morning…it’s so basic, and it can determine our mood.  It quite often isn’t the kind of day we had requested.   But, when I soothe myself to sleep at night, and shut out the news of the day and quiet my fears, it’s the memory of how the cold air felt on my face when I walked out of the house first thing in the morning, or watched sunlight move down my living room wall at the close of day, that can ease my heart.

And, when I am awake in the middle of the night, I look out my window in search of stars, and when they are there–often above the fog–I know that some upper levels winds are changing everything.  If I am awake long enough, I can track a bright star move in relationship to the window pane, and see that the earth is turning on its axis, according to plan, and know that tomorrow is a new day, with a new chance, a new perspective.  The Tibetans have a tradition in which they turn their tea cup upside down before bed, signaling that the day is over, to be washed away by the night.  In the morning, they turn it right side up, so it is open to receive the opportunities in a new day.  It seems to me that the changes in weather, can sometimes do the same thing.  And, there’s always the chance the weather will behave itself.

The weather behaved itself. ¶ In the spring, the little flowers came out obediently in the meads, and the dew sparkled, and the birds sang. In the summer it was beautifully hot for no less than four months, and, if it did rain just enough for agricultural purposes, they managed to arrange it so that it rained while you were in bed. In the autumn the leaves flamed and rattled before the west winds, tempering their sad adieu with glory. And in the winter, which was confined by statute to two months, the snow lay evenly, three feet thick, but never turned into slush. ~T.H. White, The Once and Future King, 1958

 

 

Finding Winter

finding winter - 101.25.20

I have had writer’s block, finding nothing about the lackluster weather to inspire me.  The frequent sunshine has been nice, but seeing how it is still January, rain instead of snow is disheartening.  The last three days, I’ve been listening into the Impeachment Hearings, disheartening in an entirely different way.  I guess you could call it the January Blues.

But, we had a break in things with our trip to Chico Hot Springs.  It was mild with skimpy snow in Pray, Montana, but we drove into Yellowstone one day, and at the point where the road was closed for the winter season, they had groomed a trail for skiing.  The temperature was in the mid-twenties, and there was a misty sort of light snowfall, and not a skiff of breeze.  On the drive into the Park,  we passed herd after herd of bison, and a small gathering of large elk bulls, peacefully lying on a hillside, majestic with their enormous antlers.  They are true sculptural works of art.  We parked at the road’s closure, and I snowshoed while the others skied in the set tracks, up a gentle climb through the trees, with the canyon and river on one side, steam rising up from the hot springs below.   It was so quiet.  We saw tracks of snowshoe hares, coyote, and even wolf scat.  At the place we had parked the car, a herd of bison grazed right next to the road.  We could hear their grunts, watch how they move their enormous heads back and forth to clear snow in search of food.  To be so near this powerful creature, is to understand it as a spirit animal to Native Americans, and its holiness is unmistakable.  It was a wonderful way to find some Winter.

Now, we are back home to highs in the 40’s, mix of rain and snow showers, and sun here and there.  I’ve been so bored in reading our NOAA forecast that I’ve begun to follow the Finnish Meteorological Institute’s weather blog, which Joy forwarded to me, named Weather and Sea–what a thoroughly romantic title.  I love today’s forecast:

Northern Baltic, Sea of Åland, Sea of Archipelago and Sea of Bothnia

West to northwest 5-10 m/s. After midnight becoming west to southwest and somewhat increasing, after midnight 7-12, on Northern Baltic in the morning up to 14. Good vis, by night on Sea of Bothnia local rain or sleet.

When I googled a map, the Sea of Bothnia is at the north end of the Baltic Sea, separating Sweden and Finland.  One month from today, we’ll be even farther north than the Sea of Bothnia, on the Arctic Circle line, in Rovaniemi, Lapland.  Joy has already bought the train tickets.  Be careful what you wish for?!

In the meantime, being near the Yellowstone bison reminded me of a quote from Crowfoot, a Native American orator in the mid 1800’s.   I’ve referenced his words on this blog in the past, during other times when I’ve been ungrounded and unsettled, and uncertain of what it’s all about, and when I need to be reminded of what’s important.

“What is life?  It is the flash of a firefly in the night.  It is the breath of a buffalo in the Wintertime.  It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

 

Staying warm

staying warm2 - 1.jpg

01.14.20

Parts of Montana are about to get a winter’s blast the likes of which hasn’t been seen in over a decade.”  (That did sound a bit Trumpian in its grandiosity.)  “Northwest Montana could get intense snowfall, but everyone can expect drastically colder temperatures for the forseeable future.”  NOAA forecast 01.11.20

This didn’t happen over the week end as expected.   It did get quite cold, but there was but a skiff of snow.  I think we all expected it would be THE weather event, that the tide had changed, and now it would be serious Winter.  It is in the mountains, but we were relatively unscathed here in the Valley.   When I went for a walk this morning, it was lightly snowing at 18 degrees.   The geese overhead sounded cold, and a deer family was bedded down under a big Doug Fir, but every now and then, I could see a patch of blue sky.  They say it will be sunny tomorrow, and nothing major is in the forecast for the remainder of this week, nor the week beyond.

It adds to that January feeling of being on pause, in limbo, just waiting–for something.  Maybe a big snow storm, a week in Hawaii, the arrival of Spring.  I was out on our dock the other day, looking out to the sailboat mooring ball, and thought how LONG it feels until summer time.  It wasn’t until the third week of January, last year, when winter truly arrived here, and by March, the lake had frozen over.  There is so much of winter yet to unfold…and, we have a trip to Finland late in February.  I think one must be mindful about what you are waiting for in mid-January.

And, yet, just a month from now, there will be that unique February light.  No matter how cold it is, how deep is the snow, that light lets you know Winter’s grip is invisibly weakening.  The turn of the earth towards the sun can now be seen.  Then, suddenly it’s March.  I have selfies from last March, of me sitting in a parka on our bedroom porch, soaking in sunshine, and the frozen lake in the background.   It goes fast, it really does.  I think it’s best to just hunker down into January, let it be.   We’ve got a trip over to Chico next week, joining the Millers in the hot springs pool with snowflakes, hopefully, overhead.  And, with Finland next month, I’ve been looking at travel sites for Lapland,  wondering if maybe we should all take the train up there, and go on one of those husky dog sled rides through the forest at the Arctic Circle.   In the meantime, there are so many ways to stay cozy and warm in January.

On one of my favorite blogs, brainpickings, by Maria Popova, she shared a poem by the author, Neil Gaiman.  Gaiman is an ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and, as part of its emergency winter appeal for Syrian refugees, he invited his twitter followers to submit their memories of warmth in winter time.  Using their words, he created the lovely poem, What you Need to be Warm.  He reminds us of how to stay warm, and to know how lucky we are to be warm, in this coldest season.

WHAT YOU NEED TO BE WARM
by Neil Gaiman

A baked potato of a winter’s night to wrap your hands around or burn your mouth.
A blanket knitted by your mother’s cunning fingers. Or your grandmother’s.
A smile, a touch, trust, as you walk in from the snow
or return to it, the tips of your ears pricked pink and frozen.

The tink tink tink of iron radiators waking in an old house.
To surface from dreams in a bed, burrowed beneath blankets and comforters,
the change of state from cold to warm is all that matters, and you think
just one more minute snuggled here before you face the chill. Just one.

Places we slept as children: they warm us in the memory.
We travel to an inside from the outside. To the orange flames of the fireplace
or the wood burning in the stove. Breath-ice on the inside of windows,
to be scratched off with a fingernail, melted with a whole hand.

Frost on the ground that stays in the shadows, waiting for us.
Wear a scarf. Wear a coat. Wear a sweater. Wear socks. Wear thick gloves.
An infant as she sleeps between us. A tumble of dogs,
a kindle of cats and kittens. Come inside. You’re safe now.

A kettle boiling at the stove. Your family or friends are there. They smile.
Cocoa or chocolate, tea or coffee, soup or toddy, what you know you need.
A heat exchange, they give it to you, you take the mug
and start to thaw. While outside, for some of us, the journey began

as we walked away from our grandparents’ houses
away from the places we knew as children: changes of state and state and state,
to stumble across a stony desert, or to brave the deep waters,
while food and friends, home, a bed, even a blanket become just memories.

Sometimes it only takes a stranger, in a dark place,
to hold out a badly-knitted scarf, to offer a kind word, to say
we have the right to be here, to make us warm in the coldest season.

You have the right to be here.

January

Pattern change - 1.jpg01.07.20

“In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.”
–  Christina Rossetti

It snowed a tad yesterday, and snow is predicted every day for the remainder of the week, but it’s hard to take it too seriously with temperatures hovering just above the freezing mark.  Today’s forecast calls for a 100% chance of rain.  Temperatures in the teens are forecasted by week’s end, and a genuine Arctic front is possible next week, but we’ll see.  Life is uncertain.

I’ve always thought of January as a pause month–a time-out after the flurry of Christmas, a chance to reset.  With Fletcher off to Seattle on yesterday’s early flight, all that’s left behind from the family’s visit is their important documents box, the bins with each of the kids’ mementos, and a bag of boots which were too large to squeeze into the suitcases headed for Finland.  The house is now quiet and empty.  Someone in my yoga class yesterday asked if I was going home to start washing and ( incredulously, to most) ironing all the sheets.  I said, no, I’m just going to rest for a while, “sort it out”, as the Brits like to say.

I’ve just been drinking tea, looking at the water pouring off the roof, reading books, and catching up on some of the lovely blogs I follow from people in faraway places.  I’m on hold, for a change in the weather, a new pattern, that moves me forward into Winter’s Time.  To be clear, I have not minded one bit that our steep road is without ice, and, we just bought a new/used car, and are waiting for the Finnish studded snow tires on order.  It seems like we are in limbo, stuck in place, not sure of what will happen next.  That’s how it feels in the world writ large, and it’s one of those times when it’s frightening to open up the computer in the morning to the day’s breaking news.  I can’t control that, anymore than I can control the weather.  But, maybe if the weather would just change, if there was bitter cold and we were buried in snow, safe at home next to the cozy fire, things would be different.  Winter’s wolf at the door is something I know how to reckon with.  One can only hope…

I escape into these charming blogs.  There’s a young woman who writes from her little cabin in the woods of Nova Scotia, and she begins her January entry:

” If I could choose my favourite types of days throughout the year the first, would be a good snow storm (followed by warm spring days and crisp fall days).  Some years I feel cheated by winter.  How dare you not give us more snow! But, to be content all I need is a day like today with the flakes falling consistently leaving us stranded in our homes, trees heavily weighed by the wet snow.   It was wonderful!  I packed a thermos of green tea, my knits for the shop, a camera and headed out to see a transformed world.  One where magic undoubtedly underlines every living and inanimate being.”

So very Anne (with an E) Green Gables.  And, isn’t it lovely to see the world this way.  Another faraway blog I follow comes from Great Britain.  The writer is a famous architect (I have both of his books) and he posts photographs of incredible beauty wherever he goes, from his little bothy by the sea in Scotland, an ancient chapel in Dorset with light streaming over the pews, to the interiors of England’s most spectacular architectural wonders.  On his January post, “The Turn of the Year”, he writes:

“The slow, gentle rotation of life carries on – and as I’ve thought for ever and ever now, some things get worse, most things don’t change that much at all, and just every now and again – some things really do get a great deal better. It’s easy to lose sight of that in the world in which we find ourselves.”

One can only hope…

 

 

The New Year

new year - 1 (1)01.01.20

“The old year dies and we face the new year as though it were an entity, new as a newborn babe. A new calendar with twelve leaves, one for each month. Something in us, some need for the specific, the orderly, the mathematical exactitude, calls for such demarcation. Yet any year, regardless of arbitrary time, is like a circle; you can start at any point upon it and, following the circle, you come back to that point. Our year, our circle, happens to be a cycle of the seasons, planting, growing, reaping, resting; and thus it is a part of the earth, the soil and the flowing waters as well as of the stars by which it is gauged…. And year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.” ~Hal Borland (1900–1978), “The Tomorrows,” 1952 December 30th

I always have a visceral response the first time I write the date of a new year, as it answers the ‘call for a demarcation’.  I know that it’s all a circle, the inevitable cycle of Nature, but it seems like there is the opportunity to do it better–‘a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.’  Awake after a ten hour sleep, I welcome the fresh new page this morning.  We were up at 3:00 a.m. yesterday, the final day of 2019, to drive Joy and her family, and their giant bags holding six months of clothes and supplies, for life in Finland.  As I write early this morning, they are still in the air.  After an entire Christmas holiday with no snow, no change in the weather each day, the roads were horrific in the dark, freezing rain yesterday.  Ice covered the highway, obscuring the white and yellow lines, and with nary a streetlight for the first half an hour, it was a slow and treacherous caravan.  We arrived in time, nonetheless, and oh how my heart ached as we hugged them goodbye and watched them wheel all that luggage through the sliding glass doors.  Don drove their car back, and I followed him in mine, on the sad trek home in the dark, icy morning.  Fletcher was still sleeping, but he hit the road at 9 a.m. for the seven hour drive to Billings, to celebrate New Years with his old friends.  I had been glued to the road reports across the state from the time we returned from the airport, and things had improved for his journey.  I look forward to his return this week-end, yet another goodbye at the airport Monday, when he flies back to college.

With Don off skiing, the house was empty yesterday, and filled with dreadful loneliness, mixed in with mourning for the decades of my life, now long gone.   I took down the tree and all the Christmas decorations.  It reminded me of how I always re-decorated the girls’ bedrooms the second they were off to college, scrubbing them clean, like I did my old iPad, which I gave Duncan to take to Finland.  It’s as if I need to make a clearing for something new to arrive, whatever that may be.  By nightfall, I was exhausted, depleted, with red and puffy eyes, revealing a day of tears.  All the girls had touched base by then, including a family photo Joy sent from LAX, as they boarded Finnair.  Goodbye and farewell 2019.

On this very first day of a new year, a new decade, NOAA writes in their forecast:  “Messy winter weather of snow, freezing drizzle, rain and icy roads.”  I do love the word “messy”–thinking that is a great way to describe this business of living and loving and moving on.  But, I’m ready for a change–a good old-fashioned snowstorm of light and fluffy snow, which creates soft and gentle mounds, and covers us over in quiet stillness.   Or, one of those cold snaps, on a clear blue-sky day, where you can see ice crystals in the air.  In Winter–Notes from Montana, Rick Bass describes such a day as “crystals which collide in the breeze and make a faint tinkling sound, like chimes, like glass clinking, a magical sound.”    You never know–it’s a new year, a new chance.

Promise

By Jackie Kay

Remember, the time of year
when the future appears
like a blank sheet of paper
a clean calendar, a new chance.
On thick white snow
You vow fresh footprints
then watch them go
with the wind’s hearty gust.
Fill your glass. Here’s tae us. Promises
made to be broken, made to last.