January moves along

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Fletcher gave this coffee cup mug warmer to his Mom for Christmas–the perfect gift for January mornings in Montana.  It was so cold in Joy’s kitchen this past week-end.  Of course, we grandparents are up hours before the household of teenagers comes down the stairs, and long before the heat turns on, and I was content to lounge in bed in Fletcher’s room, as the space heater beamed out warmth.  We hate kicking him out of his space when we come to visit,  but Joy says it’s a great opportunity for her to fumigate his quarters.  There’s lots to study in the room of a 17 year-old grandchild, who will soon be off to college.  Old football photos of him hang on the walls, and weird graphic posters of bands he likes or concerts he’s attended.   Ticket stubs from the prom, and the race bib from a cycling race are pinned to a bulletin board.  There are a slew of tall trophies, with a motorcycle perched on top, which line the shelves above his desk, from the days when he raced motocross, as such a little boy.   A welding helmet rests on the top of an armoire.   In a corner, I saw the used speaker I had given him, plugged into what must be an amplifier, and an electric guitar propped up against the wall.  At the foot of the bed, there is a three-tiered shoe rack, neatly lined with enormous Nike sneakers of all colors, including bright red, which looked like something the giant might have worn in Jack and the Beanstalk.  And a collection of inspirational quotes, written in black magic marker on 8×10 pieces of paper, are stuck on his door with pushpins, which led me to believe, The Kids Are All Right.

It finally looks like winter outside.   On our drive home across the state yesterday, we said it looked like November, and where was the snow, but it began snowing for the final few hours of the trip, and when I tried to drive up our road this morning, I couldn’t make it.  That’s a first.  Studded snow tires and four-wheel drive have always worked in the past, and it was only the heart-stopping slide coming down that has been taking years off my life at a rapid pace.   Don was able to rescue the paralyzed car by shoveling gravel beneath the wheels, but that was IT for me–I’ve made it an official stay-at-home snow day.  I shoveled the stone steps, and Gary, the cat, went with me for a little snow walk in the woods, and I took some winter photos.  I’m about to bring in more wood and start the fire early today, so I can snuggle in with my stack of books under a wool throw.  The soup tonight is potato leek with Dijon mustard as a secret ingredient.  There’s a brand new bottle of Jameson Black Barrel in the cabinet.  Not so bad, really, as we plod along through the month of January, looking forward to winter’s bitter end, someday.

The Bitter End

by Daniel Anderson

           Summoned from a fresh page
Of winter, and finished with a stovepipe hat,
The snowman started life in middle age,
           Bald and running to fat.

           In a corner of the yard
Beneath an ice-encrusted pine tree tassel,
Honor-bound and dauntless, he stood guard
           Over the frozen castle

           Built also by a child
On the unshovelled morning after the storm.
He lingers there, content to wait, in a mild
           And vaguely human form,

           Dissolving into the mud.
He’s shed his scarf and dropped his walking cane,
Endured the soft and intermittent thud
           Of January rain,

           And still maintains his grinning
While comprehending nothing of his demise,
Not the dangling corncob nor the thinning
           Sockets of his eyes.

           He makes the slow return
From gutter stream through glittering brook to sea
With relatively small or no concern
           For his own misery;

Super Blood Wolf Moon

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“Lunar Eclipse January 2019 is opposite Mercury and square Uranus. This signals unexpected events and news that are likely to cause anxiety and uncertainty about the future. So keeping an open mind and staying calm and patient is key to dealing with this erratic and unpredictable energy. Otherwise, impulsive reactions, rapid mood swing and miscommunication could cause panic and chaos.” (Somewhere on the internet)

As if we aren’t jumpy about the world already, here comes the lunar eclipse of the Wolf Moon this Sunday.  Sarah said there was another earthquake in the East Bay early this morning, with wind and torrential rains pounding the region.  My suggestion to her that maybe this was linked to the weird phenomenon of the lunar eclipse was met with a cryptic note back, “How to make me feel better!”  And, in these times of ‘anxiety and uncertainty’, Mary Oliver, the beloved poet, a guiding star, died today.  The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac finally took her, and she returns back to the star dust from whence she came.  A friend sent me a wonderful link about the upcoming eclipse, foreverconscious.com, and it discusses how this eclipse is the last in a cycle which began in February 2017, and it will bring “endings and a culmination to the lessons we have been working with since early 2017.”  If I could just remember what I’ve been working on…

In the meantime, there has, at last, been a change in the weather.  The sunset off the porch last night looked like it could be the blood moon, but it was a beautiful glimpse of the sun which has been hiding behind clouds for so long.  I had a lovely winter’s walk in light snow this morning, and it’s quite possible we will have several inches covering the ground before the storm passes through.  It does help me feel more relaxed about winter to have it snowing–somehow, I resist my fate a bit less.

One of the nice things about keeping a blog, is that I have a record of what I wrote about in these past months and years, reflecting something which must have felt important to me at the time.  As I scrolled back to February 2017 and the beginning of this eclipse cycle, I’d posted a Wendell Berry poem, and it seems to be one of the lessons I continue to work on, eclipse cycle after eclipse cycle.

What do the tall trees say
To the late havocs in the sky?
They sigh.
The air moves, and they sway.
When the breeze on the hill
Is still, then they stand still.
They wait.
They have no fear. Their fate
Is faith. Birdsong
Is all they’ve wanted, all along.

Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir

The sky is low, the clouds are mean

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The sky is low, the clouds are mean,
A travelling flake of snow
Across a barn or through a rut
Debates if it will go.

A narrow wind complains all day
How some one treated him;
Nature, like us, is sometimes caught
Without her diadem.–Emily Dickinson

I looked up diadem–its definition is crown.   I think this poem means that even Nature has bad moods in the month of January.  The roads have been ice in the morning, and pure slop by afternoon, and I’ve used an entire gallon of window washer liquid by the end of the day.  I rarely complain seriously about winter until February, but, lately, I feel like I am the wind, which ‘complains all day’.  Just as I was growing weary of these mean cloud days, we are now under an inversion with freezing fog, forecasted as far out as NOAA’s predictions go.  There will be no clouds in the sky, only cold fog.
There’s much to be grumpy about in the news.  I have family members who are federal employees, and we all have family members who made the long journey to America, carrying only hope on their backs.  I should probably take a news break, but I feel like I’m driving my car passed a terrible accident, and I can’t look away from the ambulance with the stretcher.  I avoid the gut-wrenching news reports of kidnapping, murder and mayhem, but, in January, sometimes the fragility and vulnerability of life creeps in and out of the fog.   Valerie sent me a copy of the message she found on her neighbors’ car just a few days ago.  “The owner of this car has been in a serious accident and we cannot locate the keys to move it so please don’t ticket it.”  Shortly after we had left California, the couple next door were hit by a car, walking in the same intersection Norah crosses every day on her way to school.  The parents are both still in the ICU, intubated.  Their 17-year old daughter put the message on her Mom’s car on street-cleaning day.  Winter always has days in which it feels like the wolf is at the door.
In my cozy house in a forest, by the water, I bring in wood for the fire, light the candles, and close the lace curtains against the dark night, grateful for the day I’ve been given, and that all my loved ones are safe.  Whatever the weather.


There is weather on the day you are born
and weather on the day you die. There is
the year of drought, and the year of floods,
when everything rises and swells,
the year when winter will not stop falling,
and the year when summer lightning
burns the prairie, makes it disappear.
There are the weathervanes, dizzy
on top of farmhouses, hurricanes
curled like cats on a map of sky:
there are cows under the trees outlined
in flies. There is the weather that blows
a stranger into town and the weather
that changes suddenly: an argument,
a sickness, a baby born
too soon. Crops fail and a field becomes
a study in hunger; storm clouds
billow over the sea;
tornadoes appear like the drunk
trunks of elephants. People talking about
weather are people who don’t know what to say
and yet the weather is what happens to all of us:
the blizzard that makes our neighborhoods
strange, the flood that carries away
our plans. We are getting ready for the weather,
or cleaning up after the weather, or enduring
the weather. We are drenched in rain
or sweat: we are looking for an umbrella,
a second mitten; we are gathering
wood to build a fire.


Twelfth Night

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Today is Twelfth Night and the official end of the holiday season, and, in medieval England, it was back luck to take down your Christmas tree before today.  It was the final day of celebration before everyone went back to the humdrum of work, and the dreary dark month of January.  I jumped the gun this year by taking down the tree last week-end—perhaps bringing bad luck to my house—but the above freezing temperatures and lack of snow made me do it.  This winter’s weather just feels weird and is down-right unsettling.  The snowpack is at about 85% of average, so I guess that’s not so bad one week into January, but there is green grass everywhere in the valley, watery ponds, and it’s hard to develop a ‘mind for winter’ in weeks such as these.  I find myself prematurely thinking I’ll hear robins on my walks.  Because of the earth’s tilt, we’re having the latest sunrises of the year, so mornings are darker than ever, but as Joy has been posting her photos on Facebook, these are some of the most beautiful sunrises we ever see.

Not once has our road been plowed, and I have to say that it’s a delight to come home and not slide down on ice.  At 7:30 a.m. today, The International Space Station did a four-minute fly by, and it was so pleasant to walk down to the dock on crunchy grass rather than through knee-deep snow.   Although there was light coming up in the east, the Station was brilliant, rising on the horizon at WNW, and when we turned to watch it descend eastward, there was Venus above the tall trees, even brighter than the Space Station.  The new young moon, that tiniest of fingernails, should be rising about 5:30 p.m. tomorrow across the lake, and, if my luck holds, there will be enough breaks in the clouds to make the first sighting.   I’m feeling somewhat anxious about the moon, after China’s  Chang’e-4 landed on the far side of it this week.  According to Earthsky. org, the rover landed on a site where space debris pounded the moon long ago, possibly exposing the layer beneath the crust, whose contents will teach scientists more about the moon, and, therefore, more about our solar system.   There is no way not to be astounded by astronomy and astrophysics, and to be amazed by the human drive for exploration and knowledge.  It gives me goosebumps.  In Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine, the physicist, Alan Lightman, writes with such a sense of wonder as he explores the universe, and I can feel that when I read his books.  But, like in the movie Wall-E, I picture a moonscape, with a permanent space station, and am saddened by all the ways we might trash the Mystery.  Sigh.

Well, with the Christmas tree down and decorations put away, I’m running out of excuses for avoiding the major purging and de-cluttering I signed up for with myself this January.   But, if taking down the ornaments is any indication, this may be a slow process.

Taking Down the Tree

by Jane Kenyon

“Give me some light!” cries Hamlet’s
uncle midway through the murder
of Gonzago. “Light! Light!” cry scattering
courtesans. Here, as in Denmark,
it’s dark at four, and even the moon
shines with only half a heart.

The ornaments go down into the box:
the silver spaniel, My Darling
on its collar, from Mother’s childhood
in Illinois; the balsa jumping jack
my brother and I fought over,
pulling limb from limb. Mother
drew it together again with thread
while I watched, feeling depraved
at the age of ten.

With something more than caution
I handle them, and the lights, with their
tin star-shaped reflectors, brought along
from house to house, their pasteboard
toy suitcases increasingly flimsy.
Tick, tick, the desiccated needles drop.

By suppertime all that remains is the scent
of balsam fir. If it’s darkness
we’re having, let it be extravagant.

A New Year

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We are home to start the New Year.  Cormac, 10 years old, sent me a text from California last night, “We r missing u here!!!!”, including the emoji of a face crying copious tears.  Yep–as always, as good as it is to be snuggled back into our cozy, quiet home, we r missing u too, very much.  Scant snow fell while we were gone, but it’s bitter cold here this morning.  The winter stars were brilliant, with the waning crescent moon lighting up the trees in the east.  The kitties got to come in for a little fireside visit last night, but Chatpeau is happily asleep out on the porch, curled into the wool throw on the Adirondack chair.  We get ready for Winter, and a new year.

Every New Year’s Eve, I think about possible resolutions or intentions, and contemplate the enormity of the blank slate of a brand new year.  There was that one year I wrote down five things about myself that I wanted to purge, and wrote each of them on a little piece of rice paper, and then burned them one by one in the fireplace.  I can’t remember what they were, so I don’t know if I was purged.  I was reading earlier this morning about traditions around the world, and after I learned how in Japan, at midnight, temple bells ring 108 times, matching the need to be purified before the New Year, I felt exhausted before this day even got underway.

So, I don’t know…it’s still early and morning alpine glow has turned the snow on Blacktail Mountain, across the lake, a lovely shade of pink.  I can see lights now over there, as people begin to wake up and start their final day of another year.  The lake is quiet, a lovely shade of baby blue/ pale lavender, and a dozen or so ducks just paddled by close to shore, going south.  Before he left to ski, Don made his famous green chili, so the warm house is filled with New Mexican memories of kiva fireplaces, farolitos on adobe rooftops, and the smell of piñon pine.  I could take down the Christmas tree, but it is so enchanting come dusk, as l’heure bleue spreads that beautiful shade of winter blue behind the reds and golds which glitter on the Grand Fir tree.

The ducks are now floating back up this way, so, perhaps, it’s time to get a move on.  Maybe, I’ll just start with breakfast, over a few more good poems, and go from there, on this final day, before the new year gets underway.

Starlings in Winter, by Mary Oliver
Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly
they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,
dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,
then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine
how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,
this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

The Solstice and the Tomtens

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The Winter Solstice has arrived, and the full Long Night Moon was enormous as it slid down into the lake this morning–there will be a glow in the sky on this longest of nights.  The wind is raging out there, the wind chime is furiously gonging, and the outdoor Christmas trees are wiggling to and fro.  There’s no snow.  The Solstice is always cold, dark and still, and incredibly quiet, but all feels in disarray as we begin this day.  It’s one of those times in which the ancients would have seen this as an omen, a message from the gods, a long dark night full of foreboding.

We’ll go on our annual solstice walk, out to the head of the lake, at sunset, which we won’t be able to see today.   It’s been our tradition for so many years now, sometimes with visiting family or friends.  It has come to be an important ritual for me, to stop and be present for one of life’s thresholds, in which the sun stands still for a moment, as low in the sky as it will be, and then begins its slow climb back up, promising light and warmth to future days.  It’s a closing, and an opening, in the same moment– an uneasy ambivalence that must have informed the ancient rituals of building bonfires, singing and dancing for the sun’s return, and using the darkness as a reckoning to cleanse one’s past.  In his poem, Sweet Darkness, David Whyte says, “Time to go into the dark where the night has eyes to recognize its own…The night will give you a horizon further than you can see.”  And, it’s “the place of caught breath…“, writes Margaret Atwood:

“…This is the solstice, the still point of the sun, its cusp and midnight, the year’s threshold and unlocking, where the past lets go of and becomes the future; the place of caught breath, the door of a vanished house left ajar…”

On my winter mantle, there’s a framed print– a page from an old Scandinavian book of fairy tales–which I got at a flea market years ago.  The caption is likely Swedish, and the painted illustration depicts a tiny troll-like figure, trudging through the snow in darkness with a pack on his back, and there’s a small cottage, yellow lamp-light in the window, with smoke coming up the chimney.  It absolutely enchanted me, living as I do in dark long winters.  In the Arctic Circle countries, this gremlin/elfin creature is called a Tomten, and he has never been seen by humans, but comes in the dark to the barn, and cares for the animals, during the long cold winters.  I think all ancient cultures have some sort of wee folk as magical totems–at our house, we have this little elfin creature who guards the dark living room, after we’ve gone to bed.  When I researched the origin of  Tomtens, it seems to have come from a long ago poem by Viktor Rydberg, and there’s a lovely illustrated book by Ingrid Lindgren, still in print, which translates this ancient poem into a prose story of darkness and hope.  In the original poem, the dark night is full of fear and existential loneliness, but it is juxtaposed with winter’s beauty, and, a solitary Tomten–who we cannot see–bringing light, kindness, hope.  The Winter Solstice.


…Still is the forest and all the land,
Locked in this wintry year.
Only the distant waterfall
Whispers and sighs in his ear.
The tomte listens and, half in dream,
Thinks that he hears Time’s endless stream,
And wonders, where is it bound?
Where is its source to be found?

Deep in the grip of the midwinter cold,
The stars glitter and sparkle.
All are asleep on this lonely farm,
Late in this winter night.
The pale white moon is a wanderer,
snow gleams white on pine and fir,
snow gleams white on the roofs.
Only tomten is awake.

From Tomten, by Viktor Rydberg

Wild Ice

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There’s this interesting interlude in our weather, from mid-November to mid-December, in which the temperatures are low enough to make ice on the ponds and lakes, but before the snow arrives to cover it up.  Once, back in 2004, a few years after we had moved to the lake, a group of outdoor enthusiasts called to say that Birch Lake, in nearby Jewel Basin and a few miles up the trail, had amazing ice.  Don and I grabbed our skates and hiked up to join the families who were skating on ice which was so smooth and so clear, that when you glided across the pond, you could see schools of fish swimming below your feet.  I remember laughing out loud.  Then, suddenly, the ice began to break at the edges of the lake and  you could feel the whole pond begin to move, and there was this loud sucking noise, like when you pull the plug in a bathtub.  Everybody skated as fast as they could toward shore, and I remember just running off the lake, then running on the ground for a long time, knowing I was ruining the edges of my hockey skates.  None of us had any idea what had happened, as we watched a two-foot wave of water slosh up the sides of the lake and wash back over the ice.  Later, we learned that a 7.9 earthquake had occurred in Alaska, at the same time we were skating, and there was an article about it in the local paper afterwards.  We still talk about it this time of the year.

We have this little pond on a neighbor’s property, a brief walk from our house.  You follow the deer path, cross the neighbor’s driveway, up a short knoll through the trees, and there’s the pond.  The neighbors are not here in the winter, but Don called them in San Diego to get permission, and they just asked him to please not fall in.  It was A Wonderful Life Christmas last year, when the grandkids were all here, and they sledded down our long, steep, and winding snow packed road, and they skated on the little pond, which Don spent hours each day, clearing snow.  Last week-end, we had a few brief days of ice, when the temperatures went down into the teens for both day and night.  Don loved clearing the ice and skating in the afternoons.  There’s an old rusted aluminum lawn chair at the edge of the pond, and I like to sit there, watching, and listening for cracks in the ice, and smelling the trees, and looking for eagles.  The kitties followed me through the snowy woods and Gary assumed the goalie’s position while Chatpeau huddled in the underbrush, a safe distance away.

But, the days all this week have been windy with temperatures in the 40’s.  The snow in our yard is gone, and there was a clear path in the yard as we walked down to the dock this morning, to watch the Geminid meteor shower.   It was so warm that we wished we’d brought a blanket to put on the dock, so we could lie down on our backs, but, we saw over a dozen shooting stars, before our necks began to hurt.  Rain is predicted tomorrow.   The forecast next week doesn’t look much different, and people are trying to remember if we’ve ever had a Christmas without snow.  It seems that it always comes, just in the nick of time, bringing new adventures, often harrowing, of deep snow and ice-covered roads.  But, I think the transient wild ice days may have come and gone for this year.


In the warming house, children lace their skates,   
bending, choked, over their thick jackets.
A Franklin stove keeps the place so cozy
it’s hard to imagine why anyone would leave,
clumping across the frozen beach to the river.   
December’s always the same at Ware’s Cove,
the first sheer ice, black, then white
and deep until the city sends trucks of men
with wooden barriers to put up the boys’   
hockey rink. An hour of skating after school,
of trying wobbly figure-8’s, an hour
of distances moved backwards without falling,
then—twilight, the warming house steamy   
with girls pulling on boots, their chafed legs
aching. Outside, the hockey players keep   
playing, slamming the round black puck
until it’s dark, until supper. At night,
a shy girl comes to the cove with her father.
Although there isn’t music, they glide
arm in arm onto the blurred surface together,
braced like dancers. She thinks she’ll never
be so happy, for who else will find her graceful,
find her perfect, skate with her
in circles outside the emptied rink forever?