Above Tree Line: December


Eleven out of twelve is a good record.  David and I realized our 2013 intention of getting above tree line at least once a month for elven out of the year’s twelve months, and it was as much fun as we’d hoped it would be. We freely stretched our definition of “above tree line” in order to make the eleven, but not so much that we didn’t admit it didn’t happen in November.  Just too much going in.

But we made did it in December, yesterday in fact.  Cathy, Betsy, Sam, David and I took the Crawford Path to Mt. Pierce, the first above tree line hike we did in 2013, back in January.  There was far less snow yesterday than 11 months ago, a clouded summit, and trees that looked like underwater growth, which I guess in a way they are, shrouded with ice then snow then more ice and snow until there is only a slightly tree-shaped mound along the edge of the trail.


There were also snow ribbons draped in loops from the thin horizontal branches of saplings. And the always welcome ease of footing on a packed trail; even if a bit icy with rocks sticking through in spots, between new insulated boots and micro-spikes, it was a quick, easy walk.

Into another world.  2014?


Day 14: The Next Season

Gratuitous Mimi Pride Photo Having Nothing To Do With the Blog Post
Gratuitous Mimi Pride Photo Having Nothing To Do With the Blog Post

12:11 p.m.  Winter solstice, the moment of the shift.  Earlier today, as David and I drove to yoga class, the sun was a huge ball of fuzz in a cloudy sky, a ring of blurred light much bigger than itself.  Then the day sank into a gray dimness. Now the sun is out again, snow is dripping from the roof and I’m on the porch as I write, fingers bare on the keyboard.  A bit of spring on a day that will soon be dark again.

Can I celebrate the darkness?  That was the focus today in yoga class, to find the impulse inside for what is coming next, what is going to grow, how the stillness of this season, when so much of nature has quieted, can let us go deep enough to find what needs to emerge.

Mostly I feel like I endure the growing darkness and steel myself to get through the days of diminishing light, reaching towards this point, when the earth’s orbit starts to tilt us closer to the sun again.  But I know there are many more months of darkness to come, and that this is just the beginning of a season, even if the light is changing.

So I’m going to focus on making darkness my ally.  Cultivating a capacity for stillness is completely new for me.  Sitting still, concentrating on my breath, and listening to a teacher talk about finding balance in my mind, body and spirit is something I always thought I wanted to do, but never thought I would actually do.  Now I am.

Wherever embrace of the darkness and a focus on inner impulses leads me, I’m ready.  Tomorrow night when we gather with friends to celebrate the solstice, lighting candles and making wishes for the coming year, I’m going to welcome the darkness, rather than try to race through it.  Slow down, breathe, listen, and let what needs to emerge come to the surface.  I’ll say hello, most likely write about whatever it is, and move through it.  Namaste.

Day 13: Attention


The day started gray and stayed that way.  But it didn’t matter to me.  I was inside, in a beautiful building, working with a group of very smart women and one man, making plans to make a difference.  The discussion was energizing, exciting, challenging and expansive.  By the time the meeting was over and I started my drive home, it was almost dark.  Or dark already, but not night.  Just dark, rain starting, low clouds, dimness everywhere.

Now it’s black dark, night, no moon light coming through the thick clouds.  The house is so quiet it’s humming.

“I promise to be as present as possible in each moment,” I said to David when we had our wedding ceremony on Thanksgiving.  “I promise to cultivate an attitude of gratitude and celebration for whatever is right in our lives.”

Those were promises to myself too, to appreciate what is and what I can imagine, to savor both reality and possibility.  To feel this darkness around me, on this last, longest night before the tide of light shifts, and to let all the activity and generative thinking of the day seep away into a sweet sleepiness, a knowledge of a day well-spent, attended to and experienced, an awareness of how energy shifts from balance to swing to balance, the sun at the equinox moving to the sun at solstice, equal and short, equal and long, tracking back into place which is every place, because how the earth orbits and tilts and rotates is all the same, over and over, and delivers the marvels of sunrise and sunset and Orion appearing out the bathroom window on winter nights, an old companion, riding the night sky in the dark season, keeping the same course, keeping his arrow straight.

Day 12: Gratitude


The sun is setting behind the silo, right where the distant slope of Fort Mountain comes down to the line of tall spruce trees that march up the horizon, making another peak.  What’s left of Johnson’s Diary Farm is outlined against the color rising, flashes of red and yellow and gold, then white, clouds arching up into the coming darkness.  There used to be a farm house and long milking barn lined up to the side of the silo.  When they burned away one May afternoon four years ago neighbors collected in a yard and watched from across the pasture.  Many of them had grown up working on the farm.  My children grew up playing in the hay barns, making forts from the bales and finding litters of kittens.

There is only one more evening for the sun to move a bit further south along the horizon as it sets.  It won’t get to the south of the silo.  David read that a closed fist held out horizontally is 5 degrees on the horizon.  Using that as a measure, the sun moves about 40 degrees between the solstices here, from far up behind one of the Johnson’s houses, all the way down to the silo.  It crosses the entire horizon of trees at the far edge of the pastures and hay fields, over the cemetery on the hill, past the small farm ponds, behind the spruce trees to the silo.

Looking at the path of the sun as it slips along the horizon, I’m reminded how beautiful it is where I live.  How lucky I am.  There was a farm that burned down, but the landscape remains.  There was a family that grew up together in this house, but now there’s a new configuration of family.  The days are short and cold, but all of this week’s light has been magnified by snow and then snow, and in less than 48 hours, the earth will reach the point in its orbit around the sun that we’ll begin to tilt back towards the light.

Day 11: Play


The outside world is tinted indigo, the color of thick clouds reflected from the snow that fell last night.  There are deer tracks thrashed through the piles of plowed snow that rim the driveway, flattening the fresh inches in the walkway, circling the yew bushes which the deer ate to almost bareness last winter and appear to be ready to do again. So much action in the dark while we slept.

This is the first morning in many that I haven’t risen in darkness.  Instead of being up to watch the first hints of day come in to the eastern horizon, I watch the darker clouds with their faint hue of purple move across the further, grayer sky.  Will we see sun today?

Yesterday playing in the snow settled my squirrel brain as it always does.  The calming effect of bi-lateral movement never fails me, being outdoors, the quiet glide of my skis, one after the other, through deep powder, my body in rhythm with ancient patterns, one foot in front of the other, one hand in front, then the next, each side of my body and brain having its turn in moving me to a new space, an awareness of change and stillness and being.     

Day 10: Slow Down


The sun kept burning a blur through the clouds for a couple of hours after the snow started.  At one point the day even brightened, the sun sharpened in the gray sky, and the snow picked up.  A paradox.  By the time David and I headed out across the fields for a quick ski before dark there was only snow and a flat, monotone sky.

Climbing a steep hill I heard a loud flutter and crash and looked up from working my skis in a herring bone pattern to counter the slope.  Turkeys, several of them lifting from high in the white pines, dark shapes moving between the tall trunks and settling back into the jumble of branches, disappearing again.  

I’d started my day frustrated and teary, getting lost on my way to a writers’ group meeting.  There was no reason to be lost.  I’ve been to this friend’s house many times, I’d looked at the directions again on-line before I left.  I even took the right turn, then told myself it didn’t look right and turned around.  For at least a few miles I knew I was going the wrong way but I didn’t stop to put the friend’s address into my phone and get directions.  I just kept driving.

It didn’t make sense, to keep going in the wrong direction because I was late and impatient and felt like I didn’t have time to stop and make sure I knew where I was.  And where I was going.  It all just made me even later.

Why do I have so much trouble slowing down?

Wild turkeys don’t think about where they’re going.  They heard David and me climbing the hill under where they were roosting, one of them flapped off its branch, which stirred the rest of them, and there was a commotion for a few moments.  Then quiet.

Where am I trying to go?

Wherever that might be, the late day ski helped me let go of my mistake and frustration.  One ski forward, then the next, my arms planting my poles into the snow in a regular pattern.  Left, right, up, down.  Movement.  I wasn’t trying to get anywhere other than into the woods, in the snow, in the falling light.  

Skiing back to the house the falling snow in dusk light made it look like we were moving underwater.

Day 9: Back to the Body

Moonlight Tree 2

Slice open the globe of night and inside is 1:00 a.m., sitting in the halo of the kitchen table lights, the line of glass shades reflected in the mirrors of window around me.  I saw a big moon out the east windows after dinner, imagining the glow that would fill the fields all night, snow reflections of a softer light, the night brilliance I used to play in when I was younger.  A full moon after a snow storm meant late night skiing, long shadows trailing us, pockets of darkness in the wrinkles of land we crossed unfolding into light as we skied into them.

Now I fall asleep just after we’ve cleaned up from dinner, the early rising and long day tugging me into bed.  But tonight that didn’t last, the long dark – less than a week before it starts to transform – felt like a weight on me when I awoke.  I got up into the stillness of a house that’s been full of extra people for weeks, everyone asleep right now, the boots piled by the door finally drying, snow mud streaking the tiles.

David and I fall asleep spooned around each other.  “Big spoon or little spoon?” our kids ask about people they know, couples mostly, or pairs of people.  In their relationship, who is the big spoon, who is little?  Or who is the hugger, who the huggee?

Does that matter, as long as the bodies fit together?  “You always come back to the body,” my friend Mimi said to me once decades ago, in a poetry workshop.  Once again I’d brought a poem that had some body awareness in it.  I’m in my body so fully so much of each day, I wasn’t surprised by what she said, but it wasn’t something I’d noticed in my own poems.  Then I wrote this:

Back to the Body

A sickle of moon
on the slice of brook
through bare oaks –
cup of sky
cup of water
our bodies cupped together
when I return to bed.

Now the moon has traveled halfway across the sky, into the western windows and the yard is silver, the far horizons of trees and silo all visible, flecks of ice in the snow sparking.  It’s almost as bright as some recent days have been.

Day 8: Active with Glide


The snow was a heavy swirl around the flood light on the corner of the barn when I woke, white flashes in the black.  By the time there was enough light outside to see, the snow had slowed to small flecks.  By mid-morning there was a fine, freezing mist blurring the horizon, a cloud across the fields.  After lunch, David and I drove down the road looking for snowmobile tracks so we could cross-country ski.  I’d tried earlier and there was too much snow to track alone, over a foot, and getting heavier as the mist soaked into what had been fine, dry powder.  I kept losing my ski tips in the snow and couldn’t lift them to take the next step.  

Yes, tracks!  A snowmobile had come across Coe Farm, an old woods road, and continued up Canterbury where we wanted to ski.  As we got ready the sun finally came around some clouds, making a cathedral of light in the dense woods.  We snapped our boots into our bindings and kicked off.

“Active with glide.”  That was how Eric described what he loved best, outdoor sports that translated his effort into a gliding motion – cross-country skiing, kayaking, biking.  I love it all too, and nothing better than skiing.  David had skied enough before I’d satisfied my craving, and after he drove home I followed the snowmobile track over Coe Farm Road, the day turned gray again.  Clouds, snow, dark pines and hemlocks, bare oaks and maples, and occasional beech saplings, still fluttering pale brown leaves.  Mostly a black and white world, even the needles of the pines muted under their drapes of snow.  Color isn’t what I come out into this world for.

I come out to play.  To kick and push and then glide.  After I’d skied up and over the hill of Coe Farm Road and come back, I climbed Canterbury Road again.  So I could ski down, so I could slip around the curves of the hills and feel the ground falling away underneath me, fast enough to have to pay attention to just this, the long slide, the metal sky above, the stone walls hidden in white mounds, the slick of the day moving into dusk, darkness coming, another round.

Day 7: Balance


I cry during yoga.  The first time it happened was the first time I went to a yoga class in my latest attempt to bring a regular practice into my life.  When we settled in for shavasana, the lying pose at the end focused on relaxation, the teacher talked about gratitude for the chance to practice yoga, and being aware of what we could let go as we sunk our backs deeper into the floor, scanning our bodies for any places that still needed to release tension.  I felt a surge of tears rise and then quickly subside.  What was I letting go?

Then it happened again a couple of yoga classes later, and this week it’s happened every time I’ve gone.  Thankfully, that’s been a lot.  I’ve been telling myself I should start practicing yoga for almost a decade, and lately I seem to be doing just that.  I’ve been to yoga three times this week and am enjoying it and looking forward to it so much I’m hoping it’s going to flow right into being a regular part of my life.  Finally.

Today the teacher had us begin in crocodile pose, face down on our mats, our heads resting on our hands.  She wanted us to be able to feel our breath fill our bellies, pushing against the floor.  What I felt were tears rising again.  “We carry stories in our bodies,” the teacher said as we settled into an awareness of our breath.  “If we can make the stories not personal, if we can leave the drama and hurt that might go with the stories behind, we can work on accepting where our bodies are right now.”

Is it finally sitting still with mindfulness that’s letting some sadness rise to the surface for me?  Is it the practice of yoga itself, with its focus on the balance of mind, body and spirit, that’s pulling an unbalanced part of my mind and spirit back into a softer place?

The sun has been riding through the wall of gray storm clouds to the south all morning, sinking into a hint of light then brightening again into a broad halo.  By late afternoon it should be snowing and the world will be all gray and white and black.   Something is sinker deeper in me right now, or something deeply sunk is rising.  Or maybe both, a knot of sadness that’s surfing the stillness I’m cultivating.


Day 6: Jam on Toast


I got out of bed in the dark and went to the kitchen, brewed a cup of coffee, and sat at the table, reading, writing, watching the day begin to leak some gray into the black of the windows.  By the time I stood up to get ready to run, sun was lighting a corner of the kitchen.  Two hours, from black to gold.  What happens in those morning hours?  Somehow they seem unaccountable, an awakening that exists outside of time, a stillness that follows me out of sleep until I’m pulled into what has to be done, or what I think I have to do.

David and I often talk during these early hours, I skim the newspaper, do the Jumble, edit poems, put up a blog post, make lists, look at Facebook, read other blogs.  But it feels foggy and unproductive.  I get up from the table to start my day, not crediting all of the day that’s already happened, all I’ve already done.

I remember talking to a woman years ago who did training for judges, and one of the things she stressed to them was that they needed to matter to themselves.  “It’s okay to sit down and eat some toast with jam in the morning,” she would tell them.  “You can listen to the birds, you can relax.  You deserve to start your day nourishing yourself.”  She wanted them to understand they had worth beyond their roles as judges, that they counted as individual human beings who might want an extra five minutes in the morning to eat breakfast, and that was okay.

Now that I have time many mornings to relax into the day I struggle with feeling like that’s legitimate.  Does paying attention to the movement of light help make it more acceptable?

I think it might, because I’ve given myself this job of paying attention, of noticing.  Today the sun has come and gone, disappearing in snow showers, then making a hazy circle in the clouds, now hitting me right in the eyes, through my study windows, brightening my desk, shadows of my lamp and pens and letter-opener sharp on the wall, a rose heart where the light is filtered by the red glass of the lamp base.

That rose heart can be my jam on toast.