A Gift

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The waning moon hangs in the sharp morning sky, a pale reminder of its full self in darkness two nights ago, now surrounded by high, wind-thinned clouds and low, dark ones. The wind is cold, coming at my face where it’s bare between my hat and neck warmer. This is winter and it’s my first time out in it.

It’s my first time outside since Friday, a day spent celebrating with family, which included time on the porch of Chris and Jon’s house, bringing back all the mornings I drank my coffee there this summer.  Keeping with the family tradition of Christmas at Chris’s, Jon and his boys hosted the family dinner, which was delicious and lovely and sad.  I know the hole a loved one leaves lessens over time, or takes up less of the available awareness in any given moment, but this hole is fresh and big.  And Adrienne and Matt and the grandkids weren’t there because Adrienne had a stomach bug that sent them straight home after Christmas morning at my parents’ house, meaning they didn’t come back to NH after dinner at Jon’s.

But it was warm and sunny.  Porch weather.  I’m glad I took advantage, because the stomach bug got me that night, and I barely got out of bed on Saturday and got out of bed but not out of the house yesterday.  Two days of illness makes the simple act of waking up with enough energy to walk towards a waning moon feel like a gift.

Which, of course, it is.

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Day Fourteen — Tilting Back Towards the Sun

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December 21:  Black morning, lights over the kitchen table, coffee in my mug. Today the North Pole will finish its furthest tilt from the sun – 23.5 degrees. The sun hasn’t really been slipping down the horizon until it sets behind the old silo. We’ve been tilting away.

Yesterday David and I climbed Parker Mountain, the first hike we did together, on our first date, almost eight years ago. It had snowed the night before, heavy and wet, and we trudged up the first steep incline on snowshoes, me well ahead of him. Was I testing whether he could keep up with me? Probably. He didn’t climb as fast as I did, but he got there.

At the first peak we stopped and looked out over the coastal plain to Portsmouth, a plume of smoke from the tall chimney of the power plant, ocean a flat line behind it. David talked about his sadness, his worry about losing friends. I talked about losing Eric.

We’ve climbed that same trail probably 50 times since and yesterday was glorious. On the north side of the mountain, we started in shadow and climbed up into the sun. The trail was a pageant of sage lichen on gray granite, dark green hemlocks, shiny green white pine, brown oak leaves burying the path and then piled alongside, deep purple stalks of bare, scrubby blueberry.

By the time we got back to the car, it was twilight, leaning over in to dusk. David and I don’t talk all the time as we did on that first hike, as we did in the first months and even years we were together. But we still talk most of the time. So much happens in our lives and, for us, in our heads. There’s always plenty to sort out.

Day Nine — Inside Out

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The day is folding itself back inside. When I got home early this afternoon there was no wind and bright sun, a good combination on my porch. I had lunch at the porch table. The weather may be scary warm, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it.

So I moved my afternoon projects out to the porch, origami sailboats first. As the sun got lower and spent more and more time behind clouds, the reality of December started to chill my fingers. But by then I’d mastered the reverse fold of the two boat designs I was using and I kept going, folding and unfolding and pushing the paper back on itself so a valley fold tucked in to a mountain fold and the inside of the paper made white sails hoisted in a colored boat.

Origami is full of reverse folds, and you have to learn to trust that what looks backwards is going to turn into what you want. It’s not intuitive and I mess around until I can make it work, then do it again, and again. Training my fingers to ignore my brain telling me it’s wrong.

Now the day is doing the same thing. The sun is long gone below the horizon and it’s cold. It’s black out my windows, as it is when I get up in the morning, as it is for two thirds of the cycle that makes a day. This is the fold that shoves the pocket back in to the dark. Tomorrow it will turn inside out again. The pocket will be empty, but it will be open and the light will last until the next fold, whether I know how to make it or not.

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Day Seven — Building Bridges

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Eric and I used to call short hikes up the small mountains around Northwood, more than a walk but less than a several thousand foot ascent, hikettes. Climbing to Neville Peak, an open knob on the ridge of Nottingham Mt. in Epsom, is one of my favorite hikettes.  On a clear day the peak of Mt. Washington, 100 miles to the north, is visible, a white cap behind the horizon of closer mountains in winter.

For the decades I’ve been hiking to Neville Peak it’s been mostly deserted.  Now, with a new trail reopened by an Eagle Scout and my friend Alison’s efforts to publicize this local treasure in the Epsom Town Forest, we often meet one or two people on the trail, and when I got to the peak a few months ago was surprised to find a collection of cairns scattered across the open ledge.

Though my friends and I have been climbing to this spot for decades, we’ve never built cairns. As much as I like piling and balancing rocks, and always add to cairns when I find them on a mountain top, it had never occurred to me to build them on Neville, even though the open ledge is scattered with all sizes of loose rock, mostly granite.

When I was on Neville a few weeks ago I used a long flat rock to make a bridge between two square rocks and then started a pile on both the bridge and each end. Yesterday when I was there a new bridge was balanced on the edge of the ridge, framing the horizon of mountains.

Mt. Washington wasn’t visible but there was a garden of communal sculptures at my feet.

 

Day Three — Warm December

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The cows are clustered around the hay rack in the pasture across the street, a low moan rising out of the one lying off by itself. A few are eating. A calf lies in the curve of a large cow’s body, both heads erect, wet noses glistening, breath steaming.

I can see all this so clearly because I’m outside, on the porch, low sun on my lap, almost hot. I’ve written about this before, there’s a poem in my book titled “Warm December,” another poem was written right here, warm when it should have been cold.

The Porch

This is where I come together, my feet
in white wool socks, the grass still patched
with green, open, a winter with no winter,
the warmest ever. Other people are scared
but I don’t care. Birds fly across the porch
under the grooved wooden ceiling, above
the railings. Small white pines are coming up
in the bit of pasture beyond the barbed wire
fence of the old calving pen where it doesn’t
get bush-hogged in August, the nature of nature.

That was eight years ago. The pattern continues. World leaders are in Paris trying to at least keep worse from happening, but this is going to be the warmest year ever, again. I think the world has always been this dire, the future, the violence, the inexplicable horrors that humans do to each other, or one does to another. We just know more about it, we know the full scope, information coming from everywhere all the time so our heads fill and fill with one tragedy and then the next, a massacre, a disaster, push notifications that ping my phone so I pick it up and read about the latest horrible thing.

I could shut off those notifications.

Last night poet friends gathered here and we ate and chatted and then all read what we’d written in response to a prompt David had come up with – Plagues We Have Known.We always have a prompt to write a poem for the Yogurt Poets holiday party, though past prompts have been gratitude, tradition, grace. Plagues was a whole new direction.

“What wonderful nerds are we?” said Hope as Kay talked about exploring the etymology of “plague.” Nancy had written 14 lines to each of the ten plagues visited on the Egyptians by God, Hope had written one line for each. David had used the metaphor of cell phones as progenitors of infection, a coming epidemic. Mary was happy to have been able to write anything.  I was happy to listen to what everyone had written. A group of creative souls who write for an audience as small as the dozen of us, as small as themselves, because we love the beauty of poetry.

Now the calf has moved to lie against the back of the cow who was moaning earlier. The world is hazy with moisture and inappropriate heat.

Day Two — Seaside and Sky

 

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Steely water runs out of a creek, cutting a bank through sand before disappearing into the froth and fury of the ocean, blue beaten white as it crashes on the beach.  The wind is hard and cold, clouds low. David and I walk with our heads down, trying to keep the chill off our faces.

We gather driftwood sticks, feathers, black curled strings and bubbles of dried seaweed. I’m imagining a mobile of sailboats hung from sea bleached wood, feathers floating between the curls of seaweed. There are small white feathers, long broad gray ones, one with white circles on a dark background. The mobile will be for my father, a man who grew up on the ocean, who taught me to sail, who took me and my sisters to the beach during hurricanes so we could watch the surf smash over the seawall.  I’m making an ocean he can hang in the house, a beach above the table where he paints sailboats and marshes and waves.

We guess the distance from one end of the beach to the other. We get it right. When we turn to walk back the clouds open for a few minutes of sun and the warmth is startling, backs to the wind, faces to the light. The far shore is luminous under a sky the color of a new bruise, blue beginning to bleed into black.  No yellow yet.

By the time we’re headed home it’s so dark I feel lost.  I can hardly see the road, the early night so heavy we’re wrapped in blankness.  The tunnel of winter is coming, an approach I feel more than see.

My father is 91, he hasn’t been on the ocean for over a decade.  He never walks the beach anymore, though he sits by the harbor and watches boats come and go. He takes photographs and paints, creating a seaside. I’m creating the sky.

Memorials

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Chris died on Thursday evening as the family gathered around her, including David and I, took turns reading aloud from the Tao Te Ching.  We got home Friday afternoon, just before the long-planned arrival of Carol, my friend who lost her beloved life companion to cancer last winter.  As she came in to the kitchen Carol asked, “Are sure you’re ready for company?” and I said, “I’m ready for you,” because I knew we could both dive right in to talking about death and dying and grief and how do we move on in the face of sorrow and the absence of someone we love dearly.

Our friend Deb arrived the next day and we kept talking and cooking and crying and eating and coloring in my Crazy Paisley coloring book.  Yesterday morning we went for a walk out to the rock where I’ve been building cairns as a memorial for Eric since he died.  I told Carol and Deb the story, which I’ve told here on this blog, about the cairns accidentally being knocked over while the woods around the rock were being logged last summer, and how badly my neighbor who owns the land felt about that.  He erected a stone cross as a way to continue my ritual of using the rock as a memorial site, and also because he’d begun to use the rock as a place to remember and honor his father.

As we walked Carol told me she was looking for large, flat rocks to use in the memorial garden she’s creating for Steve in her yard in Delaware.  She’d shown us pictures earlier of the mosaic sculpture that sits among plantings of perennials and shrubs.  I started looking down as we walked, hoping to find stones she could use.

When we reached the rock with the cross and the beginnings of cairns being rebuilt by me, I stepped up on the top to put a couple more layers on the cairns.  From that vantage I could see that many of the rocks from the previous cairns had fallen in to a cleft in the middle of the rock, piled in a jumble waiting to be reassembled into towers.  There were a half-dozen that were large and flat, some speckled with tiny flakes of mica.

I asked Carol if she wanted any of the flat rocks for her memorial garden and she loved them all. So Deb, David, Carol and I walked back out of the woods carrying rocks, heavy but manageable.

Now Carol has taken rocks from Eric’s memorial cairns back to Delaware to become part of Steve’s memorial garden, and I’m carrying memories of Chris as I help make the arrangements for her memorial service.

It was a sad and glorious weekend, with striking blue skies and sharp air, gusty wind and sunshine glinting on the leaves of the trees, beginning to rattle with autumn dryness.  We looked at photos of Steve and Carol and me and my sisters and talked, talked, talked.

Getting ready to build again.  I’m going to start a cairn on the rock for Chris.

Petrichor

Photo from Downgraf.com
Photo from Downgraf.com

Two of my sisters and my niece, Amelia, and I email each other, on a rotating basis, a word of the week, every Sunday.  It was Amelia’s turn this week and her word — petrichor — was a revelation to me, a word for what I’ve been I’ve been trying to describe for years, the pleasant smell of rain after a long, dry spell.

A citrus tang layered over an earthy sigh of musk, a release of heat you can smell.  More than a dozen words to describe what can be said in a word. Petrichor.  

As the word sunk in I remembered I had two poems published in the Petrichor Review a year ago.  How did I not notice the meaning then?  I always study journals I submit to, carefully looking for a fit between my poems and what they publish.  I looked again and saw I hadn’t read past the etymology of the word on the website “about” tab:  “Petrichor (pronounced /ˈpɛtrɨkər/; from Greek petra “stone” + ichor the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology)”

I missed “the scent of rain on dry earth.”  No wonder, after reading about a stone fluid in the veins of Greek gods.

The editors of the journal sent me the nicest acceptance email I’ve ever received, saying my poems are “an excellent exercise in poetic restraint; they’re succinct, unpretentious, and casually deep.”  (Okay, yes, a bit of brag there.)  And they’ve known all along about petrichor, a word I needed and didn’t know exists.  No wonder my poems fit in the Petrichor Review.

Snow Surprise

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This morning I woke to a new winter coat on the grime, the real dirt of living that’s been etched on snowbanks everywhere for the last week now hidden in a fresh, if wet, three inches.  I’ll take it, as long as it melts fast.

Driving home from Long Island yesterday afternoon we expected snow showers at the end of the drive but it wasn’t predicted to amount to much.  But by the time we got near Concord there was a steady, heavy snow that whipped into our faces when we stopped at a rest area.  Still, the snow was melting on the road, which was wet like it was raining, no problem.

Until we climbed the Chichester ridge to the east of Concord, headed to Northwood. Suddenly there was snow on the road at the top of the hill, and a good bit of it.  Three inches at least, and dense and sticking to everything.  The last 10 miles of the drive turned in to a slow moving train of cars as we all crawled along the slick road, snow still swirling. The car splashed up mud as I turned in to the driveway, but otherwise, uniform white.

It was a bright morning so I got out on the snowmobile trail to ski early, before the sun could warm the snow to too sticky, before the melting began.  There were spots of sticky snow, but there was also fresh powder on every branch and needle and twig, a wonderland of white again, a glimpse back at a spectacular winter of snow.  And then I was gliding along the tracks, maybe for the last time this year.

 

 

First Thing Ski

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Waking to 4″ of fresh, fluffy powder on the snowmobile trails that cross our yard calls for one thing, first thing.  A quick cross country ski, before the snowmobiles are out, while we have the trails to ourselves and get to make the first tracks.  Our skis catch the new snow just enough to climb the hills and then is slick and quick on our downhill runs.

David and I do double hills.  There are two good slopes on our regular route and as we climb each one we turn around then shoot back down. Climb again and continue our ski, then get to do the downhill again on our way home.

This morning we were out early enough that the sun was just starting to light the trees, a peach sky above the beech leaves that are still hanging on, hung with snow.

I have a lot going on right now (when don’t I?) with commitments and lists and tasks I have to get done on deadline.  But there needs to be room in my day for a ski, first thing.