Black ice is mesmerizing. Near shore you can see leaves and moorings and lake-bottom scrum through the clear ice, cut with wavy cracks and tiny plunging bubbles of white. Where the water gets too deep for the bottom to show the ice is black, glass against the darkness of water.
The lakes and ponds around me usually freeze gray — all those tiny white bubbles so close together they make a gray smudge, clouding the ice. This year the ice-making weather the last two weeks has been perfect for freezing water clear and I heard from two friends that Pleasant Lake froze black.
Yesterday David and I went to see it. The last time I remember seeing such a big body of water covered with black ice was more than 10 years ago.
Walking across the lake on microspikes was like walking through a brilliant black and white abstract art show. Thin dark lines on the surface slit down into white and crystal waves and twists, a crack that criss-crossed countless other cracks and curled off across the lake. Patches of fine snow turned out to be collections of minuscule bubbles trapped in ice, nothing to brush off, the surface smooth under my mitten. Shards of ice cut by ice fishermen gleamed like gems in the muted sun.
As we walked the ice sang like a whale, gulps of settling and laser-ping pulses echoed out across the flatness. We walked towards the eastern shore and the blue of the sky lit the lake, the line of reflected trees receding as we moved closer, a doubled edge boundary we never reached.
There should be a name for the color of the particular blue deepening into purple-black indigo of winter evenings, especially as a day of snow slips over into sleet. The indigo glow through my windows right now brings back this poem from February 2007. The barn and shed and silo are still there, though the farmhouse burned. And l need a bigger wagon, there’s so much more to hold than a hole now.
The first real storm washes out the little color
in the landscape, the barn and shed and silo
weathered to the gray of a cut snow bank.
Sparrows peck in the perennial bed, tall stems
and seed heads clustered through snow. Small storms
of snow blow up off the roof of the hay shed,
sweep past. We would ski at midnight to catch
the pure snow before the storm slipped over to sleet.
So much happens every day, I need a wagon to hold
the hole. Last night I lay on the kitchen floor,
where our cat slept for her last year, her old body
bony, weightless. I noticed the narrow maple
floor boards running under the hutch, thinking
the world is flat even as I know it is round.
A week ago David and I finished the holiday gift I gave him for 2017 — a commitment to visit at least one museum and have one outdoor adventure a month. Experience gifts make sense — we already have so much stuff — and they’ve been a needed break from the dread and disgust that’s been too present for the past year if you’re paying any attention at all to what’s happening in the world. Which we are.
Early on we decided if we went someplace outdoors we’d never been before, that could count as an outdoor adventure. It didn’t have to be arduous. Just new. We also realized early on that there are a lot of museums near us. New Hampshire has a snowmobile museum, several rail depot museums, a telephone museum, a model railroad and toy museum, and a classic arcade museum that has pinball machines and electric games built no later than 1987. We didn’t go to any of those, but we did go to the NH Historical Society museum which has an old ski-doo snowmobile as an exhibit.
So what did our year of art and adventure include?
We trudged through snow up a hill in an orchard under a full moon. We camped in Evans Notch and hiked the Baldface Circle (very arduous!), slept on the front porch three times in the last month, toasty in big down bags, swam in the North Atlantic twice in September and in Long Pond during the second week of October. Wet suits are magic in cold water, but we came out a bit off balance from the cold affecting our inner ears.
We walked in Ireland and hiked in Zion Canyon, Kolob Canyon, Snow Canyon and Jenny’s Canyon (Utah is amazing) and lowered ourselves into lava tubes, caves hollowed out of old lava flows. We stayed in the Mitzpah Hut near the peak of Mt. Pierce and hiked to the summit of Mt. Mooselauke twice
Deep Cuts, Currier
Our museum visits ranged from interesting to mind blowing. The Deep Cuts exhibit at the Currier, featuring impossibly intricate and detailed paper art, was a marvel. We took in the Whitney Biennial along with Adrienne, Emilio and Ava. We went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston twice, most recently to see a phenomenal performance of poetry read by Jane Hirshfield (her own and her translations of Japanese poetry) and music composed by Linda Chase. The three part piece was a collaboration written in response to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and was masterfully done. Stunning music along with spoken words in the best weave of the two I’ve ever heard. And that was after being enchanted by the exhibit of wild and vibrant wall-size murals by Takashi Murakami.
My favorite museum visit was to the Northwood Historical Society’s museum, open on August Saturdays from 1:00 to 3:00. The town’s artifacts are housed in the small, square, brick building that was the Northwood Narrows branch of the library when I first moved to town. It’s around the corner from my house.
David wore his short wetsuit for that visit; we stopped at the museum when we saw it was open on our way to swim. The Historical Society volunteer staffing the museum that day didn’t pay any attention to the wet suit. She was too busy watching the two helicopters circling over the fields and woods of the Narrows, looking for a fugitive batterer, a man who’d come to town after abusing his girlfriend and then ran away from the police when they found him at a house on Blake’s Hill.
They caught him. It was an exciting day in the Narrows.
Last Friday we walked the boardwalk on Coney Island, a good choice for our last outdoor adventure of the year. Closed for the season, the arcades and amusement parks were like huge broken toys. We walked with a cold wind at our backs, then turned and walked into it, along the gray water, the winter sun low in the sky. We walked for a long time.
I’m grateful to have a life that allows me to choose experiences like this, to take breaks that refresh and energize and inspire me. I hope to keep it up next year.
Full wetsuit, bathing cap, goggles. Warm clothes to put on as soon as we get out of the water. A tentative wade off the small beach to make sure the water temperature hasn’t unexpectedly dipped into an intolerable range.
It hasn’t. Plunge. My face stings and the tips of my ears that aren’t covered by the swimcap ache. I keep swimming. Thirty strokes into the swim my two toes that don’t tolerate any kind of cold are numb but my face is fine. I look up and see David’s blue-capped head swimming up behind me. Back to counting my strokes, twenty breaths to the left, twenty to the right.
When I lift my face for air the hardwood trees along the shore are red, orange, yellow and gold against the dark green of pine. Face back down to pull my stroke the water streams a cloudy bronze as my fist punches bubbles under the surface. Face up again to the string of color on the shore. I catch a glimpse of blue sky as the fast clouds above break apart.
Across the pond and back, heading into a hard wind left from the front that blew through with rain this morning. It whisks the surface of the pond blue-black with white wave caps. I stroke harder.
When we get out the air is warmer than the water and there’s no wind under the pines on the beach. We’re not as cold as we expected, but there’s still a chill somewhere deep. We’re a bit off balance from a half hour of cold in our ears and tilt as we get dressed.
Ireland is constantly in and out of clouds, so it only makes sense that David and I have been walking in and out of clouds.
On Saturday we crossed a ridge from Ardgroom to Lauragh, climbing a steep pitch off the road into a bowl of valley with a green field on the opposite slope where we could see sheep dogs rounding up sheep in a cluster that kept moving over the bright pasture. Mist threaded around us as we followed the boggy trail and heard water roaring in streams criss-crossing the pass. The inch and a half of rain the day before was rushing off the hills and everything was wet.
Everything is always wet in Ireland. I’ve come to think of it as the land of perpetual dampness.
We passed the Cashelkeelty standing stones, one of the many circles or lines of stones we’ve seen. The stones are aligned to mark solar occasions like the solstice or equinox and the fields and high passes on the Beara peninsular have many of these ancient remains — 3,000 years old or older. It’s impossible to fully understand what it means to see such ancient constructions.
Meanwhile, more modern stones stacked in walls covered with moss, fuchsia, ivy, brambles, and all the other green growth that makes Ireland seem like a jungle are everywhere, and often mind-boggling beautiful.
Once we got to Lauragh we visited the Derreen Gardens, an estate transformed in the 19th century into a sub-tropical garden at the head of Kilmakilloge Harbor. The tree ferns and tree-size rhododendron made it seem we were walking some place much further south than Ireland.
Yesterday we crossed a ridge of mountains from Lauragh to Kenmare, starting out in mist and walking into sheeting rain. We passed the Uragh stone circle, with a ten foot entrance stone, set on a hillock between two lakes. We felt particularly isolated and lost in time, as we stood in a pocket of rain and fog.
Climbing our second ridge, the fog got thicker and soon all we could see was each other and the boggy path a hundred feet ahead. Thankfully the Beara Way is very well marked, and just as I would feel uncomfortable about whether we were still on the path, I’d see another sign post ahead with the familiar, bright yellow image of a walker and an arrow pointing us on.
Nearly at the top of the ridge David and I talked about the views we were missing, wondering what mountains and hillsides we’d be seeing if the mist cleared. I looked across the open land to the top of the ridge on our right and realized it was clearer. Then I turned around and the mist was gone, revealing the last mountain we’d climbed, bright in the distance. I could even make out the gray of the Uragh stone circle far below.
When we finally cleared the top of the ridge, there were the mountains of Kerry, patched with bright green fields ahead. It’s become clear that worrying about poor weather here isn’t productive and makes no difference. Days are sunny then cloudy then rainy then clear then misty then back to clouds breaking open to blue skies again.
In the moments of hiking, there is only what I see ahead of me, the sound of water finding its way downhill, and planning my next footstep to avoid as many muddy sink holes as possible.And then there are all the flowers.
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.
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.
I get obsessed with weather predictions when I have a vacation coming up and the obsession carries right into the vacation. Moving from one weather website to the next, I check forecasts compulsively. Will it rain? At what time? How warm will it be? What will the cloud coverage be at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday?
Last week I spent eight days at Humarock Beach, a long, thin peninsula of ocean-tossed rocks and sand south of Boston. Surrounded by water — the cold Atlantic to the east and tidal rivers and marshes to the west — there’s no hiding from the weather. The houses are on ten foot pilings so the ocean can roll right under and across to the marsh on the other side during strong storms, and winter Nor’easters often leave the central road on the northern tip of the peninsula covered with fist-sized rocks.
But as I found out last week, as I find out through all my vacation weather obsessions, forecasts are rarely right if made any more than a couple of days ahead, and the weather really doesn’t matter anyway. What matters are the uninterrupted hours and shared meals with family, the jumble of four generations putting together dinner and playing games over days instead of just hours, the rhythm of living in the same house with children and grandchildren.
It did rain during our vacation and it was too cold for the beach many of the days we were in Humarock. When it rained we played games and watched movies and read and talked and cooked and ate. When it was too cold and windy to sit on the ocean side deck we sat in the sun on the river side, tucked out of the wind and looking over a marsh flooded with high tide or drained to a small ribbon of river snaking through sloped banks of mud.
With so much family gathered — my parents, all three of my sisters, my children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews and partners — my phone was much busier than usual with beach and dinner planning texts and phone calls. At one point as David was driving to the grocery store I was texting with my sister Meg, figuring out what we needed to pick up for dinner. Somehow, as David and I were talking about a song that was playing, my phone got switched to the microphone for text, and when I looked down to read what Meg had sent I saw a message my phone was ready to send. The predictive text picked up from the song and our conversation was about as accurate as a weather forecast, and as meaningless when it comes to having a sweet week with my family.
There’s a loser husband in case this homeless replacing the work job pound some loose and this is the song I know the song.
The song of making sure you have time with the people you love most.
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.
Clouds of loose snow blow across the fields and past the house.As long as there’s any dry snow in the world to the west of me, it makes its way past my windows.Every path I shovel gets packed with hard, dry drifts that lift like bricks as I shovel again.
We came home late at night two weeks ago after a windy storm and a snake of drifted snow curled out of the walkway to where we parked the car. I stepped over the first, knee-high drift on my way to the porch to get a shovel The next ridge was waist high and I plunged up to my thighs. It was impossible to tell from our yard how much snow had fallen in the storm. It was all drifts and mounds and long lips along ridges of white.
Our ski tracks across the field filled in this morning in the hour we were out. It wasn’t snowing, just blowing. We’d skied though woods to the edge of another field where the wind had sculpted pockets around the trees where we stopped.
Now gusts grab chunks of packed snow from the roof and fling it down into the stream whipping through the yard. The whistle and whisk of the wind turns into a long murmur and then a slap, slap, slap and bang as the shovels on the porch slip around.
The maple in the yard loses another dead branch.The hills in the distance are foggy with their own wind storms and above it all the sun has come out, last night’s storm has swirled itself out to sea and here on the edge of the great circle the wind keeps turning the corner and scrubbing my world.
A flock of robins has been flapping around my yard this week, lifting off from the maple outside my study window to fly to the garden and pick at shriveled globs that used to be apples, still hanging from bare branches. They’re also eating the berries on the barberry bushes, leaving bright red splotches of bird droppings in the snow under the maple tree. Puffed up against the frigid temperatures and wild wind, as if making their feathers into bulky coats, their orange breasts are a welcome touch of color in the monochrome landscape of bare trees, white pines harboring darkness under their boughs and snow.
Anyone who lives in the southeastern part of New Hampshire knows that snow and snow and then more snow has been our story for the last couple of weeks. I went to a Martin Luther King Day Commerative at the University of New Hampshire last week, to hear Natasha Trethewey deliver the Commerative Presentation, which turned out to be her talking about how she came to write her poems, a selection of which she then read. Stunning. And encouraging to realize a woman of color could be so highly celebrated, even appointed U.S. Poet Laureate, for writing direct and accessible poems about our country’s history of racism and power imbalances.
So what does that have to do with robins and snow? One of the speakers before Trethewey said that courage has been called the willingness to tell your story wholeheartedly. That got me thinking about stories, in particular my story, or stories, as I think about the next steps in my writing projects — getting back to my novel to get it in shape for readers, and then reengaging with my memoir. I was at a meeting a couple of weeks ago and we were discussing someone who had mentioned she was writing a memoir.
“She’s writing a memoir?” a woman at the meeting said. “As if her life is that interesting.”
“I’m writing a memor,” I said and the woman replied with something about my life being interesting enough to write about. She was covering herself, because she hardly knows me and has no idea what my story is, or what part of my story I’m putting in the memoir.
And it also made me think about this blog and the blogs I follow. They tell stories, some large, some tiny, the most successful translating some part of a life into a narrative interesting enough that others want to read it.
So what is today’s story, or the story of the last couple of weeks when I haven’t managed to post anything on my blog? I’ve been busy being Mimi to another new baby.
I’ve been working on both volunteer and consulting projects that always seem to chew up more time than they should. I’ve not been writing much (as evidenced by the lack of blog posts) but I did go to a party with bigger-than-life-size super hero balloons and spent time batting Spider Man up in to the air to float above me. That was a first.
I’ve been skiing every day I can and shoveling snow every day I have to, which has been most days.
I’ve been watching the robins try to make it through this very wintry weather and anthropromorphisizing their regret at not having migrated this year. Does this make a story? It’s made for a very full couple of weeks anyway.