Midpoint in January

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“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”
― Lewis Carroll

I’ve been watching this tree from my bathtub since Christmas.  Each snow storm has coated it with snow, bending it down, and at one point, it was completely buried in white.  The melting rains have revealed it once again, and I thought it might have broken its back.  I keep calling it “my tree” and on frozen fog, weary and gray days, I think I look just like it, all huddled down and spent.  I trudged through the snow this afternoon, just to check on it, and I’m fairly confident it will stand upright again.  The ‘darling is sleeping, till the summer comes again.’

We’ve made it to January’s midpoint already.   Sinclair Lewis wrote, “Winter is not a season it’s an occupation”.   Joy and I chatted on the phone today and she remarked at how “inhospitable” Winter makes life.  But, we’re all making it through.  She said crowds of kids were sledding next door at Pioneer Park, and she had posted photos on Facebook of the stunning ice sculpture which Duncan and Anna had made in their front yard.  While we talked, Duncan was putting a cookie sheet filled with water into the freezer, to create a TV, which would be put into the living room they had created on the front lawn– a sofa, an easy chair, and a battery-operated candle inside the side table’s lamp of ice.

We’re leaving in the morning for two days at Chico Hot Springs to join the Miller family.  There is nothing quite like sitting in the hot pool in mid-winter, beer in hand, snowflakes falling, having good conversations with old friends.  We’re all making it through.



January thawing



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It was so beautiful yesterday afternoon.  Sunshine melted the morning’s fog, puddles of water replaced black ice, and after a week-end unable to get up our icy road, the plow man sanded it and I was free to come and go.  Once I got home from town in the late afternoon, I trudged down to the water through knee-high snow, and listened to the waterfowl calling to one another across the still and silent blue lake.  I remembered what Summer is like and it was a much-needed tonic for my soul.

With Don off to the races in Reno, I was alone this week-end and dedicated myself to finally cleaning the upstairs bedrooms of the post-Christmas celebration.  I started in the dormitory room, with all the Goldilocks beds lined up in a row.  I wondered how the grandkids were able to tape Christmas lights so high up the wall–maybe they stood on the headboards, and where did they find all those extension cords?  The pop-up Winter Wonderland Christmas book was under a bed–the one I couldn’t find anywhere before they arrived.  Cormac’s Santa pajamas were under another.  Pillows from all over the house were positioned in the window seat, and I thought about who sat there, reading, drawing or talking with one another.  Some sort of alien Lego creature sat in a bowl on the dresser.  Mattresses on all the beds were askew, evidence of the pre-bedtime racing and jumping adventures.  I didn’t get much further than stripping the beds and getting sheets into the washing machine before I quit.  I was just so tearfully sad.

We are in the dreaded freeze/thaw cycle so our road gets glazed with ice over deep snow.  I usually don’t mind being trapped at the house, but it was different this time.  Glad to put the day to bed, I awakened yesterday with new-found courage to tackle our icy road.  Fish-tailing all the way up, I made it into town for a much-needed yoga class and human companionship.  When the sun came out, and I watched the light leave the sky all afternoon from my sanctuary of home,  I thought that it’s worth any price to have a winter’s day such as this.

It’s raining here this morning and drops are pregnantly hanging from all the branches. I walked up our road to see if I’ll be able to get out to the airport today, and all looks passable– off to join Don for his race in Reno, and my sister, Joy, is flying in for the excitement.  I’m thawing out, now, but it is early in Winter.  I re-read Wallace Stevens “The Snow Man” poem this morning, for a little extra help.

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Staying in season

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The Christmas undecorating is complete.  I was undecided about what to do with our perfectly shaped Grand Fir Christmas tree, which Don had cut down just after Thanksgiving.  It had waited patiently on the porch until it was time to come inside the living room.  When we left for Santa Fe in early December, we covered the nearby heater vents and turned the thermostat down low so it wouldn’t dry out.  It has stood in front of our French doors for over a month and has cheered our dark mornings and nights, and neither one of us was ready to let it go.  So, now, it sits on the outside of those glass doors, still lit in tiny colored lights, and a timer turns it on and off, morning and night, as it joins the white-lit tree outside the kitchen nook, the one on the entry porch, and the white-lit boughs in the window boxes.  With all the world outside covered in deep white snow, and the supermoon still high in the sky, it’s quite bright and lovely out there.  I’m staying in season.

Besides binge-watching historical dramas, making new soup recipes, and going to bed early at night, I’ve been organizing photos into albums, and have started doing the contemplative photography lessons in the book Adventures in Seeing.  I’m back to my regular yoga and strength training classes.  But, my intention is to stay in the season of this quiet and still month, the one pause in a calendar of months which seem to go by faster and faster with each passing year.  I’ve been re-reading David Whyte’s book, Consolations, which is surely a book to be read in the quiet.  A book to be read in the stillness of January.  I love how he talks about “Rest”:

“To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there to put it right…we are rested when we let things alone and let ourselves alone, to do what we do best, breathe as the body intended us to breathe, to walk as we were meant to walk, to live with the rhythm of a house and a home, giving and taking through cooking and cleaning.  When we give and take in an easy foundational way we are closest to the authentic self, and closest to that self when we are most rested.  To rest is not self indulgent, to rest is to prepare to give the best of ourselves, and to perhaps, most importantly, arrive at a place where we are able to understand what we have already been given…Rested, we are ready for the world but not held hostage by it, rested we care again for the right things and the right people in the right way.  In rest we reestablish the goals that make us more generous, more courageous, more of an invitation, someone we want to remember, and someone others would want to remember too.”

Light in the snow

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Another big snowstorm hit the house, just as the families began their treks home yesterday.  We were all watching the weather forecast closely the night before and decisions were made to leave at daybreak.  The Californians got to the local airport in plenty of time, and the last report was a photo of them having a quick dinner at SFO before their train ride home.  The Billings family journey was an epic drive across our state in which they hit every kind of severe winter driving conditions from freezing rain, black ice, through blizzard winds and snow.  I read the “emergency travel only” reports and looked at the state transportation webcams throughout the day, in horror.  Shortly after nightfall, Joy texted they were five blocks from home.  And, I talked with Sarah, snug in her house after their trip to Nick’s family in Phoenix.  Awwww…chicks all safe in their nests for the night.

Now, I am sequestered in my own nest, putting the house back in order.  It’s a perfect time to be snowed in.  It’s going to take some time, but that’s okay because it’s going to take some time to put me back in order.  I feel like I’ve jumped off the train of my own life’s rhythms and routines and have this “where am I” sort of feeling.  I guess everybody probably feels like this as the undecorating of Christmas begins.  I glanced into the dormitory room yesterday, as I was collecting sheets and towels, and saw that the string of Christmas lights which the kids had taped to the wall, were falling down on one end.  The process of putting Christmas away is forever melancholy, tied as it is to the ending of another year.  I don’t have the emotional energy to look at all the end of the year “bests”–the photographs, the books, the music, the movies, the significant news stories.  I’ll just focus on my own little spot in the Universe, which feels like plenty.

In my own little spot, I was tidying up piles yesterday and putting away gifts, and already sorting and cataloging this Christmas into my memory bank.  The grandkids were so incredibly excited to see their siblings and cousins open the gifts they had carefully selected for one another.  And, they could hardly wait for me to open theirs to me.  Included in my big stash was a completed puzzle of book covers of all the classic children’s books I’ve read to the grandchildren over the years.  The Honea kids, during time at their cabin, had put it together on a board and glued it in place, ready for framing.  There was a cloud journal in which I can record the date and time of cloud formations, because, as Cormac said to me, “You know how you are always looking up at the clouds.”  And, there was a book, written and illustrated by six-year-old Eamon, entitled, The Story of the Snowman and other Memories, in which he writes about the year in which he and I made his first snowman, and a story of me pulling him on a raft one summer day on the lake, and one about me teaching him the names of flowers on a walk home from his school in Berkeley.

It’s snowed another foot since I took this photo, and as I sit here this morning at eight degrees outside, it’s snowing again.  I don’t know when we’ll get plowed out, but we still have power and leftovers in the fridge, and, as I tidy my nest, the light of Christmas was left behind, shining on this little speck of the Universe.

Barter–by Sara Teasdale

Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children’s faces looking up
Holding wonder in a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit’s still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstacy
Give all you have been, or could be.

Christmas 2017


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Christmas in the Heart–by Paul Laurence Dunbar

The snow lies deep upon the ground,
And winter’s brightness all around
Decks bravely out the forest sere,
With jewels of the brave old year.
The coasting crowd upon the hill
With some new spirit seems to thrill;
And all the temple bells achime.
Ring out the glee of Christmas time.

In happy homes the brown oak-bough
Vies with the red-gemmed holly now;
And here and there, like pearls, there show
The berries of the mistletoe.
A sprig upon the chandelier
Says to the maidens, “Come not here!”
Even the pauper of the earth
Some kindly gift has cheered to mirth!

Within his chamber, dim and cold,
There sits a grasping miser old.
He has no thought save one of gain,—
To grind and gather and grasp and drain.
A peal of bells, a merry shout
Assail his ear: he gazes out
Upon a world to him all gray,
And snarls, “Why, this is Christmas Day!”

No, man of ice,—for shame, for shame!
For “Christmas Day” is no mere name.
No, not for you this ringing cheer,
This festal season of the year.
And not for you the chime of bells
From holy temple rolls and swells.
In day and deed he has no part—
Who holds not Christmas in his heart!

Let the games begin!

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The California grandkids arrived in a major snowstorm.  They are the only people in the household who appreciate our unplowed twisty slippery road.  They spent all day out in the snow, except for the cookie-making break.  Whew!  Today it’s ice-skating and then a walk at the head of the lake, in celebration of the Winter Solstice.  We’ll return home for hot chili, a toasty fire, and the lighting of our Solstice candle, which will burn until morning on this longest night of the year.  More snow is expected tonight and tomorrow, and sub-zero temperatures, as we head into Christmas Eve.  Fortunately, the Billings family look they’ll get a break in the weather as they travel across the state on Saturday, in cold sunshine.  Then, all the cousins under my roof, as Rudolph flies overhead.

Snow+Christmas+Children=Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.” ~Laura Ingalls Wilder


l’ Heure Bleue

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“Does it not seem to you at times, when
Twilight walks through the house , that
Right here alongside us is another element,
In which we live quite differently?

(“A Candle Is Brought In”)”
― Innokenty Annensky,

I think my favorite thing about Winter is the Blue Hour.  Even the names of that hour before darkness–twilight, eventide, gloaming, vesper–reveal that we are in ‘another element’.  It can take you out of the flow of time.  Most evenings, it signals for me that it is time to stop for the day.  The fire gets started, I light the lamps, and open the door for the kitties to come in for a little visit.  I like it to be still and quiet, except for the crackle of the fire, and I don’t read or listen to music, but just sit there in a big comfy chair, as the funny sleepy owl pillow stares at me from across the sofa.  I watch the deepening blue as light leaves the sky of another gray and brumous day, feeling how the day is now over, tucked into bed.   There is a sweet melancholy as I find myself going through a bit of reckoning about the day–what I accomplished, what seemed important, what I realize I missed, what I need to let go of.  It feels like an important pause, as Kate McGahan writes in the Lizard from Rainbow Bridge, “It may be just a simple pause within the chaos of life to remind you that there is more to life than the details of living it, working it and paying for it.  It may be a shred of insight or a flash of recognition that comes to you in a fleeting thought or maybe in a dream in the tween times of your own mind.”

It’s an especially necessary respite during the flurry of preparing for Christmas…

“Evenings and mornings represent “the gates” to your inner universe. Taking care of how you enter and exit these “gates” is your primary responsibility; do not give away this power. Once you master it, life will never be the same again.”
― Stan Jacobs, The Dusk And Dawn Master