My heart is filled with longing

A month ago, I wrote that winter had lasted forever. There have been several forevers in the interim, and still there are shoulder-high snowbanks, and just today flakes flew across the street in front of us, like a veil of winter. You can’t walk along the sidewalks. You can’t really go hiking. The world seems to close in on itself. I’m sick of every single room in my house. (Which – hey! April 3 is THE DATE for demo to begin on the attic project! We have a backup plan of if the snow is still so heavy we can’t park on the street.)

The last two weeks or so, my brain has started playing some tricks on me. As I walk through my day to day, my mind will flash a quick scene in front of me. There’s that stretch of Hwy 16 in New Hampshire near Ossippee where a lazy river runs under a steel bridge with an expansiveness of space and time my busy life can barely imagine. The beeches, with their course green and gold leaves, in the campgrounds of White Lake and Covered Bridge, flicker in a remembered sunlight. The vast fields of milkweed, in the shadow of Mt. Whittier. The loon on the lake. The mists settling across marshes at sunset near Tamworth on 25. The crackle of the fire, springing sparks up to a warm night sky.

The Loons

These visions come unbidden. Some of these things I can’t even believe I remember. Many of the scenes that show up are ones from the road – and I’m almost always going about 55 through those zones, after 3 hours of driving. How can my memory so perfectly lay out not just the field, but the shape of the milkweed across it. The shadows on the east side of Whittier. The music on the radio. The warmth of the air. I do not think I could have voluntarily pulled that image – that memory – from my mind. But without summoning it, there it is.

I think I find these even more precious when I discovered they are not universal. I know and love some folks with aphantasia. Not everyone can close their eyes and be back in a moment they loved, or see from afar the fields and forests where their heart lives.

I wonder what my subconscious is telling me? It feels like a hopeful message. “Wait”, it seems to say, “This too will pass. It will not be winter forever. There is such a thing as summer, and you will know it again.” In these moments, my heart is filled with longing for what I saw – but also for hope. I will see it again. Soon. This summer. In two months, I’ll be wending my way up Hwy 16, past the lazy river and milkweed fields once more. Be patient.

There is another gift in this. It is remarkable to discover what treasures your mind has stored up for you, all unknown to you. I did not stare hard at those moments, willing them to remain in my memory forever. They just passed past my eyes and stuck there, like gold in the bottom of a pan. How many beautiful moments lurk behind my eyes, waiting until I need comfort or consolation to appear? When my eyes darken with age and my limbs will no longer take me to the woods, will these all be waiting for me? A treasure trove of beauty I didn’t even know I was remembering?

I hope so. And I look forward, with joy, to adding to that trove again this summer.

Beeches in the setting sun

The fine line between caring and obsession

My plum tree has been on my mind a lot lately – as I wrote about last week. The kills of the last two winters have made my hypersensitive to this time of year. It’s a time of great hope and anticipation, and great fear. Will one of the first heralds of the spring be a white-decked lady, a debutante of the back yard effulgent in lacy buds? Or will the last jealous grasps of winter shear off her bloom yet again, like some jealous Disney villain? And just how cold does March need to be to kill summer’s hope?

A text I sent to my husband

I thought we might have escaped this year, but then the overnight forecast showed itself unkindly. I fretted in the days leading up to this weekend, wondering if my tree would make it. I found this very useful chart, upon which I anchored my fears. The temps were supposed to get down to 10 degrees. I have no idea what my backyard microclimate is. I’m not really sure what the budding stages are, but I am decided that bud swell seemed like the closest option. Even so, that looked to me like a significant killing frost – taking out maybe 50% of my buds? If only I could get the temps up for a little bit?

If that’s a “tight cluster” instead of a “bud swell” we can just write this year’s harvest off.

Adam and I swapped links on smudge pots and fans. I definitively ruled out renting a helicopter as a solution. (That’s actually a thing.) I am still not super sure I understand how fans raise temperatures, even though I read several articles on it. It also wasn’t clear to me how many degrees swing you could get using some of these techniques – and I needed quite a few degrees. But I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing and watch my plums die AGAIN! They deserve a chance!

My husband loves me dearly. He’s so patient with my insanity. After careful thinking, I decided our propane heater was too dangerous to leave running unattended – even out in the backyard in the snow. But we have this electric oil-filled space heater, see. It’s gentle heat – so no chance of fire. I’m not sure if it was enough heat, or if it could possibly make a difference. Still, under the waning light, we set up the space heater under the tree, hoping the cement wall would reflect the heat and help it stay warm.

True love in action

Adam cooked up the idea to use insulation on the other side of the heater to further guide the warmth tree-ward. So he chopped up some staves, staple-gunned them to the insulation, and pounded them into the frozen soil. All without wearing a sweater, of course. We New Englanders basically give up on winter garments as a regular thing about this time of year, due to being sick of wearing them.

Chop chop!

I have no idea if it worked. The buds all look the same, of course. The forecast shows the end of the killing frost (or at least it’s five degrees warmer tonight). The forecast looks quite chilly. The highs don’t break out of the 40s for the rest of the month. (By comparison, it got up to 70 in February.) But if April comes and goes and the green leaves break out and there were no blossoms – we’ll know that winter won despite our best efforts.

Here’s hoping to see white instead!

Yankee ingenuity – or possibly insanity

The 200th day of Winter

Winter has lasted several years now. We’re in the impossible part of winter. We’ve had the epicest of cold. We’ve had the snow. We had the ice. We had the ice then snow combo. We had the snow then ice combo. We had the snow then rain then ice combo. We had the sleet. If there’s a way to make a sidewalk impassible and convince you to stay inside, this winter has had it. And it’s only the middle of February. Some of you live in places where daffodils bloom in March. We usually see our very first snowdrops a month from now, around March 15. Daffodils are strictly an April thing. Maybe May. We have plenty of time yet for more combinations of gray skies, slick sidewalks, cutting winds and dreary weekends.

Did I mention the flu? So far, knock on wood, it hasn’t hit too close to home. We all got immunized in October. But it did take out our attic contractor. This particular flu can last up to four weeks, and really knock you out. So it looks like our attic start date will be March at the earliest. On the one hand, that gives us more time to clear out the attic. (Which we then pretty much didn’t do this weekend at all.) On the other hand, that much longer until we’re done! I hope our contractor feels better soon. I hope I finish up the work we need to do soon too!

While I am very whiny about winter, the Olympics are definitely a bright spot. I love the Olympics! I’ve been enjoying the biathlon particularly this year. The opening ceremonies were lovely. The drones were SO COOL. The kids have been watching with me. Grey is particularly interested since his social studies class is doing a fantasy league for the Olympics. He wisely picked Norway. He and his brother have been cheering on his selections enthusiastically. Hopefully I can sneak in some good watching in the coming two weeks!

The walking has been especially nerve-wracking with Thane’s broken wrist. It’s been about a month since he broke it. We’re headed to the doctor on Wednesday, who will hopefully be able to tell us we can lose the cast. Sadly, he missed the entire end of the basketball season. He was really enjoying basketball. Ah well – next year!

Wednesday is also a day of contradictory emotions. We have Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. I’ll probably be more Ashy than mushy. (My Sunday School students pointed out today that they’re both holidays about love! Our love for each other, and Jesus’ love for us. Nicely done, Sunday School kids.) Lent is always an interesting and valuable time of year. I try to make it a bit set apart – to think a bit more deeply and feel a bit more vulnerably.

What’s up in your long winter?

11 thoughts from shoveling

I often blog in my head while I’m doing physical labor. My very best blog post ever came from doing the laundry. Here are my deep thoughts from this morning’s dig out.

My house, today
My house, today

1. I’ve always loved my neighbors, but this winter has made me extra grateful
Adam is laid low by the stomach bug that knocked me out. He’s no longer actively ill, but in the weak phase. Also, we don’t own a snowblower. Also also, I promised to take care of a neighbor’s house while they were gone. This means I’m like extra duper screwed, right? Wrong. I have the key to the neighbor’s snowblower (the folks who are gone have the best one on the block). I flagged over another neighbor to help me, and he spent two hours doing the snow blower work while I did the shoveling work at both houses. We’ll be potlucking at at yet another neighbors house tonight. Friends are awesome. I love friends. I haven’t seen my friends who live half a mile away in WAY TOO LONG. But neighbors who are friends are such a gift in blizzard conditions!

2. What would it take to actually make our little New England civilization stop working?
A la Hurricane Sandy, at what point does our society cease to function? Or does it shut down in dribs and drabs? Already there are plans for some Boston streets to be one way until April 1st. At what point does normal life stop? Are we already there?

3. Seriously, April 1st?
March is supposed to be colder than normal. The 10 day forecast only gets above freezing once (35 degrees). There are two more precipitation events in that forecast, adding up to 5 – 10 inches of snow. I don’t know when life will go back to normal, but six weeks seems like a good guess. It will probably be a lot longer until you can no longer find snow anywhere.

That fence below is a 7 foot fence. That snow bank is more than 12 feet tall. Granted, that's where we blow the snow, but still...
That fence below is a 7 foot fence. That snow bank is more than 12 feet tall. Granted, that’s where we blow the snow, but still…

4. With great power comes great responsibility
A common thought as I shovel snow is that winter is a crappy time to be a feminist. See, I’m physically perfectly capable of shoveling snow. I don’t believe in a gendered division of labor. Do you see where this is going? What it means is that I, as a feminist, can’t tell my husband that snow is his job because he’s a man. This is a crying shame on days like this.

5. Thank goodness we got a new roof
I’m guessing that our old roof wouldn’t have held up to this. Lots of people have lots of leaks. Our pitched roof is dropping the snow all by itself, no problem. The insulation looks great too, as the only melting is sun melt on the Southern exposure.

This is all sun melt. Our roof has many fewer icicles than most of our neighbors.
This is all sun melt. Our roof has many fewer icicles than most of our neighbors.

6. I blow dried my hair this morning.
I almost never do that. The few times I’ve tried it was to make my hair look good, a goal that I’ve never really been successful in accomplishing. It looked great this morning. Then I pulled a wool hat on top of it. The point was that going out in 13 degree weather with a high wind warning for two hours of shoveling with a wet head. I should try less hard, and maybe the whole hair drying thing will work.

7. I seriously wonder when I’ll make it into the office
Tuesday? Tuesday only? Will there be parking when I get to Fort Point? What’s the best combination of not spending stupid time on the road and stupid money on parking, while still spending time with my colleagues. I can’t work from home until April 1st, and might go insane if I tried.

Josh is rocking the roof rake
Josh is rocking the roof rake

8. The children’s brains are currently oozing out there ears
They’ve never played this many video games in their life. I’ve lost all will to parent. Judging by how many of their friends are online, making Minecraft traps with them, I’m not alone.

9. But at least they won’t miss school?
That’s the upside of this all happening over Feb break week, right? No chance of snow days this week, nuh uh! And hopefully by the time next week rolls around, we’re now longer in the icy clutches of Snowmageddon. (10 day forecast says it snows 5 – 8 inches Sunday night. I hate you 10 day forecast!) I feel really badly for the teachers whose success is judged by the standardized tests these children will be taking in a few weeks. They’ve missed so much instructional time, and I have to say that I think my kids study skills and core skills have backslid in the last three weeks. Totally not fair to their excellent teachers!

Our front walk way has a fault line. Considering teaching the children avalanche safety.
Our front walk way has a fault line. Considering teaching the children avalanche safety.

10. Let’s see who’s laughing this summer
I’ve gotten plenty of comments from Northwesterners who point out that Boston currently has more snow than Snoqualmie Pass. The entire US is suffering from a changing climate. (BTW – any time we want to collectively start acting on this problem is good for me. Count me in.) But given a choice between extra violent winters, extra precipitation and more extreme weather, and drought and loss of ground water… I’ll take the nasty blizzards. The entire West is going to bake this summer, with no snowpack to feed the rivers. Florida is losing it’s potable ground water. We may live in Snowmageddon country, and this may be our new normal, but at least we have water.

11. We’ll get through this
The spring will come. There was a year in medieval history when summer never came. That’s not our situation. They may be delayed, but we’ll have snowdrops and crocuses and lilacs and camping trips this summer. We’ll look back on this as an epic memory, but we will some day see grass again!

Happier (warmer) times!

How fast the time flies

I remember the longest hour that ever existed. It was in Mr. Johnson’s math class — geometry, I think. I remember having the time to notice every single thing about that hour — the droning buzz of chainsaws from the nearby hill being logged, the way the sunlight was golden on the fading azaleas in the interstices of the school, the hum of the overhead projector with the thick black pen markings disappearing into scroll-like rolls, the drone of his voice explaining arcane mathematical phenomenon I did not then and have not now mastered, the coldness of the computer room behind the math room with all the proud ’80s era Macintosh computers sitting under dust covers (it was the mid-90s). There was no whirling of time, no speeding by of concepts or ideas, no blurring together of moments. Every single long second, all (60 x 60 x 1) of them had my complete and full attention, without the distraction of, you know, things of interest. I’m not sure why that was the longest hour of my life, but I do believe it was.

Lately, however, I’ve noticed a phenomenon I had been warned about. Time is clearly speeding up. This makes sense, from one point of view. If you consider each hour as a percentage of your time alive and aware, as you grow older it becomes a smaller and smaller percentage. Perhaps that 16 year old me in that corner-classroom was the optimum point between awareness of time and watch-ownership, and percentage of life an hour represented. In truth, I’ve heard that time stretches out when you are confronted with novelty, because your brain has to explicitly save more of it. For example, you’re unlikely to remember every minute of your commute home tonight. Your brain doesn’t need to save that information: it’s just like yesterday’s version and likely very similar to tomorrow’s. So why bother? The first time you scuba dive, however, every single sensation and view you experience is unlike all others you’ve experienced and your brain saves far more of the information. It’s why a new road you’ve never driven that takes 20 minutes is so much longer than your 20 minute commute, or at least feels that way.

Into my fourth decade, I encounter fewer and fewer novelties in my daily living. My brain relies on the tropes, stereotypes and previous experiences. Whole days, I have no doubt, go by without creating a single memory that will endure past the year. No wonder time seems faster, when I remember less of it.

All this is an extremely long lead in to a statement I never thought I’d say in my entire life in New England. But here it is. Where did the winter go? See, I’m totally used to summer flying by in a flurry of sunscreen and “just keep driving” fantasies as I head on Northward roads towards a climate controlled office. Spring is inevitably fleeting. Fall has the enduring quality, but still slips through my fingers like ribbon on a birthday present being opened with eager hands. The five minutes of Christmas when I deeply breathe of the scent of balsam and stare at twinkling lights persists, but the remainder of the month is gone. However, I can usually rely on January, February and March to provide me with the unchanging interminability of misery that is winter. Ah, winter! The one time of the year that you aren’t pressed on all sides by missed opportunities! Winter! The season when you go to work thinking that at least you’re not missing out on anything fun. Winter, that usually returns three or four times after you dare to hope it’s left for good! Winter, when it is what it is and you can’t complain but you do anyway.

This year, through phenomenon unknowable, winter went really fast. I can’t blame the kids — this is Grey’s 4th winter and Thane’s 2nd. I had a mix of old job, time off and new job (which the novelty of the latter should’ve slowed time down, according to my above hypothesis). It wasn’t a supremely easy winter. I shoveled a fair amount of snow. Granted, Spring did come a bit early and it was one of the warmest Springs on record. I’m sure that plays a role. But in previous winters I remember dramatically complaining that my marrow had frozen and there was insufficient heat in the fast-fleeting summer to melt it before the dreaded chill arrived again. This winter, my marrow was barely refrigerated.

With such a scientifically minded readership, I’m sure none of you will go thinking I’m jinxing Spring by talking about it – as though it’s a no-hitter. I, personally, am often bemused by just how superstitious I really am. But it’s almost May. I’m headed to FRANCE next weekend, for reals. It’s a matter of weeks until our first camping trip of the year. The leaves on the tree out my kitchen window are in full spring color and bloom, fast approaching full size! Could even the most powerful of jinxes bring winter back now? I think not.

So here it is, spring. And here comes summer, hazy, turgid and fleeting as it is. May I find enough novelty, enough observation and enough patience to make many memories that endure for colder winters ahead.

Father and brother
Father and brother

Son
Son

Grandfather and grandson
Grandfather and grandson

The walls are closing in

So I’m practicing for weekend blog updates. I’m thinking I need to streamline my boot-up procedures a little, and maybe put the writing first.

Anyway, this is the time of year in New England that the walls start closing in on us. Today looks deceptive. The sun is bright and the pathways are clearer than normal, due to quite a thaw last week. One’s mind turns to wild adventures like walking to the library, or taking Grey and Thane somewhere that is not our house. But then one turns to the thermometer.

Brutal
Brutal

Yes, that says 0 degrees.

At a certain temperature, even indoor activities not in your own house seem daunting. Does it require taking the T? Parking and walking in? How many layers will you need to pack your toddler in, and how many of those will be appropriate once you’ve arrived in the safety of another heated location? At about 10 degrees, the cars stop keeping up, and are not comfortably warm. Easier just to stay put!

But after a few days or weekends of staying put, you get very bored. Or at least my children do. They both love adventures and outings. It’s one of the guaranteed ways of getting Thane to settle when he’s grumpy. The last weekend of January it’s bad. The last week of February is downright grim. A winter storm in March? Heaven forfend.

I’ll get Grey out in a little bit for aikido, and then he and I are going to a fundraiser for Haiti tonight. Thane is doomed to a pajamas day. Adam’s at aikido right now. There’s church tomorrow — always good to get out for.

Last night I looked out Thane’s window. The moon was exceptionally bright — so bright it threw dark shadows of trees across the pale and blowing old snows. The shadows danced in the frigid wind. I find myself wondering how, before the niceties of blown-in-insulation and central heating, how did humanity survive in these winters? I hesitate to expose my healthy 15 month old to 10 minutes of layered, blanket-wrapped stroller journey. The native tribes who welcomed those first pilgrims had no walls or Goretek or natural gas heating. I know that part of the answer was that they did not all survive the coldest winters. But how miserable must it have been? How would they have longed for the walls which currently encircle me? The sensation of warmth and fullness must both have been so fleeting in winter, and warm spells nearly life-giving in their welcomeness. Meanwhile, I am surprised by the brief visit of chill to my fingers and toes, and consider it entirely optional and to be avoided.

Modernity is a marvelous thing.

You know it’s cold when…

…they shut down an ice factory because the ice cracks when stored below -15F.
…New Englanders close down schools across the state because diesel fuel is coagulating in buses, causes pickups to be unreliable
…the ocean freezes
…authorities ask people to conserve energy the way they do during summer heat waves
…AAA reports a record number of people calling because their cars won’t start — beating the previous record set earlier this week by over a thousand
…meteorologists say this isn’t the coldest New England has ever gotten, and refer back to the last ice age for correlation

But you know it’s New England when
…everyone who has tickets will still be at this weekend’s Patriot’s game