far too much writing, far too many photos

Finally, yesterday, after two or three days of failed predictions by the local weather types, a day of beautiful late autumn sunshine showed. Milder than recent calendar entries have been, up into the 40s. Fresh, cool, bright, the kind of day that feels great to be out in.

And this morning? An early-hour peek out the window revealed snow. (Aaiiieeee!!) During the night, the weather took, the mercury dropped down into the ‘teens. Cold, with a hard edge, snow coming down, leaving a half-inch of frosting across the countryside. The temperature’s crept up into the mid-20s since then, much of the snow has politely dwindled and disappeared, but it’s clear we won’t be reaching the freezing (or unfreezing) mark today. Which leaves me ensconced here at my dining room table, somber early winter scenery visible in all directions outside, tentative sunlight occasionally poking through clouds for a brilliant moment or two before fading. I got out of bed early this a.m. to fire up the coal stove, the place is now feeling comfortable, cozy even. So I’m not complaining.

I leave for Madrid a week from tomorrow, where I’ll be for months, possibly until May or June. Long enough that the prospect of the relocation’s been feeling like a major disruption, an upheaval. It’s had me a bit stressed these last few weeks, the days streaming by with unnerving velocity. Until today. I’m not sure what happened, but the coming change suddenly feels like something more matter-of-fact, less enormous. In part, I think, because I’ve taken care of the preparations that have needed to be taken care of and the coming week doesn’t feel like a looming blur of desperate activity. And in part because I’ve done this over and over these last few years, moving back and forth across the broad Atlantic for months at a time. It’s not like it’s the great unknown any more.

That feels better.

Two nights ago: pulled on decent clothes — gray dress shirt, black dress pants, black pointy boots — and drove north to the town of Hardwick for Kay’s wake. Or observance. Whatever it’s called when there’s no body in evidence and everyone just passes the time talking instead of hanging about a heavily made-up corpse, formerly inhabited by the person we all knew.

It’s a small, slightly rough-edged town, Hardwick. A pair of two-lanes pass through the village center, joining at a traffic light to run together for a while as a single road, providing the visible nucleus of town life, a stretch of businesses that give way to a handful of empty storefronts as the road curves around to the east and heads off through the Vermont countryside.

The funeral home lay across a small river from the downtown, tucked away on a side street. The night was cold, dark, mostly quiet, though the parked cars lined up along both sides of the side street indicated activity going on somewhere. In the funeral home, it turned out. Stepping inside, I found myself enveloped by the noise of voices in conversation, many, many voices, belonging to a crowd of people all packed together in one or two rooms. The place was jammed. I scribbled my name in the book near the door, turned to scan the scene. A nearby late-50s male addressed me — weathered face, dark pants, white shirt, dark leather vest — turning out to be one of Kay’s three kids, one I’d never met in person. Ralph. He extended a hand, we shook, he pointed out where Mo was stationed, talking to a married couple from here on the hill. Without a casket as a focal point, Mo and his kids had set up a large framed collection of photos of Kay in its place, backed by flower arrangements, another larger studio photo of Kay, and hanging above all that, a strange, lit-from-within painting of Jesus. Apart from that, apart from the many people in attendance, the room was plain, unadorned, practically featureless.

Mo stood in front of the photo collection with a couple who live up over the hill from my house. I made my way through the crowd, attached myself to their small group, hung there until the couple drifted off to speak with one of Mo’s daughters (having not said a word to during in the entire time I stood there). I watched the gathering for a while, recognizing faces I’d seen at Mo and Kay’s on different occasions. I checked out the photos of Kay, who turned out to have been a genuine babe in younger years. I spent some time speaking with Mo’s two daughters, both quite a bit older than me, both very attractive, very good-natured. We swapped stories about their parents, learned a bit about each other, talking for a good long while, surprisingly easily. I met Mo’s sister and her husband, both appearing to be in their late 70s. Many of the people there looked like real country folk, the Vermont version. Hard-working, pick-up-truck-driving folks, marking the passing of a friend/relative. Several people apologized to me for having turned around in my driveway in recent days, due to a full driveway at Mo’s, to which I didn’t know how to respond besides giving full dispensation.

And after 45 minutes, the crowd thinning, I said good-bye and stepped back out into the cold November night. Pleased to have spent some time at this event, glad to be going home. Thinking about how everything passes, how people, events, days, months and years come and go.

It passes deceptively quickly, this life. And it is deceptively rich and deep, the fleeting moments alive with things to experience. That’s how it feels to me anyway, in my better days, my better moments.

Darkness has fallen as I’ve written this, a bright, nearly-full moon rising above the hills to the east. I hear a lunar eclipse is set to get underway this evening. Right about now, I think. Time to drag on a coat and go take a look.

Later.

This morning, the day’s first light:

The last several days: gray, wet, cold. Overcast, temperatures in the low to mid-30s. Rain falling through much of it, fog coming and going. All of which has its own beauty in this rural, mountainous country — fall colors long vanished, the landscape now a blend of browns, grays, greens. Vermont, late autumn, winter not far off.

On Tuesday, the lying bastards in the local weather service (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) predicted that yesterday would bring sunlight and higher temperatures. Yesterday, when that didn’t pan out, they predicted the same thing in stronger terms for today. When I woke up in this morning’s pre-dawn hours, a glance out a window showed a few lonely stars shining through thinning cloud cover. Thin enough that the daylight hours brought some actual sunshine. Wan, diffuse, thin, but still sunshine. For a short, fleeting while anyway. Then the cold gray reasserted itself. No rain, though, for which I’m grateful.

Tuesday morning I hung out with my downhill neighbor, Mo, for a while. His wife, Kay — in the hospital with cancer a couple of weeks back [see entry of October 27] — passed on last Thursday night. Since then, Mo’s had plenty of folks around, family and friends, keeping him company through this major life passage. I stopped by during a lull in the activity, no one there but Mo and his two small dogs, Sally and Corky. Sally: a fat beagle who has Mo wrapped around one of her little, er, toes; Corky: a smaller pooch, maybe a Chow — thick reddish-brown fur; small, bright black eyes; pointy ears, a pointy snout. Kind of cute, not terribly bright. Mo dotes on them both, they dote on him and take advantage when they can — especially Sally, running off whenever she can manage it to cavort around the hill here for an hour before returning home, pantingly happy, free of shame/guilt.

It’s an odd phenomenon: Mo is a hunter, has been for most of his 80+ years. Loves to hunt, will go after just about anything that runs, flies or swims. Except his two designated companion critters: a half-bright carouser and a half-dim lap dog.

Considering the turns his recent existence has taken — getting a knee replaced four or five weeks back; Kay coasting suddenly downhill healthwise, getting diagnosed with cancer, spending a week in health care facilities before making a graceful exit from this mortal coil scant days after their 60th wedding anniversary — Mo seems to be doing all right. (He is as close to being indestructible as any human being I’ve ever met, and I sometimes think that after everyone else here on the hill lives out their days and topples over, he’ll still be tooling around on his ATV, shooting squirrels off our headstones.) He wasn’t ebullient, he wasn’t prancing about in joy, but he was all right. Able to talk about the impact of Kay’s passing on his life, able to talk about other things, able to laugh when the conversation turned to subjects that warranted laughter.

It turns out that Mo and Kay had agreed they would both be cremated, their remains mixed together in a double urn which would then be buried. Which means that Kay’s ashes will reside in that urn in Mo’s living room until he punches out. It turns out, he said, that not everyone in his family is crazy about that arrangement, and he doesn’t care. He’s got the urn, her ashes are in it, and that’s how things will remain until he drops off the twig and they toss his body into the fire. At which point the rest of the plan will go into effect and their names will grace a joint headstone poking up out of a bit of Vermont countryside.

I’ll say this: Mo, at 82 or so years of age, is healthier, clearer, more mobile than either of my parents were when their respective odometers showed that kind of mileage. He’s a crusty, capable old guy, and as far as I’m concerned he should enjoy the rest of his 3-D tenure however he sees fit. Not that my opinion matters. I’m just saying.

Tonight there’s going to be a wake-ish type of event at a funeral home twenty minutes north of here. I’ll make an appearance, pay my respects, enjoy the people-watching to be had, remember conversations with Kay around their kitchen table. Tomorrow’s the funeral service — I’ll skip that. Funerals don’t do it for me.

To each their own. You know?

The day after, October giving way to November (and looking like it). I’m going to be foisting Kit-Kat bars on friends and acquaintances for days, maybe weeks.

Note to self: wouldn’t that masthead photo up top have been better if you’d arranged it so it looked like jackie boy was eating Kit-Kats with ravenous glee? Either arrange pumpkin and bowl so orange boy was bellying up to the trough or pile the candy up so that it was pouring out of big, smiling, slavering mouth? Or something along those lines? Much more fun, I think. Or more tiresome. One or the other.

Either way, one more missed opportunity. Ah, well — there’ll be more. (No I can’t change the photo — it’s already getting dark here because northern Vermont’s in winter mode and there just aren’t that many daylight hours happening right now. And tomorrow some other photo will be there. So forget about it, all right?)

[Note, written Nov. 2: above-described photo is no longer featured as masthead pic as of this morning. For the sake of reference, here it is:]

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Microsoft to employee/blogger: take a hike.

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