far too much writing, far too many photos

When I left the house early Wednesday, backing out of the garage into wee-hour darkness, light snow had just begun falling. It intensified during the drive southeast to Montpelier, lines of it eddying about on the pavement in the car’s headlights. By the time I got to my cosy heated office, the snowfall had shifting from light to moderate, coming down steadily, the local world taking on the look of a place where some serious weather was beginning to happen.

Drove back to the house around midday, traveling just starting to get sloppy. Pulled into the drive as conditions got serious. Stood outside for a while in the middle of it all, everything quiet, the sound of occasional cars passing on the two-lane down below in the valley so hushed and distant that they barely registered.

The snowfall erased all views, wiped out all sense of the world beyond the property lines. No wind, no noise — nothing but swirling, drifting white.

And that describes the rest of the day — heavy snowfall, white-out conditions. The only sign of life visible outdoors: birds making frantic trips to the feeder outside my dining room window (chickadees, goldfinches, purple finches). By evening, the land around the house wore a cloak of white that reached my waist in some spots and my chest in others, the snow cover looking like an ocean, ice crystals glittering when I turned on outside lights to take a gander. Somewhere around 8 p.m., satellite tv and radio vanished, the dishes overwhelmed by rooftop snow. Which meant, after shoveling out the next morning (including shoveling out the mailbox, buried when the town plow went by), dragging extension ladder out of garage, dragging it around house, climbing up and beginning the slow work of shoveling out a path up across roof, dumping as much snow as possible over the edge to add to the frozen white ocean below, freeing up sat. dishes. Which actually — the snow being the light, fluffy variety — was not the heavy lifting it might have been in damper or warmer conditions. The only kinda scary parts: going from ladder to snowy/icy roof, getting back onto ladder.

So. There is a poopload of snow on the ground here, and by poopload I mean more than I would prefer.

Not that the amount of snow should come as a surprise to anyone who’s experienced northern Vermont in late January. I’m just saying.

España, te echo de menos

[continued from entry of January 14]

Fourteen (or so) people making conversation, platters of food going in every direction, my hinder planted on a teeny little seat, me not caring a whole lot — glad to be part of this scene, happy to hoovering down a pile of real damn good Christmas dinner (my favorite part: the turkey molé) — until my plate was near empty and my body decided to go into hibernation mode (me short on sleep, post-traveling, post-a-kind-of-heat-i-wasn’t-used-to). Trying to keep head from dropping to chest — body slumping over, trying to get me to go face-first into the dinner remnants on my plate — was harder on what was essentially a low, postage-stamp sized stool than it would have been on a genuine, made-for-a-human-body dinner chair. I managed to remain conscious enough to note when the conversation turned to a book called Eat, Pray, Love, my ears picking up a bit about the author spending four months in Rome eating and socializing — a use of four months I could totally get behind. I conferred with S., sitting to my right, found out she had the book at home, asked if I could read it, got an affirmation, and returned contentedly to my post-meal stupor.

My contribution to the meal: a bottle of cava — essentially, Spanish champagne and generally a seductively light wine that goes well with, er, most anything to shameless, craven types like me. This bottle sported a label I was not familiar with, but I had hopes for it and a few individuals at the dinner seemed interested. So once I’d managed to convince the cork to come free, poured a glass and tried it out, I was disappointed to find it had a bitter edge, bitter enough that I felt the need to issue an advisory to anyone wanting to try it. One person, however — the other male present — paid my advisory no heed, liking it well enough to gulp down several glasses worth. Saving me the need of choking down more than my first glass, leaving the bottle empty by the end of the evening.

When people began getting up, I helped clear the table and drifted into the living room, making the mistake of planting myself on one end of a comfortable sofa. My body relaxed, my stupor deepened. Others drifted in, began trying to chat with me about life in Madrid — I tried responding, managed to get out a few words, trying to explain that my system was shutting down right then. They didn’t seem to understand, I probably seemed like a half-bright, not-very-social couch tuber.

One of the attendees had brought a basket of handmade sweets. Nut clusters, chocolate-dipped fruit, other diabolically tempting thingies. I saw people rummaging through it, picking out this and that, going into spasms of bliss upon eating. Me and sugar, well — let’s just bring up that old saw you can lock me and throw away the key, but you can’t keep my face from breaking out. I try to keep my distance, in general, and did pretty good work with there in that living room, as the coffee table disappeared under plate after plate of excellent looking desserts.

On the way to dinner, G.&S. asked me if fatigue would become an issue for me, I told them if it did I’d ask them about taking me home. But in the moment, in a cozy home filled with happy folks celebrating the holiday, I couldn’t bring myself to do that to my friends. And the longer we stayed, the weaker my no-dessert resolve became. Until finally, as people began getting up, saying long, long, drawn-out good-byes, I found myself on my feet gazing down into that basket, staring at gorgeous, inviting, artisan-made sweets, found myself reaching down for a chocolate-dipped dried apricot, found myself bringing it to mouth, biting into it. Experienced a near-orgasmic explosion of flavor, dark chocolate and apricot. Reached for another, managed to not stuff it into my mouth like a crazed, foaming primate, making a show of taking measured bites, chewing, swallowing. Like a sane, cultured human type person might. And before I could descend into total, embarrassing loss of self-control, G.&S. actually stepped out into the dark night with the rest of the guests. I followed, breathing chilly air, saying good-bye to other folks.

[continued in entry of February 7]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Late January — Montpelier, Vermont:

España, te echo de menos

Left the house early this morning. Overcast sky above dark, no stars. Landscape asleep beneath deep midwinter blanket of white, 2-3 inches of newly fallen snow rounding all edges and corners, ice crystals glinting in my Subaru’s headlights as if the stars once spread out above had drifted down, mingling with snowflakes and coming to rest in my yard

Yesterday was the first day of what passes here for mild conditions at this time of year, after nearly a week of brutal cold, including morning temperatures as low as -25°F/-32°C (not including wind chill). Early yesterday afternoon, before clouds moved in, the mercury briefly drifted up to hover around the freezing mark, prompting the lovely sound of snowmelt trickling through gutters and downspouts. This morning, temperature 30-40 degrees higher than on recent mornings, early morning joggers were everywhere in Montpelier. The overnight cloud cover slid slowly northeast during the drive into town, revealing a crescent moon straight out of a Maxfield Parrish image. Daylight brought sounds of celebration from local birds, endowing the morning with a strangely spring-like feeling.

Every now and then during the early morning drives, I pass a house still shining with Christmas lights, and for the first time ever I find myself enjoying the past-holiday decoration thing. Likewise for understated Christmas streetlights still up in Montpelier, bringing a bit of gentle cheer to the dark early mornings. I like it.

Last week, the intense cold created plumes of smoke and steam everywhere — from chimneys, building venting systems, car exhaust pipes. It added to the feeling of deep, biting far-north winter. The break from all that feels just fine.

I know I’m going on about the weather. In this corner of the world, during this season, the weather imposes itself on daily life in a way that is difficult to factor out. Days of arctic weather leave me appreciating the basics: food, running water, shelter, heat, warm clothing, a working vehicle. A day bringing relief from the deep freeze brings a different, more expansive kind of appreciation. And that’s where I am right now. Enjoying the feeling of sudden lightness, of breathing easier. Streets and sidewalks remain sloppy, winter has in no way backed off, but for the moment I’m at peace with it.

España, te echo de menos

Left the house this morning as the very first traces of light were beginning to gather in the eastern sky. 6:20 a.m., more or less, outside temperature around -20F/-29C. A kind of cold I hadn’t experienced in a while, and it was interesting to move through the process involved in going out into it.

The first response: looking around, taking a cautious breath, thinking Hey, this isn’t so bad. And at first it wasn’t. No wind, air still — just the intense sensation of cold. The body continued functioning, didn’t go into a seizure, though my post-haircut head (shorn yesterday) began calling for help as the reality of less cranial insulation became a factor. Hands pulled hood up, body stumbled ahead, feeling a flimsy illusion of invulnerability.

In the car: pulled out onto the narrow road, aimed vehicle down the hill, slipped quietly through early morning darkness. Turned onto the two-lane, got moving toward Montpelier. Noticed one immediate indication of just how cold it actually was: the car’s heater — usually quick to begin cranking out warm air — could not make a dent in the chill. I begin to feel a slight warming as I arrived in town. Just in time to park, kill engine, step out back out into arctic conditions.

I once went out for a while with a woman who grew up in North Dakota. She told stories about the winters there, how the furnace would go on in November and remain running for months without interruption, about temperatures so cold that when she stepped outside with a bag of garbage on one occasion, the bag froze and shattered. (She also talked of how families there would take group vacations, going to enclosed motels together for a weekend of warm temperatures, of lounging around the indoor courtyard pool, of eating motel food — staying in that environment the entire weekend, avoiding the brutal reality outside.) Intellectually, I can appreciate how that puts conditions here into perspective. Doesn’t make much difference to my bod when I’m out in this region’s version of intense cold. As I walked three blocks from car to destination (small office rented on short-term lease — heated, with wi-fi and no distractions), the experience became more and more focused on the simple idea of arriving, the relief of stepping inside, my thoughts narrowing around the quiet internal chant I want to be there, I want to be there. A lone jogger passed me as I rounded a corner onto the final block-long leg of the trip, feet hitting snowy pavement and breath loud in the quiet air.

It’s the second day of an arctic air cold-wave. The panic-mongers in the weather biz have been warning that tonight and tomorrow night will be even colder. Swell. In the meantime, I get to enjoy a day of intense January sunshine, sky clear, golden light slanting in the windows of the house’s south-facing side. Light so intense it has a warming effect even on a day like this, high temperatures in the neighborhood of 0°F/-18°C.

Sunshine. No falling snow. Music filling the living space from the living room stereo. Good food to hoover down, whot tea to sip. Warm clothing, a stove down in the basement cranking out heat.

I’ll deal with the cold when I have to. But not right now.

On with the day.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mid-winter, northern Vermont:

España, te echo de menos

[continued from previous entry]

Being met at the door by two humans happy to see me, two kitties lurking in the background, checking out me, the intruder. (A strange aspect of staying with G. & S.: two cats who don’t really like physical contact with humans, a quality that torpedoes one of the big joy factors for me with cats — stroking, rubbing, cuddling, purring, etc.). Entering a comfortable, friendly space, dumping travel bags into a small room reserved just for me. Chatting, catching up, enjoying wan sunlight extending in through tall windows. Body gradually slowing down after 3+ hours of driving down interstates at excessively high velocity.

Cranking up my laptop at some point, slipping into wireless freedom and enjoying it to a degree that would be difficult to express without sounding like a dope. That simple, basic freedom of being able to plug into the web from anywhere in a living space — it’s not a part of my situation in Vermont, at least at the house, the only two available options being dial-up and satellite. Dial-up? We won’t go there. Satellite? Better than dial-up, but not true high-speed — not even close — and it will not cooperate with a router. (All kinds of attempts have been made, even calling in professional geeks. Final result: throwing in the towel.) That sudden, nearly limitless freedom blended with the deep relaxation from being where I was felt better than I could mold into words without sounding like a dope.

I had on the deep winter version of north country duds: warm clothing over a layer of thermals. What I’m accustomed to pulling on when the cold season really takes hold in Vermont, dressing that way until winter weather slowly starts loosening its grip months later. G. & S. live in the kind of classic urban flat where the building is joyously overheated, radiators enthusiastically pumping out a kind of warmth that my bod had not experienced since summertime, was simply not prepared for. I made small adjustments, my teeny brain not absorbing the change in environmental reality until I got that opening shirt, rolling up sleeves were only forcing my sweat glands to go online in an attempt to cool the system. At some point I realized there was no need to struggle, that I’d been freed from north country winter, so pulled off thermals, tossed them aside. And the relaxation process shifted into a much deeper mode. I found myself feeling content like I would be hard-pressed to describe without sounding like, er, a dope.

A workaround re: the no-physical-contact thing with the cats: getting them happy with a laser pointer. G.&S. keep a hefty two-battery pointer in a kitchen drawer, from the cats’ reaction I’m the only one who ever gets it out — they hear the sound of the drawer opening, they wander in, attention piqued. I aim, a dot of red light appears on the floor near them, beginning round after round of wholesome fun. The more standoffish of the two never seems to tire of chasing that elusive dot and now appears to associate my arrival at the flat with bouts of playtime ecstasy. I try not to disappoint.

So. Hanging out with G.&S., catching up, and the occasional fun of tormenting entertaining kitties. Followed by a late-afternoon drive to Christmas dinner, a major affair at the home of friends of G.&S. Friends who are apparently gourmet cooks. All activity centered around the kitchen, bowls and platters of finger-food and entrees food piling up, food prep. happening all around. The air alive with conversations and aromas, glasses of wine being poured, the number of attendees steadily growing (overwhelmingly female). We arrived close to 4 p.m. — when dinner commenced just after 6, at least 14 people squeezed in around a table slathered with all kinds of stupendous-looking chow.

The house was located in Newton, a sprawling Boston ‘burb. One of the local subway lines — in this case above-ground — ran through the neighborhood, the tracks up on a long berm. The ‘hood was surprisingly green, or would be green in the warm season, making the silhouette of the berm less intrusive than it might otherwise be. When a train passed, it slipped quickly by, gone almost before it registered. From inside the house it sounded like distant wind, the black shape of the train appearing and disappearing, leaving the dark form of the berm visible through bare branches, the deepening blue of the early evening sky above it. Reminded me of life near the El in Queens, N.Y., (where my time in this clownshow we call life got underway) — a sound that came and went throughout the day, providing a kind of romantic urban soundtrack (long as you didn’t have to live right next to it).

[continued in entry of January 23]

España, te echo de menos

[continued from previous entry]

A week later, the 30th of December, me sitting where I am as I write this. In the middle of an afternoon of work. Typing away one moment, laptop gone dead the next. Dead the way the car battery went dead, only deader. Screen dark, nothing producing signs of life. Dead.

Called the shop where I’d purchased it 2-1/2 years earlier, gave them the picture. Their response: bring the bugger in. Half an hour later, I stepped into the store, handed over the recently deceased for a fast post-mortem. Tests confirmed death (motherboard). Prognosis: since the body would have to be shipped back to the company for repairs, I was looking at anywhere from several days to two weeks of life without laptop. Not acceptable, said I. So we discussed alternatives, talked about what would have to be done to produce a loaner I could use. Until, between cost and the age of the deceased, it began to look like pulling out plastic, buying a replacement, proceeding with repairs to the old unit and then selling it on consignment might be the best alternative. They had one laptop in stock that would work, at a decent price. I went for it.

And as cold December darkness fell, I found myself paying a bunch of shekels, arranging for data transfer from old hard drive to new to happen the next morning. By lunchtime on New Year’s Eve day, I had a new, stronger, faster machine, and life went on.

Once again, this all happened far enough in advance of a holiday weekend, with all the right elements falling into place, that problem led to resolution quickly, with minimal disruption. Leaving me feeling taken care of.

In between those two episodes: Christmas, the long weekend spent staying with friends. One of the easiest, most relaxed Christmas holidays I’ve had in… a while. Centuries, if not eons.

Traveling had originally been planned to happen on the afternoon of Christmas Eve day, as that time slipped closer, the timing of it began to feel bad. Weather not so travel-friendly, too many things to take care of here, me and my adorable bod tired, wanting extra time before making a shlep of 3+ hours.

Made the trip early Christmas morning, instead. The interstate stretched south from Montpelier, stretches of it frozen, snow sloppy, combining with a mischievous gusts of frigid wind to produce some scary thrills. But little traffic, some of the easiest driving I’ve ever done to the Boston area. Bringing me to Cambridge, Mass. quickly, ending trip by easing car into a parking spot across the street from friends’ apartment building, an almost unheard of event. Settling in, spending Christmas morning/midday with two of the people I enjoy most in this world.

Peace, tranquility — urban holiday version

[continued in next entry]

España, te echo de menos

Two weeks ago, December 22. Snow blowing outside, daytime temperature around 5F/-15C.

I go out to start the car, it turns over slowly, weakens, gives up. The first time the battery in this nearly-ten-year-old Subaru has ever caused a problem A phone call brings AAA, one jump-start later I drive into town, do errands that need to be done. Make the trip home that evening during serious snowfall, turn in to the road that comes up this hill. I see a car partway up the incline, lights on, sitting in the middle of the road, not moving. One of my neighbors, turns out — his car can’t work up the traction to make the drive up. I offer a push, he declines, decides to park down by the two-lane. Meaning we both have to back down the road. I go — slowly, weaving slowly across the narrow road, darkness and falling snow making it hard to see. Partway along, my car goes dead. I roll the rest of the way down, neighbor pulls up alongside, gives me jump #2.

Next morning, I try to crank the engine — nothing doing. And when I say nothing, I mean exactly that. Another call to AAA, then a call to the dealership to warn them I’m coming. One jump-start later, I’m on the way into town. At the dealership, I leave the car running so they won’t have to deal with jump #4. Have a conversation in the waiting area with an older, semi-toothless gent who, it turns out, speaks Spanish. Has traveled and lived in South America, had a South American wife. We blab in Spanish until I get a ride into town for the time my car’s being tinkered with. Go to gym, get sweaty. Return to dealership to find car waiting, new battery installed, happy and youthful again.

Now that may all sound like one long pain in the hinder, but I look at this way: I was set to drive down to the Boston area on the 24th, to spend Christmas weekend with friends. Instead of battery death happening during any of that — when it would have caused far more trouble, been a much uglier headache — the battery began giving up the ghost two days beforehand, providing time to fix problem, leaving me with a happy, dependable vehicle for Christmas.

I call that being taken care of.

[continued in following entry]

España, te echo de menos

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