far too much writing, far too many photos

I found myself awake in the early hours two nights ago. Awake and feeling like I might not be returning to sleep for an hour or two. The world outside dark and quiet, the only sound in the house the periodic rumble of the furnace.

Turned on the bedside light, picked up a book I’ve been plowing through. A goofy story I wasn’t sure about at first, until it found its feet and the narrator’s voice became reliably funny, the story interesting enough to hold my interest.

That story took an unexpected turn around halfway through, slipping into a darker tone as the protagonist dealt with the death of her father and the effect that life change had on the rest of her family. All of it somber, heavy, difficult. Which got me thinking about the version of that passage I went through.

They had me late in life, the ‘rents, so they were on in years when I arrived. I never knew the old man when he didn’t have white hair. And in some ways it feels like I never really knew him well at all.

With that last sentence, I pause to consider how I want to dig into this — because it’s too easy to slip into facile blather when talking about people. We spend so much time pegging others, cramming them into pigeonholes, reducing them to easy labels — which is how we’re mostly trained to process our experience of people: find easy labels, classify ‘em, and treat ‘em according to our learned attitudes about those character qualities or types. And those learned ‘tudes can run deep. Add to that our learned reactions to perceived behaviors, then add to that the potent emotions involved with blood ties and you’ve got a formula for hilarious fun.

So where was I? Ah, right — I was about to type, classify and pigeonhole my father.

[this entry in progress]

España, te echo de menos

Yesterday morning: left the house early once again, pulling out of the garage a few minutes past six. Sky clear and cloudless, light just beginning to gather along the ridges across the valley, a fat crescent moon hanging low in the southern sky. Me taking the pleasures I can from being up at that hour, from finding myself in deep north country winter — crisp air, snow cover thinner (thanks to recent weather that massaged the temperature up above the freezing mark for a few days), hours of light expanding steadily. That last bit is the one that brings the most pleasure — there was a time when I loved the darkness of winter, the turning inward of life. Not the case right now, something that may be another example of Madrid’s impact on me. There, during the year’s darkest days, daylight lingers in the sky until 6 p.m. As opposed to the dishearteningly early hour (4 to 4:30 p.m.) that nighttime takes hold here in December.

The sun hangs in the sky longer now, no longer sinking behind the trees at 3 p.m. Which means expanding hours of sunlight pouring in south-facing windows, at least on days of no overcast. Those brilliant, sunlit afternoons compensate for a lot.

Snowy days: driving along the winding two-lanes that points toward Montpelier, curling lines of snow on the pavement, like marbling, rising into the air when cars pass, becoming swirling sheets of white that slowly form lines again, drifting along asphalt then settling down until the next passing car rouses them.

During the milder days, rising temperatures cut into the ground cover, the air becoming thick with snowmelt mist, shrouding hills and fields, growing more dense with each passing hour. Turning gray days into something more mystical.

A good thing about all the changing conditions: they force my routines to change. Overnight storms sometimes keep me in the house in the mornings, the hike into town happens later in the day, I see different faces, shift around errands, gym, walks, work. I sometimes have a real tendency toward settling into patterns — being moved out of them is good for me.

Snowy weather moved again in last night, this morning’s daylight was the uniform, slowly swelling gray of overcast instead of the shifting brilliance of a sunrise. It’ll all pass. We’re now well into the second half of February, the holidays a distant memory. Valentine’s Day, Presidents Day, both gone. The brief thaw of last week had people talking about sap running, sugaring, all that. Someone mentioned that the price of maple syrup has taken a major leap this year. One more subject for small talk in town, along with changing weather and all the rest.

And the days slip past.

España, te echo de menos

A week ago — almost exactly seven days ago to the minute — as I sat where I am right now doing the keyboard equivalent of scribbling out text, I noticed something moving from the corner of my eye. A quick glance out the window at snow-covered yard awash in cold, late afternoon sunshine. What I saw: a lynx. Like a scrappy-looking, tailless, overgrown housecat — pale brown fur, tufted ears. Moving across the snow with surprising ease — surprising considering the snow lay two to two and a half feet deep — leaving shallow tracks. Came out of the windbreak of trees and lilac bushes that cluster off this end of the house, walked most of the way down the building, then veered over to jump to a shoveled path, down the driveway, across the road. Leaped up the embankment of plowed snow on the far side of the road and disappeared uphill through the trees.

Sightings and encounters with wildlife are common here. Hawks, owls, grouse, wild turkeys. Skunks, foxes, deer, the occasional bear. Neighbors have seen coyotes, fisher cats, moose. Now and then one hears rumors of catamount sightings up in the mountains. But I’ve never heard anyone talk about spotting a lynx. They’re shy, they stay away from us and keep to their hunting territory. Could be the deep snow and the sustained intense cold made hunting hard and unproductive enough that there was no alternative to ranging out to more exposed places. The windbreak shelters lots of critters, would be a logical place for a predator to investigate.

Three days later, the temperature actually made it above freezing for a few hours, the day after that for even longer. Just those two days compacted the snow, produced the sound of snowmelt running through the house’s rain gutters. Yesterday, the temperature began to rise again. Roads that have been covered with snow for two months suddenly began showing gravel and dirt. The snow blanketing the armor-like sheet of ice that appeared on the driveway here in early December disappeared, leaving my own private slipping and skidding rink in its place. Strong sunshine poured down earlier today, turning ice to slush, then to soggy dirt. Local roads, now snow free, began turning to mud.

January brought no thaw, just relentless cold. This change is a joy, even with the sunshine turning to overcast and rain. (Rain!) A haze from the massive snowmelt hangs in the air, growing more dense as rain falls. All snow on the roof of the small barn across the yard has slid off, producing a snowbank that goes halfway up the building’s side.

The simple mention of the milder temperatures brings big smiles, sighs of relief from other folks. The north country deep winter thing gets oppressive and tiring. It gets one more narrowly focused, moving through the days one step at a time, one foot in front of the other.

A little let-up from all that is just fine with me.


Early February (pre-thaw):

España, te echo de menos

[continued from entry of January 23]

When I stay with G.&S., my temporary home is the small room that usually serves as G.’s work area. A teeny space, crowded with books and boxes and cat-related tchotchkes and a rocking chair and a small table or two and a strange photo of a guy with a goat (what is up with that?) and a desk with a computer/more books/photos/piles of mail, blahblahblah. Toss me and my bags into the mix, there’s not much room to do anything but crawl onto the bed. Which is basically what I do if I’m in there and not changing clothes: lay down and read, or lay down and crank up laptop (to enjoy wifi), or lay down and snooze. Limited options, but perfect for those looking to escape real life.

And. It’s not only my temporary home, they let me make a complete mess of that little room while I’m there (and say nothing about it). Which is what I did for my three-day visit: made a mess, a kind of mess I don’t create in my own bedroom, where the bed gets made every day and shirts/pants go on a clothes tree. I moved in, changed duds, turned the bed into my own personal lounging pit, settling into a relaxed, semi-slovenly, routineless routine. For three days. And the less productive I became, the happier I got. And the happier I got, the happier G.&S. seemed to get.

If I could figure out how to (a) re-create the essence of that amazing situation and make it permanent and then (b) figure out how to generate a pile of money doing it, I would be set for the rest of what passes for my little life.

After Christmas dinner: I found the book, amused the cats, chatted with G.&S., tossed myself into bed, read, passed out. Woke up in the early a.m., could feel I wouldn’t get back to sleep immediately. Cranked up the laptop, enjoyed joy-inducing wifi fun. Drifted back to sleep, didn’t come to until around 10 — the latest I’ve slept in months. And months. Since Madrid.

Wandered out of bedroom in black thermals, suffering from a major case of pillow hair. Found G.&S. up, eating, carrying on their morning quietly to allow pillow-haired guest to sleep. Ate breakfast, lounged about, ate more. Entertained cats, talked with G.&S. Ate more. At some point pulled on real clothes, did a field trip with G.&S. to the Museum of Fine Arts. Was prepared to pay the bloated entrance fee, but the sweet woman behind the ticket counter realized I was with museum members, pointed out they were entitled to bring a guest free. Lucky for her she was behind the counter or I might have thrown myself at her feet in a show of gratitude sure to embarrass everyone.

Hadn’t been at the MFA in a while. A few years at least. Saw the two resident Hopper paintings. Saw the new photography room. Watched people, enjoyed wandering with G.&S., enjoyed tasteful Christmas light displays. Ran into someone I hadn’t seen in years, a good person. Would not have recognized her if G.&S. hadn’t greeted her, saying her name. She recognized me, said hello, we exchanged hey-how-ya-doin’s, I was glad I hadn’t had to fish around for her name or fake knowing it or avoid the whole issue by not using her name during the encounter. Got museum’ed out, we bolted. Drove over to Central Square in Cambridge, an area that used to be infested with Indian Restaurants (to the point that it was rumored a central underground kitchen prepared all the food, sending it to individual eateries by pneumatic tubes). The restaurant I jonesed for was no longer there, we wound up at a joint G.&S. hadn’t been to before, found ourselves being subjected to a good-cop/bad-cop routine by the wait staff, one waiter clearly uninterested in exerting himself in any way to help us, a second waiter going out of his way to treat us with kindness, the two trading off, providing a strange, slightly surreal dining experience.

Back to the flat, S. turning on Law and Order SVU, the program turning out to be soapily overwrought. After a while I bailed, escaping to my cozy hideaway to read about spending a third of a year in Rome eating excellent Italian chow (a use of four months I could definitely get behind).

[this entry in progress]


February sunlight, northern Vermont:

España, te echo de menos

After last week’s sizable snowfall, the countryside here is buried under snow cover so deep that it must be making life real damn hard for local wildlife. Yesterday afternoon, I saw a wild turkey out in the middle of the ocean of snow on the hillside in front of the house, foraging among the few tips of dead vegetation that remain visible. Sparse pickings, the turkey looking cold and desperate.

Along one of the backroads that I sometimes drive for the trip back from Montpelier, there is a mobile home that looks to have been there a long, long time — planted amid trees, set back from the road a bit. The residents either plow or use a snow-blower in the yard around the house, leaving a wide swath of ground relatively flat, easy to walk on. Making it attractive to wildlife. It may be they also strew food around the yard — seeds, kitchen waste that might otherwise go into compost — because every time I go by I see a crowd of wild turkeys, anywhere from 10 to 20 of them.

Horses outside of barns often sport blankets. Three horses in the field at one farm provide a visual thermometer — in milder temperatures, they wear nothing and range about. The colder it is the closer they huddle together, covered with blankets, heads drooping.

I talked about this with someone at the gym, it brought us both to the same place: gratitude for the simplest, most basic things — shelter, heat, food. Running water, warm clothing. (Indoor plumbing!)

Just a shot of perspective on a cold day in early February.

España, te echo de menos

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