Archive | December 2015

Snowed In and Loving It

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Sunrise this lengthening-day morning brought a beautiful view full of new snow. Last night as it still fell, Tom our UPS man called to say he’d left a package at the top of the driveway. I tried to push the Honda through but only made it about fifteen feet before backing up to my dry parking spot and waiting til morning. Once the sun was up and the air had warmed a bit, I bundled my snot-nosed coughing self up warmly and strapped on snowshoes to go get the package. I knew what it was, and it was essential.

Topaz, whose new nickname is Toto, ate so much cat food at one time yesterday that she threw up and had to take a nap.

Topaz, whose new nickname is Toto, ate so much cat food at one time yesterday that she threw up and had to take a nap.

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Why doesn’t the grocery store sell kitten chow in the big bags? I can get it so much cheaper in a 14-pound bag from Amazon, and usually it’s delivered right to the door. If Tom had only come a few hours sooner he could have made it down the driveway! As it happened, I didn’t want him to even try. Christmas week and he was already hours late. Driving must have been harrowing for him all day. The cat food Deborah had donated to tide us over must be far more tasty than the kitten chow; the kittens ate two cups in one day between them, twice as much as usual, and were mewling for more. I had to get them back on track, and I didn’t want any more puking.

So I headed up the driveway. The snow was just deep enough to make it slow with boots alone and tedious with snowshoes, so I kicked those off just beyond the first gate. Just past the skunk culvert where the fence begins I considered turning back, just waiting awhile, in case Cynthia decided to make tracks with her Subaru or Fred came to plow. But I continued: it was so beautiful out, the kittens needed their proper food, and I knew this would be the dogs’ only chance today for a walk; also, I don’t like to presume when or if my kindest of neighbors will come with his tractor and plow.

Ojo protecting his first ever snowball.

                                                    Ojo protecting his first ever snowball.

Fred and Mary's cat, Benito, the runt of the litter now bigger than any of them, and still with the bluest eyes, perched atop their fridge the other day.

Fred and Mary’s cat, Benito, the runt of the litter now bigger than any of them, and still with the bluest eyes, perched atop their fridge the other day.

I love being snowed in. There’s a peace that doesn’t come any other time. Silent snow, secret snow. True solitude. I am cocooned in the warmth of my house with all the potential of the day ahead. My creative juices can flow, wander from one project to another, without external distraction. No one will come. Keeping essential paths shoveled takes time and energy, but gets me outside occasionally to appreciate the beauty of the place I have chosen to live. Shovel slowly, stop often, breathe deeply and look around. I become more grounded in this place when I can’t get out.

Away from here for a month I was a mess. I didn’t recognize myself, in constant fight, flight, or freeze. I realized sometime before I headed home that this journey was a crucial bardo: I had either to recommit whole-heartedly to the challenging rural life I have chosen, or I had to come up with a big change of plan. I haven’t decided which yet, but in the two weeks I’ve been home, the fear and anxiety have receded, leaving a calm gratitude in their place.

In that moment this morning when I considered turning back, I realized there was no hurry. Enjoy. This is the life I chose, these the burdens and the pleasures. The physical exertions that make living here hard seem nothing now compared to the mental anguish I suffer in or near a city. The hike up the driveway and back took almost an hour, pausing now and then to enjoy the view, sunlight slanting through white clouds southeast, a dark shelf of weather in the western sky, Grand Mesa sparkling to the north, unbroken white fields; juniper boughs heavy with puffs of snow, slipping off in shimmering showers, sometimes saddling Stellar with white as he runs beneath the trees. Nine-year-old Raven bouncing through the snow like a puppy, racing, scooting, kicking up powder. I carried the 14-pound bag of kitten chow in a tote over my shoulder, switching shoulders and pole hand often. Just as I reached the door and dropped the snowshoes, the tote bag, the pole, I heard the tell-tale putt-putt of Fred’s tractor in the distance.

I’ll pretend I’m still snowed in. I’ll sit by the woodstove and tend the small fire and read, write, sip hot tea. I’ll wallow in the gratitude I feel for the comfort and security of a community that supports me, through neighborly aide (of so many sorts) and convivial ritual, with friendship and love, in this spectacular place we have all chosen.

Solstice bonfire Sunday night at the Bad Dog Ranch. A beautifully constructed pyre that didn't catch right away. Some called for gasoline; I'd have had to get in their way if they tried. All it needed was patience, a little TLC, and it took off magnificently.

Solstice bonfire Sunday night at the Bad Dog Ranch. A beautifully constructed pyre that didn’t catch right away. Some called for gasoline; I’d have had to get in their way if they tried. All it needed was patience, a little TLC, and it took off magnificently.

Many of our winter rituals could happen anywhere, I suppose. Only here under wide-open skies could the season’s turning be marked with a fire like this one. We all stood looking up and marveled during those magical moments when sparks were shooting up through down-coming snowflakes. Up, down, hot, cold, light, dark. Altogether, life.

Tenderly tended, the fire slowly died in the bottom of the stock pond. Our boots were covered in slick grey mud by the end of the evening, our bellies full of nog and ham biscuits, our hearts bathed in light.

Tenderly tended, the fire slowly died in the bottom of the snow-filled stock pond. Our boots were covered in slick grey mud by the end of the evening, our bellies full of nog and ham biscuits, our hearts bathed in light.

 

Puzzling

 

The daily ritual rumcokes in classic insulated plastic cups.

The ritual lunchtime rumcokes in classic insulated plastic glasses.

The Tuesday after the West Virginia Incident, I arrive at Auntie’s apartment just in time for a rumcoke. The only midday drink I allow myself is the ritual lunchtime rumcoke with Auntie (with a teaspoon of lime juice; yes, it’s a cuba libre but we call it rumcoke). It sets the pace for the remainder of the day, demarcates the functional morning from the restful afternoon. There will be no going out, no exertion, no stress for the rest of the day. And after that comes the welcome relief of the evening cocktail. We are even more relaxed. Still, it takes me a few days to let go of the jitters I carried with me the whole trip.

The third night she says, You’ve visibly relaxed since you started puzzling.

Visibly?

I realize she’s right. Since I turned my frantic mind to the first wooden jigsaw puzzle the afternoon before, its writhing thrashing threads have calmed noticeably with my deepening absorption in the second puzzle.

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I found an aged cardboard box when I finally went through the last of the Colonel’s papers a few weeks before I left: small, sturdy, dirty ivory color, Pastime Puzzle in green on top, Parker Brothers address and logo. Inside the lid a label:

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1931. Auntie and I puzzle over whose it might have been. The Colonel would have been twelve. Maybe it belonged to his mother, or one of the aunts. Or maybe it was a puzzle my father did when he was still a sweet smart little boy. The puzzle takes us all afternoon, just 80 pieces. It’s more complicated than it first appears.

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I’m still jumpy when we finish it, and after letting it rest a few hours while we appreciate it some more, she puts it apart and back in the box, and I pull out a new Liberty puzzle from the cupboard where she’s had it waiting for my arrival. The first night I beat her twice at cribbage. We don’t get another chance to play once we start puzzling together. It’s a different kind of fun. Just being together, our minds on the same game, we are easy, happy.

Working the same puzzle again today, warmth of the woodstove at my back, insulating fog blurring snow-dusted junipers, fences, gates outside, sun-powered light overhead, again I feel the demons releasing my brain as I turn my mind to more details in the image: how the thin triangle of sidewalk adjoins the woman’s feet, there is a small piece of chimney down by her skirt, how the roof line meets trees on both sides of the chimney, how the roses grow, which way the light glows in the windows, how the pieces are delineated.

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Many visual elements of this puzzle were outlined with a jig saw wielded by the man called 37. Each of these puzzles was individually cut by a person (with a number) with a jigsaw, probably an early electric one. This adds another perspective on this little random leftover creation. #37 looked closely at the shapes and colors, the structure of the image, and cut accordingly. This makes fitting many of the pieces even more challenging, the chimney and the woman in blue most obviously, but the second time around, when I’m halfway through and stymied, I see that much of the puzzle is cut this way, with distinct boundaries in the image (sidewalk to grass, roof to wall) cleanly sliced. Well, jiggily sliced. You can almost retrace #37’s steps with the saw: first he cut it in half… With this deeper understanding the second time around, I finish the puzzle in just over an hour.

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So I’m home again, like the woman in blue at her cottage. Though my garden sleeps today under snow, the day I arrived home it looked as though I’d never left. The same few patches of snow on the ground, the same soft green things still green, partridge feather, lamb’s ears, powis castle sage, sagebrush, iris leaves. Wait, iris leaves still up and green in December? The deer in the yard. In the house, the kittens have been so well cared for that they hold no grudge at my return after my long absence. They look just a little askance at us for a few minutes before crawling up with me on the futon, prancing about, flopping down on the kitchen floor, waiting for their afternoon food. They are bigger, to be sure, a month older in a fast growing year, but still sleek and happy and full of wit. The houseplants, the orchids, all thrive.

Inside and out, the house seems the same. Elsewhere in the world, terrible changes continue in unsuspecting lives. I also am changed by the challenging journey I’ve just completed, but I’m not sure yet how. I left November seventh, not ready; perhaps it was an inauspicious day. With the Mothership now unloaded and most of my physical baggage stowed where it belongs, I continue to unpack my travels and travails, mulling over blessings and tribulations, fear, love, confidence, and mental stability, natural beauty and human nature. When these reflections overwhelm me, I’ll pull out one of my Liberty puzzles to untangle my mind.

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