Silence is White

It took a while, but I realized what is so very different about this snowy world of white. It is the silence. There is the occasional sound of wind clacking the bare branches of the naked trees, or rounding the corner of the house. There is the occasional sound of snow sliding off the old slate roof.

But the landscape, the snowscape, now over two feet of fluffy white, is completely silent. There are no birds. Even the deer come in the night silently looking for food leaving footprints but making no noise.

Where I live the landscape is always noisy, the birds are constant, the frogs croak. And of course there are cars, sirens, trucks and people. Here, there are no cars, no sirens, no trucks, no birds, no frogs, no people. It is like living in a photograph, beautiful, still and silent.

I grew up in New York City and noise is always familiar to me. When my mother first came to this place I was afraid of the night. It was so dark and so silent and so foreign. Even in the more rural places I have lived there has always been noise, especially birds, sometimes cars and other evidence of human habitation. Less often, light. Here it feels like total isolation. Of course you can get in your car and “go into town”. But in this snowy winter, I have no place to go.

Oddly, the lack of ambient light allows me a glorious look at the night sky, filled with stars. It is rare to be where there is no light pollution, so I look for the beauty in my photograph life and in the snowy isolation. And I have learned that silence, at least for now, is white.

Skeleton Dances

Snow, Night, Moon, Cold, Winter, Trees, Landscape

The moon was so bright over the untouched snowscape that I thought I had left a light on downstairs to reflect out. I was half asleep at midnight and it took a moment to turn and look out the window in the other direction and there was the bright moon. The bare trees cast stark and beautiful shadows like skeleton dancers in the night.

The angle of rise of the moon was just right at that moment and it was captured perfectly in my mind. Later the skeletons were gone as the moon evolved and the dance was over.

The winter weather has its own majesty when you are out of the urban or suburban sprawl. Here on this rural New England hilltop there is nothing but us and snow and the skeleton trees. The morning shows us the footprints of our night visitors, raccoons and small wild cats perhaps.

This bitter weather confines all but the hardiest souls, like being in a hurricane or other outdoor disaster. You know it is bigger than yourself and that you are powerless in its wake except now perhaps with a shovel. In the presence of illness we are imprisoned here, hunkered down and warm enough.

The snowfield is beautiful both day and night in different ways. The brilliant moon reflects on the icy crust which glitters like diamonds in the moonglow. The sun brings a different kind of shine. But the sun is a rare thing, only occasionally breaking the shroud like grey of every winter day, giving the illusion of warmth on a 1° morning.

The windows give me a view of the world outside where there are none of the familiar sights, just gleaming white. The inner world is a bit like the trees at night – skeleton dances.

Small Change

There is a certain beauty in small changes. When we think of change we often think of the great changes of habit or behavior; dieting, quitting smoking, stopping buying too much on Amazon. But life is full of the opportunity for small changes. And they can be very satisfying.

During this pandemic time, I looked around my house and thought about what I had been wanting to change. What I could afford to do. I didn’t know at the beginning how long I would be mostly restricted to my home.

The walls, I was tired of the beigeness, the tan. The entire interior common spaces of my home are connected so changing the walls is a big job. I had previously painted the bedrooms and bathrooms; but now the sheer size of the job was intimidating. And then I said to myself “self, you don’t have to do it all at once.” There’s an epiphany.

And so, I vowed to do only what I could at any one time. At first I thought a wall at a time, but it became clear that I could do a room at a time. Enlisting the help of my tall son to paint above tall kitchen cabinets for instance, I finished the entire house.

Starting is the hard part. But then watching the color change, section by section, is inspiring and wonderful. The satisfaction of completing a room is visceral for me, I love my home. Once you start it is easy to keep going, swish of brush, smush of roller and stroke by stroke change happens.

As part of the process I overcame my fear of the tall ladder (I have tall ceilings), learned the limits of my shoulders and didn’t spill any paint on rugs or valuables.

Small changes. I re-covered my dining room chairs with something colorful and far less formal. I hung curtains where there were vertical blinds (ask me about the very cool hack.)

And then I started on organizing, making small changes in closets and drawers and cabinets; projects I have put off forever. And in the process have donated bags and bags of things I don’t need but others might be able to use.

And then I thought about my habits, my routines. I started yoga online maybe three times a week. I started piano lessons twice a month. I added regular zoom contact with people I love and respect. I made a few financial changes to make life a little simpler. I bought a lawnmower.

The ultimate beauty of small changes is that they add up to something important. A beautiful and satisfying home, new routines, doing good for the community, the possibilities are pretty endless. So don’t think that small changes are small change, they add up, they matter.

Tupac and the Foo Fighters

As I go about my daily tasks, or turn on the television, I often wonder at the extent to which the music of my youth, my life, has become the soundtrack of commercials and elevators. I think I have written about this before but currently there is a whole crop of commercials that is using music that informed my younger days.

Of course every generation has a catalogue of music that is defining for them. Now we, the baby boomers, are the target audience for so many things because the world of big business assumes that we are the ones with the money. So it makes sense to use the music that speaks to us but it is still weird to hear it bastardized and monetized in a these ways.

I went to see the movie All Eyez on Me several years back; a biopic about Tupac Shakur. I went alone, as I often do. I found it interesting as a musician as I did not know all that much about the history of rap and the east-west competition with Big. I did not know that Tupac was an extraordinary musical engineer, doing his own mixes and orchestrating all of his stuff himself. That is big talent in my book.

Most startling about this experience was how many people were astounded that I went to see the movie at all. I am a sixty something white woman and apparently I didn’t fit the stereotype of who should go see, let alone enjoy, this movie. While the movie may not have been the best or most accurate, it was an interesting window into a subculture and a form of music that I was not all that familiar with.

My best friend is a lover of punky stuff. And while we feel the same way about music, and find some intersections, generally we do not listen to the same kind of music. She was talking music with her granddaughter who was amazed that my friend wanted to see the Foo Fighters in person. What? Grandma wants to see the Foo Fighters?

Her grandma is definitely not my grandma. Old is not as old as it used to be. But my grandma taught me the single most important of my life – never judge a book (person) by its cover. This is what she lived by, and how we all should live; rappers, punkers, folkies, classical audiophiles and jazz lovers all walking hand in hand. Sam Cooke got it right: what a wonderful world that would be.

Sorry Enough?

It is that season. The Jewish New Year. I love the cycle of the holidays, from S’lichot to Simchat Torah. It is a journey forward and a journey back. And this is a very personal journey, not one to be taken on social media. Blanket apologies, as I have often said, are not really apologies.

We move forward in repentance, in forgiveness and in self analysis and reflection. This month of Elul that brings us forward to ourselves is a special time. We each have our own way of taking stock, inventory, of our lives and our behavior. In this, we journey back over the past year. Could we have done better, have we hurt anyone, do we need to say we are sorry? And being human, we could always have done better, there is always something, or someone to whom we owe a debt, an apology.

But this journey back brings us forward, it brings us to our better selves, to our better lives. We go forward into the new year renewed in our repentance, in our desire and intention to live with even more integrity and charity.

For me, this process also brings me closer to those who have walked the path of this journey before me. I particularly remember my grandmother, my aunt and uncle and those whose ashes I trod at the camps. This ritual of self improvement is inspired by them and how they lived and died. I feel this most deeply on Yom Kippur when all worldly pursuits are set aside and the day is intended for prayer, meditation, remembrance and repentance.

The beautiful thing is that we are brought, at the  last, to forgiveness. It is in forgiveness that we can truly move forward. And having taken stock, made our amends, repented and been forgiven. As we hear the last blast of the shofar, we are called to take all that we have contemplated and be moved to action.  And then we dance, with the Torah, with each other, with God. Finally, on to action-action to repair our lives, repair our hearts, repair our world.

Shanah Tovah U’metekah – A sweet and wonderful new year.