With a Snap of the Fingers

It is like a small miracle, you are ice and snowbound and you wake up one morning and the white is gone. It is as if God snapped her fingers and it is spring. It may be forty five degrees but nevertheless it is spring.

The bears are coming out of hibernation, the deer can find at least the dead grass to feed on, dormant insects are alive and the birds are chirping. The silent landscape of winter is now stirring, awakening, stretching. And with it’s sounds is letting us know it is time for us as well to sit up, to look around, to be aware of the waking world.

Where I live normally, the emergence of spring is a bit less obvious, the grass just barely begins to green, you start to sneeze because new leaves are starting, the flowers of summer are just beginning to form their buds. Soon the frog choir will begin as the rains come. And then in a moment it is full summer.

But here in New England, the nascent signs of spring are more obvious and at the same time more subtle. The march from winter to summer is a longer and slower process. But because it is slow it allows time for observation and consciousness of each baby step along the way.

What will be the first thing to bloom? The crocus – they usually come through the snow. The daffodils with their supremely cheerful yellow reminding us of the happy months to come? The lawn will slowly green as each flower presents itself for our admiration. Finally the star magnolia under which our pets are buried will burst into full bloom, a magnificent orb of white.

Indeed the progression of the seasons is something I miss living in the south. I don’t miss the cold and snow except in passing moments but this lovely unfolding of the reawakening of the earth is a visceral reminder of the passage of time. Each trip around the sun is something to be savored, observed, remarked, written about and remembered. And then you move on.

And with a snap of God’s fingers it is spring.

The Dying of the Light

For two months I watched the light die. Increasing confusion and memory loss became the shutters slowly closing over the remarkable woman that was my mother.

We did not have the traditional mother-daughter intimacy that seems to be the referent for many woman. We are both complicated, perhaps more so as time has gone on.

As a child I wrote her, mostly from camp or from a summer stay in Florida with my grandmother, innocent lovey letters. Sometimes funny, sometimes angry but almost always lovey. Remarkably she saved them all.

As a young adult I wrote her long newsy and personal letters about my life at the time, husbands, school, work, money. Later in life I stopped writing at all for a time, holding my personal life close as she wanted to know and use any bit of information she could come by. I was astonished to learn of her correspondences with past husbands, boyfriends and their relations long after those relationships had ended. She never let anyone go willingly until she decided it was time.

During this last phase of our relationship I mostly emailed as she could not hear on the phone unless she really wanted to. And there was very little intimate shared as she chose to hear everything as she wished it or thought it to be. And she had no boundaries about sharing what she was told with anyone and everyone.

But remarkably, during her last protracted illness, I spent weeks with her. The longest alone time we had ever spent together in my adult life, and unusually, there were very few arguments. Perhaps she knew this was our last and most precious time together, maybe I have grown up enough to let her confabulations pass. How she remembered something, or told it – it no longer mattered if it was true.

During this time we just lived, in mostly a single room, in companionable silence. Sometimes working on some project she had in mind, other times just watching the news or having a meal. She always had a project in mind, something to do next even as she knew her time was drawing to a close.

Letting go of my mother involves letting go of this also extraordinary place where she lived for over fifty years. This house, and her presence in it, became the touchstone, the lodestar, the place to return to. It is a beautiful place and a strange house full of art and books and weird found objects.

My mother found beauty in rescued birds nests, found bleached animal bones, robins eggs and a million other things. Her artist’s eye was unique. Her flower gardens, blooming from season to season were a labor of decades of love, now starting to overgrow with weeds. She never used pesticides or poisons, she shared her blueberries with the bears and her apples with the deer and raccoons, the peaches with some creature or other. My mother, never really at peace, lived in complete harmony with the natural world around her.

As we begin to remove things from the space where she and I spent her last days it feels like erasure. And then I start on the photographs and she is brilliantly brought into focus as are the stages of the building of the house.

We were not close in any traditional way but I miss my mom and I will miss this place. We had our time, hers is done, my road goes forward.

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.