Monday, March 29, 2010

In memoriam

I once asked my mom what it was like to have been born in 1918. “Well,” she replied, “I’ve seen a lot of things.” Indeed. From the first airplanes to jets, then spaceships and a man on the moon. From the earliest radios to satellite TV. From silent films to great, sweeping blockbusters. From cash registers to computers. From crank phones to cell phones. From wood burning stoves to microwaves. From hand turned wringer washing machines to just-turn-the-dial-and-pull-the-knob models. From the old Model A which was her first car to the spiffy new Rambler station wagon that carried her and her children across the country and back again in 1963. (Without air conditioning, we kids always like to remember.) From wars with promises of “Never again” to wars which promise to never end. From women nearly always in dresses but occasionally in pants to women nearly always in pants but occasionally in dresses. Through every hair, clothing and cosmetics fashion one can imagine.

In grade school, my mother was taught that correct spelling, neat penmanship and an expansive vocabulary were critical to being successful in the world. In my lifetime, I never knew her to misspell a word, and I could never, ever beat her in Scrabble, even in her 80’s and I with the seeming advantage of a master’s degree in literature, she with the G.E.D. she finally earned some years after dropping out of high school.

Yeah, don’t let the lack of education fool you. Mom was smart, savvy, and pragmatic in her approach to business. She was a disadvantaged widow when my father died, but she worked hard and invested wisely, and by the time she entered retirement she could do so comfortably and could even afford to travel a bit.

There was nothing she liked better than reading.

In recent weeks, when I would call, I would ask, “What are you up to?” and she would respond, “I’m reading a book.” I think she decided months ago, when my brother passed away, that she would simply sit in her recliner and read until she too passed over. Which is basically what she did.

Mom’s life was never easy. But she rose to every challenge with fortitude and determination. She was a feminist before feminists were called such, and she nearly always managed to wrestle life around to agree to her terms. We rarely shared the same point of view, but she provided a model of strength and tenacity that I will always follow.

Mom, I miss you already.

Arta Ernestine “Pat” West
August 7, 1918 – March 24, 2010

Saturday, March 13, 2010

One last walk in snowfall

We had a storm last week on Saturday. In the morning, I made a fire, did some chores, then waited for the snow to come. I wanted to do something I haven’t been able to do all winter—take a walk in the snowfall.

This winter, most of our snow has been at night, or when the snow has fallen during the day, I’ve been at work. Finally, a Saturday storm, and I was ready.

The sky continued to darken throughout the day, and at 2:00 the first fat flakes drifted down. I donned my waterproof pants and jacket, pulled on my snow boots, and went outside. By that time, the snow was falling rapidly, tiny flakes skimming down. (Think of a steady downpour only with ice crystals this size * instead of rain drops.) I walked two cabins up to Rob’s house, then stood on the edge of the canyon. When a storm rolls in, we are usually so enveloped in cloud that visibility is less than fifty feet. But this was the vanguard of the true storm, so I could still see all the way across the canyon. Imagine that little snow crystal—times a million—falling from the sky into the canyon. As I watched, the clouds above parted slightly, and the sun squinted through the gap briefly—just long enough for its light to refract off those millions of tiny crystals, creating a dazzling display so bright my Transitions® couldn’t darken fast enough. Makes one understand the meaning of “awe-struck.”

I continued my walk up the road, around Cabin #43, and up to the waterfall, slipping and sliding my way along on the snow from past storms. I stood for awhile, watching the falls thunder over the side and down through a hole in the accumulated snow at the bottom. Magnificent.

‘Well,’ I thought, ‘it’s getting cold. I should probably go back.’ I turned to find that the advancing army of clouds had made its way up the mountain. Behind me on the road, visibility was down to about thirty feet.

No worries. I’ve walked to the falls and back so many times in three years, I could do it in the dark. (And I have, now that I think of it.)

I started back… but was lured off course by a snow covered trail. A fire road leads up to the falls and then makes a hairpin turn, winding up toward the top of the ski lift. In January, snow drifts from the five-day storms had completely covered the road, except for a single-track trail through the snow. I began to walk up it, the snow still falling heavily on the hood of my jacket. It’s easy to see, in these conditions, how people become lost in snowstorms. The ground all around is white. The air is white. The trail becomes obliterated…. I stopped. The clouds shifted, and for a brief moment I could see down to the valley, dark clouds hanging ominously over Upland and beyond. I breathed in the hushed silence—until thunder boomed overhead. Time to go.

The next day, I walked back to the same spot where I’d stood to view the valley, and I took the snapshot that accompanies this post.

I tell myself that when I no longer live here, I will still come up to walk on snowy days. The truth is, my intentions will probably get swallowed up in household chores, writing deadlines, and social obligations. And even if I did make it up the mountain, would the timing ever be the same again? At this point, that walk in the snowfall, the glimpse of millions of falling crystals reflecting the sun’s fire, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget.