Thursday, March 24, 2011

Being here

I baked bread yesterday--a swirl of whole wheat wrapped in white, the wheat sweetened with molasses, the white with honey. I was writing in the afternoon--and watching a new storm come in. When I was finished writing, snow was falling heavily, but I donned waterproof gear and headed out the door, a loaf of bread tucked into my jacket. There is a trail cut in the snow that we've all been using to traverse the road, wide enough for one person. As I walked down the road, I encountered Neighbor Teresa and her two girls, with Neighbor Rob behind them, so I stepped off into the deep snow to let the girls pass. Rob, Teresa and I stood in heavy snowfall, chatting. Teresa was holding a bag of groceries in one hand, a bouquet of roses in the other (because she loves having fresh flowers in her cabin). As the three of us talked and laughed in the frosty air, the world was white around us, still covered in snow from the three feet that came down on Sunday. When Teresa headed on up to her cabin, Rob volunteered to continue my journey with me--down to the Walkers to deliver the bread. We chatted with Bob for awhile about the road, how much snow we’d get, whether anyone needed anything—things diverse neighbors talk about to avoid subjects like the situation in Libya or the potential for radiation in the falling snow (since I kept sticking my tongue out for tastes). Jean Walker called later to thank me profusely for the bread--it's what they ate for dinner, with jam. I love them and all my neighbors on the mountain.

Earlier in the day I’d gone out to bring in firewood, standing between my cabin and Eric’s, listening to the silence of a mountain covered in soft snow. After lunch, I headed up our road that winds along the edge of the deep canyon; the only sound was the stream below, wildly alive with the run-off from the waterfall.

I needed that walk, as I needed the moments of morning silence, the physical exertion of bringing in the wood, the visit with neighbors in the afternoon (including Rob’s gentle teasing: “If I don’t get my truck out and get down the mountain for groceries soon, I’m gonna be at your kitchen table saying, ‘Where’s the meat?!?’”).

I’ve been working on the dog book—the book I thought would be so easy to write. Pffttt. I loved those dogs! All I have to do is write their stories! Easy-peasy! I was so cavalier….

Writing the book has taken me back to a very dark time in my life. The first section of the book is about Rufus, a hero of a dog who saved my life physically… and emotionally. But in order to write about him, I’ve had to write about my wicked step-father. I’m sharing things in the book that are intensely private, things I’ve never shared with anyone before. And I’ve been wholly unprepared for how difficult it has been to re-visit those memories.


I am thankful that I am still here, still on the mountain, still able to walk out the door (well, after donning waterproof pants, snow boots, jacket and gloves) and be in the forest—to lean on a tree or stand and watch a junco or chickadee or jay head for the feeder in the backyard, to see the water tumbling over the rocks, shouting as it goes, to look for coonie prints in the snow. I need those moments of life and joy and innocence to balance the grief which—after forty years—still wells up, fresh as the tears that fall from my eyes.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Snow daze

A week ago Friday, knowing another storm was coming in, my goal was to reach home ahead of it. When I stopped at the post office to collect my mail, I spoke with Maria (our beloved and efficient postmistress who ships off my books with great patience and good nature) about the inclement weather. It was raining as we discussed the beauty of quiet snowfall, and the comfort of living in a community with neighbors who will help out if there’s a problem.

“Oh,” she said happily, “it’s starting to snow.”

That was my cue.

I made it up our winding, steep road, unloaded groceries from the truck, drove back down and parked close to the highway, then walked back up in a light snowfall. Later that evening, Neighbor Rob came down to borrow a can of black beans. We stood on my porch and watched TJ, his golden retriever, dash around in the falling snow, expressing the giddiness we all felt in anticipation of deep drifts of soft powder.

I woke to a two-foot blanket outside, which looked beautiful even in the darkness of 4:00a.m. When it was light, I donned my snowshoes—yes, snowshoes—to trek around outside for awhile, tamping down a path around the cabins. I intended to relax when I came in, but Rob called and said he was going to walk down to the highway to head up to the ski lifts, and that Eric, who had been staying down the mountain due to illness, would be coming up. So I clipped back into the snowshoes and stomped down to the highway, creating the semblance of a path so that my neighbors wouldn’t have to ‘post hole’ it up and down the road. And, because Eric has rescued me on numerous occasions, restoring hot water, repairing my security light both times the raccoons broke it, etc., etc., I shoveled a path to his cabin door so he wouldn’t have that as his first chore upon arriving home.

In the late afternoon, the storm had blown out, leaving mostly clear skies. My phone rang just as the sun was setting. Rob and Neighbor Glen were walking up to the falls and wanted to know if I cared to join them. I felt honored… and tried to keep up… but slogging through deep snow is hard enough on a flat surface; on a steep incline it’s almost more than this aging asthmatic can do. But the guys were in great spirits, waiting for me from time to time, remarking on the sound of the stream or the beauty of the snow-covered trees. We walked all the way to the falls. It was misty and semi-dark, frosty and quiet. We found a snow angel, poorly executed, which prompted me to fall backward in the snow and flap my arms. When the guys hauled me up, the impression left behind was that of a pristine snow angel.

On Sunday, I woke to no water. My pipes had frozen in the night. I emailed David Siriani, president of our water board, who called Eric, who called me to let me know it had gotten down to 9 degrees the night before. Who knew? I’d been snug in my loft, sound asleep. Eric—in yet another rescue, albeit this one by phone—suggested I get some heat going in my garage where the water main is. I threw some damp towels in the dryer down there, turned it on, and twenty minutes later I had running water again. Those of us who are here a lot—ahem—keep large containers of bottled water in storage just in case, so I was content with water for tea and washing my hands. But I really do look forward to that daily soak in my spa tub, so I was glad to have tap water again.

After the sun came up over the eastern ridge, the snow was dazzling. I waited until things had sufficiently warmed to walk down and begin the task of uncovering my snow-bound vehicle. Neighbor Jimmy, I found, had already cleared much of the snow off the truck for me. I began to shovel out the wheels and clear a path so that I’d be able to drive out easily in the morning to get to work. As I did, Eric and his fiancĂ©, Brenda, showed up, and Brenda grabbed a shovel, digging in to help clear my truck. Moments later, Teresa and Glen showed up, then Neighbor Rich. Brenda and I handed off our shovels to the guys as they dug out a place for Eric to park, then a spot for Teresa. As we worked, we talked and laughed, while the sun made tiny crystals of the snowmelt on the trees. In a short time, five vehicles had been settled in safe spots just off the highway, ready for all of us to hit the road the next day.

Coming home on Monday, I thought I had it made; I would just drive fifty feet up our road and settle back into my spot from the night before. The road, of course, was still covered with snow and ice. Sliding out downhill in the morning had been a breeze. Finding purchase in the wet snow to get up and into my spot was challenging. On my first attempt, I got stuck sideways. When I began to shovel myself out, Rob showed up and helped get me out. On the second attempt, I found myself mired again. This time, Chris Walker and Richard Wingate—who live miles away in the village and beyond—suddenly showed up out of nowhere and started helping Rob as he shoveled the snow from around the truck.

“Don’t bother getting out,” they told me, and I suddenly felt like I had my own pit crew as they worked quickly to get me out. Free at last, I backed up across the highway, put the emergency flashers on, and walked back to ask for advice. That’s when Rich showed up. Rich works for the Forest Service and is one of our favorite neighbors. He loves the mountain and was instrumental in finding a safe haven for “Boo Boo,” the little black bear that became too friendly last summer.

“You can make it up,” Rich encouraged me. “You just need speed.”

“I think I need testosterone,” I confessed. “I’m not gutsy enough to get going that fast.”

“I’ll drive it in for you!” he offered. And so it was that a moment later my little truck was speeding up the road, snow flying in all directions. Just to be kind, I suspect, Rich bogged down right where I did the first time, but the guys had him out in seconds. He made a second run, landing it exactly where it needed to be.

“That was fun!” he grinned as he unfolded his large frame from my little truck. His dancing eyes took me back to memories of my brother when we were kids. Kevin could always find some slightly dangerous but thrilling activity to engage in while I stood by wringing my hands, hoping for the best.

With the truck nestled in, I grabbed my backpack and headed home.

Yes, the snow requires us to work harder than usual, but the joy it brings with its fresh beauty far outweighs the inconvenience.