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Looking the Wrong Way

The snow that fell on the backside of the rain was a disappointment; two inches at best, a scant blanket that barely covered the ice-encrusted ground. Yet the texture was silky and pleasing underfoot, so I strapped on my skis and headed for the long, sloped field across the mountain road. It was late in the afternoon, and I skied as the light changed, noticing that the transition felt like someone draping fine layers of gauze over the lens of the sun, one layer after another, the layers coming more rapidly as the day wore out.

From the height of the field I looked back across the road, over the church steeple, to our barn tucked into the fold of a hill. How many times I’ve stood in the barnyard, looking to the field, to the precise spot I now stood, and it was strangely unsettling to stand there now, seeing everything in reverse, looking the wrong way through a window I always thought offered only one view.

The light was leaving fast now, no space between the strips of gauze, the snow covered field luminescent in the gathering dark. I pointed my skis straight down the slope and pushed off. The cold air bit at my face; the snow hissed beneath my skis. If I hurried, I might still do chores without a headlamp.

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That’s How it Feels From Here

Coming in from morning chores at 25 below zero. Last day of the cold snap. 

Yesterday a warm and lashing rain, the snow disappearing fast, rivulets of water running down every slope, the tarpaper on the unsided exterior walls of our home ripping in the wind, the torn flaps thumping against the house. Hearing this in the night I had a sudden reminiscence from childhood, of how the branches of the trees by the cabin would rub against the roof in the wind, and how much I liked that sound. Yet I can’t be certain this happened; it was so long ago. So perhaps the memory is false, but I like it anyway.

By this morning, we’d lost 80% of the snow or more, though the temperature had dropped in the night, and the rain had turned over to ice, and then the ice, slowly, by degree, to snow. It is snowing now. I did chores with my shoulders hunched against the weather, 10 degrees and windy, the driven precipitation – whatever it was, snow, ice, sleet, freezing rain – sharp against my face.

Now we are firmly into the New Year. I am not one for resolutions – they’ve always felt too unyielding to me, and in my experience, that which does not yield eventually breaks. But I like the idea of intention, and if were to name my intentions for the New Year, I suppose I’d put openness at the top of my list. I’d like to remain open to possibility, to change, to being wrong, even, and therefore, to being humbled, because I think it’s a gift to be humbled, and I’d like to not lose sight of that.

I am doing some new things this year: For the first time, I am teaching a writing and speaking class at a nearby college, something that only a year or so ago, I would not have thought possible. Likewise, I have been accepted into the MFA program in creative non-fiction at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, though whether or not I will actually attend depends on a handful of contingencies, including finances, logistics, and (I’m not too proud to admit) basic courage. It is a funny thing to consider returning to academia, having dropped out of high school, and with only a modicum of experience in college-level learning. Sometimes I do not doubt my capacities; at other times, I do, a waxing and waning I have come to understand as being inherent to the human condition. Or to my human condition, at least.

And I am doing some things the same. Still writing for Yankee magazine, and grateful for an amazing editor there, and the latitude he gives me to follow my whim. Finishing up an illustrated book with a good friend, and cooking up more book ideas. Heather and I have a project in the works that we’ll be announcing soon. And I continue my work with Rural Vermont, an organization I love dearly, partly for the work we do, but equally (if not more so) for the people that comprise the “we.” I like people, always have, and the older I get the more I like them, the more I seem able to accept their quirks and outright flaws, even as I become more accepting of my own, more able to chuckle at them, and to present them to the world without embarrassment or shame. Well, most of them, anyhow. There’s a correlation, of course, between acceptance of self and acceptance of others. But you probably knew that.

I hope to continue writing here – no, I’m sure I will – though my schedule is busier than it once was, and perhaps about to become busier still. But in so many ways, this remains my favorite outlet, free of the pressure of money and editorial expectation, and always greeted by a gracious, compassionate, and generous readership. Or that’s how it feels from here, and I am ever-grateful for it.

 

 

 

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First Morning of the Year

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Morning ski with my friend Dirk on the last day of 2017

Milking this morning at 18 below, I noticed the squeak of snow under Pip’s hooves as she shifted her weight; how the stream of milk made splashes that froze immediately against the sides of the bucket, coating it in white; the spiral of wood smoke rising from our chimney. My own breath pluming in the air, the expelled heat of blood and lung. Strangely, my bare fingers were warm, while my booted toes were not. But the bucket was almost full now, and I knew what awaited me in the house: The fire, so fierce I’d watched the stovetop glow orange in the early morning dark, the cats, connoisseurs of comfort, slumbering in patches of sun just slanting through easterly windows, a pair of this morning’s eggs tucked in my coat pocket. I’ll fry them in butter and eat them as the sun passes over the copse of spruce beyond the garden.