Always Gambling

A surprise squall in the aftermath of the great Christmas thaw of 2020, and again the ground is covered. Four, maybe even five-inches, that magical cold snow, what I call snow globe snow because it looks exactly like what you’d image snow would look like if you’d only ever seen it in picture books. Fluffy. Big flakes. In the aftermath of the squall, I walk in the woods, scouting firewood. It’s almost impossibly pretty.

I dream I’m on an airplane that’s about to take off, and I realize suddenly that I’m the only person not wearing a mask. I don’t have one with me, and it’s too late to find one; the seat belt sign has been illuminated for my safety, the flight attendants have completed their final cabin check, and are settling into their seats. I start to panic, and then something shifts, and I’m able to relax and actually begin looking forward to that moment when the plane begins to accelerate for take off. I remember loving that moment as a child whenever we’d fly to visit my grandparents. Truth be told, it still gives me a little thrill.

When I drive, I look at people’s faces. This is what I miss most, just seeing people’s faces. The creases in their cheeks, the smile lines, the crooked teeth. I haven’t seen a good mustache in months. We’re fortunate, I know, for where we live, how we live. I don’t have to wear a mask but a handful of times each week, and even then, only for as long as necessary to do my business. It wasn’t until about two weeks ago that I finally worked through my stash of old construction masks, the ones I’ve had since back when you wore a mask for reasons other than the virus.

People say our lives will never be the same, but I’m not convinced. I imagine the virus will eventually pass, or we’ll learn to live with it, add it to the list of necessary risks we’ve learned to accept or simply ignore. We’re always gambling. We just don’t always realize it.

For those of you who keep coming back to this space – many of you for many years now – thank you. I often think I’m going to get back to posting more often, but that doesn’t seem to happen. Maybe this year it will, maybe not. Either way, thank you all for reading and Happy New Year.


Storing Sunlight in my Bones

Cold drops like a hammer, and with it snow, not much but enough, and in the early hour I drive to the crest of the mountain, where an old logging road provides ingress to a vast swath of public forest. It’s eight below zero, the sun just clawing its way above the horizon; the hillsides ahead of me shimmer in light, though I remain in the shadows until I break out of the woods onto a shallow body of water known to the locals as Dead Moose Pond because they once found a decaying moose in its waters. The ice is thin, but my long skis distribute my weight, and I circle the edge of the pond twice, sun on my face, lungs full and satisfied, the snow of that magical consistency that allows me to imagine I might never tire, that I could circle this pond for hours and hours. I’m storing sunlight in my bones, I think, because that’s what it feels like, though I have no idea if such a thing is possible or even makes sense.

Despite the magical snow, I ski for only a scant hour, then return to the car, the old logging road still caught in morning shadow. My fingers and toes ache with cold, and I run the heat high as I descend the mountain, driving fast until I catch a flatbed truck carrying big bales of hay stacked high, flecks of dried grasses dancing in its wake.


Slowly Looking Up

We lurch in and out of winter. There is cold and snow, then rain and warm, then more cold but no snow, all the while the days slowly diminishing around their edges, and I play the game I always play around this time of year, which is to count back from December 21, and then add that number plus one to the other side of the solstice to determine when we’ll have more daylight than we do now. And yet, strangely, it feels as if the days and weeks and even months are galloping past, even in the dark. Maybe especially in the dark.

For five straight days we had skiable snow, and so I skied, each morning the same loop, the only one that’s really possible with such scant cover. Down the driveway, along the road, over the bridge, past the church, around the field. Then again around the field. Then if I have time maybe even again. Then around the church on my way home because I have this idea that skiing around the church might in some way compensate for the praying I don’t do.

December 28. That’s when we’ll again have as much daylight as we do today. And the day after that, just a little more. And it feels to me like things are slowly looking up.


The Way They Always Do

In the evenings, after chores and dinner, I walk the gravel roads. I like to walk without a headlamp, right down the center, let my eyes adjust and my feet find the way. There’s little traffic to worry about; two nights ago, I walked for over an hour, and did not see a single car. My usual route takes me to the very end of a dead end road, high on the hill above our land, where if it were daylight I could see across a shallow valley over to the town of Greensboro and the steely blue of Caspian Lake. Greensboro’s a nice town. It’s wealthier than this one, but not too wealthy. You could be poor there and not feel unwelcome.

There’s been little snow, and what there has been has come in fits and spurts. I’d prefer more, despite the extra work it brings. But there’s not much to be done about the weather except to lament and carry on, so like everyone else that’s what I do, and my old skis, the ones I use when the cover is thin and rocks lurk, still lean against the shed wall where I left them after my election day outing one whole month ago. Though despite the grey weather, despite the dim days and election angst and virus fatigue, it feels more recent than that. I remember when I was younger how time seemed to speed up and slow down; always fast when I most wanted it to be slow, and always slow when I most wanted it to be fast. It’s not like that anymore.

This morning I woke to moonlight shining through the window above our bed. It’s got cold again, and last night’s fit of snow has stuck. There’s maybe an inch on the ground. Looking through the kitchen window, up onto the knoll with the light coming on, I can just see the cows standing next to one another the way they always do. I know what they want. They’re wanting their hay. I’ll take it to them shortly.