Cold and white and quiet

Skiing high on the mountain in the early morning, I deviate from my planned route to follow the tracks of a moose, probably from the evening before. Snow falls in waves of varying intensity. The tracks zig and zag, plotting a course that’s steadily uphill, through a hardwood forest that opens as I climb, until I reach the narrow shelf of a ridge that ends in an abrupt plunge down the eastward-facing side. The trees are mostly maple. The tracks of the moose I followed merge with the tracks of more moose, or at least one other moose; it’s hard to tell for certain, the way they come together and apart, together and apart. The animals – or one of them, anyway – must be close, because these tracks are fresher, still sharp around their edges despite the falling snow. I watch for them as I ski, it’s always so startling to see a moose, the horse-like mass of them, the legs almost comically long and too thin for what they support, but all I see is snow and tree and sky. All I hear is wind and my own steady breath, and even as I turn to retrace my tracks, the day and its long list calling me back to where I left my truck at a wide spot in the road, I know I’ll return.

Far back down the trail, I stop and listen again. Now I can hear, faintly, the distant thrum of an engine as a driver revs to make the grade of the Mountain Road. The snow has stopped except for the occasional lazy flake. The wind is gentler, too, but it no longer feels like we’re on the cusp of anything. It just feels like winter, cold and white and quiet, the sky that same stubborn grey it’s been for weeks.

I think about the remnants of coffee in the cracked mug I left in the cupholder of the truck. It won’t be hot anymore, that’s for sure. It won’t even be warm. But I’m going to drink it anyway.


Spring Ahead

February morning on Dead Moose Pond

Late February. It feels like we’re on the cusp of something; the only question is, what? Spring could be just around the corner, or still eight weeks distant. The cold has been steady for months, never severe, but also never quite relenting, and though we’ve had few storms of significance, the snow lies feet-deep on the ground. The woodshed is lean. The hay, too. Enough of both, I think, but only by the thinnest of margins, the sort of margins I’d like to think were relegated to my younger, less experienced days, but alas. Some lessons are harder learned than others.

In three weeks, we change the clocks. I don’t relish it, honestly. I prefer the early morning light, prefer the early mornings in general, ample time to orient myself to the day, only the cats and the cows demanding my attention (and both so readily ignored). “It’s just the government’s way of reminding us who’s in control,” is what my father used to say twice each year, whenever the time change rolled around. I don’t know if he actually thought this true, or if he just enjoyed fancying himself as the sort of person who thought it true. Knowing my own predilections, and alarmingly aware of the old adage about apples not falling far from the tree, I’m guessing the latter.

Snow fell this morning. I watched it through the window for a while, and then, perhaps not quite as enthusiastically (but not yet begrudgingly!) as only a week or two prior, I rose to put on my boots and head outside.


When it Comes

The repeating sameness of the midwinter days gives the impression that nothing’s really happening, that time has suspended itself, that nothing changes except for maybe the monochromatic greyness of the sky, one day a bit lighter, the next a bit darker, the next sprinkling snow as if from a shaker. I wake, build a fire, make coffee, feed the cows, feed the fire, ski, work, more coffee, more chores, more fire, read, sleep, and wake to do it all over again.

But throughout it all everything is changing: Our elder son is hired to lead river expeditions from a base on northern California, and prepares to leave. Our younger son is hired to help build a sugarhouse and install 35,000 taps in time for the first sap run, and is out the door every morning long before light. Our old washing machine dies a clunking death. A neighbor’s house burns to the ground.

I try to place my attention where my attention is worthy of being placed, while simultaneously trying to remember that I get to decide what is worthy and what is not. I try to decide wisely. It’s a lot of trying. And still, every day: Build fire, make coffee, do chores, go to woods. Visit with my sons in the moments they’re home and in the mood for visiting, a confluence of circumstances that seems to arise with decreasing frequency, like a clock winding down.

The hard part of winter is over. Or it is for me, anyway. The days are getting longer, and despite that unrelenting monochromatic sky, the sun soon to return (I even saw it once last week!). It’s all downhill from here, a soft glide into the early days of spring, the first bare patches of ground on the south-facing slopes, the muddy, tire-sucking backroads, the rutted driveway, the sap running hard, tufts of shed cow hair stuck to my jacket, the near-empty woodshed, the skis propped optimistically by the front door for another outing or two if the conditions are right. The house often empty, or nearly so. The wet, fecund smell of the thaw. I remember that smell. I like that smell. I’ll try to give it my full attention when it comes.