Hidden spring

Hidden spring

The internet’s serving up photos of crocuses and daffodils. I hear tell of apple and pear blossoms, kids and lambs, and Easter egg hunts.

Around here, spring seems reluctant. There’s tell-tale mud, to be sure. But there’s still snow. And nothing is blooming.

When I look up into the trees, they look as quiet and empty as the winter that’s just passed.

But just because we can’t see something happening, doesn’t mean it isn’t.


There’s a thaw beneath the fallen snow
And the geese don’t know which way to go
There’s a warm wind blowin’ round the bend
And the days are growin’ long again

And I will go down by the river
And wash the cold away
And gaze across the water all day

There’s a bird rehearsing on a wire
And a soft green underneath the briar
There’s a hazy ring around the moon
And the rains of spring are comin’ soon

–Cheryl Wheeler, from “Spring“, 1997

How Lowe can I go?

“Nick Lowe at Knuckleheads Saloon” by K8 fan

What can I say? It’s the man’s birthday. And I’ve loved his music since I was a young teen. And one time not too long ago he and I made eye contact.

This morning started off at 2ºF, but the sun’s brilliant out there and the bird feeder outside my desk window is bristling with a pair of Pine Siskins, a handful of yelllowing American Goldfinches, an embarrassment of Black-Capped Chickadees, a scattering of Tufted Titmice, and a single Downy Woodpecker.

I’m distracted by everything and anything today. By shiny things. Things with wings. Prints in the snow. Reddening buds on the lilac bushes. Something’s happening.

The geese haven’t made their comeback, but can’t you just feel they’re on their way? Winter coats and mittens are still required, but the light is distinctly softer, less oblique.

Something long frozen is shattering.

It’s a good day to be alive. Especially when Nick Lowe is singing.

Where I come from

Bird ball

[Ed note: Today’s post is written by Hyla, another favorite guest blogger.]

Vermont is such a beautiful place, and it’s small enough that I feel comfortable, but big enough and unpopulated enough that I can feel uncramped. My family only owns two acres of land, but we live in a 200-year-old house with ancient beams and a renovated kitchen and orange and red walls, and there are four bird feeders hanging from the windows, and my room’s floor is so uneven that one side of my bed is on six-inch shims. We have modern lights hanging from century-old ceilings, and beehives in the garden, and goats in the yard, and cats under our feet, and a dog at our heels. The snow comes up to the windows in the winter, and in the summer we can sit out by the firepit listening to blasting music from inside and we live so far away from any city that we can see every single star. There’s an ancient maple tree in the middle of the yard that I have seen nearly every day of my life for almost sixteen years, with an old swing hanging from it and our pets who’ve passed away buried under it. There’s a ring of mountains around my house on a hill protecting it, and a valley underneath, and a forest behind, with a path I’ve walked a thousand times that can take me all the way to the waterfall if I go right, or the big green bridge with the yellow gate and the perfect swimming hole if I go left. As I’m writing this, the huge wind (that yesterday blew so hard the snow was falling up) is making the big bell on the apple tree clang. At night in bed, I can hear the waterfall and the coyotes, and as soon as dawn comes I can see the sun rising through my windows. Where I come from is empty and godless and heathen and uneven and filthy and cold and hot and, sometimes, plain miserable. But I’d never, ever want to live anywhere else.

Tick tock

Tick tock

It was long overdue, but none of us were ready for it earlier. So, into the basement and closets it all went: the treasures, the flotsam and jetsam of H’s childhood. Until this week, when M pulled all the boxes into the living room and began to sort.

Decks of cards (some still wrapped in cellophane). Heaps of pens and markers and erasers shaped like animals and flowers and who knows what. Baby toys. Art kits. Magic sets. Scraps of fabric. Pipe cleaners. Rubber stamps. Popsicle sticks. Half-used bottles of bubble solution. Half-filled journals and notebooks. Plastic figurines. Key chains. Shells, sticks, stones, feathers, drift wood. Impossibly tiny doll shoes. Stuffed animals. Unidentifiable bits of plastic. Books, and books, and books.

I expected it to feel emotional (and I’m grateful that M & H did the bulk of the sorting and decision-making without me)—putting behind us one phase of our life in order to prepare for the next—but I didn’t expect the interleaved sensation, seeing the brocade of her childhood woven with threads of our own, memories of her growing up braided with those of our life before and since her arrival, longings for people who gave her things long ago and are no longer here to give her things.

There was plenty of, let’s face it, junk in that pile. Objects that stirred no memories at all.

But when I look at the boxes piled up for donation, I see all at once our expectations, her happy childhood, her growing up and away (in the best, most natural way possible), my own childhood, my approaching half century, my mother, my grandparents, their childhoods and adulthoods, the tiny hands of the next child to play with these toys, their half-closed eyes when they listen to the clock singing its sleepy song.

I’ll say it again: I’m the luckiest girl in the world. Oh, but how life can deliver such beautiful, sad, sweet, sepia-toned stings.

Everything must go

Reading Challenge month 2 – A book you started but never finished

Reading challenge - month 2

[Ed note: This month’s post is brought to you by M, one of my favorite guest bloggers.]

There’s a book I’ve been trying to read for over half my life, and by that I don’t mean a book I’ve always meant to get to but haven’t yet (that would be the Brothers Karamazov), or a book I’ve occasionally thought about getting to but maybe never will (Stephen King’s IT), or even a particular title from the list of books we’re all supposed to have read at some point or another (too many to count).

Instead I mean a book I’ve picked up and plowed into with the best intentions, time and again, only to spectacularly and convincingly fail to make any headway with, every time. My sister Anne gave me this book for Christmas or a birthday, probably around 1980, or 1982. I think she found it on the shelves of a bookseller friend of hers in Ann Arbor, but that was long ago and I may be way off. Certainly it was the sort of book you’d have expected to find in a used bookstore in Ann Arbor, then and now. It wasn’t Borders, by the way, but Borders was there then, just the one shop (that’s how long I’ve been trying to read this book: Empires have risen and fallen).

The book was called – is called – “Three Medieval Rhetorical Arts”, and was compiled and edited by a man named James J. Murphy who in the interval between my being given the book and the present has become Googleable, though back then he and his book seemed beyond arcane, and that seemed right up my alley: fairly short (235 pp) and made up of modern English translations of three early medieval prescriptive essays on Letter Writing, Composing Latin Poetry, and Sermonizing. It seemed like an important book to have, and to read.

Unfortunately, the book put me to sleep. Repeatedly and predictably, once or twice every year or so for 30-odd years. It was always on a shelf in plain sight – no forgetting it or shoving it away in a spare bedroom — but on some long winter afternoon or a slow summer evening — sitting up or lying down, quiet or with music playing, indoors or out — I’d pick it up and have a go: zzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZZ, and always in the first few pages of the first essay, or even somewhere in the short introduction. It was fairly ridiculous; sometimes it bothered me, sometimes it didn’t. But the pattern never changed.

I packed the book up and moved it eight times. It survived the periodic book purges between then and now because it was on that short list of items you’d feel not quite like yourself if you got rid of it — like some small but irremediable change had occurred. But only if I eventually managed at some point to read the thing at least once– never getting to it would have been just depressing.

All of which means that when we started this project and I saw this category listed I thought Oho!, and it doesn’t surprise me that this is the first category I chose.

And hey guess what, I read it. Finally it was easy, and not because I’d given myself a deadline (I’d tried that one before). Or because I thought “OK, if I can only average 10 or so pages a day for a month, that’ll do it” (I’d tried that angle before, too, along with “You don’t have to even enjoy it, just read the book and then tell yourself you did it.”)

What finally worked, oddly, was concentrating on it. I told myself I wasn’t going to skim, I wasn’t going to let my mind wander as i glazed past a paragraph and say that counted. I used a highlighter and a pen, read slowly, took notes, and stopped to think about what I was reading or to look something up. It turned out easy that way, and the book paid me back, as they usually will– I learned a ton of stuff, a lot of which I’d have been happy to have known 20 or more years ago. I laughed a few times. There were interesting connections to works I already knew, and generally it was a light shining into corners I’d spent a lot of good times in long, long, ago. I’m happy to have finished it: introduction, appendices and all.

Three Medieval Rhetorical Arts, 235pp., James J. Murphy, Ed., © 1971 by the University of California Press (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London).

Highly Recommended for Students of Early Medieval Epistolary, Prosodic, or Homiletic writing, for the General Reader interested in a challenge, or for anyone who likes a good long nap.


Our books for month 2:

We’d love to know what you read this month. Please leave a comment telling us about it!

The category for the coming month is:


We’ll see you back here on April 9!

This post is part of our multi-year reading challenge. We’d love to have you join us for the whole challenge or any portion. Take a look at the checklist to see the current category (in green). We’ll announce the next category on the 9th of each month.

Here and elsewhere

Here and elsewhere

A Sunday in late winter.

Just at that point in the season where, if you put a certain album on the stereo, settle yourself into the chair by the window, tilt your face up to the strengthening sunlight, close your eyes and ignore the wind outside and the eight-foot pile of snow that’s accumulated on the porch and the rug that’s covered with splinters from the firewood… for a few minutes anyway, it doesn’t matter where your body is, because you’re swaying gently to a rhythm that’s never heard of winter, that doesn’t know from ice and snow, that delivers you the tonic of a warm sea breeze rustling through palm fronds, a strumming that assures you that summer’s still there, out over the ocean, coming this way on steadily beating wings.

Just wait.

Denial is an ocean

One of hundreds

I’ve heard the reports. Negative abysmal temperatures again tonight. Let’s just pretend, shall we?

Let’s say we’re in that cottage by the ocean. You know the place. We’ve just unloaded the car and are hurriedly running around to see what’s changed since last year, claiming bedrooms, putting the sheets we’d packed only hours ago onto welcoming beds, pulling back the curtains.

Then running out the door (let that screen door slam) and down the sandy path to the dune above the beach. It’s late and getting dark, but we can still see enough to see how steep the slope is. Kick off those shoes. They’re safe. Unleash the dog. He knows the way. Hit the sand with our bare feet and it feels cold, but not enough to stop us.

Let gravity pull us down that dune. Let the ocean pull us across the high tide line of wrack, driftwood, charred wood from someone else’s beach fire.

Look! The sun’s just setting and the gulls are quieting. Is that a seal or a wave? Too dark to tell.

The dog’s already ankle-deep in foam. The ocean’s laughing. The waves are kicking up a fuss, reaching and receding, frizzling and falling over itself in excitement that we’re finally here.

Everyone else is leaving; they must have dinner plans. But we? We have potato chips and hot chocolate in the cottage, and we’ll get to that by-and-by. We have all the time in the world.