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.

January hymn


Against all odds, after nearly half a century, I’ve come around to understanding January.

I know, some of you are thinking it took me long enough.

Now that the deepest and darkest of the winter has passed (though the coldest certainly hasn’t), and the observances, rituals and remembrances that must be paid have been paid, my pockets are empty and the land everywhere is draped in white, a table set in quiet anticipation of a celebration to come.

I don’t yet have a mind of winter, but I’ve stopped railing against it (at least this week) and am seeing it for what it is: a pause, an inhale, a still point.

I’m sure I’ve come to this place before, and will again, but today it seems fresh to me, this peace with January. This appreciation of the way the snow sparkles when sunlight strikes the crystals. This feeling that I’m allowed to waste a day reading or thinking or putting words into lines and no one but the animals will expect me to be responsible. This knowledge that the green ground is quietly waiting beneath the snow and ice, that spring is there, truly a coil, that will burst up given half a chance. If only I can be patient.

When my sister and I were little, we played endlessly with a set of wooden blocks, a handful of matchbox cars, and a collection of cheap plastic animals. One of our favorite, recurring games was to build a village for the animals from the blocks. Small houses, neat yards. Horses, cows, sheep, tigers, kittens, an alligator, Indian and African elephants. They all lived in this village. The town plan changed every time we built, but there was always one constant: a “church” with a steeple and an archway for a door. After we’d spent the afternoon building and arranging it all, we’d put the animals in their proper homes, put a lit flashlight in the church and turn off the overhead lights.

There it was. The town sleeping in the glow of the church. All that afternoon of building came to this: nightfall, quiet, and a soft glow.

March through December is raucous. Things are busy sprouting, then growing, then dying, then being cleared away. Plans are made and enacted. And then comes the night and the cold and everything is quiet and suffused by the glow we can’t even see, until January brings it back to us, minute by minute.

Today we have snow and ice, frost and fog. The people who plow our driveway have been by with the sander so we can escape the house if we want, but today (and today only) I have no want. I have everything I need. Everything I (or Dorothy Gale) ever desired is right here now.

Blueberry branches


Edge of the first field

Heading home




In flight

Time passes. Listen.

Bees' first winter

Pedants will tell me that it’s not officially winter yet, but let’s not quibble. Zero degrees F on the thermometer this morning, snow and ice solidly gripping the ground, Elliot the blueberry bush up to his neck in snow, another nor’easter roaring up the coast tomorrow.

Let’s call a winter a winter.

Today I watched the shivery sun sprint for the western horizon as if, like me, he just couldn’t wait to be in bed, under the covers, with a pile of books laid by. I swear he was behind the hill by 3 pm. And I know tomorrow I’ll see even less of him, minute by minute.

Watching the light rise and fall this time of year, a person can’t help but be obsessed a bit by the ticking by of seconds, to become a hoarder of sunlit minutes, to think of time as something solid you can put in your pocket and rub your thumb over during the day, wearing it down grain by grain.

This time of year, the night is an ocean. You can’t see the other side. But you can sail its surface. A story is like a puff of wind in your sail. This weekend, we went to our local theater to hear a story: Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milk Wood.”

I can try to describe to you how the play mesmerized me, how the chewy-lyrical language lulled the audience, then made us laugh, then cracked our hearts. I could tell you how we watched the minutes of a day in the village of “Llareggub” slide by, night to dawn to noon to dusk to night. I could tell you how we lived a day through the night, then, outside, how the moon was hidden but the poem was a light reflected in the snow.

But I can’t tell it anywhere as well Dylan Thomas and Richard Burton can tell it. So why even try?


FIRST VOICE (_Very softly_)

To begin at the beginning:

It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless
and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched,
courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the
sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea.
The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine to-night
in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat
there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock,
the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows’ weeds.
And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are
sleeping now.

Hush, the babies are sleeping, the farmers, the fishers,
the tradesmen and pensioners, cobbler, schoolteacher,
postman and publican, the undertaker and the fancy woman,
drunkard, dressmaker, preacher, policeman, the webfoot
cocklewomen and the tidy wives. Young girls lie bedded soft
or glide in their dreams, with rings and trousseaux,
bridesmaided by glowworms down the aisles of the
organplaying wood. The boys are dreaming wicked or of the
bucking ranches of the night and the jollyrodgered sea. And
the anthracite statues of the horses sleep in the fields,
and the cows in the byres, and the dogs in the wetnosed
yards; and the cats nap in the slant corners or lope sly,
streaking and needling, on the one cloud of the roofs.

You can hear the dew falling, and the hushed town breathing.
Only _your_ eyes are unclosed to see the black and folded
town fast, and slow, asleep. And you alone can hear the
invisible starfall, the darkest-beforedawn minutely dewgrazed
stir of the black, dab-filled sea where the _Arethusa_, the
_Curlew_ and the _Skylark_, _Zanzibar_, _Rhiannon_, the _Rover_,
the _Cormorant_, and the _Star of Wales_ tilt and ride.

Listen. It is night moving in the streets, the processional
salt slow musical wind in Coronation Street and Cockle Row,
it is the grass growing on Llaregyb Hill, dewfall, starfall,
the sleep of birds in Milk Wood.

Listen. It is night in the chill, squat chapel, hymning in
bonnet and brooch and bombazine black, butterfly choker and
bootlace bow, coughing like nannygoats, sucking mintoes,
fortywinking hallelujah; night in the four-ale, quiet as a
domino; in Ocky Milkman’s lofts like a mouse with gloves;
in Dai Bread’s bakery flying like black flour. It is to-night
in Donkey Street, trotting silent, With seaweed on its
hooves, along the cockled cobbles, past curtained fernpot,
text and trinket, harmonium, holy dresser, watercolours
done by hand, china dog and rosy tin teacaddy. It is night
neddying among the snuggeries of babies.

Look. It is night, dumbly, royally winding through the
Coronation cherry trees; going through the graveyard of
Bethesda with winds gloved and folded, and dew doffed;
tumbling by the Sailors Arms.

Time passes. Listen. Time passes.

Come closer now.

Only you can hear the houses sleeping in the streets in the
slow deep salt and silent black, bandaged night. Only you
can see, in the blinded bedrooms, the coms. and petticoats
over the chairs, the jugs and basins, the glasses of teeth,
Thou Shalt Not on the wall, and the yellowing dickybird-watching
pictures of the dead. Only you can hear and see, behind the
eyes of the sleepers, the movements and countries and mazes
and colours and dismays and rainbows and tunes and wishes
and flight and fall and despairs and big seas of their dreams.

From where you are, you can hear their dreams.

Till it shines

General fog

On a wire

A prettiness

We got the call at 5.30 this morning: Wintry mix. Dangerous roads. Two-hour school delay. Oh heaven, back to bed.

Ever since, though, I’ve been out of sync with the day. The sun rose, but you’d never know it for the fog. I ate my breakfast at 10 and still haven’t had my lunch at 4. I keep waiting for the day to start and here it is, dusk, and there’s dinner to be figured out.

Work was frustrating in an insignificant way. The fires never felt warm enough. My progress on my holiday to-do lists is abysmal. (You weren’t expecting cards from me, were you?)

When I went out to see the goats they seem untroubled, cozy in their run-in. It smelled good-and-goaty in a good way. I hugged Willow and she closed her eyes and if you could hear a goat hum with happiness, that’s the sound I felt. Bright goat eyes all around when I fed them cookies.

Everything outside was grey, yet somehow sparkling. Drips of ice had melted to water and were clinging to branches, the snow’s pebbled surface, the electric wire on the goat fence, the rose hips. A million reflections of a reluctant sun gathered up into a shimmer.

I walked back to the house to bring in another load of firewood, singing under my breath, Take the chip off of my shoulder, smooth out all the lines. Take me out among the rustling pines, till it shines.

Everything shines

Friday Five ~ Reasons to be grateful for an extended winter

Maybe I’m reaching a bit, but…

1. Bare branches reveal shy visitors:

Strix the Aviatrix

Strix the Aviatrix

2. It’s the perfect time to make this citrus salad with goat cheese-stuffed dates. Even if you don’t eat it, you might get some vitamin D just by looking at its sunshiny face.

3. Since the garden and lawn are still covered by two feet of snow, you likely have a free fifteen minutes to sit and watch this:

4. If you decide to venture out, you might see wildlife on the move. Like last night, when I was invited out by a friend to a great talk about the history of local brick making, and, on my way home, I watched a young fox cross an ice-covered pond, its deep red fur neatly outlined against the pond’s whiteness. Also, talks about brick making are fascinating and these are the types of things that only happen on winter evenings when we need an excuse to get out of the house.

5. You have a little more time to snuggle down with your books and prepare for National Poetry Month. As in past years, I’ll be posting a link on this blog to a different poem every day in April. How will you be celebrating?

A Barred Owl

The warping night air having brought the boom
Of an owl’s voice into her darkened room,
We tell the wakened child that all she heard
Was an odd question from a forest bird,
Asking of us, if rightly listened to,
“Who cooks for you?” and then “Who cooks for you?”

Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear,
Can also thus domesticate a fear,
And send a small child back to sleep at night
Not listening for the sound of stealthy flight
Or dreaming of some small thing in a claw
Borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw.

–By Richard Wilbur, from Mayflies: New Poems and Translations. Copyright © 2000 by Richard Wilbur.

52 Photos ~ Wide open spaces

Phoebe's field

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

–Wallace Stevens


This photo and post are in response to this week’s theme for the 52 Photos Project. You should participate, too! Read about how it works here. You can see a gallery of everyone’s photos for this week’s theme here. To see a list of all my blog posts for this project, go here.

On the last day of January


I’ve been thinking about Wallace Steven’s poem, The Snow Man, for weeks now, because, of course, it’s winter and it’s January.

I wanted to write something about having a “mind of winter”, expecting to have experienced it, even for just a day, as I have in winters before.

But this January’s rickrack weather hasn’t cooperated. It’s too ragged and unpredictable for me to have relaxed into the rhythm of ice and snow, the logs being fed methodically into the wood stove, the shovel scraping the driveway, the sliding of one ski past the other on the trail, the shuffling of snowshoes up and over the snow-plowed mound at the end of the driveway.


Instead, we’ve swung from -25 degrees one day to +50 degrees another, from snow to rain to ice to sun and blue skies, from sequin-scattered snow to squeaky styro-foam snow to fog, slush, mush, mud.

How can I settle into that mesmeration of cold, still resilience, with all of this meteorological commotion?

As much as I resent the oncoming of winter (I have a mind of spring), there’s something to be said for that band of weeks against which you can do nothing but read, sit by the fire, make soup and bread, and be excused up to bed early just because it’s dark by 4.30.

January woods

The yard and garden are silent. The animals understand if you don’t want to play outside; they’re in hunker-down mode, too. You’re vaguely aware of plans that need or ought to be made, for some future time when the cold is cracked open and seedlings sprout, but… not yet. Not yet.

Tonight, just pull the covers up to your chin, listen to the wind roar, watch the flakes flutter down.

Snow river

I’m greedy for that mental state: the whirling world putting a kind hand on my shoulder, telling me that nothing at all is required.

The wind is whistling across the yard now and the temperature is dropping again.

The wind slammed the barn door hard this morning when I was inside loading hay into the feeders. The goats were munching gently and they didn’t seem bothered by the wind and the noise. All they were interested in was the hay, and the animal crackers in the cookie jar, and a good rub against their foreheads.

It was warm enough this morning that I lingered there, jealous of the cozy barn and their herdness, and grateful for the way they welcome me into that herd though I’m clearly not a normal goat. And while I was there, I lost for a bit that mental list of things to do, or what was outside, or what was coming in an hour, or where I had failed or what I had meant to do and be.

That moment, and the true locked-down January, are like the hours of travel from here to there, when the only point is the movement. Nothing else is required. Nothing.