Sunday, November 15, 2015

Walls for the wind

We are entering the third day of low, gray skies, a certain marker of impending winter.  The air is clean and crisp, and temperatures dipped low enough last night so that when I went out with the dogs, frozen blades of grass crunched beneath my feet.  I am up and about early today, pot roast in the crock pot, kitchen cleaned and shining, and bracing myself for the drive to town for the few staples we need.  It has been a week of fitful weather, each day affirming the turn and tip of the earth toward the long dark days we know are coming. 
Yesterday it snowed.  I awoke to Monty’s persistent nudge for outdoors, pulling myself reluctantly from the warm cocoon of comforters and quilts.  The furnace hummed a soft counterpoint to the burble of the coffeemaker as I pulled on my coat, over a heavy bathrobe, bundling up for the morning routine.  Since the skunk episode in September, and with coyotes howling nearly every night, I am loath to let the dogs, especially Hannah, who is fragile at 16, out into the black of the yard alone. In the muted dark of five a.m., the ground was sugared white and the world still enough so the falling flakes whispered in the sharp air as they swirled around me and the dogs, bidding farewell to a week of warmish temperatures. We hurried back inside to warmth and biscuits, coffee and curling up beneath blankets on the couch and chairs.  It is our routine of the last week as the days marched steadily toward winter. 

A week ago in the heavy darkness just before dawn, the waning crescent moon, rising in the east, halted for a moment and held in filigree branches of birches and poplars at the edge of the field.  It was pale amber, the slimmest thumbnail paring, and faintly visible, too, likely the result of earth and sun angles, the rest of the plump moon face, even paler, and yet so clear.  The last of the stars blinked and winked a goodbye as the sun pushed higher and then at last won out, light washing up the dome of darkness and bringing the day.  There has also been persistent wind, blowing out of the northwest, down across the St. Lawrence Valley and the Allagash, bringing the cold down from the Arctic and across our small piece of the world.  That we have no windbreaks or trees nearby makes it worse, and in a gale, the wind whoops and howls around the eaves and rattles the windows as it has for the past week. Outdoor chores are abandoned because it is simply too cold to fight the wind for long.
I am not dreading the winter; I love that season when the world is wrapped in white and the skies are the bluest they are.  In fact, there really is no season – including black fly season – which I dislike.  I’ve realized that more and more because with Bruce already retired and at home and left to his own pleasures and devices, people have begun to ask me if I am moving toward retirement.  But, the decision of where we live and how much it means to us, hit me one day when I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while at the post office.  We chatted, as people tend to do, simple small talk, sharing bits of news about family and mutual friends, our plans for the future – both immediate and long-term.  Eventually, having run out of things to say, we both mumbled something about needing to get back to work, and parted.  However, as I walked away, she called to me, “Are you going to retire here or go downstate?”  Without thinking, I answered, “Here.  That’s why we moved here.”

Here is where we want to be, and in the last few days, we are grateful for the isolation.  The events of the last few weeks have left me saddened and unsettled. I fret over how we have come to prize killing, making it a heroic act, rather than the tragedy that every death is, whether in the name of justice or not.  That is not to say that those who serve and protect should not be honored, but I cannot help but wonder if our focus on warfare as a means to settle conflict contributes to the number of angry young men who shoot up schools and drivers on highways with such reckless abandon for life. To contemplate it too long leaves me heartsick. And so I turn my attention to those things that sustain us.

This morning on the drive to town, there were no other cars on the road. I drove leisurely, enjoying the bare, browning landscape that only a few months ago had been green and lush. At the top of the big hill leading down tothe Aroostook valley, squads of geese were winging their way south along the eastern horizon.  Scalloped gray clouds clotted the sky and the world was silent.  In the last bare field before town, a large flock of wild turkeys worked the furrowed rows, gobbling up weeds and spilled oats left from the harvester.  At the local bakery, there was a welcoming smile, a warm old-fashioned doughnut, and good dark roast coffee, and the world somehow felt balanced. 

When I returned home, we went about a few final outdoor chores. I planted a few tulips and daffodils to brighten the spring landscape, thinking how the plump bulbs store such life and color, and then we moved the dog fence, expanding the area the dogs have to run in.  Clothed in heavy jackets and work gloves, we pulled stock fence from one post to another, fastened it to the posts and moved on to the next.  The neighborhood coyotes and the nearby shrieking of lynx for the past few nights, coupled with the penchant that German shorthairs have for running, make a fence imperative.  We built up a sweat, even though the temperature never topped forty degrees.  The dogs were happy with the new space and Kris and Monty ran bigger and bigger circles around each other, coming together to growl and tussle, then dashing away. 

When we came in, a rush of warmth and the smell of pot roast in the crock pot greeted us. Apple pie bakes in the oven, and the dogs snore softly, paws twitching with dreams, in their chairs.  Dusk falls earlier, and soon we will pull the blinds, draw the insulated curtains closed, and settle in for evening. 
 This will be our tenth winter here in the north and in spite of the cold and the short days, I look forward to it every bit as much as the first, and maybe a bit more.  This year, the freezers are full with the food we grew or bought from neighbors, and the pantry is laden with jars of jams and jellies, pickles and preserves. 

Kasey and family are coming to share supper, so the house will fill with the laughter and chatter of boys, and when they depart, it will be time to gather the dogs and head to bed. 
I wish such peace and security to all in the world, and am sorrowed that wishing will not make it true, but I find solace in this Irish blessing and send it to all:

Wishing you always...
Walls for the wind,
A roof for the rain
And tea beside the fire.
Laughter to cheer you,
Those you love near you,
And all that your heart may desire.


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