On the coldest morning of the season, when the day dawns just above zero and the expected high is only 5 degrees; on the same day when the windchill will plunge to the minus double digits, and I’ll drive home through pockets of swirling snow […]
Mind you, sometimes the angels smoke, hiding it with their sleeves, and when the archangel comes, they throw he cigarettes away: that’s when you get shooting stars. —Vladimir Nabokov I spent late Christmas day and the next morning with Lucia Berlin. Greg made a present […]
These past weeks have been a rush of busy-ness. Fall on the mountain always feels fleeting, with glorious pockets of gold aspens one week and new snow the next. Each year, I’m surprised at the suddenness in the change of season. There’s an urgency in the air as I try to take in one last dinner on the deck, one last long hike in the high country, all the while getting and stacking wood and pulling pots in when the nights—and days—grow too cold.
I have only to look at the fact that I haven’t written a blog to know my days have burned like a barn on fire with deadlines and midterms, an extra night class I taught for four weeks, a story I’ve been revising and the dozen or so movies I’ve been screening weekly, along with the laundry list of “Things To Do” I carry with me on folded pieces of paper and posted on sticky notes on my desk top. I’ll confess I revel in getting things done, in marking each item off: I find way too much satisfaction in my nimble ability to juggle more than the average human, in my rockstar ability to go and go and go.
But this habit of mine always ends badly. I’m too tired and too busy for Greg and my friends. Inevitably, I wake up one morning cranky and exhausted, mystified that despite yoga and meditation and walks with the dog, I feel so out of sorts. Until I start looking at all the stuff I’ve been doing and the ways I’ve neatly isolated myself in a hell of my own making.
I wish I could learn to play and lounge as aggressively as I rip through the tasks of each day.
Enter the first snow storm of the season. After a week of daily dustings on the mountain, last Sunday dawned with half a foot of snow on the ground and more falling. Greg, taking one for the team, drove to Nederland, the nearest metropolis to our mountain house, to buy the Sunday New York Times, while I made breakfast and a fire. Then we spent the rest of the morning on the couch with cups of coffee, reading and listening to Beethoven. The afternoon was just as idly spent as we hunkered beneath a thick down comforter and watched Harry Potter and King Lear and The Romanovs.
It was just what I needed.
More frequently than I care to admit, I must remind myself that my one goal is to live deeply. Mountain girl me should know by now that fast isn’t the speed of happiness. The Sunday snow, as weather does, gave me permission to stop. To rest. And to reconnect.
Living deeply means remembering to take my cue from the natural world and to listen to it. D.H. Lawrence once lamented that humans “are bleeding at the roots [,…] cut off from the earth and sun and stars.” It’s our disconnection from the seasons, from the earth, from each other that causes misery and dis-ease, that causes us to run faster toward the things that won’t ever make us happy.
We must learn to press pause.
As I write, I can see the newly bare aspens outside my window and 30-foot fir trees that extend well above the window frame. I imagine their roots in the earth and then I imagine mine. The thought gives me a long moment of peace.
August in the mountains and I can feel summer begin to ebb. At the prairie house, I‘d be staring down the barrel of at least two more months of way-too-hot-for-me weather, while nearly 4000 feet higher this morning’s temperature registered in the upper 40s. Already the days have cooled from what passes as scorching in late June and July—a burning, high altitude 85 degrees–and there are nights when I pull an extra comforter over the bed as we sleep with the French doors thrown wide. Last night, eating dinner on the deck, Greg and I noticed a few gold aspen leaves on a single tree and there’s been an increased urgency at the hummingbird feeders: both harbingers of what is to come. We are each a bit dreamy about the first snowfall, talking about waking up to soft down falling from the sky and the hopeful luxury of a morning in bed. Meanwhile, we spent our Sunday hauling a cord of split pine to add to the half cord of rounds we already have—our insurance policy against cold autumn days as we wait for oak delivery in December.
Although it goes without saying that we feel a bit frantic with the twin imperatives of settling in to our new home coupled with our before-winter laundry list of tasks—service the furnace, sweep the chimney, fix and stain the deck, make a space for Greg’s workshop beneath the carport, get plants in the ground—I am happy to be back where my days are ordered by weather, where I can rely on the season to take the lead instead of the force of my go-go-go personality. How lovely to give into a blessedly cool and rainy day with a book on the couch or spend the quiet of October snow by the fireplace. What bliss to forego the trip to town because it means an 80 minute round trip drive to do one more errand.
I need excuses to relax—and nature provides.
Already I’ve noticed a calmness come over my too often too sharp edges; although the days are indeed crowded with tasks, my mind isn’t registering on full tilt. Gone are the distractions of the prairie house, the feeling of being constantly stimulated by heat, by sound, by the proximity of people. There, the volume on my brain too often blared a discordant tune, distractions registering as anxiety-producing static. Interestingly, I believe I come by this condition by blood. My father used to say that loud music bothered him, asking my teenage brothers and me to turn the stereo down lower, lower. He blamed his sensitivity on working for so many years inside Cheyenne Mountain where the industrial hum of 1970s refrigerator-sized computers marked his days.
But I believe it’s biology. Like me, my father settled in the mountains. I don’t know the name for what I suspect is our shared brain chemistry is, all I know is that my head needs space and distance to help calm it down, I need the natural world to balance me out, something I had very little of in our house in a prairie town circled by highways.
This morning, after four years of holding my breath for comfort, for solace, my mind is on winter, and the prospect of dark, cave-like days on the mountain, along with the utter stillness of winter nights and the solace each provides. The feeling is like slowly eating cake with butter cream icing, like a good red wine, like waking from a deep sleep wrapped in another’s embrace: Let it come.
Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush
—Gerard Manley Hopkins
Spring is doing its spring thing here in Colorado, which means warm days when I don skirts and show off my winter-white legs followed by snow and temperatures in the 20s. This morning, I woke to the grey of January and ice covering newly greened grass. Just a week ago, in the Valley of the Gods, Utah, on the very last day of March, I was so hot, I crouched with my dog River in the shade cast by the truck. That night, Greg and I slept with the tent windows wide open to the full moon. Spring in the Rockies is a fits and starts thing—no gentle bloom for us, no building to a glorious explosion of green. Instead one day I’ll see hopeful buds on lilacs and the next they’ll be encased in ice and I’ll know the waiting—for flowers and the breathless greening of the foothills, along with consistently warmer days–has begun.
Up on the mountain, spring was always a shy, elusive creature. I was never sure I was out of the winter woods until the first week of June. Until then, anything could (and did) happen: hummingbirds chipping through an inch of ice at the feeders in May, me scrounging for wood for the stove to take the chill off even later. But last year, the prairie, where I’m a temporary resident, had its own form of high altitude spring as a foot of snow fell mid-May and Greg rushed out to cover pea vines along with our patches of rhubarb and strawberries, spinach and radishes.
This year the wait has real weight as I hold my breath for June 5th when #RoughBeauty debuts. Writers are forever talking about how flat out hard it is to write and edit a book—how fraught, how onerous–but I’m currently of the mind that the year and a half I spent writing and rewriting was nothing compared to the six months of question marks and “what ifs?” running up to release as my thoughts pop like corn anticipating blurbs, buzz, and reviews. I waited ten long years to get this book out, but now–I want it out.
With roughly seven weeks to go and spring nowhere in sight, I’ve started my annual cleanse—three weeks of vegetable-forward food and twice daily doses of detox tea. My motto? Make it harder. I’ve never been the kind of person who hides from anxiety in a bottle or even in bed; instead I give myself something to put my shoulder against. So while I’m waiting for things to “shoot long and lovely and lush” in the landscapes of both spring and publication, I am distracting myself with the somewhat difficult task of trying to take as much pleasure in “power fruit smoothies” and sprouted grain tostadas as I do with duck breast laced with blueberry balsamic glaze served with a glass of bubbly. By the end of three weeks—and almost half way from here to my pub date—I’ll have shaved off a bit of the wait and lost a few pounds too.