Tilting Toward Embrace

River hunting by Greg Marquez

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 so thick, the road disappears, River begins to blow out his coat.  It began as a net of fur coating my hand whenever I pulled on his ears and ruffled his neck, but now he’s giving up fistfuls at a time, haunches puffy with white undercoat that pulls away like cotton balls. 

It may be deep winter, but my dog senses spring.   

In February, when the snow has been bladed chest high along the roads and the short cut I’ve taken all year from the creek to the house is now an unpleasant bushwhack uphill through heavy and crusted snow, it’s hard to remember warmer days.  I call it my seasonal amnesia.  I get it in the summer too, when I can’t imagine having to cover my legs—ever—let alone the necessity of putting on two shirts beneath my woolie, a hat and scarf, wool mittens and fur-lined boots just to walk the dog. 

Kelly Dahl near Rollinsville by Greg Marquez

But in winter, the amnesia is less a forgetting and more a survival mechanism. When there’s six more weeks of cold and the biggest snows yet to come, I put on blinders and face each day with my head down, forbidding myself thoughts of sun on my arms and legs, along with the idea of thaw because, I think, the ache of disappointment is too much to bear.

I’ve used this strategy all my life, to get through some pretty tough things—circumstances and people that tried to press me flat—and I’ve gotten so good at enduring terrible situationss that my default mode is endurance.  That’s the story I tell about my life—how tough I am, how I can survive anything.  

This time of year, I make a collage for the coming seasons and fill it with pictures and images of what I hope to grow. Most years, even though my survival mind is incapable of imagining change, I tentatively arrange pictures and wishfully look at them when I enter the room. And sometimes the year ends with some of the things coming true.

Last year, things changed when I replaced uncertainty with burning desire and let the deep part of me that longed for a home boil to the surface.  The time to buy was then or never, and I knew it.  In February, I filled a poster board with mountainscapes and views of pine trees outside the window along with comfortable interiors with warm rich colors, and a few months later, Greg and I bought a house that resembles the spirit of those images, one unlike any we’d seen then or since.  

Yesterday, on a beautifully blue and cold Sunday, I sat down to cut out words and images–all linked to this years’ vision– putting down roots, and thriving with Greg on our patch of land, but also out in the world.  All big dreams. 

But the first time since I started this practice years ago, I didn’t have pictures to fit what was in my head.  My usual stack of yoga and cooking magazines mixed with lit and writer’s journals didn’t cut it. I stopped and spent the rest of the day stomping around the house, wondering what was wrong with me.   

Happy Dog by Greg Marquez

A storyteller I invited to one of my classes this last week ended her session by telling a tale about the power of changing the story.  “What I told myself,” she said, “was that I was that kind of person.”  The minute she changed that story, the minute she saw herself as this kind of person, her life followed suit.  “I became a traveler, an adventurer, something I’d never dreamed.”

I thought about that story this morning, as I wrote about weather and birds, describing the cold and the snow and River’s coat and the long slog to spring. Suddenly, I realized that nothing was wrong.  Instead, my story has changed. 

In the past, I’ve said I loved the seasons because they remind us that change does come, whether we can bring ourselves to believe it or not.  While this idea lit the darkest times of my life, it had everything to do with the story of endurance and survival, the story I’ve been telling all my life.  This morning, I caught myself doing what comes easiest—digging in, reaching for the familiar, for pictures of someone who is still trying to become instead of evolve.

The story of my life now lies in embrace.  It’s time to open my arms as wide as I can, time to dream bigger, time to tilt toward possibility and growth.  Time to match the story I’m telling to the circumstance of my life: home owner ship, marriage to the man I love, my first book. 

I need new pictures to tell the tale of who I am. 

Black-headed Grosbeaks by Greg Marquez

So I’m on a mission today to conjure just the right images for words that have to do with deep embraces of land, of the man and partner I’ve chosen, and what comes next in my writing life.

Outside, River sits in the sun on the deck and there are new birds—pine siskins—picking seed from the railing.  The thermometer reads 25 degree as I take up River’s undercoat brush for the third time in four days to comb out the clumps that keep rising to the surface,

Yes, I think, let it come.