February 18, 2015

bon hiver

I have always loved winter, and it's only recently that I have realized that's a statement of privilege.  My lights turn on in the long dark nights, I don't worry about whether I'll be able to pay to keep the heat running, and I'm not lacking in tough boots and warm woolen layers. I'm safe and comfortable, knowing I have a haven from winter when it settles in, temporarily snuffing out all the life around me. I'm lucky that it has never been a threat with real teeth.

It's true that life is easier at the opposite end of the season spectrum. But it's the sense of urgency that winter imposes that I thrill to. It's a unique satisfaction to pile on layers of clothing and make the trek to the brewery around the corner, walking quickly because, despite my best efforts, the cold is steadily seeping under my coat. It's a relief to barrel through the doors, shed the layers, and unwind the tightness in my shoulders that kept them unconsciously tethered to my ears for the whole walk. Before long, the only sensation of cold left in my body just clings faintly to my cheeks and fingertips.

It reassures me that I'm whole and alive, and that my biology does what it's built to do; a remarkable feat in such a contrary environment. There are plenty of other parts of winter that I love, too--the beauty, the hush, the cleansing of it--but it's the life spark that it triggers in my gut and lungs and numbed cheeks that I would so miss if I lived somewhere without winter.

February 8, 2015

My Dog is Better at Life than I Am

My dog is growing old, right before my eyes. There's something surreal about watching the whole life cycle of another creature you care about. People never witness each other's bookends of life; we just catch segments that are sometimes the beginnings or endings. Never the whole thing. But somehow, time drifted by and now my dog is a little whiter of paw, a little weaker of hindquarters.

What is wonderful and heartbreaking about this is that he isn't aware that he's aging. He has naturally made some adjustments for his limitations, but really, in his heart, he fully believes he can run ten miles without stopping--leaping and twisting in the air to snatch a tennis ball as he used to do. And even after he comes crashing down in a spectacular failure, he still scrambles to his feet, prepared to hurtle onwards.

He's always been that way, completely engaged in the moment of pursuit and unhindered by any other elements. As someone who goes through life painfully self-conscious and too, too worried about the anonymous world's assessment of me, I totally envy and admire this innate talent he has. The only self-awareness he has involves deploying his chasing and catching skills, and returning the ball to any human who will humor him. (Including tiny humans who haven't the motor skills to humor him just yet.)

His life might be too short for me, but nobody can say he didn't make the most of it. He has lived firmly in each moment, and let his feet take flight when they wished, without fear or a second thought.

September 20, 2014

if people are seasons

My stepmom is autumn, her face warmed and browned after a summer spent outdoors, cupboards full of comforting harvest and rooms with deep brown wooden furniture. Her rooms are full of the scent of steaming cups of tea and wool and wood smoke, and they hum with candles as daylight dims. The light is low and the floors are warm.

 If people are seasons, then my dad is a north-woods-of-Wisconsin-winter, piles upon piles of peacefully sleeping snow and heavy curtains of pine. He is briskly gliding cross-country skis, stacks of hand-hewn firewood, and deep breaths making clouds of steam in the clear air.

 My mom was an east-Texas-spring, behind a different curtain of pines. Her spring spills over with dessert-named flowers like azaleas and magnolias and bluebonnets, lush and refreshed by warm rain showers. It's the gentle, easy warmth and fragrant air before the smothering glare of summer.

March 2, 2013

dwelling place

We've spent nearly two seasons in our first home, but that just means our most-committed-home, sixth-dwelling-place-in-seven-years. This is the first one we've owned, which suddenly makes things much more official.

Things I am learning:

I need a define-the-relationship discussion to understand neighbors. All of my previous relationships have been understood to be temporary, which didn't make me very eager to mentally commit. But this sure feels like a long-term deal. How committed are we to this relationship? What are your expectations? Are you going to compare me to your last relationship all the time, since she's the one who broke up with you?

When Toby chases squirrels, he hurls his body at the back fence like a hockey player crashing against the boards. That's exactly what it sounds like, too. Without pads or a helmet.

Pinterest makes me feel like interior decorating is an adventure waiting to be started, and then I realize Pinterest is no measure of time and expense and expertise and taste.

Our furniture is a wild mishmash of whatever would fit in our last apartment, hastily constructed Ikea storage, inherited antiques, and regrettable-first-year-of-marriage selections. It does not harmonize. And now that my furniture choices will be sticking around, and can't be explained away by our nomadic history, the pressure to make GOOD choices is enormous.

Hand in hand with the pressure is the satisfying power to change what I don't like. Passive acceptance with a rental was the norm up until now, but I can paint over the ugly yellow room, I can tear up the ugly tile, I can redesign the landscaping. (That last one is a stretch, though. Previous owner puts me to shame with the landscaping. I will hide my tomato and basil plants around her curated perennials.)

Daily life now doesn't so much feel like, "what's next?"--more like, "what now?" And I suppose the answer is both "nothing, we're done" and "EVERYTHING."

November 4, 2012

long black veil

This song isn't new, and I first heard it not very long ago. Maybe it's just well suited for the short, blustery days of autumn. But it is creeping up my list of favorites.

Johnny Cash's cover:

Iron & Wine's cover:

But the Dave Matthews might be my favorite:

August 21, 2012

i held so many people in my suitcase heart


I’m wearing a belt of mom’s that I saved, but have never tried on. It’s an American Airlines one, thin and black, and the buckle is an oval with a silver eagle on the front, just the kind that hooks into a hole in the belt. The first time I wrap it around me, I see right away which holes are worn and stretched and which are not. Her waist fit my waist. Or really, mine fits hers.

It’s such a contradiction to me. We people leave such traces behind. The space between my hands fitting that belt, and her hands twenty years past fitting that belt, is just a heartbeat apart. A home packed, filled wall to wall and page to page with newspaper trimmings and shreds of loopy handwriting. So many objects treasured and tucked away by so many pairs of hands before us, and clutched tight to our chests for a little longer. Shoes broken in and relaxed to fit a particular pair of feet. A scarf still smelling faintly of someone’s perfume. A recipe printed in a church cookbook with penciled notes and adjustments from experiments gone awry somehow. Our markings are everywhere, whether or not we are mindful of who will read and touch and smell them when we’re gone. Sometimes it’s the things we take such care to preserve, and other times it’s the note from the doctor jotted down by the phone, just as easily thrown away as enshrined by someone else.

It’s a wave of comfort, followed closely by a wave of grief for the gift that’s left for me to hold on to, while knowing how insufficient it is to replace the person. It’s a treasure in the same moment that is also a weak reflection and a fragment.

How can a thing be so important, so so important, and a breath later, just another thing?

August 20, 2012

inheritance, part 3

7/14 – 7/15

We talk about how Grandmama was such a pack rat, especially the infamous newspaper clippings. They were, and are, everywhere: tucked in every book, layered with cookbooks, in every box and basket, lining drawers. Anything of interest to her, or to someone she thinks might like it. 

But I realize after a little while, that I love this about her, because it’s a sign of how much she still loved learning—never quit learning. Her mind was always scanning for new information, filing things away to use sometime in the future, adding to her physical and mental collection of ideas and facts. The inquisitiveness outweighs the tangible clutter.

600 miles away, in a hotel parking lot, we roll up the door of the truck and the smell just about knocks me over. It isn’t foul. It’s already serving as a time machine, and is an on-switch for emotions and memories and mental images, in less than a second. It smells like dust and stale books and rotting wood—it smells like the garage. I can hear the back door screech open and slam closed. I can feel the humid air wrap around me with my first inhale. Why are smells so memory-linked? I can remember keeping a stuffed animal of Aunt Lucy’s, and liking the way it smelled; certain clothes of Mom’s smelled like her for a while, too. But those have faded over time. I hope these things retain their scent for a little while.