Saturday, January 21, 2012

Winter winds

Every year, it's the same thing. November and December in the northern hemisphere feel so cold and dark. The pressure is on to celebrate the holidays with all of the festiveness we can muster. Everyone complains, but we all need it. Otherwise we'd spend the days with the covers pulled over our heads, hiding beneath wool and turtlenecks and down. Even if the weather isn't so bad, the expectation of a white Christmas makes this time feel like the winds are whipping around outside and the warm hearth calls to us. As a cruel joke nature plays, the shortest day of the year comes not in the middle of winter but at the beginning. The days begin to get lighter as the new year rings in, but there is still more cold and snow to come, for many months in some places. We're ready to get moving, start planning spring break, emerge from the blanketed beds and throw open the windows, and instead blows in a struggle to overcome expectations of spring when winter is in full force.

Whoever planned the holidays at this time knew what they were doing. They knew that without the cozy festiveness, dread of winter would drive us further into hiding, and without the promise of new things to come after an arbitrarily set day to mark a new year, we would all succumb to the reality of winter. As the days get lighter, we transition from stews to salads with the hope that when the wools and downs are finally shaken off, a newer person will be revealed. What is this experience like for those in the southern hemisphere, where summer abounds right now, and where their winter will be met not with festivities and yearly milestones but just a stretch of months in the middle of the year? How do they get through their cold, dark months without something to look forward to? We are lucky here, where the clouds roll in and the gales whip the snow and rain. We have much to anticipate as time marches on toward the long warm and sunny days.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Now it's real

I have a real home now. With the assembly and set-up of the desk and chair in the spare bedroom, I have a home office for the first time in my adult life. All of the indoor furniture has been purchased and moved in. Some pictures have been hung on the walls, with more to come. Curtains with tie-backs grace the windows. I live in a house, and it is home.

Last summer, I started a new journal, after filling the previous one with all kinds of thoughts. It helped me process a lot of things that happened in my life, those three short years in DC. Every time I start a new journal, I make a list on the first page with hopes for the coming years. This new journal included a promise to find a place, make it home, and stay there for a while. I need to break the pattern of setting up shop and immediately looking for a new adventure somewhere else. Why do I start running again as soon as I arrive wherever I was heading? It's time to stop doing that. Resist the urge to seek out greener pastures elsewhere, and instead make my home pasture as green as can be.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fox in the garden

Last night, dear kitty wanted desperately to look out the bedroom window. The blinds were closed, but there was something out there she just had to see. So I turned out the lights, pulled the blinds up just a bit, and together we peered into the darkness. With her night vision, dear kitty saw them before I did, her eyes reflecting in the window: foxes roaming the yards in the cul de sac beneath the glowing streetlights, the moon not yet risen. It looked like four foxes, though there could have been just two, one with a white-tipped puffy tail, the other with a long snout and curled tail, more dog-like than fox. They sniffed under the junipers, poked through the wood pile, and investigated the low rock wall in my yard. Finding no tasty morsels there, they wandered off, noses to the ground, avoiding being illuminated by the headlights of an approaching car. Soon after they left, dear kitty lost interest and curled up on the bed.

How did dear kitty know they were there? Could she smell them through the plaster and wood of the sturdy house? Did she hear them silently sniffing for food, their small paws crunching on the pine needles and dried leaves? And why did their presence matter to her, a small house cat who goes outside only when supervised, and only during the day? Perhaps her wildness is not yet bred out completely. Perhaps her homeless days still hold a place somewhere in her tiny mind. Or perhaps she just wants to know about the world outside her home, even if she never ventures far from it.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Why we do it

Whether or not it becomes your career, you don't decide to be a writer. It chooses you. Drawn to words from a young age, you seek out any opportunity to read what someone else has written - on cereal boxes, in any magazine or brochure or book that lands in front of you, even the closed captioning on a television program. When you see a word, you can own it. Parse out the sounds each letter makes, roll it off your brain and then your tongue to make it real. Put it together with other words. Try different combinations to see what gets the feeling and the meaning across. Compose a symphony, each word a musical note, each sentence a different instrument. When you wake up or go around a corner and words or phrases repeat themselves over and again in your mind, you know you are a writer, even if you do nothing with those words except let them float around in the ether.
I don't remember learning how to read. I was just always able to put letters together, sound out the words, get a sense of their meanings. Everyone has a thing, something that they just know. Words, I just know. But what can you do with words? You can inform people. You can move them. You can haunt them. The best writers do this so well, and the rest of us just fumble in the dark for a way to tell others what we know. Despite this language that consumes us, we will never be like those whose words are held up high for all to read. It's this art that grips us 'til the end but which we can never seem to elevate beyond scribblings in journals and now musings in whatever public spaces we can manage. There's too much out there that's of too little value, but some of the really good, meaty non-fiction can be found here. With any luck, it could be any of us there someday, although given what some of those writers have been through or who they met to get the story, perhaps it's better them than us sometimes.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Call from the wild

On Saturday afternoon, New Year's Eve, we heard a rap-tap-tapping on the house. It was loud, right outside the window, too many in a row and too random a rhythm to be made by a human. A peek out through the window revealed nothing immediately, but the image reflecting off the windshield of the car in the driveway below showed two birds clinging to the red clapboard of the house, just below the roof. I quietly snuck down through the open garage and peered up at the house. One bird flew away immediately, and the other, a Northern flicker, paused and peered at me for a moment, caught in the act of delivering a message, before it too flew away. This was no accident. My house cannot be mistaken for a tree. There is no rotting wood hiding grubs for hungry woodpeckers. The birds wanted us to know that change was coming. That the days ahead would be different. That we should keep our eyes to the sky.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Time to get back on the wagon

Last year, 2011, was the year of not caring. The year of saying yes, of doing things I shouldn't have done or shouldn't have been able to get away with. Given the musical themes often present, last year felt like my joyous high school days, when life was easier but we thought it was hard, because we don't know any better when we are 17. Last year, and the late parts of the year before, were filled with what-the-heck fashion choices, like getting that third ear piercing and wearing aqua-colored fishnet tights with my black dress on New Year's Eve and a short school-girl skirt to dance away the night to music from the '90s sometime in April. Last year was I'm Going to Do Whatever I Want year - birthday at the aquarium, lots of concerts (like The Beach Boys at Wolftrap), a last-minute trip to Dallas to celebrate a milestone year with a best friend, kayaking and eating crabs in Annapolis, a solo camping trip with wild ponies on the Eastern Shore, way too many happy hours, a shirking of duties, birding in the park, and finally, the big move out West.

See, I needed last year to blow off adulthood. 2009 and 2010 were so full of caring about everything: the beginning, middle, and end of an intense relationship, a yearning to go somewhere, anywhere, just not where I was; an overwhelming sense of being utterly lost. By the time 2010 wound down, I was ready for something completely different. I was ready to just not care anymore. I said too much, sometimes inappropriately, and I let it all hang out, metaphorically. The heavy cloak fell from my shoulders, and I floated through 2011 with that whatever attitude that gets one into trouble - mostly the good kind though. I carried that with me to Idaho, where I figured that if no one knew me here, I could be whatever I wanted, and that's just how they would know me. I rode a mechanical bull on Halloween, for pete's sake. I chopped some wood and told people my secrets. I bought some real furniture.

The year ended on a different note, signaling that it's time to pull myself together, to get a little more serious again. I found myself really caring again, for someone special who lives in the mountains but isn't from the mountains. As the new year has rolled in and the lovely but fleeting relationship has slipped away, it seems like time to focus again. There's still room for fun - so many of the friends I've made here already have stepped in to distract me when I really need it, and I can't just stop having fun after getting so much better at it - but I have to put more thought into my life again. I have to decide where this is heading and start wandering that direction. The past few years were desperately spent getting to this point. This is no time to waste all that effort or squander the opportunity that is now presenting itself. Adulthood shouldn't mean boring, but it definitely can't be spent trying to escape by going back to our formative years. Age 29 was intense; 30 was rough, and 31 was just plain fun. May 32 be good. Not good as in good-but-not-great, but good as in satisfactory. Agreeable. Fit. And yes, virtuous.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Winter in Idaho

Last year, I wrote about the vanilla sky and egg yolk sun of a winter in the Mid-Atlantic, a place so lush and green nearly year-round that the stark paleness of the winter light seems incongruous. But here in southwest Idaho, a place that is mostly pale during all except the wetness of spring, the light is bright and clear, the sky cerulean blue, the sunrises and sunsets juicy with strawberries, peaches and tangerines as the sun traverses across the sky from one mountain range to another. We are on the western edge of the Mountain time zone, and thus, the sun takes its time rising. It is still dark at 7am, with still just a hint of light in the distance at 7:30am. But once it is here, it is warm, even when the air is cold. And even during the shortest days of the year, the sun is still wandering slowly down the slopes at 5:30pm, heading toward the Pacific Ocean and the lands beyond this country to start a day anew half a world away.