Reading Harry Potter

Like in-laws who have overstayed their welcome, winter lingers. While you might be wanting to mop mud from the in-laws’ boots off your kitchen floor, they keep coming and going, anticipating lunch and then dinner.

So, too, winter.

Sunday afternoon, my daughter reads Harry Potter with a cat curled sleeping beside her. I stretch on the rug with the other cat, reading David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. She pauses to relay a Dumbledore tidbit. I consider sharing the word desertification, and then decide the heck with that. Later, we put on our boots — again, again. In the woods, we follow a narrow snowshoe trail.

I’m likely to lay down the grim reading and pick up Potter as a survival guide, in the current season and for the longer haul….

That epic era once derided as ‘prehistory’ accounts for about 95% of human history. For nearly all of that time, humans traversed the planet but left no meaningful mark.

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Maize v. Corn

When I was ten, my family and I camped one summer all the way from New Hampshire to Wyoming to Mexico. One of the places we visited was Mesa Verde, in Colorado. In the visitors’ center, we saw an ancient urn found in a cave (as I remember), filled with corn seed. The archeologists planted some of the precious seed; the kernels germinated. The seedlings grew and thrived.

A few summers ago, I returned to Mesa Verde as a grown woman with my family, and that urn was still there, in that same visitors’ center. For a few days, we stayed with friends, who took us to one of the many once-upon-a-time villages, which had been excavated and filled back in, and now seemed traversed mainly by wildlife. We walked among the remains of walls and abode houses, theorizing where these families might have planted crops, how they harbored water, what kind of lives they might have lived.

Water and maize: clearly the narrative of life for these people: material and undoubtedly spiritual, too. As I begin planting seeds again this season, I can’t help but think of that ancient clay vessel, so reverently crafted and painted, its dear contents preserved. And, 21st woman that I am, I can’t help but remark what a far distance those precious seeds have travelled to the industrial giant of King Corn.

This is the yin and yang of the earth, an energetic feedback. What happens below relates directly to what is happening on the surface and in the atmosphere and vice versa. Tectonics does not end at the ground beneath your feet. It is a dynamic system from the earth’s interior all the way into the sky and back.

–– Craig Childs

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Trees, Rugged Earth

My brother has a stash of panoramic vista hikes in his terrain. This visit, we hiked up Jockey Cap in nearby Maine, an enormous round igneous rock practically in the town of Fryeburg.

At the top, we saw extensive Lovewell Pond, the substantial White Mountains to the west, and the flats of Maine where the land begins to stretch to the sea. The sole snowy peak, in this end of February, was Mt. Washington. From that height, in this too-warm winter, the earth appeared dull brown, even the blues of the mountains washed out under the brilliantly clear sky. Down below, we saw a conical pile of road maintenance sand, a Dollar General, a series of strip malls, traffic inching along the highways: not the earth in her shining majesty and glory, but hard-worn, patient, enduring.

At the crest, a pine tree no taller than myself grew stubbornly from the rock. My daughter and I knelt near its roots, our bare fingers over the hard curled wood searching for traces of soil. None. And yet this tree ruggedly remains, flourishing, seemingly against all odds.

SEEKING REST

Late night, dark night,
the house hums around me.
… High wind
swirls the stars around me.

Closed and still,
I hear and say the names
that do not stay in place
when night has found me.

Everything is shifting.

– Ellen McCulloch-Lovell

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Fryeburg, Maine

River Ice

Late, yesterday, bringing in firewood, I walked up into the woods just before snow descended with all its might and majesty. Dark was coming in, and I hiked to where I could see the blue ridge of Elmore Mountain in the distance across the valley. Standing perfectly still, I heard nothing, not a single sound, until merely the wisp of my own breath pried open that silence.

The river today is filled with flowing chunks of ice, green like water residing deep in a quarry’s bottom. We woke this morning to icy grapple against the bedroom windows, the wind skulking around the house, like a wild animal, eager to enter. All the wildness of winter returns, the icy realm returned in all its mighty fury – and unspeakable, very earthly beauty.

DUST OF SNOW, by Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

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Living Sonnet for this Holiday

In my daughter’s geometry homework, she’s struggling to take a flat diagram and turn it into a three-dimensional object – harder than might be imagined, even for an art-minded kid. In this holiday break, with a teenager and a savvy ten-year-old, we talked with my brother about who we know and how their lives shape out, and the choices people make in their lives. That clarity of hindsight notion…

Sometimes it appears as though our lives unfold into myriad geometrical shapes, complex beyond any imaging. Walking in the garden this afternoon, around the beds banked over with raked leaves, we saw two fluttering moths, blooming johnny jump-ups, and purple ground ivy flowers in the hoop house. Those petals are a dimension not so long ago I would never have imagined in the month of December. What way will this story bend? All around us appears this mighty world, seemingly all-powerful, greater than any of us: and yet, here we are, a handful of people – my family – walking in our kitchen garden. Who is the folder of this shape?

 

Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.

– Madeline L’Engle

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Christmas Eve, December 2015, Woodbury, Vermont

Spinning Planet

Almost immediately after a children’s play at the Craftsbury Library tonight, my daughters ran outside. Was it the weirdly warm December weather? The joy of seeing a long-time friend? I sat on the back porch slouched in a rocking chair, watching the sun sink behind the Lowell ridge, listening to ten-year-old hysterical laughter.

My teenager appeared, and we were all crazed, wandering around the church, the gazebo, the war memorial. As the dusk steadily pressed down, the children raced across the Common. At the far end, I saw the white-painted fence, and nothing of the children but a smear of a red coat.

Spring fever? In December? In a world rapidly turning upside down? With my teenager, our conversation often seems one long meandering line of history, of the bloody business spanning centuries. But the world turned upside down is inescapable in this mud-season December, with my laundry hung out to dry on the clothesline.

The girls lay on the grass, and I teased them, Make snow angels. Christmas is coming! I pressed the toes of my boots against one of the girls’ feet. This same girl bequeathed me these boots a few years ago, when she had outgrown them. Having walked through some serious living in these boots, the sole under my right foot has split, a crack where water from the thawing earth bled up through my sock, soaking my skin.

In the twilight, she was laughing. How’s that for a composition? This glossy-eyed girl, giggling in the shifting bits of remaining light, ruddy-cheeked with gorgeous health, hair unraveling in a braid, her back and shoulders pressed into Vermont sod while overhead the constellations merge into view, and our planet spins steadily, on and on….

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul…

— Invictus

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Woodbury, Vermont