The outside light flicks on early this morning, and my little cat Acer stares wide-eyed at a skunk making its snuffling and curious away around a flowerpot I left on the back step. Well before dawn, the cats are already fed, the kitchen warm, redolent with coffee, and here’s this wild creature, not in the least troubled by the two of us.

The skunk waddles on its way. Shortly afterwards, snow and chunks of ice rush down the house roof and crash on the porch, softened in the rising temperature. My cat runs. I wonder about the porch railing which snapped in prior years, but nothing appears broken. The design is poor — steep roof and wide porch and slender railings — and I let myself wonder just for a moment if this is some kind of hidden cosmic twist, a long-buried plan from when my former husband built this porch. I cut off that sentiment. This far along in life, I’m well-acquainted with the steepness of roofs and the precariousness of ice and snow and dynamic temperature. Gravity is not ruled by human desire.

At the other end of the day, I’m carrying in a few armloads of wood from the barn when another ice chunk falls, shaking the porch where I had tread a moment before. Through the glass door, my teen raises her hands — what’s happening? — Acer at her feet.

The cold’s drilling back in for the night. In the valley below, the village twinkles in the darkness. The wind whirls around the scent of woodsmoke. I step back, finally wary. The roof has cleared.

When you’re young, you are certain of your capacity to imagine a way out of the previous generation’s problems. There is a different way to grow old, paths that don’t involve conforming and selling out….

— Hua Hsu, Stay True

A Little Poetry.

Wild Mind, Wild Earth — David Hinton’s book is exquisitely beautiful and certainly not a feel-good book. It’s a book where poetry is motion. On this cold January day, snow begins falling midday, little bits, then steady showers as dusk filters in. I stand outside the library, my head tipped back. An acquaintance, on his way in, pauses. “Remember this?” he asks. “It’s winter.”

Robes of snow, crests of snow, and beaks of azure-jade,
they fish in shadowy streams. Then starting up into

flight, they leave emerald mountains for lit distances.
Pear blossoms, a tree-full, tumble in the evening wind.

Tu Mu, “Egrets,” translated by David Hinton

And a Little of This Loveliness…

A few streets down from me, a pregnant woman leans on a shovel in a driveway covered with a few inches of dense, soggy snow. It’s late afternoon, and a light snow swirls down as I walk. A pickup truck stops on the road, and I hear the driver offer to plow. There’s a little back and forth, and then she steps back. He sets down his plow and goes to work.

Every snowfall has its own kind of knowledge. As I walk through the streets and then across the former railroad bed and into the woods, I marvel at how much I know about snow, too. How a scattering of snowflakes can remind me of being 10 years old again, and a fourth grade teacher caught snowflakes on her tongue. Delicious, delicious, she said. Or how the three-foot Valentine’s Day storm snowed us in when my daughters had fevers and I wondered if I would ever return to the world of adults.

In the woods, the snow swallows up all sound for a handful of hours.

In these winter months, I’m reading about Claude Monet and his gardens. Here’s a line from the master: “… people must first of all learn to look at nature, and only then may they see and understand what we are trying to do.

Winter Koan.

I stop in at the former Hardwick Gazette building, now turned into the Civic Standard, an organization trying to figure out itself. An acquaintance and I stand at the windows in the building’s rear, staring down at the Lamoille, where ice feathers only along the edges. The water is low enough that the rocks are mighty in the rushing current.

I drink coffee and sit crosslegged on the couch, and we talk for hours. I finally vaguely inquire if we haven’t had enough of our own words, and then we go on and on again. The building itself seems marooned in the 1970s, and even in 1972 the building likely felt stranded in 1957. An old printing press hulks beside us. One of us has an Hungarian immigrant family, and our conversation inevitably weaves in the first half of the 20th century.

December in Vermont is as good a time as any to ponder the Zen koan chop wood, carry water in the pieces of my life. Sunlight on the living room floor. Kim chi and brown rice. Reading Ruth Ozeki’s The Face on the rug.

Sunday afternoon, light snow sifts down, the sweetest gift, its fresh cold sweeping away our stale human layers of mind and emotion. I carry in an armful of wood to feed our little stove for the night. The snowflakes melt in my eyebrows. Finally, I think, finally, a scattering of snow. Then I quit thinking, close my eyes, and listen to the falling snow.

“The past is weird. I mean, does it really exist ? It feels like it exists, but where is it ? And if it did exists, but doesn’t now, then where did it go ?” 

— Ruth Ozeki

Eh, Winter.

18 below zero this morning.

The cold comes at my face like a knife when I take out the wood stove ashes. The early morning is perfectly still, full of sunlight. This is not the songbird season.

I’ve now lived through a few dozen Vermont Januaries, beginning as a young woman when I spent so many January nights walking around beneath the winter sky, amazed at all those stars in the deep country dark. Januaries of nursing babies, of a long driving commute, of sledding and baking bread, and enduring the beginnings of cabin fever’s madness.

Always, there’s the cold that reminds us immediately of our own fragile mortality and an inevitable thaw. By the end of the month, daylight returns in a rush. In these chopped-up days of uncertainty, I remind myself of these constants.

We forget about the spaciousness
above the clouds

but it’s up there. The sun’s up there too.

~Naomi Shihab Nye

The Saving Grace of Winter is Beauty

These December days are so cold the air is smoky with a mist that can’t melt. Daylight is scant.

Walking up Main Street in Greensboro, my boot heels kicking clumps of road salt, I detour to the public beach, scene of so many summer hours of pleasure.

In the otherwise empty parking lot, two pickup trucks are parked side by side, drivers’ windows rolled down, a cloud of cigarette smoke motionless between them.

December narrows us down and opens us up; we relish the pleasure of our warm, well-lit houses, the bowl of steaming noodles, our cats and our library books. And yet the cold appears to ripple endlessly, infinitely beyond the frozen lake and mountains. The winter night sky dwarfs us. We’re but tiny stars ourselves, on this icy landscape.

Day by day we’re spinning towards the solstice.

Winter solitude–
in a world of one color
the sound of wind.

— Bashō

Caspian Lake, Greensboro