Lamp Lighting in a Darker World

The Lamp Post in the City by Erik Hennigsen, 1897
The Lamp Post in the City by Erik Hennigsen, 1897

As Pacific Northwest rains subdue the palette of nature, I find the light that much more remarkable. It flares, retreats, accumulates in small places, bores through density of fog or shadow in a brilliant beam. It pools about treetops and people in opalescent auras when least expected. And it seems to hide for long periods. Though grayness leaches warmth from our emerald green, I know the sunlight is there. I am heedful of its oft-ephemeral illumination, discover it in watery reflections, the clinging air, a wind-upended sky. Although I am at home in shadow and dark (both are gradations of light in my thinking), the light calls me.

I have often felt my living is a motley, persistent series of advancements toward greater light. Toward more expansive and intriguing horizons than the one left behind. The locomotion is naturally not always rapid or connect-the-dots forward movement, but it incorporates motion even in apparent stillness. As we live and breathe, the body, mind and soul effect a rhythmic synergy. And both literal and figurative walk/run/pause/walk/run/pause includes this very moment, a kaleidoscopic experience. Aliveness offers such creative largess.

Humans are such restless creatures. So much to be explored, embraced, utilized, redesigned, discarded. We feed the engine of curiosity even in rest and sleep. And the soul seems to circle ’round us, waiting, when we are not attentive to its well-being, too. My belief is that Grace interacts with free will as we construct and inhabit our lives. (Note a meaning of synergism defined in my old The American Heritage Dictionary: “2. The doctrine that regeneration is effected by a combination of human will and divine grace.”)  I awaken from the refueling and instruction of dreams, sort their meanings, get up, seek what may be next. I start the day with optimism tempered with prudence.

I do not think often about the past, nor the future. Intellect, intuition and feeling guide me in daily choices. I believe God also stirs us, beckons us. And moves between and within our global and personal spheres–and far beyond.

But for some time I kept setting up camp in the past, no matter how far I had come, regardless of updated versions of reality. Magnetically sly, the past would pull me to both nostalgia’s perfection and various brutal remembrances. It is said that familiarity is more secure even if not good for us. Perhaps that is so, otherwise we’d be moved to improve more, faster.  Still, I looked backwards to better gauge where I ended up, to help determine where I wanted to go. It was inefficient at best, self-defeating at worst. There was, I found, relief to be had by remaining in the moment. And more than that, ubiquitous opportunity for change. There was no time to waste on what had gone before. I started a new habit of pulling my mind from past to present by attending to what was in front of me–the work, the play, the person, the place.

The future is much trickier to manage. Even with decent foresight, with calculations to gauge odds and extensive history to inform decisions, I find myself unwilling to predict much of any significance. Experience tells me very little I imagine for good or ill will be quite as I imagined it. It is often, in fact, another thing altogether. I prefer it that way. I cannot think of life without wide-ranging and unknown factors. What motivates me is having expectancy, not of something in particular, necessarily, but of just something. I always want to know what’s coming around the corner. I draft a loose plan and move on, all the while keeping a look out as the next moment happens. And there is always more than I can absorb even when I fell acutely aware. The future is really only the moment following this period. And even that is up for grabs.

As 2015 draws to a close I look over my shoulder deliberately, as we all do, I suppose. It has been punctuated by losses and struggles. My oldest beloved sister died in April near my birthday. I was hospitalized for heart arrhythmia and tests in June. A family member was plagued by suicidal ideation; it was a long summer of recovery from her debilitating depression. I lost another relative to suicide some years ago and still feel his leaving, so this was a time of constant vigilance for me.

And, too, I damaged my foot and was unable to walk much for a few months. My other sister had a bad hip replaced and I stayed with her for a week to assist. One of my brothers had an emergency heart surgical procedure last week. And my brother-in-law, the husband of my deceased sister, passed suddenly eight months after she left us. His funeral service was also last week.

And then, Paris. And San Bernardino. Ceaseless tragedies and crises continue in our world. Grief is a river that gathers us all and we hold to each other, try to float the best we can. It can be disorienting. Stupefying.

None of this did I clearly anticipate happening. I have had premonitions, concerns, anxious moments. We know we take a chance daily in this world; we are mortal. So as life has unfolded these ways, I have done what most of us do: pray and ready myself for the hard road ahead.

And yet. And yet. I am filled with surprise at the wonders, too. The outpouring of care from friends. The edification and warmth of my weekly church women’s circle. My children’s and husband’s love and steadfastness. Finding the humor in seeming limitations and small absurdities in my busy days. Noting good improvements in many lives. The deep appreciation of the health I have, the freedom it affords. Visitations of miraculous moments with nature. The blessings of service to others. Thought-provoking, meaningful creative activity others engage in and my own sharing of writing and other arts. The presence of God in my life every moment. Here, now.

After Roland, my brother-in-law, died and I was treading that current of sorrow, I sat at my computer and downloaded and imported my camera’s photos. Then I clicked on “open folder” as usual and what filled the screen was not my latest pictures from a walk but three of Roland and my deceased sister, Marinell. The pictures were from over two years ago: one of my sister, one of her spouse and one of them leaning close together. They were smiling at the camera I had been taking pictures with at the barbecue on my niece’s deck. I frowned, frustrated, and then a chill shot up my spine. They were smiling right at me. They were right there. This folder had not been opened in over two years. I had not been searching for other photos before importing my current pictures. Their pictures just came right up, for me, that day, that moment. I began to cry, but in relief and gratitude.

Say what you may, but I felt the room fill with their presences. They both believed in eternal life; they believed in angels. Especially Roland, a fearless pilot US Navy and then for decades a commercial airline pilot. And he died in a major airport that was the main hub for his flights.

Roland liked to share stories of how often he felt his life had been saved by what he felt was divine intervention. He knew how connected to God I feel and that this life is a thin veil. He used to tell me how important it was that others knew, that they needed to understand there were angelic beings watching over us, helping us. He once insisted I write of angelic guides and his usually laughing and deeply blue eyes–those of a bright, discerning, courageous man–gleamed with deep emotion.

So I am sharing this experience for him: they came to me even though I wasn’t searching for anything, even though it was impossible that those pictures would suddenly come up like that. I understood they were just saying: Hello, we are together again. We love you. 

But I have not been able to find the pictures–none of them–since that day. Maybe one day I will sort it out; I’m in no hurry today.

I have been enjoying an interactive Advent calendar in the style of Victorian times. There is a lamplighter who methodically lights each lamp along a darkening street very time it’s evening. If I was walking along with him, I would glance back at the glowing spots spilling into the velvety dark. I could note where we were coming from and it would be a different story than the one I saw before I had moved on. I would be able to see things I had missed before because it is our perspective which changes things.

But I would rather choose to see the newly illuminated portions of the journey, to glance right and left and just before me. I am not afraid because I am not alone here on this planet. And there is much coming forward into the amber light. Life is the thing afoot and it takes on varieties of form. What lives seeks regeneration here and in the universe, yet the complexity at the heart of it all is simple in its wholeness. We are made of star dust (water and carbon), after all.

The darkness of the walk before my feet and the distant pathways–all unseen. Sensed, perhaps; glimpsed, even–but the specifics remain unclear. They will most certainly be disclosed step by step. Revelation is that beacon light, a call to seek and find, the Spirit that startles and fills me to overflowing and gives me peace. And sometimes  unpredictable, even difficult change. But there are always chances to get stronger and deeper, to discover and solve, to praise amid the letting go. To better fit my true nature. Let the living expand and glow within the grayness, inside the light.

Keep your own beautiful lights burning. When you think the flame is flickering, shield it, watch over it, give it air and space, seek aid from others. I’ll be looking for you and passing on peace along the way.


Postscript: Since it is Christmas soon and we will have a full house, I am taking a brief vacation from blogging. If I find extra time and am so moved to write, I’ll toss a few words in. Otherwise, I hope to see you all in January 2016.

And for those of you who celebrate it, have a lovely Christmas!

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

Coloring Winnie’s World

Coloring Winnie’s World
Photo by Padurariu Alexandru
Photo by Padurariu Alexandru

It was impossible, the color, but it was done. They came in and imposed their own signature right away, no questions asked. The only place on two blocks that stuck out. Every other house facade was a dingy whitewash or worn rusty brick. The street held a tinge of neglected gentility; its uniformity appealed to Winnie and her neighbors.

Of course they were artists, that’s what Simon told her and he should know as the owner and chief barista at Foglifter Coffee Bar. People stopped by on the way to city center, caught up with each other while in line, then again on the way home to savor the last caffeine of the day. She enjoyed it more when Simon had a free moment.

“Who?” Winnie asked. “Why?”

“I don’t know, they seem to be well known in some circles, mainly Marty’s.” He finished up an order then leaned on the counter. “As to why, I suppose they felt they could do what they wanted, having bought it, you know. We get to put our stamp on things a bit.”

“You don’t have to face a blaring bright house each day like I do. Marty likely talked them into coming here, he  does get around–have trumpet will travel, our local troubadour.  I’ll find out more.”

“You always do,” Simon agreed and winked at her.

You’d think she and Simon were true friends but often she found him distant or a tad overbearing, depending on time of day. It worried her it might be herself, but she’d decided it was how much caffeine he’d imbibed or how busy things got. She liked his cozy, packed place and often wondered about him. As she did everyone.  Winnie didn’t realize they developed a tolerance of her meddlesome nature, tempered by a degree of fondness.

She was a second grade teacher, a formidable taskmaster; her students complained. Their parents were glad of it. She wasn’t the best-liked but the children all knew essentials backward and forward and much more before they were moved on. Every now and then there was an exceptional pupil and he or she would make all her efforts worthy of the good regard. Still, she felt another function in the community was to keep abreast of what was happening. No one else paid that much attention. They knew the information would be forthcoming from Winnie. That it was wrong at least a good thirty percent of the time was irksome but understandable. It was surprising, though, that she had missed the paint job.

Simon watched her sway across the street, as if she had all the time in the world even though he knew she kept a hawk eye in all directions. He thought she wanted to dance her way through life in a world of common walkers–but she hadn’t quite found her rhythm yet. Yes, she had potential, and he waited for it to happen. Meanwhile, he did expect she would stir up some fuss about the Darlton’s place. Taking a pen from behind his ear to jot down an order, he smiled. If there was one thing Winnie didn’t take to, it was the unexpected. If only all could happen in an orderly manner with fair warning, barring weather and other acts of God. He, on the other hand, thrived on surprise, the lively commotion of it. He looked forward to meeting the new couple who felt compelled to cheer up the district. It had been a week but they hadn’t joined the coffee crowd yet.

As the day came to a close, Winnie sat by her front window and studied the freshly painted, shiny pine green door across the street. She willed it to open. They had moved in without her witnessing it, the one weekend she’d visited her cousin at the beach. She had to know who would take a perfectly good building and alter it so that is stuck out like a pesky dandelion wagging its colors at ubiquitous uniformity. If they were going to paint without asking first, what next? Would they wear wild get-up or have crazy parties into the wee morning hours? Would they talk with theatrical mannerisms or look down their noses at people like herself ? Artsy types unnerved her. Entirely. They just seemed…unseemly. This was the one thing unnecessarily irritating in her quiet and pleasant life.

Was that door ever going to open so she could lay eyes on them? Then she would hurry out with her strong handshake and investigative mind. She’d have to look them up on the internet if all else failed but firsthand was always more accurate, in her opinion.

When it did open, out shot Zachary Tomason. One of her students. Of course he might meet them; he was a nut about art, the only thing he really liked. He carried a lack satchel, the same one he took to school, though it looked light under his grip, held something else. He glanced her way; she waved. Zach may have seen her but he kept on, with daydreams crowding out civility.

Winnie heard the soup simmering on the stove top, vegetables with meatloaf leftovers tossed in. The hearty fragrance lured her and reluctantly she left her post.

Zachary came to the corner and looked both ways. He had visited the new people after his mother had talked with them when they moved in. When she said they were artists and made things out of stained glass and painted large pictures and made other things, he was excited. He asked his mother to take him to meet them. She raised a finely arched eyebrow then said why not, it only made sense he get his foot in their door. Mrs. Tomason knew her son had a gift for drawing but she didn’t know what to make of it yet. Maybe these new people would. So they’d gone to meet them and now Zachary was headed home while his mother stayed a bit.

It was like a miracle, he decided, and wished he could tell his dad who was salmon fishing in Alaska. It would be awhile before Zachary could share much of anything with him, but there was his mother and Simon, really his second dad as Simon was his real dad’s best friend. He was made his way to the Foglifter Coffee Bar. When he pushed open the red door, he came up against lots of legs, hands and elbows.

“There he is– Zach, this way!”

Simon came around the end of the counter, then they entered Simon’s office where the crowd’s murmuring quieted. The barista sat with hands on thighs and his bald head tilted. The boy was gaining an inch here and there, he looked heartier this year.

“Well? What did you think?”

“Did you know the Darltons have been to other countries to paint? And they have a few things in museums? Mr. Darlton makes things out of stained glass, he has a work place downtown with Mrs. Darlton and she has a small studio in their third bedroom, the light is good there, she says. For designing stuff and making small drawings. For imagining ideas, I guess.”

Zach paused for a breath as Simon tapped a finger on his lips.

“I did know some of it but not about a third bedroom being a studio. That’s cool. Did you talk shop with them? Did they ask to see your  art?”

Zach frowned. “How can I talk shop when I don’t have one? But they did ask to see my stuff or draw with them sometime. So I’ll show it to them.” He looked around the room excitedly then settled on Simon’s forehead, where his glasses were. “They’re awesome, Simon. They know everything, for sure. Real artists just a block away from me!”

Simon ruffled the boy’s straggly hair . An employee stuck his frantic face inside the office.

“Gotta go, Zach. I can’t wait to see what you’re going to show them.  Later, now.”

Zach wanted to tell Simon what was in his satchel but he left the coffee shop and ran home. Hi mother was just ahead so he caught her hand.

“Really nice people,” she said. “We’re going to be friends, I think, you and me and the Darltons.”

“And Dad?”

She laughed. “Well, maybe if Tony Darlton likes to fish! No, you’re right, Dad likes some art, too. I know he’ll be interested in the stained glass studio.”

“Me, too. I’ve got to see that.”

“What do you have in your satchel?”

“Just some junk Mrs. Darlton said I could have, you know, pencils and erasers and stuff.”

His mother squeezed his hand three times, the I love you code.

But what he had in his bag was better than just those things. He had admired a big sketch the new neighbor had made but tossed aside unhappily. Zach got the courage to ask if he could have it after he studied it closely. She said why not and he’d folded it up, put it in his bag: a picture of the street with all their buildings shadowed except for their townhouse which was left white, blank. All the neighbors were inside, he figured, asleep, just like he would be in a few hours. Dreaming of all the wonderful art that was being made in the world. Of what he wanted to make next. He  jumped up and down then sprinted to his house, his mother running after him.


The light filtered through her pink and green floral curtains but Winnie couldn’t bear it. Instead, she saw refractions of an internal light, sharp zigzags of it radiating about a tunnel of black. Migraine. She covered her head with her bedspread, then reached out for her phone to call in sick. Wait, it was Saturday, a small blessing amid a descent into agony. She succumbed to a swirl of dizziness and pain that encroached upon her being, floating in a dystopia of nervous system rebellion.

When the doorbell rang, she had been lying between sleep and the netherworld a long time. The visual symptoms has passed quickly but the headache, a jack hammer in her brain, had taken charge. She pressed hands to ears and turned to the corner, tried to rest more. Hours passed as she drifted, her mind filled with unsightly patterns and movement. She blamed the color  yellow across the street, having stared at it too long in the intense sunlight. She blamed the Darltons for painting it such a lurid color in the first place. Winnie blamed the boy for liking only art and acting bored in her class and her cousin for being broke and needy and her having to look after the neighborhood because nobody else bothered to keep track. Last summer she had called in a thief before he managed to steal a bike. The police had taken her information and thanked her. Simon heard about it and asked her if she had thought of being their full-time security detail. It had taken her a minute to realize he was poking fun at her. That had hurt her feelings but she had laughed along with him. He was, after all, a man she could admire.

She thought of the boy, Zachary. His astonishing talent. Because she knew that was what he had, an abundance of it. She never liked art or had any feel for it, herself. Her mother with her waist-length black braid and caftans that identified her  everywhere had been a big project person. She let it take up the dining room table and garage, take up her time and their meager extra money. She had wanted to be famous for her tiny birds painted on teacups, her useless hand-woven baskets, the ugly hand knitted sweaters she insisted they wear to school, the dresses that Winnie had to wear and then stuck out among the other girls. So she went to college out-of-state and never moved back. She could finally be who she was meant to be, a teacher. An ordinary, suitable, dependable person who helped mold children with simple but mighty rules of learning and living. It worked most of the time, this cohesive identity, and she rarely thought of her childhood days.

But then the Darltons came, likely dragging in unruly intensity as a penchant for vivid yellow indicated. And Zach’s education of all good things would be interfered with somehow, she knew it.

Winnie moaned and clutched her forehead. Curled up into a clump of misery and let darkness fall about her like a cool embrace.


“I brought them,” he said to the Darltons. “My drawings.”

He opened his satchel and held them out as his mother took a seat at the circular wrought iron table. They were all out front on Sunday morning. Winnie could just make them out through her curtains and open window, hear a few words. There were now white lights strung around the door and the windows, their idea of holiday joy. Winnie didn’t usually put lights up, too much bother for a short event. Further additions of a purple painted wrought iron table and chairs were set close to the townhouse, leaving barely enough room for walkers and bikes to pass by, how foolish. Cars would eventually crash into their decor, she was sure.

Purple and yellow! She squeezed her eyes shut. The pain had left a ghost of irritation but she was better, well enough to keep an eye on things a bit. Zach looked her way as she opened the window sashhigher. He waved first and she waved back, then drew away.

In another few minutes, her doorbell rang twice, then again. She got up just to avoid having to hear it again. She needed to disable it and put a knocker on the door. When she opened it, she pulled her robe close and squinted up at the man who blocked out the light.

“Oh, Simon… what on earth are you doing here? I just got over a migraine last night.”

He held a to-go paper cup of coffee in his hand and offered it to her. She took it eagerly; it might help diminish the migraine residue as it sometimes did.

“I’m sorry to hear it. But coffee will perk you up. I thought you should come meet the new folks. The Darltons. Just for a minute. Why don’t you see if you can find the strength to chat with us? If not, I’ll explain you aren’t well.”

“No!” Her voice surprised her. “I mean, no, don’t tell them that. I’ll clean up and put on sunglasses so I can at least say my hello.”

“Nice, I thought you would,” he said, grinning down at her in that teasing way of his.

When she got there with stomach clenched they had moved inside. She felt she might be better off going home and sipping coffee there but Simon answered and led her into a warm brick-hued foyer, fancy tiles on the floor. Then a turn and into a rich blue open kitchen and dining area. There was a garden outside a wall door that had been opened and a butterfly looped about, then out where Mrs. Tomason was admiring flowers.

“Hello there, I’m Rima and this is Ivan.”

The woman’s hair was sleeked back into a ponytail and she wore black pants and a white shirt. She offered her hand like a beautiful pale flower. Several rings sparked and glowed in the sunshine that poured through the windows and open doors. Winnie was glad she had her sunglasses on.

A medium-built man rose to his feet and nodded at her, indicating a chair. His black and white plaid shirt was open with a black Tshirt underneath. He wore jeans and finely made burgundy-hued loafers without socks. Winnie tried to not grimace. This would be a short visit, she thought, but responded with her greeting.

“Hello, I’m glad to meet you at last.”

“I think we missed each other on moving day, and it was painted right away. What do you think?”

That Rima was a chatty gal, she got right to the point. Winnie was caught off guard and coughed due to her unease.

“She doesn’t like it,” Zach said. “She likes things quiet you know, browns and beiges and grays not primary colors.”

“Well, that’s not entirely true, Zachary! I have a blue car. I like to wear pink and pale green.”

Mrs. Tomason joined them. “That’s true, you like blue and also dark green, I’ve noticed.”

Zach looked up at the ceiling where there was a new pattern of vines snaking through geometric shapes. She followed his gaze and felt the echo of the migraine in her brain. She thought how her mother would love this place, then though why was she thinking of her again, that was another time, another life.

The Darltons and Simon were waiting for her answer.

“I admit I did find it a shock. I guess I’m used to what has always been. I’ve lived here sixteen years now, the longest anywhere in one place.”

“That is something,” Rima agreed. “We tend to move every four years or less. To find new inspiration, I suppose, and to work on commissions. It gets easier to adapt when you find yourself in situations so unfamiliar. But we’re here to stay awhile now. I have a job at the university and Ivan found a great studio.”

“Ah,” Winnie said and gulped her cooling coffee.

“And you? You aren’t’ in the arts,  are you?” Ivan asked.

“No, she’s a respected teacher, remember? A good one,” Mrs. Tomason, said.

“I’m Zach’s teacher, second grade. Twenty years now I’ve been doing this. It’s worked out well.”

Ivan nodded, his expression indicative of surprise that someone would love teaching children so long but he was glad for her.

“She’s a cornerstone of our community,” Simon added. “A people person, someone you can count on to have a good ideas.  And an ace teacher.”

Winnie didn’t dare look at him in case he was mocking her. but then he came over and put his firm hand on her back and gave it a little pat. She felt the warmth of it and she suddenly found the room airy and inviting. Not chi-chi enchanting, thank goodness, but lovely in a gentle way. Simon removed his hand but she could still feel it there.

“You know, my mother liked to make things,” she found herself saying. “The house was always a mess of her projects, it aggravated me. But she was happiest then, I guess, making her arts and crafts. I just never got into it.”

“Well, maybe one day you’ll give it a try. Art is a sure bet for entertainment, if nothing else, don’t you think? We’ll have open houses, you can all come see what we’re up to, Maybe we’ll offer a workshop now and then at the community hall.”  Rima’s smile softened her angular features. “You must know about Zach’s artistic abilities. He has a real gift, you know.”

“Ah, yes, his drawings and so on. He’s a very good student–or he tries to be when not daydreaming. I don’t know as much about his art as some.”

“Well, I just made something for you,” Zach said. “We did some painting yesterday. Acrylic?” He checked with Ivan who nodded. “I thought you’d get more used to  bright yellow if you put it in your house and looked at it every day.”

He went to a broad table by the garden doorway and came back with a large piece of canvas board. He held it up in front of her to view.

Winnie’s right hand went to her chest and he left went to her mouth.

It was a painting of a tall, thickly outlined sunflowers, their perky faces turned to a bright sky, and sitting in the middle of that field was Winnie in her navy blue dress, the one she wore on Mondays. Her legs were crossed and she sat with hands in lap. A straw a straw hat covered her grey curls. Her round blue eyes were bright blue and gently smiling, a sort of bittersweet look as she gazed at the painter or observer. The world. This is what Zach thought, this is how he imagined her.

“What do you think?” Simon asked.

“We helped him out with pointers but it was his idea and his work,” Tony said.

“It’s his interpretation of you,” Mrs. Tomason admitted. “He’s fond of you, Winnie And he even signed it, see?”

Zachary placed the painting in her hands. “You like it okay?”

“I have never been given anything more beautiful, Zachary…thank you, dear.”

“Good, you can keep that one!” And he sat down in front of a plate of cookies and ate one.

Simon sat down beside Winnie. “I’m taking stained glass workshop after Christmas from Ivan. Why don’t you come along, try it, too?”

“I–I couldn’t, I’m all thumbs, I don’t have any talent at all! My mother despaired over me.”

Simon looked at her a long moment and knew she was wrong. She had lots of talents she didn’t even know were impatiently waiting to be excavated from beneath all that order, the monotonous sameness of her life. The mix of human fears.

“We’ll see,” he said. “There’s time to talk about it, get more information.”

Winnie sighed from her toes up. The migraine was behind her but she felt there might be more challenges coming her way. Not entirely unwanted ones. “Well, I do know I could use help framing and hanging this in my entryway.”

Simon, Zach and the Darltons gave a little cheer and said they’d help her soon. They brought out more cookies and a plate of scones and coffee for an impromptu first party, then opened the front and garden doors wide.

Five Good Reasons to Walk in a December Evening Rain


It had been a stormy couple of days. I mean: wind advisories (gusts to 45 mph), flood warnings, not the usual redundant pitter-patter of fat drops we usually have. I stood on the balcony, eyed the skies beyond rooftops and tree crowns. Sooty, formidable clouds were on a race to another quadrant of the city. There was a loud irritating noise. Something the rain struck created a hard metallic drumming. It had kept me up half the night and accompanied day hours. I went back inside, watched for the sheerest let-up of the downpour. When it came I put on rain gear and went outdoors to identify the culprit, hoping it was not just the rain thrashing gutters making such a racket.

It was an empty metal cube that once held cocoa mix. Odd to have jumped out of a recycling bin but it was a relief to deposit it where it belonged. No more banging to keep me awake. The rain is always welcome. Except for destructive flooding, and the landslides in various spots of our Pacific Northwest, and the muck and detritus it all can leave behind. Still, it is Oregon. We experience this sort of havoc during wet winters and springs.

The air felt milder where I lingered under our apartment balcony. A good walk was in order though it was late afternoon and what little light remained would soon diminish.

My usual steady good cheer had been in shorter supply for a while. A number of challenging life events have plagued everyone from nieces and daughters to sisters to brother and brother-in-law as well as my own cardiac scare. But early December has been hard. So the somber weather was in concert with me and I was drawn into the storm. As I stepped away from sheltering buildings, the wind whipped my hair and I snugged close my coat hood.

And then I found many good reasons to follow my impulse even as rain lashed out at everything and me.

  1. Comfort. Irvington District is orderly, substantial and inviting. It has been designated an historic place. The houses were first built and occupied during the late nineteenth century by a diverse group: merchants, doctors and lawyers, lumbermen and cannery owners, steamboat captains, civil servants and more. They are rather big places, festooned with gardens that tantalize eye and mind, set on larger lots. Often painted colorfully, they are like gems among monochromatic foliage to me. The streets reflect history even as improvements are made. Everywhere are overarching and diverse trees, graceful architecture that includes generous verandas, flower and vine-laden trellises and fences, garages whose often-flat roofs harbor mini-gardens or lounging areas. There are still iron rings attached to curbs for long-ago horses (now with toy horses often tied up). The streetlights are well placed but do not blare upon on my moseying.

I’ve often thought of moving from our newer apartment as there is some redevelopment ahead; it has been too long in one spot, perhaps. But this neighborhood has been my home. There is great comfort in walking these streets. Not many were out that day, though a few walked bedraggled dogs and a handful of kids rushed home after school. Most nodded or spoke a greeting. Of course there are the resplendent gardens and architecture including Queen Anne, Arts and Crafts and Colonial Revival styles, the Victorian with gingerbread embellishment: stunning. But these are family abodes. This alone gives me pleasure, to know that folks play basketball together, youth skateboard and bicycle about; whole blocks throw parties in the streets in warmer weather. Make the effort to decorate with whimsical yard art and also for a holiday or any other celebration. This is a community that builds tiny free libraries on front yards for passersby to use; fly bright banners from porches; install poetry posts with copies of famous or personal poems for walkers to read or take home.

As I went on, soft lights illumined bay windows, those made of stained glass or set in unusual shapes. I could see a person here and there setting a table, working at a desk, standing by a brightly-lit Christmas tree. Then there were gay decorations, voluminous, radiant along darkening blocks, dressing up houses and trees. I walked on as the wind came up.

  1. Hiking boots. That’s right, my Columbia brand rain-proofed, heavy-soled, lace-up boots. They are not very flexible but they hold feet just right. In warm weather I choose to be barefooted or wear minimal sandals but in winter, boots are best for walking in chilly rain. They’re friendly on my feet, sturdy, cushioned but supportive. They protect my left foot, injured first on a steep forest hike last spring and harmed further by a simple barefoot pivot. After two and a half months in an orthopedic “soft boot” that gripped like a vise, I finally was freed a few weeks back. Said foot yet readapts to freedom, and not always happily. Hence, sturdier foot apparel is a boon. The worn, treated suede with rubber, rather expensive boots make it possible to enjoy my daily power walks in winter. The infrequent foot discomfort is bearable, the after effects minimal now.

Those boots (plus a pair of lighter trail shoes), in effect, have saved me. Not walking, not hiking, was an emotional and physical challenge during a time when a family crisis dominated. Without my daily doses of serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline well-pumped through all systems, I struggled to maintain well. I know the body holds deep, ancient wisdom. It will care for us if we care for it, if we heed its cues and take action.

Walking can fix, to one degree or another, most problems if you are able to do it. Ask my cardiologist the most important key to my having outlived a ten year lifespan prognosis following early heart disease at 51: daily devoted rapid walking. I know it keeps me better balanced in all ways.(Other posts are solely dedicated to walking, if interested.)

On to the third thought I had while walking as dusk fell about.

  1. Quietness. There occurred a performance of jazz-riffing raindrops, improvisational movements of air, wetness, tree limbs, mini-flash flooding and my own body moving, moving, moving. Not many others crossed my path. The streets were devoid of typical busyness as darkness crept forth, then gathered itself. Drivers I did see stopped more often so I could safely cross streets. The unrelenting rain and unpredictable wind did not encourage most outside. They were inside, dry and at ease, cooking dinner, tending families.

Storm drains were backing up; puddles becoming small ponds. Jumping over manageable ones and detouring around others, I began to wonder about the crows, now silenced–if they were huddled unseen in trees or if they had flown to better temporary shelters. I half-missed their commands and harping, the commentary on every step I took. But the longer I walked, the rushing, shifting sounds of water falling created a dense hush. It was a stormy winter’s eve and I floated through it. It was all absorbed, was as if being held in a whorl of suspended time. Branches bowed and danced. Rain, deepening darkness, myself being helped along by the wind. No more thought. No more restlessness, only rhythm of feet, legs, arms; breathing in, out; heart muscle responding with little zigzags, then steadily.

I had the neighborhood to myself as evening painted the landscape sterling grey, then charcoal. The aloneness found within nature’s capricious theatre filled me with a gentling calm. Solitude, so resonant. I felt cradled in peace.

  1. Feelings. No matter where I go outdoors, if there is sky, a few growing things, the freshening breezes, then I find my way back to the Creator and myself. As long as I can move or repose under the mysterious canopy of the universe, I move beyond my small self toward much that is larger, better. The connection vis-à-vis sensory input and personal detritus’ output is inevitable. It redistributes the essence of soul and body, mind and emotion. It clarifies what matters.

So all this can bring me to a refined state, a kind of clarity emotionally where the truth of anything cannot be avoided. In the rain-storming winter as I walked my heart knew what it felt and what it could hold and what it could let go. And so I wept. wept for what little I know and do not know, who I have lost and who I have not yet lost. The raindrops visited me with might and sweetness, bathed my face so tears could join the rain, salt water to fresh, an anadromous movement to allow renewal. Simple sorrow rose up to the surface and fell from me. I knew again in my center that all things change and in the end it is not truly one thing or another, it is just part of the whole.

Faith and hope, for me, grows in the living of my prayers. I cannot cling too tightly to this world because its suffering may bend ’til it breaks us, and eventually we will leave it, anyway, all of us. But neither can I keep from loving it. The people in it, its peculiar offerings. I weep when others are in pain, and sometimes, too, when they inhabit joy. And when they  leave.

When you walk in the blinding rain within the refuge of darkness you can cry and no one knows. You can cry out and not even the birds will answer. Such weeping likely never goes unnoticed by God. But it is not usually so big a matter that the rain stops and the sun comes out, either. The sky, after all, is freeing its own burdens.

  1. Coming home. After the walk–my silver and black velvety gloves soggy, jeans saturated, raincoat a deepened blue from all that wetness, boots dry inside but heavier, face rinsed of makeup–after all this, I go back home. And the heat wafts through the rooms as soft lights are turned on; the tea kettle is fired up until it sings. I dry out my dampened clothing and get busy. The radio is tuned in to classical music. My husband comes in the door while I am writing and sipping from a mug of robust Bengal Spice tea. He calls out a greeting and I answer, later will share a hug. This way of life easily fills me up. I toil and play and write within its overflow of wonders.

These were my reasons to walk in the winter-born rain yesterday. Tomorrow will bring me other good ones. And off I will go.



This post was written with thoughts of Christmas and family.

In memoriam for:

Marinell, my sister, and for Roland, my brother-in-law.
Ned, father of my first two children.
Reid, my nephew.
May all rest in the realm of perfect Love.

And with love and gratitude for all the rest of my family.
You are treasures who are more valued each year and remain in my  daily prayers.
Your beauty defines and fills your souls; your courage manifests in lives richly lived although it can sometimes seem a walk through a maze of narrow passageways.

And blessings on all who know the wear and tear of being human and, too, the glory of it.

Life with a Promise of Rain

Photo by Vivian Maier
Photo by Vivian Maier

“Can you imagine that? That was something.”

She had already said this to Uncle Dan, the man beside her. My uncle. Now she was saying it half to me, though she looked past me at our house. My mother was back there somewhere, probably behind the curtains of our living room so we didn’t see her watching. I didn’t know how to respond, so said nothing.

It was too hot for even California in December; it had been so dry for too long. Sweat prickled my scalp. I scrubbed my head with a fist and encouraged a light breeze under my t-shirt.

“Sun is blaring today,” Uncle Dan said and wiped his face with a handkerchief. “That’s why we drove the convertible, keeps fresh air circulating as we take advantage of the sunshine and big blue sky.” He turned to Evelyn. “Well, it’s our anniversary present, too. One year next week. Say, Ev, let me light that cigarette for you before it drops on the floor. You can stop staring, though. My sister isn’t coming out now, is she, Vic?”

I shrugged. “Not likely.”

She made a “never mind” motion with her hand. “Oh, such a big fuss over nothing Tom made. I feel for her.”

“It’s not just what you said, but how you said it, Ev. You could be more careful.”

“If I did that, I wouldn’t have much to say.” She made a sound like a guffaw. “Vic, it was an honest-to-goodness pleasure to meet you. Dan always said you’re the one person he likes in the family. I can see why.”

“Really?” I wasn’t really surprised. It just seemed I should act like it in case it seemed I’d take things for granted. Especially now that he had so much money. It might be something he was sensitive about, but he seemed the same to me. I didn’t want to seem like a kid so impressed with that when I had always loved him. He’d visited less and less over time. I hoped someday to visit him in his new place, where the vineyards were in Oregon. Hard to picture.

“Hey, want a ride, Vic?”

“Honey, that’s sweet but his parents wouldn’t approve.”

“Come on, he can certainly make a few decisions himself. You’re his uncle, it’s a done deal.”

I crammed my hands in my back pockets. “Dad was pretty annoyed. I don’t want to make things worse….best to not rattle a bee’s nest once it’s quiet.”

“Smart.” Uncle Dan smacked the steering wheel. “I do hate to leave you like this, Vic. I don’t come much because Tom, well–we don’t see eye-to-eye on lots of things. Spending today with you all was good, though.”

He leaned forward so his large blue eyes found mine, which look a lot like his. “A good lake blue”, he’d once said and I liked that.

I pulled my hands from my pockets, interlaced my fingers and cracked the knuckles. “Yeah, I know. I guess it makes sense they wouldn’t be wild over Evelyn, either. You say what’s on your mind. There’s a ‘hush hush’ policy here. We try to not create any ripples if we can help it.”

They chuckled, then fell silent. My uncle’s long face held some worry in it. Evelyn grabbed my hand and squeezed it.

“Well, kid, I guess our time is up here. It’s been good to meet you.”

Uncle Dan left the car idling but got out and came over to me to shake my hand, but instead he gave me a quick hard hug. I hugged back, sort of.

“Watch yourself. Call if you need or want to,” he said, then got back into the car. “You have to come visit the wine country in Oregon. It’s gorgeous, plenty of room in the new house. Let’s both work on it. Now we’re off!”

I watched the sleek white vehicle speed up then glide into the lane, Evelyn holding onto her straw hat. Uncle Dan took off his hat and waved it at me.

Although I yelled “See you later!”, I felt abandoned. Just like that. I wondered how the trip up Highway 101 would be, what the weather was like in Oregon, how their grapes were doing. What was it like to take a chance, do something you always wanted to do?

I haven’t been out of California except once to Nevada when my parents wanted to visit Las Vegas. And that was not all that incredible what with flashing crazy lights, traffic and slot machines. I holed up in a hotel room with my older brother, Kyle, and watched television until I fell asleep. He ate candy bars and stood on the balcony eyeing the sights, then finally skipped out, getting back before the parents found out. It was the worst time I’ve had and made me want to swear off any more trips, at least with them.

You could say I was born into the wrong family. I just don’t fit.

My dad is a mail carrier for the USPS; my mom is a kindergarten teacher who, by her own admittance, wishes she had become a hair stylist, preferably for the stars. She has naturally blonde, wavy-thick hair, herself, so maybe that started it. She’s what people would call pretty and I agree. I know she’d like to have been a model more than a few years, but I can’t imagine it’s one bit as interesting as teaching kids. She wants to have a bigger house. Having things attractive is important to her. Dad half-agrees and is trying to get a promotion. I don’t get the fuss, but it’s her life and she can have regrets about or not. I’m just getting started with mine and my dream is to be a neurologist. I really like the brain, what can I say? It looks weird but beautiful when you get a close-up view; it’s barely understood; and it’s the control center of our bodies and minds. I want to learn as much as I can, make discoveries that might even help people. Nerves keep us alive and tell us stuff that’s cool. Mine seem overly busy sometimes.

Kyle is the opposite of me in a way, an action guy more. He’s an athlete who can’t grasp why I don’t want to do more than bounce a basketball around at home. I like to swim but he says everybody likes to swim and it takes no talent. He says I read too much. Dad agrees, probably. He was a basketball star in school but I can’t say for sure what he thinks as he doesn’t talk much unless he’s really angry. And then fast action follows talk. I would rather avoid that so we live side by side but in different orbits. Kyle crosses over into Dad’s some, then finds mine at times. My mother, well, she’s in and out of everyone’s but I wonder if she’d like to get out altogether and find her own orbit.

Anyway, at eighteen, Kyle’s on his way out. I’ll have to navigate the terrain on my own. It can be tricky. My dad is given to explosions, not often, but the quality makes up for the quantity. I can find my way, I told Kyle once after dad threw a new lamp across the room. It broke and also shattered a glass vase with f lowers in it. I was going to pick things up but Kyle grabbed me and pulled me outside.

“Vic, you know you have to stay out of his way when he gets like this.”

“I know. Go upstairs and shut my door or outdoors and take a walk or visit a friend. I know, Kyle! But what about Mom? It’s not that simple.”

He frowned at the sunset sky as if it should provide answers but refused. “Mom can handle herself. He won’t touch her again, anyway.”

That meant: after the police were called by the neighbor almost a year ago. After he slapped and shoved her, and she hit her head on the glass coffee table. Ended up with eight stitches in her forehead. No one slept that night. I traced the constellations with my finger and cried.

“Okay. It’s true he has been less touchy since that happened…”

“Yeah. Who wants the cops here?” He put his arm round me, a rare event. “I’ll miss you but you know I have to go. College can do a lot for us middle class kids. I’ll call you, visit sometimes.” He let his arm drop. “Besides, you’re the genius, you have it made. You’ll really be a brain surgeon.”

“I don’t know how all this will go, Kyle. I find life confusing and really nuts a lot.”

“That’s how it goes, we all get to feel that.”

“Yeah, I guess. So the first thing is to get through each day alive, then figure things out as they come.”

“Right.” He threw a fake knuckle sandwich at my jaw. “My brother, kid philosopher!”

But when my uncle came my first thought was, Maybe he’ll take me home with him. I knew he had gotten married for the third time and her name was Evelyn “the woman he insists is The One this time” and they had bought land for a vineyard after he sold his landscaping company. I knew all that because my mother had made a point to outline things before they came.

“Uncle Dan is bringing Evelyn-they had a civil ceremony. Then he sold the company, you know that, but he also bought more land. Vineyards. In Oregon! Anyway, he’s only here for the day. They’re staying at a hotel, some place swanky. So be on your best behavior.”

She swept our shared room with her no nonsense look, then picked up a few dirty clothes left on the floor, and walked out.


She poked her head back in. “Yes, Vic?”

“Are you making German Chocolate cake for dessert since it’s his favorite? I mean, if they’re staying for dinner?”

Mom ran her fingers through her wavy hair and I could see the pale pink scar above her left temple. “Yes, that’s in keeping with tradition. But I would ask that you two help me keep things cleaner until they arrive.”

Kyle studied his sports magazine. “That would be you, Vic. I’m busy after school and on week-ends.”

She shook her head at him and left, hand on her back, a common gesture when it hurt as it often did. Pain seemed to reside in her to one degree or another.

When Uncle Dan arrived he brought us a big basket of fruit and nuts–“Oregon’s best!” he said and gave it to my dad, who looked gratified. I wondered if it was a peacekeeping gift, since they often danced around each other, two wary men who saw my mother from different perspectives. But it all got off to a good start. We took the usual tour of the botanical gardens, and my uncle named most of the plants each season he came, pointing out interesting facts. Evelyn–I found it hard to call her my aunt yet–beamed at him and chatted with Mom. Kyle looked as if he was itching to take off in a dead run, he was so bored. But I liked it, the fragrance of flowers, varieties of plants, how peaceful it was.

Back at the house we gathered on the patio and Dad grilled hamburgers. It was so nice, the simple talk, dinner shaping up. My new aunt helped Mom in the kitchen; she could out-talk Mom. I noticed Evelyn could  be blunt but Mom took it in stride. Uncle Dan was being extra careful to not bring up religion or politics or anything that might spark intense debate. I wanted to join in but held back. My dad didn’t like getting distracted. My uncle and I had been able to talk at the botanical gardens; hopefully we might again later.

The dinner was good and after a brief rest, the double-decker chocolate cake was brought out.

“This is the cake,” my uncle proclaimed, “that is a mountain of excesses, flavors and textures so rich you expect it to take ten years off your life–and you don’t even care!”

Dad lifted his beer in agreement, nodded at my mother. “Perfection in all ways!”

Her fair skin bloomed with pinkness, as his generous compliment took her by surprise. As it did the rest of us. She so wanted to make Evelyn feel at home, to have things go just right. She looked down at her plate, then got fresh paper napkins. Dad had become expansive during the afternoon, helped along by a couple of beers. My uncle had been pleased to share the ways of vineyards as Dad (and me, from a chair a couple feet away) listened intently. But Kyle threw me a code look: wait and watch.

When Mom came back with the cake server, she cut generous pieces and lay them each on the fancy glass dessert plates. She handed the first to Dad, the second to Uncle Dan.

Dad held the plate before him as if it was a gift he wasn’t sure what to do with. Kyle lightly kicked me under the table. I noticed Uncle Dan was waiting to take a big bite with restrained happiness. Evelyn was looking with delight at the thick pecan and coconut frosting. My mom, she was smiling as if this was one of the sweetest days ever, her family gathered around the crowning glory of her best cake.

“Where, please can you tell me, is the scoop of ice cream?”

His voice had shifted into a near-rumbling range. This was the clue. We felt Dad’s irritation barometer rise. My mom heard the question but blinked at him.

“I thought we’d agreed last time that ice cream was too much to add to this cake….should I get it, now? Or should we go on?”

It pained me to see her get smaller, from height to voice. Her radiance faded before his proclamation of another domestic failure.

“Oh, here, let me.” Evelyn got up despite my uncle’s hand reaching for hers. She started to the kitchen.

“Please, sit down,” Mom said.

Dad was just warming up. “Darling, now get going–bring that new ice cream from the basement freezer. I can’t have my cake without a big scoop of premium French vanilla.”

“Really, I’ll do it, she’s worked hard on this,” Evelyn insisted.

“I’ll get the ice cream, for crying out loud.” Uncle Dan rose and started to the door.

Evelyn sat.

“Daniel, just relax and let your sister get the damned ice cream. It won’t take a minute. She forgets to do things sometimes, and she will rectify this error.”

“Really? You’re going to talk that way to my husband? And act like your wife is some dissatisfactory servant?”

Evelyn’s nostrils flared; I sat opposite her and felt the churning indignation. Kyle and I locked eyes, held our breath as Mom exited the patio quickly and entered the house. Uncle Dan tugged Evelyn’s arm so she sat down by him. The air was very warm; I heard bees buzzing behind us. Dad slowly cut the cake in wedges, head down. But Evelyn just had to start in on things again.

“I don’t see why it’s such a big deal. This was very kind of her–to bake it for Dan, her only brother. I never was a great baker. Meat, yes, veggies, okay. But baked goods, not so much. I’m sure your wife is marvelous at all she does, you can tell how she attends to things, and she’s so lovely, too, and a good mom.”

Dad stood up. “Why do you feel moved to offer opinions when they aren’t solicited? When we only just met you? Enough already.” He tossed his napkin on the table and went to the cooler, rooted around for two more beers.

Dan declined his. “No, thanks, I have to drive to the hotel. But, Tom, take it easy on my wife and sister, huh? Just bring it down a notch.”

Dad glared at him and sat down, palms flattened on the table. “Don’t you start on me, Dan! Just hang on–you’ll see. Ice cream. A couple of beers. They make everything go down better, even this fancy cake. And you need to get better hold of your own wife before you offer me advice.”

I longed to take my cake slice and leave. It was so embarrassing, Dad acting irrational and tough just because he didn’t get his way right off. I hoped this would be it for the day and slumped in my chair, wanting to slide off the seat and slink away. Kyle was gazing out over the yard.

“Sit up, Victor!” Dad yelled.

“A fine boy. You do have two great boys, Tom. I appreciate how capable they are. How about they come up to Oregon and spend some time with me next summer? I’ll teach them a few things about hard work on the land and grapes.”

“Yes, they do fine. And I imagine they’ll have other things to do come summer.”

My mom burst into the room holding aloft a frosty half gallon of French vanilla. “Here we are! Just like you ordered, Tom.”

And that was it. Dad scooped ice cream; we all had a little to appease him. He ate with gusto and in relief the rest of us conversed about little of importance. I could tell Evelyn was stunned, as she talked less than my mom. I savored my dense, luscious piece of cake, but Kyle ate only half of his.

They said their goodbyes shortly after. There wasn’t any reason to pretend all was well, our family was good and happy, my uncle and aunt entirely welcome to stay longer. They said they had birthday shopping for Evelyn’s daughter back East.

So now I am standing on the curb, taking in the bland landscape of suburbia. An empty feeling creeps into my center even though I am full of food. I wonder how long it will take them to get to Oregon, what the life cycle of grapes is, what it takes to be successful as a wine producer. A risk taker like my uncle is a different sort of man. There are so many things I want to pick his brain about–he knows a things that are curious. He knows how to make things transform with patience.

And he’s what I think of as being one of the really good guys.

A car slips up beside me fast and I step way back.

“Hey, Vic, really now, kiddo–do you want to go for a ride?” Evelyn asks.

I look at the house and see nothing but a blank white expanse, windows empty, shades partly drawn now. There are people I love in there. They will keep toeing the line and holding to the status quo. I see these two open, grinning faces of my new aunt and my uncle. Evelyn gets out, I get in the tight space in back. It’s the most impulsive thing I’ve done in a long time, just leaving without telling anyone. We take off and I toss my arms up and out, hoot and holler. They join right in.

It feels like a foretelling. Like a promise of rain in the close heat circling all the dying brown crackling land, the place you call home but know will burn. So if we only hightail it for a few miles it will be one trip to remember, a taste of what I have to hope–it feels like my life depends on it–is yet to come my way.

A Child’s Winter Haven/A Woman’s Home

Michigan Winter
My Michigan Winter

It may not have been the most superior year for snow. That would be when the door had to be shoved open, an impressive snow drift refusing to budge until you put your weight into it. But any winter was a different world from what I have now. Foremost in this land is rain: chilled, heavy or sparse, freezing or just slanting and bitter wind-blown, intermittent or all day and night. Inevitable. Not that I don’t like rain. The Pacific Northwest depends on lots of it, while I count on the lush green landscape to remain enchanting. And from May until late October it is mostly clear, sunny and festooned with flowers.

But I still have moments of snow yearning.

A recent long walk triggered memories of my mid-Michigan childhood. My hair, despite a cap anchoring it, was tangled by wind. My cheeks were getting chafed, felt perhaps twenty minutes from being immovable. I jammed gloved hands into my jacket pockets and sped up my pace. But the scent on gusting drafts held familiar sharpness: it teased me with a remote chance of snow. I kept a faster pace to keep blood well pumped through all systems; I am no longer acclimated to very cold temperatures (below 50…). Still, ridiculous to entertain the idea of snow arriving. There was snow being dumped in the Cascades, accumulating on volcanic Mt. Hood, our highest peak. Snow in the valley–unlikely. If it happened, a light layer would tantalize, cause school closures and then vanish in more usual temperateness.

But as I walked scenes of lustrous white flashed in my memory. They arose from flat, spare lands of the Midwest of my childhood–oh the swirling, drifting, diving snowflakes that fell upon my world were like magic. A dependable, ever powerful magic. I would awaken to a silence so deep it swaddled the mind. I’d peer out my upstairs bedroom window at the driveway to find cars blanketed, bushes shaped into capricious forms, trees wearing their dresses of fluffy whiteness. The cloudy sky was densely stuffed with more impatient snowflakes. If only school wasn’t required. I’d have to wait for play until after the afternoon trudge home in boots and scarf, mittens and snowsuit. Then I had only a short time until dinner, then homework and practicing cello. Schools and businesses were rarely closed due to snow; we still had plenty to do.

But if it was Saturday (not Sunday, that meant church until noon), a good portion of the day was mine. (And the night. I loved the evening hours even then, and the snowy landscape took on a unique beauty.) After accoutrements of said snow lover were accounted for–long pants, undershirt and shirt with sweater and long johns and thick socks in addition to outerwear–I readied myself for the first breath. It hurt. It stung like it was supposed to, a sudden swoosh of cold that could freeze the hairy lining of your nose, poorly protected flesh. I’d experienced hands so over-cold that when indoors by the heat register they would burn terribly. If, though, the  wintered air could seem mean-spirited and brittle, it was in fact welcome, a lively impetus to move the limbs, embrace the weather. I would lift each heavy-booted foot and plow through the back yard. First off, the obligatory snow angel: lie down, spread legs and arms to make windmill motions and an angel appeared at once. Because I loved angelic beings, because it was the tiniest artistic moment, this proved quite satisfying.

The towering pine trees that rimmed our back yard stood like empresses with ermine capes, already present for the party. My favorite climbing tree, a graceful big maple, was naked and ghostly still. Bushes responded to passing legs and a few swats with sprays of snow that covered my glasses. I’d have to take off mittens to wipe away wetness so I could see where the next step would lead. They all led, back there, to Stark’s Nursery, the land of –at least to me, a city child–the wild and free. I decided to get my Radio Flyer sled, in case there was anything interesting to drag home. In case I wanted to sit down and warm up my snow-crusted mitten-bound hands by slapping them hard against each other. Once out on the rolling land of the nursery, I saw other kids searching for good spots to begin the snowball fights. From behind walls made of hand-built rectangles of snow, a fort of sorts, they would ready, aim, fire off a guarded supply of hard packed balls. Woe to anyone not paying attention. I had a decent throwing arm but snowball contact could be disastrous when meeting flesh. Like exposed faces. Since I wore glasses until a teen, I tended to avoid the heaviest skirmishes; I wanted to be able to see it all.

I might scope out a place for an igloo. A snowdrift half as big as myself helped me get started. I would begin to carve out a good hollow, then pack snow for base and sides, adding a little here and there as I built upward to the roof area, shape bigger blocks as needed to frame things out nicely. Soon other kids might join in to make the interior broader and deeper. If the snow was the sort for exceptional packing, we might add a small wing, carving out a connecting tunnel. And that made for a cozy snow abode. I recall sitting inside and thinking that nowhere else, no matter how fancy, compared to such a spot. I was surrounded by glistening whiteness. By then I was warm, even sweaty, and frigid air was welcomed anew. Shimmering sunlight bounced off the nursery’s open range: snow blindness might ensue so I’d close eyes, rest, rudimentary thick, curved walls keeping all of us that fit both snug and safe.

Pulling an empty sled through ankle-to-knee-high snow attracted freeloaders whose weight slowed or stopped my progress. We took turns hauling each other a bit. But a sled was good for piling on broken branches the snow’s weighty load had snapped off, then taking them to the igloo to decorate. Or use as brushes on smooth snowfall. Better yet, pile a couple fallen heavy icicles and give one to a friend for a rousing sword fight. But what I now recall about sled pulling was how it made two deep tracks in a perfect, scintillating expanse. I found it lovely, a design of curving, shadowy swipes upon a canvas of snow. I don’t know why this captivated me, but there it is: voluptuous snow; fresh ruts; light moving across the yard; festooned trees leaning about.

At night it was the best time, that entrancing time between twilight and darkness now informed by a gently undulating carpet of whiteness. It was the side yard that drew me first. To the left hibernated a huge garden plot kept by our crotchety bent-over neighbor. To the right was our two-story cheery yellow and turquoise house, its many windows glowing, parents and older siblings ensconced and busy with work. I could slink around, watch and listen undetected, seek shelter within snow-swathed bushes with their poisonous but pretty red berries. I would act out stories of grand heroics wherein I was rescuer or explorer or brave lost orphan. No one could hear or see me, so I had full creative license.

By night, traffic had slowed to a trickle on our often busy street. The corner streetlight beyond our front yard would swing in winds from an Arctic front, casting shape-shifter shadows over and around all. Our front porch was made of brick and cement. I could sit on one of four corner built-in seats. The air seemed imbued with blue and amber as lack of light and swaths of artificial light intermingled, then separated. Cold and quietness spoke to this enthralled child, reflected peace woven with mystery. Things present and things to come. Of a world that was made of fabulous parts, an earth created by a omnipresent God. If it was a full moon night then it was even more shivery good, the dark blueness and whiteness limned with silver.

But when I prepared to go ice skating, time seemed suspended. Even as I changed from boots to figure skates, my heart pounded, muscles tensed, ready to spring my body forward. I could not get out to the ice fast enough. I took a lungful of crisp air, pushed off with a thrust of sharp blades: it was all motion inside speed, taking risks, threading my way around the busy outdoor rink. The thrill of it, hard, slick ice beneath my feet; rushing, cold breeze over my skin; hands aiding balance now often bare, my limbs reaching as I urged my body forward–then rose from the surface. Gravity defied for a few instants as I leapt and spun and jumped. The unrestrained happiness of it, radiant winter sky above, legs strong and feet sure. There were very few things I felt passion for as I did for figure skating, even the study and daily practice. Even the falls and the rising up again. I felt both moved beyond and fully occupied by sinew and blood, nerve and bone. My breath rasped in, out and energy coursed through my innermost center. Ice skating was heavenly, that was all. (I still dream of it and occasionally put on my skates for a lovely spin.)

There was also sledding, inarguably excellent fun even if my town held only a trifling of hills. But more so: tobogganing. We had two great toboggan runs deep in City Forest a few miles out from town. To be a successful tobogganer requires fearlessness, decent muscle strength, a spirit of adventure, and willingness to take any blows and bruises. A shiver of recklessness is what I felt. The framework that created the elevation and length of those iced runs were made of wood. Standing in line as we climbed up steps to the top was part of the experience, a sense of danger, as the high tower helped support two of four elevated toboggan runs. They were wooden, had been around awhile. In any case, toboggans in tow, up we went, no turning back. The runs were five hundred feet long, thickly iced and snow lined as well. We squeezed up to four on a toboggan and held on to each other from behind. The ride down was bumpy, fast, long enough and breathtaking, every one screaming in enthusiastic compliance with such an event. Occasionally someone would fall off or get a hand caught between the side and the toboggan (we were strongly cautioned by adults), but overall it only felt like a crazy ride. In short: a winter thrill.

There are miscellaneous winter bits, like the few happy times I skied on quite giant bumps of earth further up north, only giving it up due to the large expense. There was ice fishing, much further down on the happiness meter unless I could be indoors by the fire, watching for a red flag signaling fish nabbed beneath the hole. There was deer season, the one time I did not want to be in Michigan woods at all. And winters on the Great Lakes, when you were blessed beyond measure just to stand and freeze as you took in the panorama of beauty.

The snowbound months comprised one season among four others, and surely snowflakes gathering all about meant home. But now I have lived over twenty years in Oregon and it is a different tale.

So there I was, walking after a cold brief rain, thinking I smelled the electric, bright scent of snow on the horizon– indulging myself. Kidding myself. For if it does snow in the Willamette Valley this winter, it will be pretty and pleasing–but it will not be too exciting. Flat-out marvelous. Not to me, as I’ve already had some of the best snowy moments that can be had. Being a child helped immensely; that is, the gifts coming to an outdoors sort of kid in the northern Midwest seem some of the very best. Nostalgia notwithstanding, it had its pros and cones, I suppose. The perils of icy roads and raging snowstorms were real, too. Shoveling heavy snow was not a blast. All that clothing was not easy to maneuver within.

But I will take these rainy days and nights, too. Gladly. At best, I now find in it the rhapsodic aspect of winter, even though these clouds can seem leaden and dampness does not abate for any length of time. It is still a deep affection I feel, even when our famous roses go on hiatus. The falling waters are signs of a time to turn more inward–though I still walk with raincoat and scarf, gloves and a moth-attacked blue cashmere hat. I take to the streets and find good surprises while woods and wetlands eventually dry out some. While mud is not snow and raindrops not snowflakes, the varieties of rain comprise musical programming that keeps me soothed. Water is critical to life and any precipitation keeps it flowing. At its worst, the rainy season keeps me rooted to chair more often. Sends me scurrying toward others so as to share cups of steaming tea or coffee. I engage in indoor experiences less urgent when sun blares for six months. But this emerald acreage, the density of wilderness is all about me. The rainfall nourishes, transforms and prepares the earth for more adventures to come. I am ready and willing to partake of it all.

It seems one’s sense of home is a combination of elements, tangible and intangible. I have learned to carry home within me and in that regard I count myself fortunate. So now that December is here: welcome, rain. Or let it snow a tad. I will find a spot in winter’s design and then just ease on in.

Oregon, Early Winter
Oregon, Early Winter
My (Ever-Green) Oregon Life
Mt. Hood, between the rains
Mt. Hood, between the rains