“It’s time, Dad,” I announced. With winter weather in the recent past, and any remaining snows sure to melt fast, I told him the time had come to park his faithful Suburban in the garage and for me to take my extended turn parking in the driveway, where guests should park their cars. But, before the Suburban would fit in the garage, I had to stow the kayaks somewhere, and just in time for kayak season on the Jordan River. The big car would not fit in the garage with the kayaks leaning against the wall. I was not too thrilled with Dad’s idea about where to keep one of the kayaks, but as I had no better ideas, I gave his a try. Reorganizing the various gardening and cleaning and camping and bar-b-que supplies, I cleared a top storage shelf and heaved up a kayak. To my surprise, the boat fit perfectly on the high shelf, anchored by two stiff bungie cords (so it would not fall on Mom’s cute Subaru). With my Outback parked in the driveway, I exchanged the ice scraper for the windshield visor. Dad’s beloved car will sleep sheltered in the garage starting tonight. He said just yesterday as we drove to the Post Office and then to the grocery store, “I just love my car.”
My ten-year-old hot-desert-weather Arizona niece Amy came to visit for the New Year holiday week, bringing my sister Jeanette with her. The night their airplane arrived (actually one o’clock in the morning), a dark wall of low purple clouds dumped six inches of new powder on the valley, just in time for Amy to take us sledding. Jeanette had dug their winter clothing out of her attic and checked a suitcase-full on the flight, so the girls were prepared. Continue reading
Near midnight, I lay in bed watching the snow fall outside the window, lit up by the strings of white lights on the eves. Just inside, Olaf, Winnie the Pooh, and Little Growler also watched the pretty sight. Morning brought the realization of the night’s big snow fall. A week before, three inches had settled. Before Dad and I got to the task of shoveling, our neighbor Terry plowed the snow off our driveway and sidewalks with his snow blower. But this snow fall was a full 12 inches of heavy new powder. I had not used Dad’s new snow blower before, but the pictorial instructions on the machine showed me how to prime, choke, and start the engine. The beast of a machine ground eagerly into the drifts, throwing a twenty-foot comet tail. My affection for the machine grew as it helped me with the enormous job, and I began thinking of it, perhaps appropriate to the season, as my Friendly Beast. The Beast and I sliced off a foot-width of snow at a time, passing back and forth a hundred times. The snow near the street sat on inches of slush, which stuck in the tines and snow chute. Twenty years ago, I met an elderly church volunteer who had severed his fingers cleaning out a clogged snow chute. With the memory of his bandaged stubs still fresh, I used a broom handle to ream out the chute, then plowed on. Just then Kevin’s car slid and stuck in the unplowed ruts in the road. “I’m stuck!” he shouted to me from his open window. I brought two shovels, and we cleared the ice from behind the tires. I had him back up slowly, careful not to spin the wheels, and he then was able to roll forward. He waved gratefully as he drove away, and I went back to the Beast. After two hours, the Beast and I finally finished the job. Dad came out, all bundled up, to wave and watch, then we went into the house for mugs of mint truffle hot cocoa mix.
Since that October morning when I found my car engulfed in ice, Dad has been insisting that I park my car in the garage to avoid scraping ice and snow from the windows. Despite the thoughtfulness and kindness of his gesture, I resisted, not wanting the faithful Suburban exiled to the driveway and exposed to winter weather. He prevailed upon me to begin parking in the garage. “Alright,” I relented. I hopped into my car and turned the ignition, only to hear the starter wind to a quick death with dimming dome lights. The battery had died. “We can’t switch spots tonight, Dad,” I informed him. “My battery is dead.” I put on a good face, but anxiety started to sabotage my calm as I ordered sequentially in my mind everything I would need to do to replace the battery and get to work. The night was very dark, and we resolved to have the faithful Suburban jump my battery the next morning. I hoped Dad would forget to wake up after reading late into the night—I could manage the job alone, and I wanted my 85-year-old father to get a good rest. But he shuffled into the kitchen as the sky began to gray, ready to get to work. With my battery cabled to his, my car started right up, and I drove off with a grateful honk and wave. At O’Reilly, I removed the old battery and presented it to the store clerk. He scanned the purchase receipt I had saved, and gave me the good news that it still had one month left on the two-year warranty. Without any fuss, he handed me a new battery, which I installed. I celebrated the savings with the purchase of two new badly-needed wiper blades and a happy “thank you” text to Dad. Tonight, ahead of the coming storm, my car is parked in the garage. But I still feel bad for the burb.
The Faithful Suburban
In one short cold day the stout gusts denuded my parents’ pear trees. The leaves were so vibrantly colorful, and seemed alive. They swirled in little twisters as Dad and I worked to rake them up before the snow fell. I hated to think of these leaves as just dead things sluffed off in season like flakes of dry skin. So I didn’t. I thought of them as beautiful and alive and holy, like the New Testament lilies and sparrows. And I thought they deserved a poem.
They Neither Sow Nor Reap
south winds whip and tear
at the joyful tree ornaments
all day until they twirl
and scud on the grass,
pile in corners
of color, multitudinous
vibrant reds, some greens
and yellows at the edges,
all painted uniquely
radiant and beautiful,
these trillions of leaves,
beyond sluffed scaly skin, but
the trees’ living breath,
engines of energy,
plucked and fallen
like lily petals
and sparrow feathers,
like the hairs of my head
The longer the winter, the harder to bear the bleak and the cold, I find. Still, upon entering winter’s wilderness, I cannot deny its beauty, its sublimity. Here is a wintertime poem composed as I contemplated a winter scene through a glass pane, from the warm inside.
Watch through the window in winter:
a solitary snowflake
floating innocently down
to catch, and slowly fade,
on the frosted ground;
a stray photon
flying from a distant minor star,
surviving massing clouds
and a creeping fog;
a shriveled gambel leaf
yielding finally to the nagging wind
and wafting without will
to alien ground;
a slow fly
bouncing repeatedly, futilely, against the clear pane,
falling to convalesce upon the sill, unaware that
on the other side exists a lonesome sterility and a cold unable to bear.
Working at my home office today while convalescing after foot surgery, a little flock of finches and sparrows landed in the crabapple tree outside my window and began to eat the tiny pea-sized fruits. A living poem, I thought. Having promised myself never to deny, or even to delay, inspiration, I wrote the poem that came: Through Winter’s Window. I hope you find it a spot of warmth on this freezing Winter day.
THROUGH WINTER’S WINDOW
fidgety finches, purple bibbed,
nibble nervously on
purple crabapple fruits,
not whole berries,
but tiny snatches and pecks,
wiping beaks on branches
when the sticky pulp sticks
watching from within walls, me,
through gridded, two-paned glass,
through slanted shutters
and dark nylon micro screen;
still I see the fidgety finches,
joined, now, by sparrows
brown on brown
round, scarlet leaves of fall
have fallen; only the marble
fruits hang on
though winds gust, throwing snow,
and winter sun appears
a weak old bulb
on the world’s periphery
but the red-throated finches
and striped sparrows land in
a happy-dozen flock to nibble and talk,
to swipe and nibble and talk,
seeing not nor caring
that I watch
unhearing from inside
The week I moved out I began singing again with the Salt Lake Choral Artists, a 200-voice audition community choir. I needed the music. Music to soothe my anxiety and sadness at being separated after 25 years of marriage. At times waves of sadness crashed over me, ground me into the gravel of life. I needed the music. Our Christmas and holiday repertoire included some of the most moving melodies I had ever heard. In one rehearsal the director shouted at me, “Everybody is singing here!” I nodded, but my throat was choked up and tears stung my eyes. I needed this music. Still, the long drive “home” after rehearsal on dark, freezing winter nights, terminating at my construction zone apartment, mattress on the floor, wardrobe in my duffel, the thermostat set at 50, brought the waves crashing again, the music notwithstanding. This poem attempts to describe that difficult time.
The cold brings it on,
and the darkness.
The long drive dredges it
up, even after
the singing, after
three hours of wonderful
singing, the long winter drive
to a place that wasn’t home,
where I shivered in my bed
and thought of the woman
that used to be mine.
A snowy Rabbit Lane
In arid Utah we are grateful for snows that persist through March, April, and sometimes even into May. I remember a May 1993 snowstorm that dropped a full three feet of new snow on the streets and yards of Salt Lake City, the year after I returned from being a Fulbright Scholar in Portugal to live with my grandmother, Dora. These Spring snows add high-mountain snow pack that continues to slowly percolate thousands of feet through fractured bedrock, into valley aluvia, recharging the aquifers that allow us to turn the desert into a rose. So, even though I post this poem at the end of March, it is still snow season in Utah. I hope you enjoy the poem.
Sky lets down her snow
in slow and heavy flakes
all the long day
as if the world, everywhere,
has never known but snow:
slow and easy, flakes
in my thinning hair,
granting shy moist cool
kisses on the bulb
of my nose, on my soft
sagging cheeks, crystals resting
on lashes looking up
to a distant gentle font.
Wind does not dare to blow.
Several years ago I joined an expedition of older boy scouts, including my son, Brian, for a winter campout between the Christmas and New Year holidays. At the top of Settlement Canyon, we spread insulating straw over the snow-covered tent sites, then shoveled out a foot of snow around the edge of the tents so we could sink the steel tent stakes in the hard ground. I grew restless after eating my tin-foil dinner and visiting with the others for an hour or so, and set off for a winter walk. Though the sun had long set, the moon and stars shown through the leafless Gambel Oaks and Mountain Maples to reflect brightly on the white snow. The utter beauty of my surroundings suddenly washed over me transcendently. Later in the night, in my tent, bundled up against near zero-degree weather, I turned on my headlamp and scratched out this poem.
BROWN OAK LEAF
A brown oak leaf
dangles from a stray gossamer string,
spinning like a winter whirligig,
reaching down to her sisters,
intercepted in her journey
to the resting place of all deciduous foliate life.
The cool air caresses the brown oak leaf
with the sweet fragrance of powder-green sage
and the sweet fragrance of the fallen-leaf loam
that rests, decomposing,
yielding to the hard earth
its fertile essence
to bless Spring’s
purple taper tip onion,
elegant sego lily, and
infant leafy-green canopy.
The dry leaf’s mother oak,
dressed in velvety orange-green lichens,
clings with tangled roots,
like the tentacles of ten octopi,
sinking their tendril tips into the high stream bank.
She joins her bare branches
to a thousand denuded tree tops,
waving randomly like
the up-stretched arms of
so many entranced worshippers
flexing toward their god.
(“Brown Oak Leaf” was previously published in the Summer 2007 edition of Avocet: A Journal of Nature Poems.)
Come February I truly begin to tire of Winter’s weary landscape. Everything is brown. I want the trees and roses to bud. I want the bulb flowers to rise. I want the peach and apricot trees to blossom. I want to feel the renewal of life.
Winter has lain
long and heavy
on the landscape,
pressing pliable grass blades,
weighing down supple apply boughs.
has the sky hung
My phone registers 4 degrees Fahrenheit as I walk this New Year’s Eve morning on Rabbit Lane. I do not enjoy the cold, but I know that I will find beauty on Rabbit Lane, despite the adversity, or perhaps because of it. I am wearing as many layers as my boots, pants, and coat can accommodate. Brisk movement is my best protection. Also, the air is still, and the brilliant sun shines warm on my back, cutting through the cold.
Despite having completed the manuscript of my book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road, which I am posting on this blog one chapter at a time, I know that the true story will never be fully told. Beautiful things will happen every hour of every day that deserve telling. The spirits of people passed on will whisper, You forgot about me.
Today, I come upon Russian Olive trees still sporting abundant fruits, burnished by months of hanging in the sun (photo above). A Red-shafted Northern Flicker launches from a tree, flapping furiously, then torpedoes through the air without wing-beats, then flaps furiously again, sporting its white tail patch and orange primary underwings. Torpedo. Flap. Dive. Beat. There is always something new, something beautiful.
This poem attempts to capture the paradox of having completed something that can never be complete. I hope you enjoy this last glimpse of Rabbit Lane from 2014.
POSTSCRIPTS TO A PARADOX
My manuscript is finished.
Everything there was to write, I wrote.
All the notes have been transcribed, expanded, and stitched up.
I proofread it, twice, and double-checked the formatting.
I capitalized the name of each Bird and Butterfly and Tree and Flower.
Now there is only rejoicing, recounting, and remembering.
But nothing new can happen.
My manuscript is finished.
Bruce told me a story,
a good one, about Harvey,
that I hadn’t heard before.
Horses ran to the fence to greet us,
cheerfully, kicking up snow
and snorting steam.
Long after sunset
a thinning patch in heavy gray snow
clouds still held light, Hannah (8) pointed out.
Witch’s Tree is rotting,
her skin and flesh flaking off
into the dry waste of Witch’s Pond.
Old Cottonwood has unquestionably grown
beyond his once 17-foot girth,
though his tree-top branches languish.
(But nothing new can happen.)
While I don’t care for the cold of winter, I find that winter walking reveals unparalleled beauty despite the leafless trees, and brings unique pleasures and insights, such as those discussed in this poem. And winter mornings are quiet. So, as much as I prefer the warmer seasons, I still enjoy bundling up and heading to Rabbit Lane for pre-dawn winter walks. (For more discussion of winter walks in the snow, see the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog, Chapter 8: Tracks in the Snow post.)
I LEFT THE HOUSE
I left the house
to walk a long walk
through the uncertain silhouettes
of morning’s pre-dawn dim,
and found that
Heaven had graced Earth,
with a covering of snow,
soft on the hard, frozen earth,
pale gray in the lingering starlight.
On the farm road,
tire tracks sliced and sullied the snow,
leaving long, undulating ruts
I quickly chose the ease of the rut.
Then I found the tracks of
other travelers—mice, rabbits, a raccoon—
meandering, veering, crossing,
as necessary or desirable.
Then I, too, left the pre-established path,
and made my own way through the snow.
The frozen crust crunched and gave way
under the weight of my boots;
each step sent up a small crystalline cloud;
white snow caps clung to my toes;
my legs protested with burning fatigue at
the effort of resisting the rut.
The snow turned from gray to white with the fading of night,
tinged with the pink of impending sunrise.
In the undisturbed snow beside the rutted tracks,
the sun’s first rays revealed an infinity of microscopic prisms,
sparkling brief flashes of rainbow color.
In the distance behind,
the house waited patiently for my return.
–Wherever I am, I find that the road stretches both ahead and behind.–
From the airport lighthouse shine alternating beams of white and green light, ghostly sweeping columns in the crystalline air against the undersides of low-hanging clouds. Here, walking in this desert, I imagine a lighthouse perched on a craggy rock cliff, overlooking ocean waves beating themselves in ferocious crashes against the rock, and ships with trimmed sails rocking, taking on water, close to sinking, with frantic, frightened sailors looking to the light as to a savior, the only thing in the world they can cling to, trust in. Continue reading