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Archive for January, 2015

In season

It’s snowing at last here in New Hampshire. We’ve had a few occasional bouts of flurries up to now, but this is a thick-flaked, low-visibility, snow upon snow storm at last. It’s been cold enough for weeks now to freeze the ground hard as stone so that when we walk in the woods, the ungiving shock of each step reverberates through our ankles. We go out nonetheless, but it’s better when there’s snow.

IMG_6355For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been drawn into an addictive vortex of online fora where people discuss, trade, or sell backpacking gear. I recognize my kindred here; everyone substituting thoughts of sleeping in tents in the mountains for actually doing it. It becomes an expensive time. Everyone is assuaging their cabin fever with new tents, new-to-you packs, or canister stoves, or boots or rain pants. I’ve also been in my basement spreading pine tar on the bottom of some hand-me-down wooden cross country skis, and then heating it in 5 inch sections with a hair dryer I have for no other purpose than this. Malcolm got snowshoes for Christmas that we haven’t even opened yet. We’ve been hiking plenty, and then spending time wistfully patting our skis and lacing and relacing the boots.

I have, like many New Englanders, a tendency to veer from season to season. In May, my ears crusted with crumbly scabs from black fly bites, I fantasize about snow-filled woods. In August, I try to convince myself that the night is cool enough to warrant a thick, cable-knit sweater I haven’t worn in four months, and then, wearing it, I swelter, and sulk, and take it off again. This time of year, wearing that sweater almost constantly, including to bed sometimes, I think of the trails above treeline in the White Mountains, buried under drifts and scoured by winds. It’s not that they aren’t climbable in winter; they are, some days, but I lack the gear for such an assault, so I’m here at home. The long days, and the long gloaming in summer, seem like something I invented. This time of year, the dark wraps its fingers most of the way around the day’s throat, though its strength is ebbing, and the clear pink sunset light on the gray trees comes perceptibly later every day.

IMG_6354This week, I pitched our tent in my bedroom. The boys slept in it the last two nights. It takes up most of the floor so that I can’t pull out my desk chair or get to the sewing machine. Leaning toward the computer and reading through the gear posts, or typing an email sideways with one foot through the tent door, my mind crowded with these thoughts, I felt it fitting that at last, the physical thing was taking up all this space.

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Double vanity

Every winter for the past few years, my aging car’s tire pressure sensor light has switched on as the temperature drops. Sometimes it stays on for days, sometimes just until I get to highway speed. When I check the tires, the pressure is always normal or very nearly so. Thus, for the cold months, I ignore the glowing exclamation point on my dashboard. I know it’s nothing serious.

This month will mark twenty years that I’ve been with my husband. We’ve been married for only twelve of them, as before that we were in college and high school. Teenagers, arguably children when we started out. I teach for work now, and at the end of each semester, there is a minor feeling of bereavement. The doldrums set in for a few days as I cast about for a sense of purpose without my daily performances in front of a class. I am not good at relaxing, and so I become irritable during this time. In the days leading up to Christmas, Christophe and I went off for a few days without the children. While it is true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, constant presence breeds a seething, murderous irritation. By the third day, and with an additional week or so of holiday family time bearing down on me, my shoulders were up by my ears and I was critiquing the way he breathes, eats chips, folds the newspaper, and allows his beard to be so wiry. In short, I was insane.

When a sensor light comes on in the dashboard, or some small rattle begins to sound from somewhere underneath the car (or is it in the wheel somewhere?), the brain sounds alarm cries. The lights are designed to elicit this, and when you have an anxious sort of mind like mine, every odd sound or light might presage the very wheels flying off the vehicle, or flames bursting from under the hood. At the least, some substantial expense must be coming. The tire pressure sensor gives the lie to those fears. It is a faulty indicator, giving false information about the danger ahead.

Sometimes in the evening, we like to watch dumb real estate shows like House Hunters. “Double vanities!” the people demand. I am flabbergasted at this idea. That a person would wish to be in the bathroom at the same time as her partner, performing their ministrations, picking at their faces or tweezing hairs from the remoter provinces, is beyond my comprehension. There are so few mysteries left to us, after many years elapse, why would we wish to destroy the ones that are left?

Too much togetherness breeds trouble. As we packed to leave the bed and breakfast at the end of our trip, Christophe checked all the drawers in a dresser he’d not even used. This is a habit of his, and is of the sort that one finds endearing in the early years–a quirk that shows we know them. Those very same quirks are the ones that cause us to fantasize about closing the dresser drawer repeatedly on our beloved’s head in later years.

828f4e30-b62a-4808-8a91-6a922686dd01When spring comes, the tire pressure light will go off again for a six month hiatus. It’s hard to imagine, driving past the ice rimmed river, that there is ever a time when the heat drives us to leap into those waters. It’s impossible to remember heat when one is cold, or the ordinary intensity of summer green on trees when nothing remains in winter but birch trunks against the olive drab pines. It’s hard to summon the memory of the good when it’s bad, and hard to do the opposite. But being married means I have a second memory. He knows I always come out of this funk. When I was griping at him the other day for the particular way he was sitting in a chair, he jabbed at his phone a moment and held it up to play the first notes of Bonnie Raitt singing “I can’t make you love me…” Fortunately, he takes me much less seriously than I take myself.

It’s hard to remember long hours of daylight, or green, or being warm. At night, at this time of year, it takes almost an hour for the sheets to warm up fully when we go to bed. I don’t generally make the bed, but sometimes it gets to me and a few hours into the morning, I decide to do it so I can sit at my desk and not feel that my world is disordered. Though I shivered in them the night before, I am always amazed to find, reaching under to straighten the blankets and pull the sheets to, how long they hold their warmth.

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