Flurries, with Blowing and Drifting . . .

Blowing and drifting snow?!

No, it was 90 Fahrenheit yesterday (about 32 C) in upstate New York–a record for the date. We don’t have snow but we have flurries and squalls and storms and drifts . . . of cottonwood seeds.

For 11 months and two weeks of the year we love our cottonwood trees (populus deltoides). The are very tall and offer lots of shade; they are tolerant of cold and flooding.

But for two weeks in June, they are more than a little annoying. In early June, they spread their seeds in small fluffs of “cotton” and the sky is full of this snow.

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The fluff covers the ground, and drifts and swirls in the breeze. Rain tamps it down but also turns it into a nasty mat that clogs downspouts and gutters. Cats track it in and the wind blows it into every open door.

The fluff sticks to sweaty skin and wafts into cocktails. It collects in spider webs and on the flowers of every blossom. This thin layer of fuzzy white acts as a scrim, blunting the bright colors of June.

The good news is that it lasts for only two weeks. By the end of June, the airborne fluff will be gone and only the residual mats of seed will remain. Oh, and the sprouts that I’ll be pulling for the rest of the summer.

In other early-summer-outdoor-news, every sunset seeks to outdo the previous night.

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IMG_7680And the goslings grow.

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Is early summer fulfilling your expectations and delighting you?

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Rituals of Spring, When Summer is Short

We were small. Winter was long. Summer would fly by.

We had to be ready.

The rituals of spring for my sister and I were often tied up with being ready for what came next. We wanted to rush summer!

As soon as the snow was off our driveway, we would start walking barefoot on the crushed stones, in order to toughen our feet up for going barefoot all summer. A long winter in socks and boots had made our feet soft and we’d lost the calluses. We needed to get ready!

We would wait, in the bedroom at the back of the house. Outside the window there was a thermometer. Our mother, tired of hearing us nag, had told us we could go without jackets when the temperature reached 60. We stared at the mercury, willing it to rise, so we wouldn’t miss a moment.

We spent a good deal of our summer time at the “little beach,” a pond 6 or 7 miles from our house. We knew we needed to be ready for the cold water of early summer so we took cold baths at home to prepare ourselves. We squealed and shivered in the tub, but we knew it would be worth it.

Even on cloudy days of iffy weather, we wanted to go to the little beach. My mother, tired of hearing us nag, would tell us to go away and, if we had 15 minutes of sunshine, she’d take us.

We would sit on a big stone by the road and, when the sun came out, we would start to count—one-thousand, two-thousand–as the seconds and minutes passed and the sun stayed with us. Then, when it deserted, we’d wait for it, and start again. Some days we were lucky and we’d get our 15 minutes of continuous sun and mom would drive up to take us to that little beach.

Now, I don’t know how long it has been since I’ve walked barefoot outside or gone swimming in water so cold.

But, even as adults, winter is still long and summer is short, so we get ready.

A lot of spring activity at my house now involves doing chores–get the deck furniture out, clean the glassed-in porch from a winter of using it as storage space, rake leaves off garden beds. These chores don’t feel so onerous in spring. Even as we shoulder the load, we have that sense of thrill . . . we’re getting ready for the short, intense summer ahead.

And we still rush summer–the first campfire of the season will be lit when it’s still way too chilly outside. The first trip for soft ice cream will be on a day when eating the treat gives me the shivers. We’ll buy annuals long before it’s safe to plant them outside.

We are all big now. But winter is still long. Summer will fly by.

We have to be ready.

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The Road to Summer

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I love this view.

Not so much for what it shows us now but for what it represents.

I’ve never walked down this particular path but I know that there lies, under the snow, a dirt road.

And that road leads to summer.

Roads like this exist all over the North Country. In the winter, they are never plowed, no one ventures there.

But at the end of all the roads, you can still see that glimpse of what’s to come. That blue at the end of the path? That’s lake and sky . . . and the promise of summer

Come May, maybe Memorial Day, after the snow is long gone and the mud has dried out, those dirt roads will beckon under canopies of new green. That blue sky and lake at the end will draw family members back to “camp.”

I’ve never seen the specific camp at the end of this path but I have a very good idea what it looks like. Small, with a couple of added-on rooms that were probably poorly planned and done by workers lacking skill. There’s probably indoor plumbing and running water but that, too, is a recent addition.

There won’t be heat in this building because it’s never needed—the small house is used only in summer. The rooms are small and probably dark but no one spends any time inside anyway. A large screened-in porch provides a transition to outside and maybe a spot for sleeping during really hot nights.

The yard is where the action is. In the yard you’ll find picnic tables and Adirondack chairs, quite possibly a hammock. And a jumble of summer toys—kayaks, canoes, water skis. A fire pit, for sure, and a big grill for cooking.

On winter days, when it’s really quiet, I can walk past the end of this dirt road and hear the sounds of summer. The buzz of the jet skis, the hollering of kids as they splash in the lake, the calls of “how do you want your burger done?”

We don’t have a long dirt driveway at our house and our house, now, is a year-round home, with all the mod cons.

But we strive to preserve the feeling of “camp” and days when family and friends gather, the days are long and mellow, the music lifts us, the food and drink sustain us. We look to the days when our short asphalt driveway transforms into the essence of a long dirt road—that leads to summer.

The Circle of Life

The rituals of life are wrapped in cloth.
Louise Todd Cope

Swaddling clothes, receiving blanket, christening gown

Hand-me-downs, Easter bonnets, first high heels

Prom dress, graduation gown, hope chest linens, wedding veil, satin sheets

Cocktail napkins, Thanksgiving tablecloth, Christmas tree skirt

Maternity top, “mom” jeans, apron strings, easy-care clothing, sensible shoes

Electric blanket, moth-nibbled cardigan, hospital gown

Coffin cloth

. . . . . .

Swaddling clothes . . .

Advent, My Way #23

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In my month-long pondering of the winter holidays, one of the things that has pleased me is how many random, but really strong, memories I have of Christmases past.

I have a lot of vague and amorphous, warm and fuzzy memories of posing for pictures with family members who were only together once a year and of opening Barbie dolls in that yellow and blue parlor at the farm.

But clearer moments stand out, too, like the Christmas pageants and the making of the caramels I’ve already written about.

And there’s so much more . . .

I remember a weird toy called Odd Ogg, “half turtle and half frog,” and pale blue moccasins lined with real rabbit fur. And a trike.

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I remember the Christmas cards my parents always sent, with two little girls dressed in PJs and posed in front of a tree or a mantle, with a dog or kittens.

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I remember parental discord over the proper hanging of “icicles” on the Christmas tree. One parent thought the icicles should be carefully and individually placed on the boughs. The other parent thought large handfuls should be flung at the tree.

I remember all kinds of handmade ornaments but the ones I remember most fondly were pure 1960s. My mother made little atomic/Sputnik ornaments out of marshmallows, toothpicks, and silver spray paint. I know there’s a photo around here somewhere . . .

I remember the people. My mother’s father was a quiet man, with a wry sense of humor. One year he got a tall stepladder as a Christmas gift and spent the rest of the day sitting at the very top of it in the living room.

My other grandfather was a Justice of the Peace and one year he put a man in jail on Christmas Eve. That might seem harsh except the man’s offense was that, very drunk, he lit a fire on the floor in the middle of his living room, thinking to keep his family warm. My grandfather felt they were all safer if he was in jail.

That same grandfather, a quiet, unsentimental guy, gave my grandmother a $100 bill as a gift one Christmas. I had never seen a $100 bill and was SO impressed so I woke my sister up from a nap, to show it to her. She opened one eye, said, “Is it for me?,” and learning it wasn’t, went back to sleep.

We lived on a farm, so every year the Christmas tree came from our land. When my sister and I were very small, we took my mother’s red scarf and went into the woods to find the perfect tree. We did, and we tied the scarf around it, and then told my father to go find it. He didn’t. How we expected him to find one tree with one red scarf in acres of land, I don’t know. My mother never saw her scarf again.

We weren’t allowed to awaken grownups early on Christmas morning but we were allowed to go get our Christmas stockings and explore those. I was awake first, went and grabbed my stocking and my sister’s, and came back to our room with them. To wake her up, I bopped her over the head with the stuffed stocking . . . whack.

I remember a Christmas when I was a pre-teen and we went to my uncle’s house, several states away. I had an abscessed tooth and spent the entire visit in hideous pain. Well, I remember the pain and the really cute outfit I got for Christmas, with the pleated plaid skirt . . .

At some point we all decided that traveling at Christmas was a good idea so I have a lot of memories of driving the East Coast, searching for restaurants that were open on Christmas Day.

Many years, we left the snow behind and walked the beaches in Florida. One year we saw a gorgeous sunset and then had to settle for dinner at a really creepy Mexican restaurant. How creepy? The following week, we heard that someone had been shot dead in the parking lot.

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New York City, Charleston, the beach at the Outer Banks, watching people fly kites at Kiawah.

I remember the parlors and farms, the relatives’ houses and the motels. I remember the holidays when my niece was small, re-experiencing the magic through her eyes. I remember teaching my new husband how to string popcorn for our first Christmas tree and I remember absolute blowout Christmas parties we used to throw!

So many locales, so many beloved people, so many Christmases, so many memories. In recent years, we’ve chosen to stay close to home. We enjoy our immediate family, or just each other, a few very special friends, our pets, our warm hearth, our simple and satisfactory world.

What will I remember from Christmas this year?

Well, honestly, I think I’ll remember writing these advent blog posts and sharing so much of Christmas and holiday talk with you. When you’ve written comments about your own memories and traditions at the holidays, you’ve triggered more of my own and shown me how much we all have in common, how the holidays are packed with special meaning for each of us.

Here’s hoping that you have many memories of the holiday season and that the fond memories far, far outweigh the unpleasant memories that may inevitably be associated with the season as well. Take some quiet time to savor those wonderful memories and share them.

And I hope you spend the next few days creating special moments that will give you much to reminisce about in years to come!

Desperately Seeking . . . Pollyanna

I am the president of her fan club.

She is my patron saint.

But, right now, right this moment of November 9, 2016, Donald Trump has been elected president of my country and Pollyanna is nowhere to be found.

I have lost my inner Pollyanna.

In fact, if I’m looking for a literary fellow traveler this morning, it’s Alice—I awoke to find I had fallen down a rabbit hole into a world I don’t recognize and cannot make sense of, peopled by megalomaniacs and Mad Hatters.

There will be those who say I’m a sore loser or a drama queen. I’ve considered those possibilities and I don’t think it’s either. Many times in my life, I have voted for others who have come up short in elections and I have accepted the outcome and moved on.

This is about being terrified.

If Trump-the-president is the same person as Trump-the-candidate then a lot of Americans are justifiably terrified right now.

I acknowledge that I have far less reason to be afraid than many Americans. I am as white as white can be—to find an immigrant in my family, you’d have to go back to the Mayflower.

I was raised Christian and could still pass for one if I felt pressure to. I am straight and married to a white guy who was raised a Christian, too. We don’t have small children to whom we need to try and explain all this. We are fairly well off and retired so our jobs and wellbeing are not at much jeopardy. And so on.

I’m still terrified and, if I am, I cannot imagine how the non-white, non-Christian, non-straight, non-Trump “Others” in the country are feeling right now. I am terrified for you.

You can understand, perhaps, why I can’t settle to anything today. I just took a long walk to try to blow away these feelings of dread. Cold drizzle stung my face and I was pushed around by strong winds. The weather brought to mind all kinds of tired clichés and banal metaphors about our country. I’ll spare you.

Let’s just say, the day suits my mood.

I will try to make something, to turn my hands to some creative task, even though all I want to do right now is rip and tear and burn, even though making pretty little doodads feels trivial and purposeless.

I’ll make things because I find comfort in the act of making and comfort is what I crave.

One thing I can’t bring myself to work on is my women’s suffrage quilt. The piece I showed you yesterday is one of a number of embroidered quotes about women’s rights I have been working on, to make a quilt.

In fact, I was stitching a quote from Hillary Rodham Clinton last night, as I watched the returns—“Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.” Right now, that all feels a little bit like a cruel joke . . .

I’m sure I’ll get back to this project someday; I’ll probably decide it’s more important than ever. Just not right now . . .

I’ll probably weave, maybe a complicated pattern that takes all my attention.

And speaking of weaving, I have not forgotten about my promise to choose one of you to receive a handwoven kitchen towel. I have the list of people who will be in the drawing and will get to this soon.

It’s just that I am going to make a towel for one of you, one of my favorite people, and I don’t want the process of making or the product to be associated in my mind with this moment in time, with the way I feel right now. In a few days, I think, I hope, I’ll brighten up and feel like myself again.

Pollyanna, won’t you please come home?