Rancor-Me-Not

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This morning my Handsome Chef Boyfriend gave me a smooch on his way out the door back to his own stomping grounds, just a bit further afield than I would like.  Be careful, I said; let me know when you’re there safe.

Do you ever stop worrying about things, he chided?

No.  Never.  I never, ever stop worrying.  This is the truth.

It has been just about eighteen months to the day since my mid-century reboot.  My big adventure, if you will:  my brave solo flight a thousand miles from the city I called home for three decades, in a part of the world where my ancestors had arrived a century earlier.  A tap root that size does not come up without at least a little equivocation.

I did not throw caution to the wind when I decided to leave.  A year and a half ago I had ideas and plans wrought carefully, painstakingly, from the knowledge I possessed of practical things.  I knew how much I would earn, more or less, in my new job, which was the thing that brought me to New England of necessity; ditto my expenses.  (Or so I thought at the time.)  I anticipated support that would come to me as a consequence of the document my ex and I had only recently signed, the ink still wet on the page.  I had a new (used) car with a payment a fraction of what the car I traded for it had cost, that I hoped would see me through whatever New England’s winters dealt me.  And I had my ever-faithful shepherd Clarence by my side—no small thing.

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I did not anticipate that there would ultimately be no support.  Nor that my expenses would far exceed my expectations.  Nor that my time with Clarence was about to end.  Nor that I would go more than a year without seeing my son, with no promise to see him again anytime soon.  Nor that the walls around him would appear poised to crumble (maybe soon), while he stumbles into new adult shoes, at the mercy of an erstwhile role model.

I cried with little provocation when I got here.  Standing in line at the grocery store (I am sure people thought I was a nutcase, but I really do not care—a benefit of advancing age).  Idling at the bottom of the Interstate ramp.  Driving home from ballet school in winter’s very early darkness and brutal cold, and sometimes worse.  Sitting at my desk in front of one of two big picture windows (which would prove incredibly expensive) watching weather roll across the ridge over the beautiful lake towards my tiny rental.  In my dark bedroom in the middle of the night, thinking of the still-teenage son I left to make his way in the world on his dad’s watch back home, a thousand miles away.  I cried, I buried my face in my dog’s furry ribs, and I chewed my nails.  I left a life of misery and noise, replaced by one whose bitter silence is sometimes as deafening.

The life I have found here resembles only vaguely the one I thought I would find. Things have gotten better.  And worse.  And better.  And worse….

A while ago I decided it was time to step out from under the wearying cloud that seemed to follow me everywhere, come what may.  There was a freedom that came with that, and it lifted my spirits palpably.

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This winter has been rough.  In my worst moments I have felt I could not take another single instant of close calls on badly maintained icy steps and pavement and driveways, of arriving home to a frigid, dark house, of yet another plow bill, and another, and another…  And the untimely loss of my companion animal seemed a cruel joke of nature, as have been the wicked winter storms, one after another.  And another.  And another.  I have tried to keep the faith in my decision to come here, to choose these woods to walk in, and I am still trying.  It is hard work.  Even seasoned locals seem grumpy and anxious to wash their hands of this abominable winter.

Still, sitting on the sofa last night snuggled next to my favorite person in the world, batting at an obnoxious fly in the room—a harbinger of a new season, perhaps—everything felt fine.  Nothing had changed.  And everything had changed.

If I could wear this message tastefully on a sandwich board I would do it:  I am not this person.  I swore when my marriage ended I would not be one of those bitter divorcées who thinks all men are horrible, and I believe I have done an admirable job there.  But I am also not the person who forever gripes about the eternal grey winter, the economy, religion, politics, the problems of the day.

I am far more interested in beauty.  And I am still trying—while I worry like crazy—to arrive there.

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Bump in the Road

frost heaveSouthern friends, this one’s for you.  (And it is emphatically not a metaphor for anything.)

Late last winter or maybe early spring, not sure, Handsome Chef Boyfriend and I were headed across the Connecticut River to a favorite little eatery over in Lyme for a pleasant cold-grey-day lunch.  I was behind the wheel of my trusty Vermont-ish Subi and a short while into our trek noted a sign just like the one in the photo.  WHAT is a frost heave, I wondered aloud?

HCB patiently explained it is more or less a bump in the road that happens during the freeze-thaw cycles of winter and spring, and advised me to take it easy.  Which I did.  The sign gave us fair warning, and the bumps were not too terrible.  I observed that these things must wreak havoc on roads, that the crews must be out en masse after spring thaw and mud season (a story for another post, Southern pals) working their tails off to repair the roads.  Not necessarily, he explained. Oftentimes once the heave settles, he went on, you can’t even tell there was a problem in the first place–the road more or less repairs itself, sort of.

Last August as I was cozying into my new digs in a more central part of Vermont I noted a sign that simply says, “Bump,” on the busy two-lane highway that leads from my driveway down to the I-89 ramp.  It is just beyond another sign like this one:

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which indicates snowmobile trails cross the highway there (another source of wonderment for this New England newbie).  I noted a separate hand-made sign that somebody had taped beneath the snowmobile sign, that also says “Bump,” but instead tries to shout it:  BUMP, <dammit>! Okay, the emphasis there is mine, but you get my drift.  I am not sure who posted that sign, but it is unofficial-looking and encased in one of those plastic thingummies you use in a three-ring binder, held in place by duct tape.  It is weathered and crumpled on one side and has obviously been there a while.

In my comings and goings up and down the highway during late summer and pretty much all of fall, I never once actually noticed a bump of any kind at all.  At first I braked intentionally so as to avoid jostling Yuri around (that is the moniker some ballet friends and I gave my car), but when the road seemed smooth enough in that spot, I tuned out the bump signs.  Both of them.

Until just a few short weeks ago.  We have had a bit of a rough winter this year, at least by my Southern girl standards, but even some of the locals admit this, so I am not making it up.  We’ve had sustained temperatures in the single digits on occasion and plenty of sub-zero weather.  The mercury has not risen to 32 degrees for any significant amount of time in quite a while.  (And the only really fantastic thing I can say about that is it might mean we have a less buggy warm season this year.  At least that is the claim made recently by a smart-sounding person on local public radio.  I am all about that, because we also have this insidious little creature in Vermont known as the deer fly, and I am here to tell you it makes you want to kill yourself on an otherwise beautiful summer’s day.  But I digress.)

So this rough weather (combined with incessant brining, sanding, and plowing) has created pretty terrible roads in these parts–potholes the likes of which I have not seen before.  Turns out the innocent purported “bump” is none other than a (you guessed it) FROST HEAVE WARNING.  I discovered this when I flew over it going 50 (sorry, Yuri).  Being the quick learner I am, it took me only a couple more times to realize I needed to slow down.

Now the frost heave has grown to epic proportions and is more like a shelf, or a step, or as HCB observed, a ramp.  You know–the kind those snow boarders who are doing their thang over in Sochi right now hurtle themselves from for reasons that elude the sane among us.  (I heard one of them quip during a public radio interview the other day that the snow on the mountain in Sochi was really “sick”–which the smart sounding interviewer explained meant “good”–and he was really “stoked” about it.)  Um, really gnarly.

I am feeling less stoked about the so-called bump because this evil phenomenon has the capacity to take out an axle.  Or mess up your really expensive snow tires.  Or at the very least knock your really hot coffee out of the cup holder and into your lap.  Really.

I completely “get” the second sign now–the homemade one with the duct tape.  There is no warning for this particular frost heave–if you slow down only when you see the sign, it is too late.  Somebody took it upon themselves to at least try to give all of us who travel this road in the winter every day a teeny heads-up before our teeth are rattled out of our heads, and that is a lovely gesture.

So, thank you kind person who made every effort to help the unsuspecting traveler take this “bump” seriously.  In a place where there are so many winter hazards–below zero temps, howling power-outage-inducing wind, icicles big enough to impale you should you have the great misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, icy roads, snow, snow, and did I mention snow, and yes, frost heaves:  it is comforting to know that somebody out there has some good, old-fashioned Southern sensibilities.

Vermont-style, of course.

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Hole in My Heart

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Clarence, Angel Second Class
Unknown–January 23, 2014

Obsessive, almost maniacal scrubbing:  floors, clothing, blankets, furniture, my car, everything.  For reasons I can’t completely understand I have done this with unrelenting urgency for the past week and a half, save a couple of days when I pressed pause so I could be with HCB. Today I will close up the giant plastic tub of Clarence-the-Canine’s things after I add to it two clean, neatly folded sweatshirts, one a hand-me-down from another dog and one I bought for him at American Apparel during a work trip to NYC.  We took some grief over that one, but I was frankly glad to have it when our early winter days dropped below zero and stayed there.

Then I will shove the tub to the back of the enormous closet that stretches the entire length of my studio loft.  His leash remains in my car. Again, I am not sure why it is important that it stay there when there is no dog to ride shotgun, but it is. Today I scrubbed away unmistakable evidence that a dog was there (often) and vacuumed the seats and cargo area to a fare-thee-well.

In the spring I will retrieve Clarence’s remains from cold storage and bury him, along with a couple of other beloved items:  the Kong he very nearly destroyed over the two-and-a-half years he was with me (in his never-ending quest to extract the last drop of delectable peanut butter), a couple of other special toys, his collar, my running shoes.

I know there will be another dog eventually.  But saying goodbye to Clarence hit me hard–much harder than anticipated.  Living without him is harder still.  Goodbye, good dog Clarence:  you came to me when I most needed you.  The silence is deafening.  I miss you so much, sweet boy.

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Clarence

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Clarence-the-Canine
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