March 1, 2015 Vital Signs: A Letter Home


That was a recent winter morning here in the southwest quadrant of Vermont, USA, rare sunlight dappling the woods behind the house. Lately our days have started with temperatures at or below zero, typically without sunshine. Nights have been much colder. One morning last week my car would not turn over without convincing, and then shuddered and complained loudly when it finally did. But the absence of sun–that may be the biggest challenge of Vermont’s long winters, speaking only for myself.

The real reason I shot the photo was to illustrate the exquisite shoveling skills of one of us here, and it sure as heck is not moi. When I was living alone in the loft the best I could do was keep a path to the garage below sort of cleared. New England winters demand those kinds of skills; mine are adequate at best. Still, I have so little tolerance for conventional wisdom articulated with the proverbial eye roll: Time to put on your “big girl” panties.Those are possibly the least sensitive words to proffer somebody unaccustomed to life in these conditions. It would be like saying the same to a person trying to acclimate to the oppressive and dangerous heat and humitidy in the South, if they never had before.

To date I have learned how to shovel a decent path, build a fire in the wood stove pretty quickly, remove dead mice from traps at the frequency of about three or so a week (they are cold like the rest of us; they want to come inside and often find a way), and not panic too much when my car starts sliding on slippery roads. I’ve learned to set aside enough money to put gas in my car (Vermont: we are screwed. Everybody else in the country has cheaper gas.). Ditto groceries (Vermont: see above). I’d call that progress. I have also noticed a thicker skin; I require less layering–a lot less–than I did my first winter here. You could say that figuratively and literally, although I’m trying to avoid the use of the word literally since it is overwrought these days, a friend of mine so correctly observed.

But I digress.

My vitals are okay; I’ve been checking my pulse. A year ago I thought I knew more or less how the next couple of years would look, being wise enough not to look any further; ditto a couple of years before that. I don’t think I could have been so completely wrong. (But in October of 2011, I could not possibly have known my marriage was about to end and my family was about to come unglued.) That’s the danger of predicting outcomes, or even making educated guesses. To those who would suggest I need big girl panties, I’d say you have no idea who you’re talking to.

The lowdown: I’ve lost some things I wish I had not since 2011. The home I thought I’d live in forever. Financial security. My hard-won ballet school. My companion dog, Clarence. I had not much control over the end of his life, except to make it as comfy as possible for him, and there I think I succeeded. I’ve also let myself go somewhat physically–nothing I can’t undo in time. I do have control over that; I’m annoyed with myself that I allowed it to happen. This kind of thing (together with ballet- and running-related injuries) has not helped:


Which brings me to the highup (which outweighs the lowdown by a lot). I found my voice. It took me a while to do it, but I did. That part I did alone, by the sweat of my own brow. I’d say literally, but, you know. And now that I’ve found my voice, I have a lot to say (as you may have surmised).

I also found love. That part was wonderful and unexpected, and emphatically required the participation of someone else. I had long forgotten how it felt. I could not be happier. Now I am redefining what home means. It is challenging but completely worth it.

I figured out that there are people in Vermont who want to be my friends. That is no small thing when you’ve lived somewhere else for three decades.

I discovered that I have marketable skills beyond ballet; I was starting to wonder. There is much work to do, and I am up to the challenge.

So now it is March 1, 2015. March, the month of the vernal equinox. And the resetting of the clocks. I have been measuring winter’s waxing days since the solstice. It thrills me to think about things happening right this second under the snow, under the dead grass, way down below in the layers of soil, moving, breathing, getting ready for another performance.

The snow falls in layers, too, each one clearly visible, each marking a separate winter storm, packed down by weight and gravity, but also diminished by melting. You can see them on the roof of the tool shed. I was feeling packed down when I stepped into Vermont. Less so now, with the coming of another spring, with the accretional layers of a little wisdom, or as a friend once said, the tincture of time, and helped along by some melting. Soon this winter will be a memory, not before there is more snow, maybe some ice, some sliding around on the road with white knuckles, a little more biting cold.

There will also be raspberries buried between layers of pastry cream and heavy whipped cream.


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