Deer Flies and Summer Storms: First Day in July

Second Day in July

Cool air washed clean by the rain that came before it makes the deer flies retreat: that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

There was only steam yesterday, July 1st of 2017. Frontal boundaries on the afternoon horizon stood in stark contrast against menacing, billowy black storm clouds floating above them and clearer skies below. In the distance torrential rain fell in wide, sloping columns, dragged by the advancing atmospheric energy across upstate New York, thence over the border and into Vermont. Somebody somewhere was getting soaked.

Earlier we had gotten it, Handsome Chef Boyfriend and I. First the rain fell against the car windshield in minuscule beads, fragrant, benign, even friendly: call it a pleasant early summer shower. Then with gathering momentum the droplets splattered against the glass intentionally, like an irksome child testing his boundaries. And with no warning at all this erstwhile innocent morphed into an angry faerie changeling with fists raised, pelting the car in a full-blown tantrum, the land around us inundated. Windshield wipers dialed up to ‘stun’ threw rain off the car as we barreled down the bumpy road, dodging puddles right and left to keep the wheels attached to the pavement. I might have pulled over.

You could just say it was pouring, HCB will opine later when he reads this. And I will say, where’s the fun in that? Go decorate some cookies.

By the time we reached our second stop the rain had let up. We threw open the car doors and stepped onto steamy parking lot asphalt. Feels like summer, I was thinking; feels like the South. These conditions are long familiar to me, fleeting up here in these parts where ice and deep cold are wont to wear out their welcome, as my mama might say. This heavy, sunny steam bath—this is prime deer fly weather. However stridently somebody who’s truly in the know might object, that’s my own customized folk wisdom, field tested and proven.

Here’s an example: yesterday I had my first deer fly bite of the season. Because I suspected it would be muggy Scout and I set out early for our Saturday morning run by the Battenkill. He is the first dog in my life to equivocate about running. Dogs aren’t built for long-distance running, nor were their ancestors: they’re born sprinters. You have to ease them into running a little at a time, like any human athlete would train. There are exceptions, of course: the Rhodesian Ridgeback will run your ass into the ground and never look back, evidently. And Siberian Huskies will run for days with a payload to boot (I’ve had four Huskies over the years and each of them needed desperately to go and to pull). But for the most part, our canine companions had rather race ‘round the back yard after smallish rodents, as Scout does routinely these days. He can turn on a dime—it is most impressive. But I digress.

Tight Turning Radius

Scout is gradually getting his running legs (‘summer play muscles,’ insist the staff at the dog camp where he goes for an afternoon a week), willing and able to cover something close to three miles in the heat before he throws his polka dotted hand to his forehead dramatically and quits; we’re getting there. And so it was yesterday morning, when my ingenious deer fly shunning device failed. (Scout’s running leash is long enough that I can whip a section of it back and forth over my head while we’re running, and it usually works: deer flies buzz their victims in circles before they alight and rip painfully into the flesh—a flurry of dog leash is a pretty good deterrent, the best one I’ve devised yet.) We made our way through a couple of deer fly patches without incident; deer flies are territorial and once you’ve gotten through they will not follow you beyond the borders.

But with only a half mile to the finish line, giddy and soaked in sweat, I felt the unmistakable sting on the back of my neck. My hand nailed the little miscreant, who did not live to see another day. A couple of days earlier in the cooler, drier conditions, the little bugger would have been hiding obediently somewhere—wherever deer flies go when it’s cool and dry. Maybe they grow stupid and lazy and take long naps; I don’t care so long as they leave me alone.

No Deer Flies Here

Meanwhile Scout emerged from our summery morning run happy and unscathed. This was not often the case for his predecessor Clarence-the-Canine, the German Shepherd who willingly followed me to Vermont five years ago. Clarence was an athlete through and through—we could run the five miles around Lake Morey where I lived at the time, and he would gladly go again. But in the height of deer fly season Clarence often suffered multiple bites on the tip of his nose, where you had to swat away clusters of them, leaving tiny beads of blood in their wake. On the insect bite pain continuum I’d put the deer fly somewhere between a sweat bee and a common house fly: it’s not searing, scorching pain like you’d feel from a yellow jacket sting, but it certainly gets your attention. Poor Clarence. Yesterday, though, I took one for the team, as it were.

In short, I can see no good in a deer fly, who seems intent only to cause only pain and suffering.

I can see plenty of good in afternoon storms in July (they continued well into the evening) and a day of erranding that yielded lunch at this exquisite eatery over in Greenwich, a new laptop at long last, and hand dipped coffee ice cream: it’s the best remedy for deer-fly-inducing steam I can think of, even if you had to wait in line behind an entire little league team to get it. Little league plus ice cream—that’s a damn-near perfect first day in July.

Damn Near Perfect July Day

Nostalgia and the Shipwrecked Mind: Righting the Boat

Every major social transformation leaves behind a fresh Eden that can serve as the object of somebody’s nostalgia. And the reactionaries of our time have discovered that nostalgia can be a powerful political motivator, perhaps even more powerful than hope. Hopes can be disappointed. Nostalgia is irrefutable.—Mark Lilla

Should you doubt that bit of wisdom, you have only to consider this campaign slogan and its outcome: Make America Great Again.

Facebook is notorious for rubbing our collective noses in nostalgia with its “On This Day” algorithm, where the photos and videos and sentiments we posted on this day a year ago, or five years ago, come back to haunt us. If once was not enough you can share them again in a mere click; I do all the time, if the memory still feels relevant to me. But that’s just it: more often than not they’re relevant to me and to nobody else. They’re fun memories, or painful ones (occasionally I cringe), and that is all. Sometimes I wish Facebook followed Snapchat-style protocols and after some interval made posts evaporate into the ether.

But even if a trendsetter like Facebook elected to follow that paradigm, other entities still allow you to peer into your cyber past; the WayBackMachine app is one of them. I confess I’ve used it on occasion to revisit my now-defunct ballet school website. The digital marketing agency where I work also invokes it once in a great while to look at a particular e-commerce website and, say, explore their inventory in a product category from a year ago, or even a decade ago; it can help give us direction when we’re working on a marketing strategy for a client. So you might say nostalgia can be helpful in certain situations.

Yesterday Facebook gifted me yet another memory of my early days in Vermont, a photo of my beloved Clarence-the-Canine stretched out on the living room sofa in my cozy lakeside cottage, the place I lived for just under a year. And here came another one right on its heels, an Instagram photo of a beautiful breakfast I made myself one morning in the same cottage, my coffee mug situated artfully in the background, everything around this little contrived still life neat as a pin. For the first time in nearly a quarter century I was in charge of my life at that instant, my clean, kempt rooms, and the order of the day: it was an idyllic day at that, where I had the privilege of mornings free to run around the lake with Clarence, time to prepare inventive cuisine, time to observe the beauty around me and reflect on it, maybe post something to my blog. The balance of it I spent doing what I’d come here for in the first place, teaching classical ballet to mainly privileged children from nearby Hanover.

I remembered those days wistfully when I looked at that photo: I was the captain of my own ship which was happily bereft of the chaos I had only just left behind. In short, life was beautiful.

Then HCB reminded me the pellet stove in that hard-to-heat place had dangerously exploded one night, foisting upon me a little reality check. The paltry bankroll I brought with me from Tennessee was running out, and fast; a piece of the financial picture I assumed would be there (I had done the math before I moved) had dissolved with no warning, nor did I earn enough teaching ballet to sustain that lifestyle for much longer, and I knew it. I was unused to the brutal Vermont winters—not just the cold and snow, but the palpable expenses of winter, to say nothing of unrelenting grey days that seemed to stretch on for weeks and then months. Although I had met Handsome Chef Boyfriend right after I got here, two hours and an entire mountain range separated us: for the most part I was terrified and living alone with my dog who would soon be gone, with no inkling of what the future might hold, and no real plan to extricate myself from the disaster ahead—I already heard that train in the distance barreling down the tracks.

So much for Eden. Mainly, I think, nostalgia needs to live high on a closet shelf in a shoebox, pulled down once in a while so you can finger its contents wistfully, and then shove it back on the shelf.

The news stories of the day (real or fake) help fuel this wistfulness. Can you imagine an account that goes, Today, millions of Americans got out of bed and went to work, paid the mortgage, enjoyed a nice supper, hung out with their kids, and then went to sleep? Of course not, because there’s no story to that story. Jobs moving overseas, illegal immigrants pouring over vulnerable borders, terrorist attacks, and plane crashes, though?—stories for days. At one point in my life I was so terrified of flying I put the skids on any travel where the destination could not be reached easily by car: that limited us—my erstwhile family—to a relatively narrow geographic area on the East Coast, and a short window of time on the ground when we got there.

Then came the opportunity to study classical ballet pedagogy at American Ballet Theatre in New York City: if I really wanted this thing, I finally had to figure out a way past the anxiety. I considered medications, worried a little about how they’d make me feel, knowing I needed to be sharp at ballet school. And then something remarkable happened during a family trip to Washington, D.C. Our hotel room window looked out on the White House, and beyond it, arrivals and departures at nearby Ronald Reagan National Airport. Unable to sleep one night I stood there watching the planes for hours. They took off and they landed. Over and over again. All night long, and into the morning. Nothing else happened—the planes took off, the planes landed. Only then could I begin to comprehend and correct my irrational fear of flying. Nobody tells the story of planes taking off and landing safely, because there is no story to tell, really. The majority of the time, airline travel is uneventful, however trying its logistics.

I have a recurring bad dream, a wakeful dream—call it a daydream. In it I return to that little Vermont lakeside cottage. I expect to throw open the door and find everything perfect, as if I had stepped out only to run an errand. Instead the place is cold and dark, there’s an inch of dust and cobwebs everywhere, there is no dog—he is long gone, I am alone and unemployed, and the silence is deafening. Nor is my beloved HCB there: only the roaring silence. It is terrifying. This “dream” is triggered by a catchy song that was popular at the time, with piano notes resonating again and again in descending triplets. I hear that song now and it stops me in my tracks, raises the hair on the back of my neck.

Reinventing the past is an exercise in futility. Learning from the past and then moving on feels relevant. But feeding on nostalgia can and does invoke reactive behavior: what if nostalgia inspired rancor and hate founded on a contrived, sepia-toned existence? I don’t know, it might encourage angry, unhinged people to rant destructively using social media as a platform. In its more sinister guise it might encourage somebody to desecrate a Jewish cemetery, or phone in a bomb threat to a Jewish community center. Or to rough up a transgender person who simply needs to pee. Or to shoot and kill a man at close range because he looked “ethnic.” Or maybe to build a wall that shuts out scores of people who are taking away mythical, sepia-toned jobs, people who instead would by and large make us a better, stronger, more enriched nation. In the hands of a reactionary, nostalgia is a dangerous motivator indeed.

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Inspired by that photo from four years ago, yesterday I made two lovely breakfast sandwiches; I ate one and gave the other to HCB. The sticky marmalade clung to my fingers and utensils, and afterwards my napkin was rumpled and stained with breadcrumbs and little bits of egg. You could say that breakfast sandwich was a metaphor for our lives right now: uneventful, fairly satisfying, messy at times, but pretty good overall.

Steady as she goes.

Running on the Battenkill: Easter Sunday

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Your body is a temple.

I’m an adherent but lately have not behaved in a way to reflect this heartfelt conviction owing to circumstances and such. I started running about fifteen years ago for several reasons, chiefly to energize myself in the early morning hours ahead of a long day dealing with a difficult child. By 2011 I was running 35 miles weekly with my Clarence-the-Canine, ’til this annoying problem reached epic proportions and forced me into retirement in October of 2013. I’ve coughed and sputtered a few times in the intervening months, but with each renewed attempt to run, the foot has objected, loudly.

There is nothing in the world like running, and if you’ve never been a runner, you’ll need to take my word for it.

In recent weeks I’ve felt some changes in the injured area of my left foot that might possibly indicate healing. (Shhh. Don’t tell the universe.) I spend eight hours a day sitting on my arse in front of a computer, and it could be this was precisely the pathway to health I needed, without fully admitting so: I would not have gone down that road willingly otherwise.

Mild weather has urged me and everybody else in these parts outdoors to indulge. Two weeks ago I bought a pair of running shoes that people who share this particular foot problem I have, swear by. Something about “give” in the area of the heel that does not aggravate it—I am still unsure exactly why it’s so special, but if the price tag is any indicator it sure as heck better be. Anyway, at this point in time I would pay a king’s ransom for the privilege of running again; I am okay with short, slow runs, happy to allow others more fleet of foot pass me by like I’m standing still.

Today was the day.

The early spring Battenkill River is flowing full and beautiful right now, a far cry from about this time last year, when there was still so much ice everywhere after the winter from hell. Mud season has pretty much come and gone, and River Road—where I’ve run in the past, and also ride my bike—is just about perfect right now.

Easter Run 3 Edit

The early spring this year is simply stunning. Little streams that feed the river are flowing at full tilt; sound byte at the bottom. Today could not have been more glorious. I arrived back at the car pink-cheeked and positively giddy, and significantly, pain free. The only thing missing now is a leashed shepherd in my right hand.

Easter Run 4 Edit

Easter Run 5 Edit

 

 

Reflections: Loss, Life’s Frailty, & Gratitude

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.—Groucho MarxNYPL Digital Collection Woman and Dog

Mind you, this is not too profound. After last weekend’s disappointing discovery of the incipient decline of many, many of my books I am feeling better about them tonight. I’m lucky to live with somebody who loves me and pushed up his sleeves without provocation to help me save the rest of my collection. A tall bookcase came out of storage last Monday and stands smooshed between a window on one side and a gigantic china cabinet that belongs to the landlord on the other; it seems a little out of place, like it has not yet been properly introduced to the cabinet, but I am ever so grateful there was room on that particular wall for it.

I’ve emptied three large boxes of books, then cleaned and shelved them. There are many more to go and a couple more bookcases to bring out of storage and somehow squeeze among the rest of our belongings—it’s a little like forcing a puzzle piece that does not really fit. Like so many other things in this transitional chapter, it’ll have to do.

The Book Project will continue to unfold over a couple of weeks before it’s done. For now I’m wiping the sweat off my brow, in a good way.

It still does not take much these days to get me thinking about loss, and the books were a predictable catalyst for it: the loss of my home and family, my hard-won ballet school, many of my personal belongings, and then my beloved canine companion Clarence a short while before the very livelihood I moved to Vermont to pursue in the first place was yanked out from under me. There was a moment when I was shaking an angry fist skyward: it all seemed like too damn much.

And then I blew my nose, pushed up my sleeves, and got on past it. Doesn’t mean I don’t still have moments of angst, bitterness, and even stronger feelings. I don’t like going down that road, but I do sometimes when little things set me off: a landscape, a news story, a piece of music—or a book. I think humans are hard wired like that, and it’s part and parcel of continuing to heal and move forward, so long as we’re relatively healthy and stable to begin with.

I don’t live by silly quotes of the kind you see découpaged on living room walls, that are meant to daily remind us how to live our lives. Nothing against them if they really help people, but the cynic in me tends to snigger. Maybe if there is a judgment day I’ll be forced to recant: Sorry I did not live, love, nor laugh when instructed; my bad.

But I do reflect on the higher meaning of things I’ve experienced. Recently it’s been all about living without the things and people once near and dear to me, every. single. day. In the last year since I’ve started fiscally rebuilding my life I’ve been gobsmacked by this simple idea: you really do learn to appreciate the things you can’t have anymore.

This thought tugged at me a couple of weeks ago when I left the dentist’s office after not having the luxury of dental care for about four years. And again last Saturday when HCB and I joined a small group of <mainly> new friends to break bread together and enjoy each other’s company—something I once did routinely, never imgaining that too would soon be a luxury.

Last night HCB and I visited a local inn whose proprietors he has known for years, where we had an indulgent glass of pinot noir and shared a flourless chocolate torte in an intimate bar: divine. I also spent a few minutes enjoying the company of the oversized yellow lab who owns the place. This invoked in me equal parts of joy and overwhelming sadness.

It came bubbling right up to the surface again: you have no dog. YOU HAVE NO DOG. I have lived very few years of my life without a dog. In my professional life as a marketing writer I spend a lot of time writing about dogs for a particular client. The research is fun and so is the writing. But I am almost daily reminded I still have no dog. We’re not allowed to have a dog in this house, and when Clarence and I once came here as visitors, the tricky spiral staircase was too much for him. There was a lot of pacing and vocalizing when we were not all together on the same level of the house. A lot. Last night I thoroughly enjoyed loving on the big ‘ole yellow lab. It was magical. Did you know I have been writing stories about you? I wanted to ask him. When I finally have a dog of my own again, I am confident I will appreciate him more than I ever appreciated a dog, if that is possible. (Yes, it will be a “him” and his name will be Jeeves. Or Wooster. Or Jack.)

I leave you with a clip from one of my favorite movies, Sideways, which HCB and I watched on the telly Friday night. It was this movie to inspire our glass of pinot. And it is a scene that so beautifully expresses many of the emotions I’ve felt (and still struggle with) the last few years. But it will make you laugh, I hope. Go forth and live and love, also.

Warning: this clip is most emphatically NOT kid-friendly. Do yourself a favor and watch it in high def if it does not automatically load that way. Oh, and hat tip to my new(ish) friend Deb, who put the New York Public Library Digital Collections link on my radar, whence comes the great doggie image at the top of the post. Cheers!

Closing a Chapter

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Yesterday Handsome Chef Boyfriend and I made our final run to Vermont’s beautiful Upper Valley to collect the last of my things from the loft I called home for about a year and a half. It was a grind; there was still some heavy stuff he missed last week because he could not get to it, and there was much packing and arranging to squeeze everything into a single load. I busied myself with cleaning upstairs, tying up loose ends, packing a few smallish items that remained, while HCB did the lifting and loading. I paused several times and looked out the southern-facing windows to the drive below to observe him studying furniture laid out methodically, some of it disassembled, deep in thought.

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This is one of his most endearing qualities: calmly and painstakingly sizing up a situation, arriving at the best strategy, and then diligently executing it. I am always a doubting Thomas, an expert at worrying myself into apoplexy over things. He tends to wave it all off, insisting there is always a way. By the time we pulled out hours later the tired minivan (which we’ve kept long enough to finish this move) was bursting at the seams from the load, including heavy things tied onto its roof. A little over two hours later we’d made it all the way down to our corner of the state without a single casualty, cramming the last thing into our rented storage locker with the day’s very last light, 4th of July fireworks exploding all around us.

In the midst of dusting away all of yesterday’s cobwebs I did plenty of reflecting. It is still hard for me to believe I’ve been a Vermonter for almost three years after living most of my life in Tennessee. This has been a difficult transition. I owe so much to a few people who helped me during a tough time. Living in the loft was a privilege extended to me by a pair of them, a former colleague and beautiful ballerina, and a friend, Ruth, and her kind husband Peter, who own the place. Ruth showed it to me when I arrived in August of 2012, but I decided it was too small for my things, too far off the beaten path, and that Clarence-the-Canine would feel too confined. A year later, after some unforeseen trouble, I appealed to Ruth for shelter in the proverbial storm, and she answered with her typical magnanimity. It was a beautiful, if isolated, place for me to land, and would become Clarence’s final resting place. Another bit of sadness I could not have foreseen. But none of the earlier things—except the isolation—turned out to be true. Ruth told me many people had found healing there, and so did I.

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I never grew completely accustomed to hauling myself and my ailing dog up and down those difficult back steps, but we got some better at it over time. Yesterday HCB and I observed a family of groundhogs living under them; we had earlier seen one of them grazing on the front lawn. HCB counted three little faces peering out from between the second and third steps, babies curious about the interlopers. During my tenure at the loft I observed so much wildlife, as did Clarence; he was ultimately granted off-leash privileges, which he relished. In truth, I did not appreciate the groundhogs so much when I was living there, as they undermined our work in the vegetable garden. Still, I will remember them fondly.

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I will always remember Clarence fondly; I think he probably was my soul dog, brief though his tenure was with me. I stopped by his grave a final time before we left, and was surprised to see not the massive boulder that rises out of the earth behind it, but instead dozens and dozens of lush, green ferns. It is a beautiful resting place for a noble dog who had big work to do near the end of his life.

So one chapter closes, and another life-affirming chapter opens.

Clarence-the-Canine
Clarence-the-Canine

 

Balance: Saturday Photo Essay

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Winter stubbornly hangs on up here in these parts long after spring has sprung elsewhere. I’m getting used to it. I think a sure sign of that is worrying less about weather and lately thinking more about finding balance. Not to get all philosophical about it, but I really do try: work, play, food, exercise, rest—both mind and body—forming new friendships, being part of a new family and all the challenges that entails, somehow finding time for myself, and time for me and Handsome Chef Boyfriend to be a couple, and spiritual life. And of course to hold myself to the highest possible standards in all of it. I’ve been going to the gym since I started my new job in January. Giving up running a year ago was hard enough, leaving the ballet world robbed me of the rest of what was keeping me mobile. At the gym I’m attending various classes: one of them can’t make up its mind what it is (a “fusion” of Tai Chi, yoga, and Pilates), Vinyasa yoga, and also a weight lifting class (yes, really: I call it “pump you up” class, but at the gym it has another fancy name).

Yoga resonates with me the most. We work on physical balance in that class, and it is a huge challenge for me: I’ve been trained my entire life to work in external rotation at the hips, but yoga is all about parallel. Forget about it. The other challenge is the guided meditation at the end of class. I know we are supposed to be in the moment, and not allow the day to intrude, and imagine things like flat horizons and layers of stratosphere while we listen to soothing, Eastern music (what a friend’s dad used to call “that goddamn California music,” which always makes me giggle). I stink at reflection and meditation. What I think about instead is, Glad that’s over because my hamstrings hurt like heck, my nose itches, I’m thirsty, and I need to pee: are we done yet? In the end, I can’t take myself seriously enough to be a good practitioner of Vinyasa yoga, but I love what the class does for me, just the same. Today I bravely struck out on a (wait for it) run. First time in a year. There will be hell to pay for it. But there is nothing like a long run to clear the head, after terms like posterior tibial tendonitis and pain insinuate themselves into the meditation of the morning. Yes, it is meditative. Like yoga is supposed to be.

I was outside for an hour and a half this morning. I thought about the Battenkill River, which followed me the whole way, how engorged it is just now with snow runoff, roiling and roaring out of Vermont and into New York, just down the road. I thought about the vernacular architecture I love and was delighted to see that a barn I photographed last year stands resplendent now with its new coat of dark red paint. I enjoyed chatting with a few cows, one of them reclining pensively on the bank of the river, which made me think of this post Jon Katz published recently. I was visited by a barn cat. I found an inlet where the Battenkill backed up into a small finger of a pond, a magical place where the water could not seem to make up its mind which way to go. I talked to the trees, who are still holding back, not for much longer. No signs of color yet, but soon things will explode. Notably, I missed my dog: I feel distinctly lopsided without a leash in my hand and Clarence at my left knee. True balance can only be restored when there is once again a dog in my life.

Still, this morning’s run was the right kind of meditation and reflection for me. Balance whispered in my ear. It is desperately needed and long overdue.

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March 1, 2015 Vital Signs: A Letter Home

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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:

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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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First Day Jitters

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Yesterday dawned clear and sunny and very cold in central Vermont, my last time to wake up in the loft, HCB at my side. We had the big work of packing and moving ahead of us, still time for a final cup of coffee before we pushed up our sleeves. The winter storm that is settling into New England tonight would wait a day, thankfully.

I told HCB the story of waking up for the first time in the loft, also on a clear and sunny morning, but sweltering. Clarence-the-Canine had slept near the bottom of the bed and sat up and stretched the way dogs do sometimes, bolt upright, lifting his muzzle skyward with a quiet vocalization. When he finished he froze and stared out of the south-facing windows, surveying the expanse of meadow below, the tree line just beyond. I swear I could see bewilderment on his fuzzy face, or an epiphany, or something that said, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.

I have not been in Kansas since summer of 2012. Terror came with me first, then garden variety fear, and then just work and worry. Moving has not gotten any easier, despite the fact that I’ve done it three times in as many years. Yesterday I continued culling through belongings and thinking about what will be essential in coming days, what I will need in coming weeks, what can wait. Then there will be a few difficult decisions about parting company with some things (again).

I had already packed some books and HCB was poised to schlep them down to the car. But they were non-essential, so I stopped him. Instead I gathered and boxed my cherished reference collection, still only a piece of the whole thing. I don’t rely on them every single day (although I should turn to them more than I do). But I feel better knowing they’re there, and that I can put my finger on what I want right away, should the need arise.

Tomorrow will come early and I will start my new job a few miles down the road from HCB’s place–our place. I am a tad nervous, of course, but this particular transition has been a long time coming and the jitters are a welcome piece of that. As a trusted friend in the ballet world once told me before a pivotal event at my small ballet school in Knoxville, a few nerves are good–they make you sharp. 

I am ready to be sharp.

Lit Up Like a Christmas Tree

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It is an expression Handsome Chef Boyfriend uses when he trudges up the back steps to my place and throws open the door for a visit, chiding me for waste. The loft is beautiful, full of volume and warmth with its cheerful yellow walls we painted when I moved in. It was a soft spot to land after my first Vermont winter in an overpriced cottage with no insulation, where I could see my breath inside with the heat on. Clarence-the-Canine spent his twilight months here, happily, I think, and is buried on the property. The jaw-dropping beauty of the surrounding acreage is not lost on me, even though more than a year into this particular chapter of my Vermont adventure I’ve only explored the teeniest bit of it–the impressive network of trails on this land is difficult to reach in winter without equipment.

I like my home lit up at night because I have an issue with my vision which makes it challenging for me to see well without plenty of light. I will always have bright lights where I live, unapologetically. And somehow the lighting makes the place feel less empty in the absence of Clarence’s tail-wagging love, when I must occupy the space alone. But after a short winter day that is relatively bereft of light, it is also essential, elemental.

As is my Christmas tree, which rode home shotgun with my son when we went to pick him up from the bus station for his holiday visit–he made it very clear in the days before his arrival that we must have a tree. Last year I did not have one at all. Last year I did not even bring my Christmas stuff upstairs from the garage. I had no Christmas music, no Christmas stories (you can see the stack of them in the photo, on the right), no decorations of any kind, because I was too busy chasing my tail, trying to make ends meet.

I thought this year would be better, and then it got exponentially worse, without warning.

Winter arrived suddenly, or so it seemed; I felt myself flagging after a storm took out power for a few days. I felt cut off from the world (even if this was not really so) and began to lose the resolve that I dragged a thousand miles with me from Tennessee. More than once I told myself, and others, I can’t do this anymore. It was not any single thing–being isolated, or the biting cold, or dealing with an impassable and dangerous driveway, or barely making ends meet: it was the sum total of these things that felt insurmountable, and just plain stupid.

And at this really low point, where I questioned almost every single decision I’d made in my adult life, there was an unexpected rip in the atmosphere, like a piece of long misplaced sinew finally sliding over bone and settling once more where it belongs. And things were better, really better.

Soon I will say goodbye to the loft, and its land, and to Clarence-the-Canine for a final time. I will start a new job and a new life with my Handsome Chef Boyfriend, under the same roof. Finally.

There is no paradise, said a wise person. I know this to be the truth, but I am still lit up like a Christmas tree.

 

 

Princess Diaries

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I rendered Handsome Chef  Boyfriend speechless yesterday right before he launched for home. I love when that happens.

On Saturday we had dinner at possibly the best burger joint everwhich happens to be very close to my house. (They also have a nice selection of craft beer on tap there.) We sat at the sunny bar and ate our burgers and fries and took in the local culture after a nice day together which had started with Clarence-the-Canine’s burial (no sadness, just happy memories this time), and then included typical warm weather Saturday stuff–the farmer’s market and tag sales, mainly. I scored a pair of brand new white sneakers for four bucks at one of them. Which should actually be proof positive that I am not a princess: I proudly purchase and use flea market items and openly admit it on the Internet. You could say it’s on my permanent record.

Anywho, the point is that we drove the same route I have been cycling lately since this nagging Achilles injury I’ve sported for about five years or possibly longer just won’t quit. I hate not running, but since I attempted to resume my running habit when the ten feet of Hellish Vermont Winter Snow finally melted, it is abundantly clear that I can’t do it this summer, barring some sort of divine intervention or foot surgery. And surgery is not an option at the moment.

That is my bicycle up there in the photo. I bought it about three years ago when my foot was acting up and I was in pretty intense physical therapy twice weekly. My orthopedist sanctioned biking as an alternative to running. I rode 26 miles every single day of the week. This is a true story. But that is how much I needed to ride to derive the same benefits (read: euphoric afterglow) from a much shorter run. Back then I had the luxury of time, though. Now I am carving it out when I am able  between two jobs, and three starting in August. So a nice ten-mile ride a couple of times a week is what I can manage at the moment. It is better than nothing at all which was more or less my situation during the winter.

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And this is my bicycling skirt. That’s right–I ride my bike wearing a skirt. I was explaining to HCB that some time ago I had researched women’s cycling clothing. I mean, have you seen cycling clothing for women? It does not flatter the human form, friends. As I was explaining this to HCB the rendering speechless had already begun, because I had alluded to the fact that hockey clothing has the same issue: you take a nice athlete and then add enough padding to make him (or worse, her) look like the Michelin Man. How unfortunate.

But this skirt is made for cycling–it goes on over the butt shorts (the fugly ones with the gigantic diaper in the seat that you must wear if you want to be able to walk the next day). When I explained to him how pretty it is–how it just billows in the wind, he just stood there with his mouth hanging open. Boom.

My butt shorts are actually Capri riding tights with lace around the cuffs. And that is in fact the edge of my monogrammed initials on the duvet in the photo. I might actually be a princess, a little. (But I look like a girl on my bicycle.)