Monday, January 31, 2011

Color Cravings

Have you ever craved a color? If so, do you always long for the same color or do you crave various shades from the spectrum of visible light depending on your mood? Maybe it's never even occurred to you that a color can be craved with as much certainty as salty foods or chocolate.

To me, this is the color of the sea.

When I long for a color, it is always this one.

Does craving a color signify a deficiency of some sort?

 The way that the craving to eat dirt can indicate a lack of iron?

I am deficient in ocean and so I crave.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Morbid curiosity for a quiet Sunday evening.

Last week our neighbor struggled to remove snow from the roof of an ugly shed that now stands where a beautiful tree used to (remember this post?). We watched him flail about with a shovel pulling chunks of snow down onto his head and shoulders with each stab at the low roof. Chip said, "he needs to borrow our roof rake", or something nice like that. So although it was quite entertaining and very neighbor-like to sip my tea, stare out the window and provide running commentary on the antics next door, I did actually go outside to offer a more useful tool. It's pretty rare that WE have some kind of tool that a person might find useful.

The snow piles were so deep between my neighbor and me that I decided to "throw" the roof rake to him. Now, if you know anything about roof rakes, you know that they are rather unwieldy tools of a not particularly aerodynamic form, i.e. not meant for throwing. And if you know anything about me, you know that I am not the most graceful of sorts. In my excitement to be helpful, I javelined the rake toward my neighbor with its handle first. It's surprising how much the business-end of a lightweight aluminum tool, when thrown vigorously, can hurt the upper edge of your quadriceps. Launch attempt two was only slightly more successful; at least I didn't hit myself a second time.

Fast-forward to a week later, otherwise known as yesterday. I could still see and feel the large bruise left behind by my misadventure with the roof rake. I happened to be in the shower when I noticed this since it's winter and the shower is about the only place where I'm not wearing at least two or three layers, plus a hat and scarf - indoors. In my opinion, the shower is one of the two most fertile places for random, important thoughts. The other place being long walks alone, preferably in the woods. Both are also great places to get really dumb songs stuck in my head, like "Camptown Races" and "You're a Grand Ol' Flag" or "Darlin' Clementine", but that's a story for another time. This is all a very long, shaggy-dog style preamble to the interesting, but not overly deep, thought I had in the shower yesterday while contemplating my current bruise. Ahem....

I remember many of the injuries I've sustained over the past handful of years: tried to blow up my finger last New Year's Eve, fell down on Ascutney on my 30th birthday, bashed up my knee on Mt.'s Washington and Mansfield, cut my finger enough to leave a scar while slicing a bagel, got a rotten sliver stuck deep in my foot for a week before having it removed. That's just off the top of my head (a head that's been smashed into hard objects numerous times) and only from the past couple years. There's a whole lifetime of injuries lurking, healed and forgotten, in my past!

While I was in the shower contemplating my newest injury, I suddenly had this thought: what would it be like if I had to experience all the injuries I've ever had, all at the same time?! How much of my body's real estate would be in pain, scarred, aching, bruised, bleeding, and/or temporarily out-of-commission? I'd be a train wreck! Can you imagine how your cumulative-injury self would look and feel? Do you even want to?

When imagined this way, it suddenly seemed amazing to me how much injury our bodies sustain and how they recover so successfully (most of the time) from the damage. Simply wondrous! You might find this idea rather morbid, but I actually find it rather thrilling, fascinating and even comforting.

Like I said, shaggy dog story to get to that one weird, random thought. Hey, I warned you to check the depth before diving in head first!

If you're squeamish, leave this page now. For the rest of you morbidly curious types, like myself, here's some photographic evidence of injuries listed above (because people like blogs with photos, even -or perhaps especially - injury photos).

Damn! Check out that color! Ouch!

Memories from my first hike up Mt. Washington.

Injury from improperly tightened breach on a potato gun.

Still have a scar from cutting that Montreal bagel.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Don't be fooled

What you're looking at right there is the high temperature for today. Considering we started out this morning at -15 F, this is rather balmy. Some places nearby hit -24. It was the talk of the town today (both real and Facebook towns.) But don't be fooled. If you've been paying attention at all over the past couple weeks, you probably noticed that things are already changing.

No one ever believes me when I tell them that the buds are doing things at this time of year. People look at me like I've lost my mind. But I wouldn't make something like this up. All you have to do is use your eyes and look around you a little and you can see it too. But it's January, you say. It's 15 below zero outside and two feet of snow cover the ground, you grumble. It's nothin' but a bunch of sticks out there, you say. You just want to see something alive and growing. Right?

Okay then, here ya go.

This fragrant Daphne is a woody shrub that blooms with sweet smelling, small purple flowers in late March/early April. I've lived in this house for seven years and last week was the first time I bothered to pay attention to what this plant might be up to in January. Moving on down the Rhody... (groan)

I know, I know...I should probably be protecting my shrubs better. What can I say, my landscaping tactics tend toward the "survival of the fit-enough". You can kind of tell the weather by how curled and pathetic the leaves of this rhododendron are on a given day. The colder and drier the tighter they curl. But look! Those are, in fact, baby buds!

Can you guess......? It's the one and only Syringa vulgaris (Common Lilac, I just wanted to say vulgaris). Yes, it will need another 4 months before it thinks about blooming. But look at that! You can't deny that those are, indeed, buds! I've been watching them for a couple weeks now and I've noticed how they've changed in size. Even in January. And you thought everything was all sleepy and quiet. Ha! No way, Mother Nature's got business to do!

This is not a joke. This is not photo-shopped. Everyone knows that pussy-willows bloom very early in the Spring. But did you ever stop to notice that it's busy right now? In January!? I know, crazy! Look at those little white toes peeking out already!

Of course, these are minuscule signs of things to come months down the road. I know that the longest, dreariest part of Winter will be here soon. But those are the days and weeks that make me long for Spring. Longing for something feels pretty good every now and then. Until then, I'll be looking through frozen windows, sneaking up on snowbound tractors and following snowy trails like a Winter Ninja.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Walking in the woods the other day, I was reminded of a smell I like that many people find distasteful; makes them roll their eyes, shake their heads, purse their lips disapprovingly. That remini-scents (ha!) spawned some mental list making.

Smells that tap deeply into my subconscious:

  • A couple of snowmobiles driving by while I'm walking in the wintry woods. I admit it, I like the smell of two-stroke engines--in small doses. I like how the smell lingers even after the mysteriously shrouded, unidentifiable riders shriek off into the distance.

  • Freshly cut 2x4s, sheet rock, drywall compound, the humid, vinegar-y smell of removing layer upon layer of old wallpaper. These are the smells of my childhood living in fixer-uppers.

  • Chainsaws and sawdust. This obviously goes along with the two-stroke engine thing and combines it with the freshly cut wood thing. I've had patients in for hearing tests who smell like chainsaws and sawdust, as if they've just come from the middle of the woods directly to my audio test booth. They usually wear plaid or wool or both. I know they can't smell it on themselves anymore, like farmers and cow-smell or Grandmas and old-lady perfume.

  • The fishing vest/PFD my Dad had when I was a little kid. Sometimes I can almost conjure up an olfactory memory of this. You'd think it would smell like fish, but it didn't. It smelled like something you might pull out of an old first-aid kit--like fabric bandages and Mercurochrome. It smelled like my Dad during summer weekends, safety, protection.

  • Warm, blanched peaches slipped of their skins floating in a dishpan of vinegar solution. The sweet smell of summer peaches wafting about with the astringent smell of vinegar takes me right back to when I'd help my mom get the fruit ready for canning --the slippery warmth of the fruit, the satisfying way the skins would pop off and how easily my mom would section the flesh from the pit and slide them into the dishpan.

  • The smell of hours spent outdoors sticking to a person or a pet after coming back inside. It lasts for only a few moments before the indoors pollutes it back to nothing. But if you pay attention you can smell it. Each season has a slightly different kind of smell, with Fall and Winter being the most noticeable and satisfying.

  • Barn smells: hay, straw, silage, grain, minerals & vitamins added to feed, manure, warm-bodied, caramel-colored Jersey's, the clean, milky, stainless-steel smell of the milk house.

What smells can you dig up from your memory?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Snow what?

My somewhat-waterproof/laughably-breathable jacket covered a layer of wool and a layer of fleece. (Funny to think that within my own lifetime those two words have ceased to be synonymous.) I stepped from the snowmobile path into the wide open field. Mine would be the first tracks to rumple the perfect blanket. Three times already this winter, I've been the first one; the fields and forest patches all to myself. Selfishly I'd set the track-sometimes following proper routes, sometimes diving down ravines or veering off into the trees to follow the footfalls of a fox, sometimes wandering in mad curlicues just so I could admire the pattern.

Some things I've noticed about watching snow fall:

1. Against the backdrop of a windless, monochrome sky and a large, undisturbed field, snowflakes become nearly invisible.

2. But if the fields and sky are framed by forest, a visible band of snow will seem to hover, disconnected from their place of falling and place of landing.

3. The flakes right in front of your eyes will seem to fall much faster than the ones farther out. The same way stationary things seem to move past your car at different speeds depending on their distance from you. So you can change the perceived speed of the snow fall by shifting your focus from near-field to far-field.

4. Depending on the size, speed, wind effect and moisture content of the snowflakes, these are the sounds I might hear when they collide with my somewhat-waterproof/laughably-breathable jacket :


5. I wish I had a microphone inside my hood to record the way the snowfall sounds from in there. I can stand still for long periods of time getting lost in listening to each flake's special sound then broadening my attention to the combined effect of all the flakes landing on my hood and shoulders. (snowy dandruff?)

6. The reason beech leaves stay on the branches for so long during winter is so that we can appreciate the cool sounds they make when hit by different types of precipitation and wind. So, don't let their effort go to waste, be attentive and appreciative.

7. Poofing my whole body down into deep, fluffy drifts makes for the most body-conforming, cozy seat. How can sitting enveloped in snow feel cozy? I don't know, but it does. So there.

8. Nothing in the world tastes quite like freshly fallen snow. If the snow is fluffy enough it doesn't feel like there's anything there until you compress it against the roof of your mouth. I spent most of my walk one day trying to come up with an accurate description for how it tastes. Unsuccessfully. It's like acceptable freezer burn? It's a taste that conjures childhood winters?Imagine if they could make a jellybean that tasted like January snow and you could eat it in August.

9. Lying down, flat on my back snowflakes fall in quiet processions onto me and around me. The flakes seem to fall much slower than when I was standing up; they swirl downward in slow motion. At first, I hardly feel any flakes hit my face and glasses. But as the minutes tick by, my face becomes wet, then cold; it seems like every flake hits me. Snow covers my glasses, water trickles into my eyes.

10. It's hard not to wonder what it would be like to lie there until completely covered by a crystalline blanket of snow, to become part of the pristine expanse of field, all my tracks obliterated.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Letter to my 'cello teacher, one year later

Dear Judith,

It's been one year since my first 'cello lesson with you. I was pretty nervous about the whole process: the rental and use of an instrument I knew nothing about, the weekly one-on-one lessons as an adult, the practicing, the likeliness of very slow progress, the financial commitment to something that could be seen as "self-indulgent" or "frivolous". But with all of that, my biggest worry was committing to something that I might find out I didn't like or worse yet, wasn't good at. How did I know if I would get along with the 'cello at all? How long might I have to keep at it in order to figure that out?

What a year of learning and development I've enjoyed! As adults, it's not often that we put ourselves willingly into the path of the unknown. Most of the time the unknown is forced upon us, intimidating and triggers a fear response. But going into the unknown and persevering beyond our initial fears allows us to learn and change, to not stagnate. It allows us to feel the hope that exists in progress, even when that progress feels glacially slow. But perhaps "glacial" is the only way for meaningful, lasting progress to happen. I mean, think of the changes left behind by glacial activity!

As an adult, the process of learning something new seems to be not just about the gradual ownership of specific skills and techniques but perhaps even more about ownership of ourselves, overcoming our fears (of being wrong, of being imperfect, of being a novice) and about experiencing the joys of discovery on an intimate level. This has been my experience during the past year and it has added a deep measure of satisfaction to my life.

I can only assume that the encouragement, patience, knowledge and passion of the right teacher, (at the right time with the right student) is the catalyst in this fantastic experiment. Committing to the 'cello and having you as my very first guide for this adventure have been two of the most unexpectedly rewarding things I've experienced as an adult.

With deep gratitude,

Thursday, January 6, 2011

We Are All. Alone.

I arrived home tonight to a cold, January-gorgeous sky. Clear, sharp air. Millions of stars. Beautiful and peaceful.

I heated up a big bowl of soup, got my sleeping bag, a pillow and a big piece of plastic sheeting for a ground cover. I took my soup outside and wrapped in wool, stuffed in down, I climbed into my sleeping bag to eat a late dinner. Then, warmed by my food, I snuggled down into the sleeping bag with my head on the pillow looking up at the stars. I wore my hiking boots inside the sleeping bag, which felt kind of "against the rules for being in a sleeping apparatus", like wearing shoes in bed. I wasn't cold at all, even though a 10 degree breeze gently grazed my cheeks. Fresh, outdoor air is a premium commodity in New England in January. Most of us don't get enough. I laid there looking up, playing with the focus of my eyes, seeing everything and seeing nothing. I saw a shooting star.

There's a sharp and honest truth inside a starry January night. I snuggled down deeper into my cocoon. My mind rested, my self-ness eased, I could breathe. And breathe. And breathe.