It Snows Every Day
We’ve shifted into the season that stretches from Thanksgiving to Easter on the mountain. Weather is no longer a matter of a forecast, but a comparison in the past tense: “how much did you get?” It snows every day here, November through March and often beyond. Snow is never unexpected, even when the skies are cloudless blue and the forecast, such as it is, is clear. Call it a microclimate or a high hollow snow pocket or anything else you like: just wear boots and expect precipitation.
The first year we lived here, I lived alone in the yellow house with the dogs all week, while Tom attended FIOS school downstate. He came home on the weekends. I loved those days, the silence and solitude, the sense of exploration. Everything was new. Every dog walk was to a new destination and followed a new route. Each day we went a little farther, pushing the limits of our newfound freedom. The 2800 foot mountain behind us seemed huge to us back then; in those early days it felt almost boundless.
Together the dogs and I grew an intimacy with the land itself. Each rock and tree became familiar. We created named landmarks: the coyote rendez-vous spot, the hairpin turn. When you walk the same chunk of earth every day for years on end, you come to know it the way you know your own body or your spouse’s foibles. That’s the porcupine den I had to pull Mica out of by her tail. That’s the split rock that I can never capture in a photograph. That’s the boulder that looks like it’s smiling. And so on.
But it’s also deeper than that. Wordless. I feel woven in and rooted, like one of the trees I’ve come to know so well. It’s home. Not the building or the address or the community, although all of those hold meaning. The woods. This parcel of weedy trees and prickers and mud and endless snow and more snow and then muddy ice and snow and mud all mixed together – it is infiltrating my bones and my psyche and my very breath.
When I took the dogs for a walk on a public trail this afternoon, that meant pants, a car ride, a friend, and getting stuck behind the plow on the way home. I noticed the truck was salting the road. That tells me more than the forecast ever could. Ice. I should be thinking about dropping temperatures and ice.
I used to want to be something known, something I could purchase. I saw images in catalogs or television shows or random people on the street and thought “yes.” I want that. I want that level of proficiency in my career, that confidence, that pair of pants or shoes. I want to feel the way I imagine that feels. But instead I stumbled into feeling like a rock and a tree and mud and daily snow flurries. I see my hairdo not in a catalog but in a tumble of tangled dry weeds. My arms ache not from a workout at the gym but from battling the dogs (tug… great exercise for arms, shoulders, core, back… for both of us. But oh my aching shoulders.) or splitting wood. I avoid getting dressed in street clothes and aim to not use my car most days. Nothing in my life is ever clean for more than about ten seconds.
My uniform consists of secondhand fleece pajamas pants and Tom’s decades-old LL Bean down coat. Both are stained and torn, on their last legs. I just can’t see any point in replacing them… they work. They are right for the job they’re asked to do. I realize I look a bit like a cartoon character, a caricature of “crazy dog lady.” I look suspiciously intentional… but I swear it all just evolved. It’s authentic “bag lady,” not “pretentious artsy faux creative bag lady.” But the line between might be kind of thin, I admit it.
I grew up in the first development in a nascent suburban community. The last remaining farm had a horse and some sheep across the road. The horse bit me when I was about three years old… I had a lollipop in my back pocket and … crunch. We bought the model home on a street with 13 one-acre plots with your choice – split level or raised ranch. We had natural gas and central air conditioning and annual tornado alerts every sultry August evening, and after my father died, one dog. Now I live in a place where seasoned firewood means more than central air, and studded snow tires are normal. Power outages don’t scare me, but the thought of all that thawed meat does: I have a deer carcass in one freezer and lots of chicken heads and feet in another.
I can proudly proclaim the honor of having been a kid that other kids were forbidden to play with because they came home too dirty. As a seven year-old, I was bewildered. As a 53 year-old, I’m proud. I was in it, for real, up to my knees and never looking over my shoulder. Frogs’ eggs and “witchy roots” (the fleshy and mucosal roots of the jewelweed plant) and hiking before I even realized what I was doing had a name, I was the kid that knew where and how to catch crayfish … and how to put out the street lights. We had a ping pong table set up in my garage and I could beat all the local boys at ping pong. No chivalry, no efforts at acquiescence, I won fair and square.
The writing of this chapter is interrupted by the daily chores, my own and the needs of other living being. Mostly the dogs. Stoke the fire, remember to thaw food for both humans and dogs, exercise dogs, give the dogs bathroom breaks. If it weren’t for the attending to those needs… if it weren’t for the dogs and Tom, I think I’d go completely feral. I’d drink beer at 10 a.m. and write or sleep whenever I felt like it. I’d eat chocolate for breakfast and toast and butter for every other meal. I’m not sure I’d be any happier or any more productive but I’d be more fully and wildly me.
I don’t mind that they reel me in: I’m grateful. They are family. A ragtag, broken, screwed up family of misfits and Tom. I always wanted a family. It is one of the only goals I’ve ever had. I sacrificed romance and adventure for home and family on purpose with clear intent… and when I made a mess of it the first time around, I was undeterred. I accepted my error and moved on to try again, even more determined to create a home and family. I failed even more spectacularly but blessedly briefly the second time around. Third time’s a charm. If only I’d known a bevy of dogs was key.
Tom is the island of sanity and the anchor that moors us to terra firma. He is the most normal of all of us. He grew up in a blue collar, immigrant family, with clear rules and limits and ways that everything must be done. Germans. Not a lot of nuance or vaguery. He must find us mystifying, the dogs and me… but I guess that just helps to keep love alive all these years. I’m grateful to him for leaving the mountain every day. I’m grateful to him for slaying the dragons and bringing home the spoils each week.
We both live a life that our parents would neither understand nor fully support. No, that’s not true: both our moms would enthusiastically support happiness. Both would equally enthusiastically NOT support living with 5 dogs. Living in what sure looks like an unfinished barn would stretch their ability to remain understanding. My mom has asked a few times “when will the house be done?” She has stopped asking.
What’s my point? Acceptance, I guess. Cherishing the beloved and accepting the unwanted. It snows every day. I can revel in the snow or rage at it. Either way, this is my landscape. I may as well wander in it with as much joy as I can muster.