Monthly Archives: December 2017

Solstice Gifts

“…I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed

there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

–Henry David Thoreau

Close to dusk, I stop to watch at least sixty turkeys, sipping and grazing in the sun-slanted, evergreen woods. The flock is a shifting mosaic of iridescent browns, greens, and purples against the still, white ground. As they head uphill to my right, I pick out last year’s babies.

I walk into the Cheshire house on Solstice Eve, picking my way over the treacherous ice. The door opens and ashes, alight with glittering red-gold coals, are scattered out onto my path. Glowing lights to mark my way and keep me safe. Brilliance in the dark. I am reminded of bioluminescent phytoplankton shimmering in a black sea. I say to the being who was doing the scattering: A solstice miracle. “Yes,” the being answers.

On Solstice morning my Up-the-River neighbor Betty writes of the “marbleized end papers of pink and blue in the eastern sky, at 7:06.” She tells of a raven she saw yesterday wandering the field in back of her house. When Betty is outside and sees a raven fly over she calls out a greeting. As it flies over my house, on its way further down the valley, I do the same. In this way, the raven links us.

In our family, magic visits on solstice eve. I sleep in Cheshire in order to be present for gift opening. Tomorrow the day will be longer, and each day after, longer still. I will mark the sun’s journey north along the western slope behind my house. The crows wake me well before dawn. I can hear the children rustling around in the room next door, opening their stockings.

5 year old Itzel heard “big” footsteps in the night. Santa Claus is proclaimed to be bear.

8 year old Maple sends me her painting of Night giving birth to the Sun, “after she has rocked her, all night long.”

Her mother Dena sends me a picture of their solstice seed mandala, assembled by candlelight.

When we walk out of the house on this bright morning, my daughter notices that the hemlocks have opened their tiny cones and released their seeds. Hemlock seeds by the thousands pepper the frozen ground. It takes our breath away that this would have happened on winter’s brow. Small signals of hope in a hard time, a strewn offering to the future from our beloved, dying hemlock giants.

In nearby Cummington Stacey shows me a Cecropia moth chrysalis which hangs folded into a leaf on a young maple in her yard. It is waiting for spring. I imagine the giant Saturnid emerging from this modest brown package, unfolding its glorious wings, drying them in the warm spring sun. All the other leaves on the tree have long since fallen. The caterpillar, in its wisdom, has glued her own winter home to the branch.

Shortest Days

Sitting at the kitchen table, watching the sunlight pour down the western ridge.

A flock of fat bluejays explores the garden around the house, a titmouse, junco and cardinal are in the azalea by the porch. Now the cardinal is in the lilac. What a treat to see his deep, sleek red. This little feathered flurry around the house and porch, the exploring of its nooks and crannies seems like a morning greeting of sorts.

The sky before sunrise was a quiet, milky white. Transformed by dawn into pink, drifty clouds sailing against a sudden blue. Color bleeds from the southeast across the entire southern sky. A miracle of sorts.

But life seems increasingly fickle and fleeting, like the waning days. It is cold now. I watch the wood pile shrink. The circle contracts. Reality shifts. I live mostly in the kitchen. I tape up the doors against the wind. Hang blankets, lower blinds. Summer seems a distant world, a place where I once lived but can barely remember.

The sun travels a shallow arc, skirting the southern horizon. When clouds part, light pours into the house at a steep, sharp slant. Land glows with a brilliance that cannot be matched by the glare of midsummer. Clover the cat follows the light as it moves from window to window.

Daylight fails. It feels as if time is both sped up and stood still. A profound and sudden darkness settles over the landscape. The sunset colors are fierce. Stunning and brief. Soon the moon will be full. Well after sundown, she emerges from behind the hills across the river, a bent circle, white and cold. Stars crackle and spin in the rarified air. The Milky Way burns a path across the sky. Coyote song sets the constellations into a sparkling, shivering tremor.

First Snow

The barn is a big, rambling, rangy place of many doors and rooms, salvaged beams and planks jerry built onto an old stone foundation sunk against a hill. The barn swallow nests are empty now but the mice have moved in and a skunk lives under the floor upstairs. A wild rabbit sleeps in the hayloft. One can follow her neat snow path which leads under the door. When I brush her dry, marbley droppings off of the bales, they hit strings salvaged from an old piano. It sounds like the angels are playing their harps. In the late morning, if the day is clear, the sun pours into the stall and warms the paddock.

Mama goat rears her head, flicks her tail and flaps her big Nubian ears at me as I tumble bales of shavings down the steep barn stairs. She stands on her hind legs and tucks her chin, showing me her horns. I, in turn, rear up and dance around in what I assume to be a goat-like way. Mama looks baffled. Baby, meanwhile, is busy ripping open the shavings bag. He paws at it then tears at it with his horns then looks to me for a scolding. He jumps onto an unopened bale of hay. The mane on his neck and shoulders stands erect. He dares me to push him off. Until recently, the meningeal worm that infected his brainstem prevented him from jumping on things or even walking in a straight line. After months of treatment, he can now play, his coat is glossy and thick. He has regained his strength. Although he is a fully mature wether, and sports a ridiculous beard, Baby (aka Yarrow) still behaves like a baby. He hides behind his mother when he hears the coyotes howl.

I think that goats like the tidy sound of their hooves when they trip trap along on hard surfaces. In the fall, I would take them for walks in the forest. They loved to dawdle on the bridge, clip clop back and forth, pause to look down at the water below. I call them Billy Goats Gruff.

When they play in the grain room they rear at each other and gently butt heads. It is a precision dance, performed as a ritual: Each goat lands simultaneously after a threatened head butt. The landing accompanied by a bright, percussive sound. Recently I laid down a walkway of wooden planks across the muddy paddock so that I could push the wheelbarrow more easily. The goats love to travel this little boardwalk, I think they like the sound their hooves make on the wood. I listen to their busy footfalls as I work nearby.

When I leave after morning or evening chores, Baby and Mama bawl and call in plaintive, moaning tones. “Please come back! Come brush us! Come play! Take us for a walk! Stay!” This pulls at my heart. If they could sleep in bed with me, they happily would. There have been times they’ve come into the house. As chaos-making as it is, it’s fun to watch them jump onto the couch, pull plants from a pot, wander the house with pure curiosity and even climb the stairs!

It has been snowing since early morning. The temperature hovers around freezing and there is no wind. The flakes are big and coming down steadily. The day holds the softness and silence of the first real snow. The world holds its breath. It seems fitting that today is the day that the goats discovered that they love peppermint candy!

William the pony is an old hand in the business of peppermint love. His soft, furry ears perk at the sound of the plastic wrapper crinkling when I unwrap a piece. I enjoy his enjoyment, the sound of the hard candy shattering between his molars each time I feed him one, I remember how our big bay mare, Panga, would savor the candy for minutes and stick out the tip of her tongue as she sucked. I never once heard her crunch.

This is the time of the year when one yearns to give presents: peppermints to pony and goats, a walnut or two for the mice, a carrot for the rabbit who sleeps in the hay. Sunflower seed trickled down a chipmunk hole.

I come in for lunch but will go back out later into the dusky woods. The beaver families should be safely ensconced in their lodges, I know that they have been busy cutting saplings and storing food. It has been a halcyon year for beech nuts and acorns, fattening the bears, chipmunks, turkeys, grouse and deer. The blue jays are sleek and plump. Fallen logs in the forest dotted with tiny sit spots, marked by semicircular piles of nutshell fragments. I look out at the world from my warm kitchen; some smallish, fox-sized animal catches my eye as it disappears around the corner of the barn. I watch my neighbor’s daughter glide off on skis across their hay field. She is accompanied by two tail-wagging dogs.

As winter approaches I take note on how my own world curls around itself. I stay mostly in the kitchen now into which I have recently moved a couch. I put on a coat in order to play the piano in the living room. My bedroom is unheated and very cold. The bed is piled with extra blankets. Twenty-year-old Clover, sleeps the end of her life away in the chair by the fire that is hers. A whisker shivers, a paw twitches, an ear flicks. What is going on in her cat dreams?

In mid-December, the border between outside and inside hardens. Boots require warming, mittens drying. One cannot dash out on a whim. I keep a close eye on the woodpile, figure the weeks and months until spring, fire up the stove in the living room only on special occasions. Outside, life hides in hollow trees, beneath roots and stone walls, in tunnels that wind below a protective blanket of snow. Grouse make snow caves.

Zora and I set off on our walk. The world is mostly white now, no longer showing glimpses of purpley brown and green. Each and every twig and branch is edged in white. Still-standing sunflowers wear peaked snow caps. The mountains on the other side of Fuller brook are obscured by a curtain of white. The snow is coming down hard.