Snow Birds

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It snowed during the night and lightly through the morning hours. Jim, after telling anyone who would listen during the past year about how he loves being a snowbird because he hates clearing the snow from the driveway, was out midmorning clearing the one inch of snow from the drive with his snowblower. He came in with a great big smile on his face, having clearly enjoyed being out in the snow. But I understand how clearing snow grows tedious come late February and March.

I spent a lot of time sitting at the dining room table watching the light snow falling, the snow blowing off the neighbor’s roof, and the birds at the feeders that Jim filled yesterday. I am feeling very relaxed as the Christmas decorations are down and I’m just tidying up as we prepare to fly south in a couple of days. My tidying up includes deleting and tagging 2019 photos, starting with my November ones from Naples Botanical Garden. I haven’t gotten far because I keep returning to the dining room and the birds.

I really enjoyed reading and viewing Susan Rushton‘s post this week where she published many of the photos that she loves from her 2019 garden photography but never found their way into a blog. I think I will be doing the same for the next few weeks, starting with some orchids. Orchids are somewhat difficult to photograph so most of my attempts get deleted. Here are some photos that seem to capture the exotic beauty that I see when I view them growing in the garden.

 

Very Cold & Snow

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I woke to bone-chilling cold and a bit of snow on the ground. The sun, before being seen, announced its presence by coloring wisps of pale pink clouds. As the sun continued to rise, the light-floating clouds lost their color against the thin blue of the winter cold sky. The clouds seemed anemic after shedding the weight of the snow they had been carrying.

I sat in my favorite reading chair in my small room listening to the silence. I am familiar with the silence of cold and snow, and this silent cold seeped through the windowpanes to my right, not respecting the boundary between outside and in. The silence of inside was punctuated by the clinks and clunks of the heat ducts as they rested between attempts to push back the cold. I know when it is more-than-cold outside because that cold has more power than any form of heat but the sun. And soon the cold joined forces with a wind that howled and growled around the corner of the house and onto the porch to overpower the promise of sun-warmth. Late morning we ventured out into the battle in an attempt to say we wouldn’t stop our life for nature’s display of brutal strength, but we were humbled.

In the dawning-day hours, though, I enjoyed the silence of the tempered cold as I sat in my chair by the east-facing window. I held my warm mug of chi tea between my hands and against my chest so the warmth seeped into my soul. As I sipped, letting the tingle of spices and softness of cream linger on my tongue, I watched the white light of morning sun, softened through slatted blinds, drift across purple wall and artwork, lamp and bookcase – illuminating memories of a life lived with joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, pain and pleasure, brokenness and redeeming love.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

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I found this photo from a few years ago of a place we sometimes had breakfast on sunny Florida winter mornings. I am fighting the deep grey feeling that comes from our deep grey winter days now that we are in Michigan for the holidays. I’ve been working on culling out photos that aren’t interesting or there are multiples of due to downloading from storage when I bought a new laptop – or maybe I was inept at creating my filing system in Lightroom. I’ve been focusing on Florida photos, hoping the sunshine will brighten my spirits. They do, but not for long. During Michigan winter I have to fight the desire to hibernate.

We are working our way into our Michigan schedule of exercising at the gym on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. Once or twice a week we motivate ourselves by going out to our favorite place, The Wooden Spoon – or “The Spoon” for breakfast. On our drive there today Jim was saying how much easier it is to go exercise when we are in Florida. I knew what he meant but he continued – “you know, putting on a heavy winter coat over multiple layers and finding gloves and being stiff from the cold.”

We walked into “The Spoon” and our favorite table by the window and across from the kitchen was open. Before sitting down I walked to the next table where a regular group of family and friends sit every morning. We laughed about my jug of maple syrup that we take in for our pecan pancakes, we laughed about the map I drew on their table that extended off the right edge and up Don’s shirt, we laughed about all the layers I had on – until I said that I better sit down before I get myself in trouble. I guess the warmth and joy of relationship and conversation doesn’t care if the sky is grey outside. Maybe all the shared pieces of ourselves and our laughter brightened the room.

Jana and Theresa don’t ask if we want coffee, one of them just brings it when we sit down, pouring two mugs and sitting the carafe between us. They have learned what we like so they bring a bowl of just flavored creamers. Then we experience the pure joy of that first sip of coffee as we hold the warm mugs in our cold hands. We sit in silence as we sip and refill and sip, listening to snippets of conversation from the big round table next to ours. This is where the old guys come and go throughout the morning, greeting each other by name. “Sam got a new trailer…” “…kids coming?” “…left that damn think right next to…” “…look at the size of those horns…” Sometimes one of them will direct a question or comment to someone passing by, most of the time the conversation volleys within the invisible but permeable boundary that encircles them. Our usual order of two eggs over medium, whole wheat toast, and a short stack of pecan pancakes with no syrup comes and we split it up so each of us gets one of each. We talk about how it is the best breakfast we have ever had. Jim fills our cups again and we discuss the errands we need to run after we go to exercise. We fill up on the comfort and good will that is around us, in no hurry to leave. As I look out the window at the grey sky, I think “life is good.”

Thoughts of Snow

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My aging mental life fascinates me a whole lot. I thought that by studying life transitions and aging I would be prepared – but I’m surprised at what is taking place between my two ears in my 80th decade. I am intrigued by the work of transitioning to a meaningful life in my aging body.

I have been watching a lot of episodes of “The Last Alaskans” on the cable channel Animal Planet. Maybe its more accurate, and more telling, that I’ve been watching a few episodes repeatedly. This show is about a few families living in cabins in the north-eastern corner of Alaska whose lives are centered around winter – preparing for and surviving the 9 months of deep, cold (-40 degrees) winter. All of their activities seem to revolve around making sure they have enough meat, wood, clothing and water to survive. They are isolated and living on the edge.

As I watch these episodes, the beauty of the snow covered landscape excites me. My soul is touched by the Alaskans’ excitement and thrill of living in this wilderness. It triggers memories of when I was drawn to dreaming about making curtains for a mud hut on the American Plains. Of making a home in the wilderness for my husband and future children. And as I watch each episode, I smile at the thought of living in their small log cabins in that winter landscape.

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You have probably observed the disconnect of my spirit longing for the challenge of surviving winter landscapes at -40 degrees while my body enjoys the subtropic southern Florida winter. It wasn’t lost on me for even a second. Instead of it being a problem, I bridged this integrity gap with mind travel. The advantage of having a healthy brain that has processed 75 years of living is that we have memories – lots of them.

Jim and I talked (or I talked to him) about our memories of snow and cold. How exciting it was as a young adult to bundle up and brave the elements. I thought about the fun of taking my small children sledding and being a teen skating with friends on small neighborhood ponds that the boys shoveled clean. Most of all I remember the excitement and anticipation of knowing a big winter storm was close, looking out the window as we headed for bed to see if it had started to snow, waking a little earlier than normal to see how much snow had fallen and turning on the radio to listen for school closings. Along with the excitement came the calm of knowing we had food to eat and were freed of all commitments. My world slowed down when twelve inches of snow fell.

When the people living in northern Alaska talk about the quiet of walking trapping trails through the snow, I knew what they mean. I remember the quiet of snow-covered neighborhoods. I know the cold that freezes nose hairs and eye balls. I know the blue-purple drifts of snow from the sun being low on the horizon at dusk, but also know the brilliant sparkle of snow crystals at noontime when the sun is higher in the southern sky. Does anyone else believe that snow has a special smell, can we smell cold?

No, I don’t want to experience the cold and snow of winter at this stage in my life. Winter in the north makes life too painful and precarious. I no longer have the energy to dress for the cold, and my body isn’t made for shoveling snow. Once it was and once upon a long-ago time I enjoyed it. I have the memory of catching big flakes of snow on my tongue and feeling the comforting warmth of being inside a snow fort. I remember lying in the snow and listening to the silence. And I am thankful for these memories. Yes, I am thankful.

 

A Winter’s Walk

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We had a good amount of snow during the last half of December, a couple of inches or so falling every day to keep the landscape, including roads and walks, covered with a fresh, light blanket. One morning I grabbed my camera to record the snow on my front garden… after putting on long underwear under my cords, a sweatshirt over my long-sleeved tee, a fiber-filled jacket, scarf, hat & hood, light gloves, and my warmest shoes. Sigh.

The mid-morning sun was hanging low in the south-east sky casting very long navy shadows over the diamond-dust-studded snow. It was so cold —- so cold it was hard to feel any warmth from the sun on my face as I closed my eyes and faced it head-on. My nose is always the first get cold, just before my entire exposed face feels the bite. This was a still day without even a whiff of moving air so the extreme cold didn’t feel as threatening,¬† as dangerous.

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A deer run into the vacant lot across the street from our home.

I decided to start down the drive towards the snow-covered road, mindful that walking on snow in a 73 year old body is dangerous. For stability I used that unique walk that is used, that is learned early in life, when walking on slippery surfaces. It took my total focus as I gingerly made my way down the declining slope of our drive, my senses only focused on my orientation to the ground and the sound of my steps as they crunched the lightly layered flakes of snow. When I stopped at the bottom to congratulate myself on my progress (it really is a relatively short distance) I took time to listen hard. I listened to the hushed silence that comes with cold and snow, only to hear the occasional muted sounds of tires squeaking over snow-packed roads.

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The extreme cold results in a dry snow, the type of snow that is loosely bound together. Not a good snow for making snowmen or snowballs – for building snow walls to crouch behind in a serious snowball fight. On this day I was happy to experience these through my memories, but I felt the excited pull to do a little walking in the neighborhood. I don’t think the neighbor’s carved bear climbing the trunk of an old oak tree shared my excitement with the snow.

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I didn’t walk far as I felt the cold seep through my clothes, making the muscles around my titanium knees stiffen, but what joy I experienced as I viewed the unique sites of the winter landscape.

I have lived through winters for so many years so my excitement surprises me when diamond dust starts floating in the air. I stand silent and watch, alone in the silence. My attempt to capture a digital image is fruitless… maybe there are some things that we need to enjoy in the moment without trying to make them ours.

Winter is a wonderful place to visit – but be sure to bring lots of layers of clothes. I’ll furnish the hot chocolate.
Or you can visit vicariously.