Winter days

Winter days drift slowly. On bright days, sun pours in the front windows of the house IMG_0856and I bask in the light. More frequently, the windows frame a dark green, gray, and white landscape. On the railing out front I’ve placed a blue pot filled with branches of red berries. I put it there wondering if birds would like the berries but they ignore it so I’ve hung a feeder from the plant hook where a fuschia lives in summer.

A week ago we had warm and rainy weather before the onset of cold temperatures again. The accumulated snow from previous storms melted in the rain and I walked around the gardens last Saturday, snipped branches off my discarded Christmas tree and used them to insulate the crocosmia from the predicted low temperatures.

I used to interact with winter more, plunge through the snow to fill distantly placed bird feeders, strap on my snowshoes to explore the field behind the house or rake snow off the roof. But gradually, a combination of aging joints and weather patterns that bring mixed icy precipitation has kept me inside more, viewing the world through glass panes, scurrying from house to car to office or store then car and home.

My only New Year’s intention this year was to show up in my life, but I’m not sure what that means in winter, when the pull is toward hibernation.

I look for things that delight my senses. Hot chocolate made with a dark chocolate cocoa mix and drunk from my red mug. The feel of the cat’s soft fur, her warm body weighting my legs. A dark red poinsettia in a dark blue pot. The smell of a new book when I first open it. The sharp hot bite of chili. Music, like this piece from Caroline Shaw, which both startles and satisfies me.

I saw a short video recently, The Monolith, about the NYC artist Gwyneth Leech and her response to several losses, including a skyscraper being built right outside her studio window, blocking the view that had been inspiring her art for years. She came to terms with the “monolith” by seeing it as colors and shapes and painting all the stages of construction. It’s a story about the creative process, about loss, about life, about showing up.

“…to be alive is something holy, fierce, and precious,” Jena Schwartz writes in a FaceBook post. Through the short winter days and long nights, I try to remember those words.

A good walk

I went for a walk yesterday afternoon at around 5, taking advantage of lingering light at the end of daylight savings time. I tried to stay in the moment as I walked, seeing, noticing—a pattern of fallen leaves on the road, a few quince lingering on a bush and one salmon colored flower, a flame red shrub. But the act of noticing and naming took me out of the moment and I started this blog post in my head. Often as I walk, drive, simply sit on the couch looking out at the trees and sky, words swim in me, swirl, settle, and swirl again.

I set out on my walk planning to goIMG_0802 to the end of the block then turn left and left again and finally home, all on a level route that’s easy on new knees. But at the first turn I looked right and saw the sun bright and golden through a crack in dark clouds and turned toward it, up a hill then down to a road that borders a field and the clouds, streaming sun, distant hills.

It was a good walk, an image and word filled walk if not a mindful walk. I want my days to be full of such moments, weaving in and out of present time, noticing, appreciating, sometimes choosing the harder route, breathing it all in.

How do we rest?

 

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Life is ticking over relatively calmly in my little corner of the world. Autumn has arrived slowly and gently, with warm sunny days and cool nights. Nasturtiums and roses are still blooming, leaves are just now turning and falling. I’m back at work and figuring out how to juggle work, exercise, writing, social time.

But I’m all too aware of back-to-back catastrophes—shootings, hurricanes, wildfires fill the news and hover on my peripheral vision. It feels trivial to write about my daily concerns but I have no new words to add to the cacophony of world events.

I’m not sleeping well. I fall asleep easily enough. In fact, bed feels wonderful when I first settle in, pillows piled just so, the duvet tucked around me, the cat snuggled next to me, softly purring. The air is cool, the bedroom is quiet except for the cat’s soft purr which slowly dissipates as she sleeps. I read on my Kindle, its backlight turned low. My eyes start to feel heavy so I close them, put the Kindle aside, pull up the duvet, and slide into sleep for three or four hours before I wake, restless and unsettled.

When did sleep become such a challenge? There was a time when these middle of the night wakenings weren’t a problem, I’d surface and then quickly slip under again and in the morning, barely remember waking at all. Now I get up and wander down the hall to the bathroom, then back into bed, rearrange the pillows and duvet, shift around until my body finds just the right position. The cat stalks away in a huff to find peaceful sleep elsewhere.

I close my eyes, maybe put on a sleep mask in anticipation of morning light. I tell myself a story—I have a cache of them to draw on, imagined scenes that I revisit over and over. Or I focus on my breath, in and out. Sometimes the story, the breathing acts like a hypnotic spell and I sleep again. But I have to be careful not to acknowledge that I’m teetering on the edge of sleep. The minute I notice the imminence of sleep, I’m awake again, eyes open and looking at the window across from me, wondering if the sky is finally lightening up.

I started this post thinking I’d write about the phrase “hare’s corner”—words I learned from Robert Macfarlane’s daily Twitter and Instagram contribution. Hare’s corner—a section of a field that farmers leave unplowed and uncut as refuge for small animals. And it struck me that we all could use a hare’s corner these days, a place, figurative or real to retreat to, a place to regroup.

A quiet walk through woods, my attention in the moment, noticing the leaves on the path, the glint of sun on water, a rustle in the underbrush, the roll of an acorn underfoot. IMG_0724Or a quick pause in a busy day, when I look up from the computer and out the window, letting my eyes go into soft focus. A chat with a friend, laughter, a hand on a shoulder. A meal shared with friends, ingredients carefully chosen and prepared. Words on a page that take me away from daily concerns and into another world, open images in my mind. Hare’s corner. A brief respite, a safe space.

Where does sleep fit? Deep, delicious, restorative sleep? Here’s the thing—sleep requires surrender, vulnerability. In deepest sleep we’re unprotected. The hare, quivering in that unplowed sanctuary, won’t be asleep.

And so I wonder is my insomnia about a fear of surrender? An unwillingness to let go? In this time of personal transition, in this horribly unsettled world how do I–how do we–rest? 

In a Yoga Nidra for Sleep meditation, Jennifer Piercy talks us through slowing the breath, noticing the “waves of respiration ebbing and flowing” like the ebbing and flowing of all life, like the flow of a day. Notice the transition spaces, she says, as morning flows into night, as summer flows into winter, marked by the transition spaces of autumn and spring.

I listen to her soothing voice, the calm words, and I try to make peace with the transitions, the unsettled ebb and flow, to breathe, to sink into the breath, to allow the breath to breathe me, to sleep.

Recovery land

I’m sitting on the back porch, with my right leg elevated on cushions and an ice pack draped across my newly replaced knee. I’m beginning week four of recovery and hitting all the milestones. Straighten leg—check. Activate quadriceps muscles—check. Bend beyond 90 degrees—check. Walk with a cane and a normal gait—check. Walk without a cane—check. Wean off pain pills so I can drive again—in process.

I tell friends that I’m an impatient patient. But “patient” is the wrong term. We were told in the pre-op class that we should not view ourselves as ill and were encouraged to bring street clothes to wear on the hospital unit. I was up and walking a few steps on day 1, walking up and down the hall on day 2, climbing stairs on day 3, and then sent home to recover.

I don’t feel ill—it’s more a feeling of being suspended in time. This is partly due to pain meds, which make me sleepy, content to mindlessly surf around the Internet and let time drift by.

Or at least that was the case in the first couple of weeks. Now that I’m reducing the pain meds and regaining energy, restlessness has sidled in.

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I’ve been nesting on my back porch daybed, which gives me a limited view of the world—the rhododendrons that flank the east and north side of the porch, an occasional bird that lights there, preens, sings, and flies off. If I turn my head to the left, I see the pink bloom of filipendula, grass, evergreens. Occasionally a critter of some sort scampers through—squirrels, groundhogs, rabbits, one day a spotted fawn. My gardens are blooming and thriving but seen for now from a distance. Soon I’ll venture out for a closer look but that feels like a next week activity.

My days have a rhythm. Morning means coffee and toast, the welcome coolness of morning air, easy contentment as I slowly wake up, maybe write a little, check Twitter, look at an online newspaper, ease into the day.

Afternoons stretch longer and desire clashes with reality. Mind and spirit want to go and do—body is not quite ready.

I pace around my small house. I might venture out for a walk down the driveway, across the street and down a ways, mindful that however far I go, I need to do the same distance on return.

Now, the sun is out and the air is steamy. Ten minutes ago, a thunderstorm raced through, a few loud claps of thunder, brief torrential rain. Another storm is on its way—I hear thunder in the distance. There are lessons to learn about accepting the present moment, whatever that moment brings.

I hear myself thinking, ah, I’m missing out on summer but of course I’m not—I’m just having a different summer than usual. A porch summer, a recovery summer, a summer to ease back into my busy life, slowly, one degree of bend, one step at a time.

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My cruising around the Internet sometimes takes me to delightful places, such as this clip of Natalie Merchant and the Kronos Quartet. Enjoy! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qbxwa_ie3dQ

Listen. Breathe.

On Tuesday, I check into the hospital for knee replacement surgery and my stress levels are rising as I try to finish up at work, get my house and life prepped, go to myriad medical appointments, shop, see friends. Ah…I’m getting breathless just typing all that. Life these days is all about doing and distracting.

I haven’t been spending enough time simply listening to the world around me.

Sunday afternoon. I’m on the back porch, ceiling fan spinning, grackles noisily doing what grackles do, adult voices and kid voices from next door, breeze in the trees.

Silence. Listening. On Twitter earlier this week, a quote from Wendell Berry arrived like a small gift: “Make a poem that does not disturb the silence from which it came.”

I imagine words dropping into a pool, sending out ripples, sinking, disappearing.

IMG_0413A couple of weeks ago, Robert Macfarlane asked: “What is the place or landscape to which you most love listening?”

I immediately thought of Maine, the cottage on Back Cove where my sister and I went for a couple of years, early morning light, distant boat motors, bird call, occasional plop and ripple of water as acorns fell or birds dived for fish.

Or Pemaquid Point, with waves crashing against rocks and gulls calling.

Or here, now, the porch, the trees, the kids, the birds, the cat crying from inside the house, the dog in the distance, sounds of a summer afternoon.

Listen to the small sounds, I tell myself, the here sounds, now sounds, inner and outer sounds.

Be silent, listen, breathe.

Be. Listen. Breathe.