Thursday, March 15, 2018

        When the light returns, when the days grow longer and the dark withdraws like a melting snowman, day by day, everything in nature seems to waken. The trees shake themselves and lift their heads. Even before their leaves emerge, even before the buds become blossoms, we can tell the trees have been roused from sleep. To look closely at an alder, an ash, or a cottonwood in early March is to see a naked-limbed winter tree, but to see the same trees in a grove from a distance is to discern a delicate wash of light green so subtle under the predominant red-brown fuzz of swelling buds that it strains credulity to believe it's there. Flowers that have slept wrapped in their bulbs for months pop up to see what the light has brought, rubbing sleep from their eyes before turning their faces to the increasing sun. Insects stir one by one, and birds fly in with the light, singing at dawn and signing the air with curlicues and swooping flourishes like a calligrapher drunk with joy
        Up here on the mountain things sleep longer than they do in the valley. Two weeks before my daffodils smile at the sun, I see the same variety massed deeply yellow in Joan's garden. While my plum tree is no more than a ruddy suggestion of the later pale pink explosion, in the valley pink and white fruit trees are already adding a pastel frill to the streets and yards. 
        This seasonal difference is not a function of light. I have the same number of hours of daylight as anyone else at my latitude, the same increasing number of minutes day by day until at last we think not of day as a crack of light between the dark but of night as a blink of the shutter before the next day photo. This process begins on winter solstice, of course, but at such a minuscule pace we bank more on faith than on observation that the light will return. Then, so gradually we can't see it coming, the pace increases until, just anterior to the spring equinox, the ball of light is rolling so fast we cannot but get swept in its path. Like the rest of nature, our spirits lift as though from sleep.
        And then, once awake, we have to prove to the cosmos we weren't sleeping on the job, so we tinker with the clock as though with time itself. But now daylight savings time, or the reversal of it, is so ordinary I can't remember which is the real time and which the manipulated. Some people despise daylight savings time, calling it unnatural, but clock-keeping itself isn't natural. Shifting the clock at our will is only a pretense at control. Adding an hour of light to the evening necessarily adds an hour of dark to the morning, and, in real terms, nothing has changed. As Ursula LeGuin said in a poetic variation of a truth of physics, "To light a candle is to cast a shadow." Whether you like the autumn version of the manipulated clock or the spring version depends on who you are and what you do. In the fall, school children don't have to wait for the bus in the dark, but my neighbor looks forward to the spring-ahead day so she can be feeding her horses in the daylight again. I myself have no preference and have a hard time keeping track of when I'm supposed to change my clocks, although these days most clocks change on their own, mysteriously more aware of the legislated time than I. The light comes as it comes, whatever we do to the clock, and with the coming of the light, I feel an awakening, a resurrection. Lake pagans of old, like daffodils, I turn my face to the sun and worship.

Thursday, March 8, 2018


            The old hippy saying, “Be careful what you wish for because you might get it,” implies that I’ll be sorry when I have to walk up the hill in the snow and shovel a snow-path to the woodshed and bundle up in gloves and scarves just to chop a bit of kindling to build my fire in the morning.        
            Nope. I’m not sorry. I wanted snow, and at last I got snow, and I’m happy as a bear in a lair.
            At last I don’t feel like I wasted my money putting studded snow tires on my four-wheel-drive RAV4, and I don’t feel foolish when I drive into town. I feel proud. “Yes,” I think as I pass other cars on the road, “I have studded snow tires because I need them.” I am proud of the eight inches of snow on the roof of my car that announces to passers-by, “See? I live where it snows!” Envy and admiration trail behind me like a “just married” banner.
            I always get a thrill, when I’m driving up the mountain towards home, to pass, a mile and a half before my house, a “snow zone” sign. At last, this winter, I can pass it with justifiable pride, as the snow really does begin just past the sign. Any year, to drive into town in March or April is to move into spring, with fruit trees, daffodils, and flowering ornamentals studding the streets and lawns with color. During heavy-snow, cold-winter years, to drive back up the mountain into the snow zone, where patches of snow cling to the earth and everything is damp and cold, sets me, heart sinking, back in winter. (Yes, I do like spring after a good hard winter). This week I pass the sign and think, “I live in the snow zone.
            At last, this winter, I can wear my favorite winter coat (fake-leather, fake-fur), and my long wool cloak when I go somewhere dressy. I wear a hat, a scarf, and gloves whenever I go outside not so much because I need them but because it’s so much fun to wear them at last. I change clothes twice a day so I can enjoy my winter clothes more.
            Skiing has at last been good again. “This,” I thought as I skied with the Grants Pass Nordic Club through densely falling snow and finger-biting cold up a mountain, remembering my diatribe about spring too soon (see post on Feb.8) – “this is more like it.”

The next week-end, whizzing gracefully, effortlessly down the trail at Buck Prairie, was like being a winter song on the mountain.
            I didn’t get more than a foot of snow at my house, but it whitened the woods and decorated the trees with its beauty. The flakes were so glitteringly tiny I took a video of the them falling in my woods, one of my favorite sights (and sites). I tried skiing out my back door, but the snow was so soft and fluffy it wouldn’t support my skis, so I walked instead. My feet, in ski boots and gaiters, whisked through powdery snow. The wind blew globs of snow off trees onto my wool hat. After a while I realized I was following animal tracks, more like paw prints than hoof prints: not deer prints, and too small for cougars but too big for squirrels or skunks. I would like to think they came from two coyotes, maybe. I would really like to think they were paw prints of OR 7 or some of his brood, but that’s a little far-fetched. I followed the prints all the way to the creek, ducking under the same chinquapin hanging over the road with icy limbs the animals had hunkered under, walking around frozen puddles with the prints, but walking around another downed tree that the animals could squeeze under but I couldn’t.
I stopped at the creek. The hopping stones across it had snow on them and looked slippery. I could see the tracks on the other side of the creek, but at this point woman and creature parted ways. I turned around and walked back home through the beautiful, soft, pure-white snow of winter-at-last.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Relaxation with Rocks

Haley May calls her massage business May Massage Arts, an apt name, as Haley, like any artist, is creative with the materials of her art. Like a sculptor with clay, she molds the muscles of the body into the shapes she envisions for them – stretched long, rounded smooth. I am the clay she is molding into shape, and because she is an artist, I feel my body perfected in the shape it is. Like a painter or composer – or a poet or novelist or any artist – she pays attention to details: this pinpoint spot needs extra pressure, this touch of hardness that cracks under her hands needs to be gentled into smoothness.
Last week when I came into the studio for a massage, Haley showed me a tray of steaming water in which lay a dozen or so smooth round rocks: black ones, dark red ones, striped gray ones, most just the size to fit into her palm, though four or five were small enough to fit into the circle made by a finger and thumb. Some had blunted points. Some were slightly textured with pimpled surfaces. The hot water stirred over them like a creek running over rocks. I was entranced, as when watching the moving water of a creek or river.
Haley left the room. I undressed, lay face-down on the massage table, pulled the blanket over me, and called to Haley that I was ready. 
      She began as usual, massaging my back. Then, with hardly an interruption, moving as smoothly as a dancer, she picked up two rocks from their hot-water bath and rubbed them rhythmically, one in each hand, over my back. Their heat sank into my body. Haley turned a rock’s blunted point to go more deeply into a stubborn muscle. The hot rocks (“Are they too hot?” “No, they’re perfect”) slid smoothly over my massage-oiled skin. They were of both earth and water, and they brought me into their essence. As their heat flowed into my body, I became the water flowing over the rocks. At the same time the water was flowing over me: Haley’s hands moving with the constant yet ever-changing motion of the river, the creek, the stream, the tides. I was underwater; I was water itself; I was immersed in smooth, warm, earth-born, water-rocks waving and rippling over muscle and skin.
Haley slid the warm rocks she had been using on my back into the palms of my hands, where they rested like eggs with life inside them. My hands curled slightly over them, like a bird settling her breast over her brood.
The rocks drove their heat deep into my muscles as Haley slid them over my arms and legs, uncovering, then covering again, each limb in turn. Like ripples of soprano notes, the small rocks in her hands danced over my cheeks, around my eyes and lips, until my face sank into the deeper registers.
Finally Haley returned the rocks to their hot-water bath. She massaged my feet, wrapped them in warm damp towels, rubbed them dry, and drew the covers over them. “All right, Diana,” she said quietly, always the signal of the end of the massage. “Take your time getting up,” and she left the room.
It took a while to draw myself up from the underwater currents, but eventually I sat up, dressed, gave Haley a hug, and floated to my car. Then I drove to Ashland for a yoga class.
I have never done a better yoga.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Walk, Don't Ski

            Skiing with the Grants Pass Nordic Club at Mt. Bachelor, in the central Oregon Cascades, last week was, more accurately, "skiing." The "snow" in the picture below 
is, more accurately, such hard-packed ice that we took our skis off and walked the downhill stretches. Everyone stepped very carefully down to and across a snow-bridge over a creek.
I am crossing the bridge.
Every one of the thirteen skiers fell at one time or another. Even the very best skiers went down. I fell three times. We weren’t falling into soft powder, either.
            It was beautiful, though, with a marbled blue-and-white sky and creeks winter-black against the white fields. Todd Lake, where we stood on our skis to eat lunch, lay icy-white under the snowy peaks of Broken Top Mountain.    

Winter-hungry birds landed on our heads, hoping for hand-outs. 
On our way back to the cars, Mt. Bachelor’s hard-ice slopes glistened like glazed ceramics in the afternoon sun.
            Nonetheless, the next day we eschewed skiing in favor of hiking. Even Misery Ridge, at Smith Rock, sounded better than Misery Ski.
          Unfortunately, I hadn’t brought hiking boots with me (I had thought I would be skiing), so I had to hike in my dress shoes. As I climbed up the steep trail (remember its name?), someone coming down said, “Cute shoes. I’m not sure they’re good for hiking, but they’re cute.”
  I was as much concerned about ruining my shoes as about misery hiking. I remembered being caught in the same situation when I was twenty and made an excursion to Mt. Aetna from Aix-en-Provence, France, where I was a student. I didn’t know till I got to the mountain that it was possible to hike up an active volcano, but, as at Smith Rock, the desire to hike outweighed concern about shoes. By the end of the hike, the lava-rock trail had shredded my dressy sandals into ruins. 
            I was walking over easier ground at Smith Rock, but I did take my shoes off in the sandier places by the river to walk barefooted for a while. That helped save my shoes, if not my feet.
           Smith Rock is famous for its rock climbing routes. From any place on the trail we could see rock climbers clambering up sheer rock faces, looking like spiders with limbs splayed out against the walls. Occasionally we saw a climber hanging on a rope, swaying slightly, like a spider dangling on its thread. 
At Monkey Face, the silhouette of rock climbers against sky and above desert suggested the extent of their feat.
As though the hike itself wouldn't be its own reward (and breath taking, in the most literal sense), the view from the top was the other kind of breathtaking.
Mike Kohn with me on top of Smith Rock
On the descent we had stupendous views of the line-up of snow-capped Cascade peaks: Mt. Bachelor, the Three Sisters, Three-finger Jack, Broken Top, Mt. Jefferson
Mt. Jefferson with other, lesser, peaks

            If the skiing had been a bust, the hiking was great. And when we weren't outdoors, we enjoyed each other's company at the house we were renting in Sun RiverWe ate well, preparing a Mexican meal one night, Italian the next. We watched the opening ceremonies for the Olympics and some of the ice skating and skiing events. And now, when I think about it again, I think maybe even the ”skiing” was fun.