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December 2010
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January 2011

The Power of Soup

That cold Canadian air that has been spreading across the country, made it's way to New England this week.  Yesterday we woke to -5 degree weather.  The high for the day was forecasted to be 8 degrees.  This is child's play compared to the temperatures that Minnesota and other midwestern states have been dealing with, but it's plenty cold for me.   So I pulled the shades (in an effort to conserve heat in this drafty old house), grabbed some extra afghans from the closet and thanked my lucky stars I had no reason to be outside.

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Today the sidewalks (outside the Center) look like this.   Would you want to go for a walk?  No, me neither.  My brain said I ought to get some fresh air after being cooped up, but that argument wasn't convincing me.  Then I realized if I took a short walk, I could stop at Vij's Convenience and pick up some of their soup for dinner.  In minutes I was bundled up and awkwardly making my way across the icy terrain.

You may remember me mentioning Vij's back on my Thanksgiving post.  It is just the sort of locally owned business that separates Lexington center from the main street of other towns.  Jay, the owner knows his customers by name.  If someone doesn't come in for a while he grows concerned and asks if all is well the next time he sees them.  I'm always in buying milk and Jay checks the dates on the bottles as he rings me up.  If the expiration is coming up soon, (not expired yet, just soon), he switches it for a bottle with a better date.  With that sort of eye for detail, you can probably imagine how good the soup is.  And if you have any doubts, just think, it's worth walking several blocks of an icy obstacle course to get to it.

I'm home again now.  The hat, mittens, neck gaiter, boots, and second pair of socks have all come off and I'm warming up from the inside out with my hearty tortilla soup.  The weathermen are forecasting more snow for tomorrow.  I think when the shoveling is over, I'll be rewarding myself with another steaming bowl of Vij's soup. 

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All or Nothing

(To the tune of "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music)

Rain drops on ice and slush in my socks,

Inky black darkness and cars that can't stop,

Soaking wet mittens, my windshield's all gray,

These are the reasons I won't walk today!

It was only a few months ago that I swore to myself that this winter, I would fight the nearly inevitable winter blahs, by among other things, taking a walk first thing every morning.  My doctor prescribed this regimen last year and it really helped.  I took the postal carriers' motto as my own and was out there in almost every kind of weather, allowing myself to skip only a few truly foul mornings.  I felt good and I was proud of myself for saying I would do something and following through.

As I drove home last night I realized, not only had I not gone for a walk in days, but I had absolutely no plans to break that streak by going out in the slush and rain.  Where was the stubborn fortitude I'd summoned up last year?  Just how wimpy have I become?   I certainly have the appropriate gear to make such a walk reasonably safe and dry, if not actually fun. 

And there it was.  I walk for many reasons, but enjoyment is top on the list.  Why should I turn something that I love into a chore by forcing myself to do it when my heart isn't in it?  Because I said I would.  The answer popped into my mind almost before I finished forming the question.  With that the opposition rested.  I said I would walk every day.  I made a promise to myself, and even mentioned it here on the blog.  What possible rebuttal could there be?

I was fighting with the lock of my door, rain and roof melt pouring down the collar of my coat, when I asked myself, how important is it?  How could it possibly matter, to anyone, if I took a walk in this mess or not?  If I wanted some exercise I could clean house, or better yet, do some yoga.  Adjusting the plan to fit the needs of the day is not failure; it's healthy.

 

 


Walking Willards Woods

 
Winter sports look so graceful and effortless.  The skater slides and spins across the ice; the skier pours over moguls, knees adjusting like well greased pistons; the snowboarder cuts from edge to edge with the most minute muscular adjustments, and the child squeals with joy as she flies down the side of a hill.  Even something as exhausting as cross-country skiing appears relaxing.  When I think of these sports, I always manage to forget the falls, the bruises, the toes gone numb with cold, the  muscles shaking with exhaustion, the long trudge back up the hill pulling an unwieldy sled behind me.  And so I was surprised, and then not so surprised to find that snowshoeing is much more of a work out than Grizzly Adams ever made it appear.   

Last Wednesday we got somewhere between 1.5 and 2 feet of snow.  That evening, once the winds had let up and the shoveling was done, I finally got to try out my new snowshoes! 

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These are Yukon Charlie's, 825 series, and yes those are pajama bottoms I'm wearing.  They were the warmest, dry pair of pants I had at the moment. 

It wasn't until I had gotten outside that I realized I hadn't read anything about how to put on or adjust the snowshoes.  Thankfully the toe straps worked just like the bindings on my snowboard, but I did manage to put them on the wrong feet (the straps should point to the outside of the foot).  I felt some doubt as I looked at the wall of snow in front of me and considered stepping out onto it.  Would I just sink down and get mired in the snow like a toddler? 

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That first experience was not all that I'd hoped it would be.  I sunk about half way to the ground with each step.  Somehow I'd imagined I would only sink and inch or two, not that I'd based this idea on any research of any kind.  With each step I banged the rear end of the shoes together and  there was a lag between when my foot started to lift and when the shoe followed it (my straps were too loose).  I went in feeling tired and a bit let down. 


 
After applying the H.A.L.T. rule to that first snowshoeing experience, I decided I better give it another try.  The HALT rule says that you should never make any decisions or trust your impressions when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.  I was certainly tired the night I tried out my snowshoes.  So yesterday I gathered up my gear and headed to the closest place I could think of that would have open snowy areas, ideal for a newbie, and a plowed parking lot.  That place was Willards Woods.   

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Willards Woods is one of the larger and better know conservation areas in Lexington.  Long before I'd ever been there, I knew of its existence through seeing "Save Willards Woods" bumper stickers.  I think those stickers may have been part of a debate over whether or not people should be allowed to let their dogs roam free over the 100 acres.  In the end a compromise was reached, with leashes being optional on certain days of the week. 

As I left the parking lot and entered the old orchard area, I was excited to see snowshoe tracks and pole marks running parallel to the trail walkers had packed into the snow.  I looked out at the field of mainly unbroken snow, and thought this is what I'd imagined.  

I roamed like a puppy, following whatever caught my eye.

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A stump that looks like a heron wading in the shallows.

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Evidence of squirrels commuting between the woods and a lone, tall pine tree in the field.

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The ripples of a stream caught in ice, resulting in lace-like forms.

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And the always awe inspiring peace of the woods in winter.

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That morning I'd found a quote from Kurt Vonnegut on our refrigerator, placed there in the night by my partner Z.  It said “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is'."

After 40 minutes of snowshoeing I was sweaty and exhausted, but it had sure been nice. 

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Let It Snow

I stepped outside Saturday night and the air smelled like snow.  How water that hasn't even fallen from the clouds yet can alter the smell down here on earth is just one of life's more pleasant mysteries.  The sky was a woolen blanket with a milky pool of light where the moon attempted to break through.  The air was crisp and dry, and the wind had a sense of expectation about it.  As I stood there, a couple tiny flakes sparkled under my porch light. 

I woke up Sunday morning eager to get out and try my brand new snowshoes, except of course that there was no snow.  In fact the dusting we'd collected before I went to bed had mysteriously disappeared, as if a giant had come through with a broom determined to clear away any mess.

For you to understand my disapontment I should explain that my snowshoes were officially brand new 13 months ago, when I got them as a Christmas present.  But the weather and my schedule have just never come together, so all these months later I've still never used them.  In fact, I've never even been on snow shoes, it just seemed like the logical next step for someone who loves walking and being out in nature. 

So even though snow on a work day means getting up early to dig out, figuring out what to wear that is both practical and professional, white knuckle driving down the less travelled roads, and fighting to keep your windshield clear on the more travelled ones - I'm still hoping the weatherman is right about a snow storm coming our way Wednesday. 

Keep your fingers crossed and dream with me of snow.

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Walking in a Cloud

A week ago New England (along with the rest of the Atlantic Coast) was preparing for the blizzard of 2010.  I suppose when there's only a week of the year left, you can be pretty certain a blizzard is "the" blizzard of the season.  My corner of the world was  expected to receive 12"-18" of snow, and we most certainly did.  

Framed tree Dec2009

All week the weather grew progressively nicer.  The snow stopped falling, the winds died down, a tiny spot of blue appeared between the clouds, the gray storm clouds were relaced by the cotton ball variety and so it continued until yesterday when temps reached the high 40s and the hush of snow was replaced by a chorus of dripping.  From blizzard to no jacket required (yes, we are quick to ditch layers at the first sign of a break in the weather) in one week.  After that, very little weatherwise would have surprised me.

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Of course, it's not every day I awake inside a cloud. 

Foggy horse
For the first time in weeks I kept my resolution to take a morning walk.  I didn't even eat breakfast out of fear that the temperature would dip and the fog disapear before I had a chance to get out in it. 

On the Minuteman Bike Trail figures emerged from nowhere and disapeared just as fast.  I jumped when one jogger appeared out of the fog just ahead of me and wished me a good morning.   

Bike trail fog
The fog seemed to play tricks with sound as well.  Maybe it was just that I couldn't synch what I was hearing with what I was seeing, but I had the sense of sound being muffled.  As I entered Parker Meadow Conservation area I saw out of the corner of my eye something glide out of the meadow and into the trees.  Could it be a deer?  A second later I realized it was a fellow walker, taking in the spectacle of the transformed landscape.  Something about the unearthlines of the scene called for solitude, so I went the other way around the pond.

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Ice had formed on the pond before the blizzard; I could see where someone had crossed it on skis.  But this morning it looked more soupy than stable, a lot like the pond we used to dare each other as kids to walk through in March.  Whoever went the farthest past the ice and into the slushy water had bragging rights, at least until the next day's attempt. 

I circled the pond, visiting the place where I'd watched tadpoles surface last spring and later photographed frogs the size of my fist.  Today the idea of any life, much less something as vulnerable as an amphibian ever being in that habitat seemed impossible.

Tadpole 100609 Tadpole surfacing

  Big guy 061710

Even today there were signs of life, like these spider web strands.  At first glance they appeared to be a fishing line tangled in the branches.  Once I noticed them I saw the strands on several trees around me, even stretching across the stream that feeds the pond.  It was like no spider web I'd ever seen before.  The strands were so far apart it seemed improbable that a bug would be unable to avoid them.  How could they possibly be effective?  Maybe it was the moisture of the fog that had rendered them visible.  I've certainly had the experience of walking through the woods and feeling (rather than seeing) spider webs break across my face.


Spider web
It's funny how in winter it's impossible to imagine the world ever being anything other than a watercolor painted entirely in neutrals, and in the summer it's unfathomable that the world could ever be so bare.  To illustrate my point, here's a picture of a path from Parker Meadow to the bike trail taken this morning.

Foggy trail

And here's the same trail (from the opposite direction) taken in July. 


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I've seen this seasonal transformation every year of my life, and yet it still amazes me.  The scene around us appears so set, so permanent, but in reality the only thing that can be counted on is change.  That idea scared me to the core the first time I heard it, but I've learned to see hope and freedom in it.  For no matter how bad (or good) a situation is, it won't last forever, no matter what I do.  That's liberating.  It doesn't mean I should just sit back and wait for the universe to make things happen.  Instead it reduces my responsibility to taking the next right-for-me step, which this morning meant heading home for a hot breakfast.  

On the way I heard birds above me; more birds than I've seen or heard in over a month.  

  
  Their chattering put a smile on my face, and I sang all the way home.

 

 


Start As You Mean To Go On

October has always been when I sit back and take stock of what I've accomplished (or not) in the last year and consider what I'd like to change moving forward.  September is full of hope and the promise that a new school year offers, then October's change in weather and growing darkness remind me that time is short.  "Gather ye rosebuds" as the poet reminds us.  By the time New Years comes around I have a sense of having "been there, done that" when it comes to assessment and resolutions.

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So why is it that each time I've sat down today to write, I've felt that I should be writing something else entirely?  I've attempted to revise unpublished blog posts, create lesson plans for the spring, even write To Do lists, and each has felt impossible due to this sense that I should be spending my time spinning the wisps of plans that have swirled in my head all fall, into solid goals.  

Putting my goals for the year  into black and white is the first step toward actually accomplishing them.   And as with many great ideas, the work required to make it a reality is daunting, or at least potentially uncomfortable.  So I've put it off.  I watched part of Long Way Round, Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman's journey around the world on motorcycles.  It's a terrific show, but not the sort of thing that makes you feel better about putting off something because it might not be easy.  I've eaten a bit of chocolate.  Perfectly enjoyable, but not the least bit helpful.  I'm still not sure how to make sense out of the miasma of ideas fogging my brain, but I know how to get the process started.  

I'll see you after my walk.

"Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow".

~Henry David Thoreau