Tagpine trees

Sunday morning snapshot

The house smells of curry. My hands do as well, faintly, the tips of my fingers a little yellow from messing about with spices. Stronger than curry is the scent of clementines when I touch my face. That, more than anything, more than the snow outside, more than the chill wind that blows in when someone opens the door, tells me winter’s coming.

There are chickpeas bubbling on the stove. There’s bread rising on the counter. There’s a new sourdough starter fermenting in the corner. Ripley, the “young” cat at seventeen, is migrating around the house with the sun, finding a warm patch here and there.

(Have I told the story about how Ripley got her name? She came to us at one week old, when her feral mother dropped her by the side of the road. Aside from being much too young to have no mother, she also had been exposed to distemper in utero and had a terrible case of the shakes. I felt like she needed a tough name in order to survive, and at that moment the toughest one I could think of was Ripley, mighty fighter of aliens.)

Our old lady dog is sleeping on the recliner. It’s a break from my son’s bed, which she believes was bought for her and which she generously shares with him. She likes winter coat season because coats that drop to the floor are also fair game as beds.

There’s tea that’s already been drunk, and tea still to be made. I owe my dear spouse a chapter of Crossroads, and owe myself another game of solitaire. I still have carrot soup to make tonight as well, and it seems like the kind of day when all I should do is bake. Almond…something with almond, because that is what I want when things turn cold. There’s the threat of a nor’easter this week, and that brings out the chipmunk in me, stashing food around the house. I’d be grateful to pass through another winter without any of the weeklong power outages we’ve had every few years of late.

But that is not today. Today is blue sky and brisk wind and pines dancing in the back yard. The kind of day I could find fox tracks in the fresh snow if I were to look. The kind of day to close my eyes and start to imagine a Montana blizzard, and a seventeen-year-old girl wandering out into it and finding…well, that’s mine to write.

The things that come when you need them

I can’t find my MP3 player. It’s a hand-me-down, and it has purple headphones, and it serves a very specific purpose: it keeps me sane.

I suppose I should clarify. It limits my sensory input. Some days sound isn’t an issue. If I’m lucky, I can go for a week or so without ever needing to use it.

But other weeks, like this one, when I’m trying to finish three things at once, and none of them are what I want to be doing (finishing Wren) and all of them must be done immediately, it’s invaluable. It cuts out the clatter around me, and resets my nerves to zero, and I become a much nicer person to be around.

At the moment I’m stuck looking under things for a flash of purple. Trust me, if you tend to lose stuff, be sure to chose things in bright colors. It makes life much easier.

Instead of headphones, I find this. Out of the corner of my eye I see something large fly by the pines out back. I stop by the window and watch. Nothing, at first. Then, he flies again, choosing a smaller tree, a maple without its leaves. A barred owl, staring back through the dark at me. Everything is very quiet for a moment.

There. Nerves reset to zero.

A writing break

The highlight of my day? Watching a red fox trot along the edge of the pines in our backyard this morning. She paused by the chicken coop, sniffed the air, considered the possibilities, and then continued on by. I’ve seen quite a few this year, mostly along the road in the evening, but this is the first at the house this spring.

Or rather, this is the first we’ve seen at the house this spring. When there’s snow in the winter, we can follow their routes: across the backyard, along the beaver pond down the road, through the Audubon sanctuary across the road from us. I suspect they’ve made off with more than one of our chickens, though between the coyotes, the hawks, the owls, the weasels, and the foxes, it’s more a wonder we have any chickens at all.

In any case, this fox looked in remarkable health as she trotted through the yard. I expect we’ll be hearing them soon as well, once it warms up enough to have the windows open at night. If you haven’t ever heard a red fox before, look them up online. Trust me, the sound is not what you’re expecting.

A picture break

Outside, it’s the kind of day that makes you grateful to be alive. Inside, it’s all pain and suffering and working on unbearably boring things. Suffice it to say, there are days when I covet the ability to write a high concept story, if only to make it easier to summarize it in an exciting way.

But I’m kind, and I won’t drag the rest of you through that particular mire. Instead, pictures! Why? Because I’m occasionally clever, and am able to not only remember to snap a few, but also to load them onto this creaking relic of a computer.

This is a foundation. With trees! There are few things I love more than old stone foundations with trees growing out of them. Actually, there are quite a few things I love more, but I also love these. The reservoir I live beside swallowed whole towns when it was built. Before the flooding began, the houses were dismantled, but the cellar holes remain, here and there and everywhere. In another month they will be filled with ferns. The forgotten patches of daffodils will have bloomed already, but the old apple trees will just be starting.

One of the things about reservoirs is that they have water. Really! This time of year, the streams are full and busy draining into the lake. They’re not as full as they are some years, as there’s been no snow to melt, but they’re running. I could easily be convinced to sit beside running water until I grew roots and leaves and had to stay forever. Especially streams like this, with the incredible green of the mosses on the rocks and the burble of the water.

One last picture. Along with foundations, there remain other signs of the lost towns. Rusty buckets, bits of pottery, random bits of metal. These stairs are one of my favorites relics. They are surrounded by periwinkle, which will also be blooming before long. They’re along a dirt road, and while they lead to an old foundation, they’re situated in a way that looks more like an invitation to a pine grove. To either side are gnarled maples, half dead and half alive, and further back is a small meadow.

That’s as much of a break as I get today. Enjoy the world.

The waiting

The moon is beautiful tonight. It hangs just beyond the trees in the backyard, and I can watch it through the windows by my desk. Around the full moon everything changes here. The cats run back and forth through the house late at night, and the children sleep fitfully, and I…well, I dream of puppies.

But that’s another story entirely.

I’ve had two days now of no writing. It shows. I’m unable to relax when I don’t write. I pace, mentally, if not physically. My mind is with my characters, and I make them pace as well. We all languish, trapped in the equivalent of a break room in my head, a space with dingy walls, smelling of stale smoke and sweat, everyone sniping at one another.

There’s also this thing about writing novels, about the way they build and build until suddenly they have incredible forward momentum. To pause in the midst feels a bit like asking an avalanche to wait politely while you finish cooking dinner. Only in this case, you’re the only one disturbed by the avalanche. No one else understands why you’re jumpy and upset.

It will wait. It must wait. Tonight the moonlight will reflect off the snow and light the bedroom, and the cats will yowl and tussle, and the kids will talk in their sleep, and I will dream, not of puppies, but of a rocky coast and the cold ocean water and a girl swimming out into the dark.

The desk

There’s a packet of sunflower seeds on my desk. For planting, not eating. They are surrounded by bills, and envelopes, and old cards, and embroidery floss (?), and spoons for stirring tea, and books I’ve not read, and notes, and a little clay tablet made by my son that says “Mom the book writer.” In case you are imagining a very large desk–it’s not. It’s that cluttered.

The walls around it are a bit better, but not much. A card from a former client, and one I bought myself because I liked the quote; a paper bag puppet strumming a guitar; some paintings from my daughter; a piece of blue paper neatly pinned up that once held a certificate, but the certificate fell behind the computer, and now I stare at the piece of blue paper; and the back section of an old pair of kid pants that have nice pockets for storing stamps and index cards and such.

Through the window in front of me I can see the big pines in the backyard. This time of day during this time of year, I can just make out their shadows. Come summer, I’ll be able to watch the young barred owls sitting on the branches, and hear their calls well into the night.

The sunflowers promise the summer will come again. The pines tell me that things continue, that sometimes you hunch beneath the weight of snow, and sometimes you risk a lightning strike, but much of the time you just live.

It’s a good place to sit.

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