Tagsnow

The things we do for love

This is how it begins: a text from Big Kid’s friend that the previous evening he saw something massive by the guardrail on the highway we live near. Not just something.

“He thinks it was a mountain lion,” Big Kid says.

Once upon a time, mountain lions were part of the New England landscape, just as they still are in the West. But colonists and their descendants did what they did throughout this country: they hunted, they killed. They eradicated. The last identified member of the eastern subspecies was shot in Maine in 1938. U.S. Fish and Wildlife announced them officially extinct in 2011, and removed them from the the endangered species list in 2015.

Definitive, right?

In 1997, DNA from scat found near a beaver kill at Quabbin was tested and proved to be from a mountain lion. In 2011, tracks found in the snow at Quabbin were verified by three independent trackers as being from a mountain lion. A few months later a young male was hit by a car and killed. His DNA revealed that he had begun life in South Dakota, 1,800 miles away. Those are the official reports. Around here, the number of people who claim an unofficial spotting is…not insignificant.

We used to have a game when I was a kid. Or less a game than a prize list for spotting various wildlife. At that time, bear and mountain lions shared the top slots. The reward for spotting either as we hiked with my parents was $50. The price made it clear that our chances were nonexistent. The estimated black bear population in the 1970s was down to roughly 100 members; mountain lions were unheard of.

There are now 4,000 or so bears living in Massachusetts. We see them several times a year. The same holds true with moose. My parents used to drive to upper New Hampshire to watch them. Now we have them living at the end of my street.

With the return of forest to Massachusetts, so too returned the forest dwellers. With protection and assistance, so too have returned the eagles and the loons. A gray wolf, a species that has been extinct in Massachusetts since the 1800s, was shot by a farmer an hour or so from here. DNA results suggested it came from wild stock, not captive.

For my family, there remains just one goal. We’ve seen the rest. Only the mountain lion torments us still. According to Massachusetts officials, our wait to spot one is likely only a half step up from watching the waters of Loch Ness daily in the hopes of sighting a fin. That doesn’t change our minds. We’re dedicated.

When the text came through, Small One already had her list of questions to ask. The first, the most important: was there a long tail? While waiting for the answer, we notified my dad. We found the measuring tape to pack. We debated bringing the casting material. We paced, watching the snow melt in the yard. If we wanted to find tracks, we needed to head out soon.

Finally, the answer came back. Yes, the long tail was the most notable thing, aside from the size. With that we’d knocked bobcat out of the running. While waiting for my dad to arrive, we gathered the few other details about location we could. A guard rail, a possible side road, an approximate distance.

I’m sick with a cold. We’re all sick, but Small One was buzzing with the thrill, so we headed off. I dropped my dad and Small One at one end of the stretch of road. I went back and started walking from the other end. Along a two lane highway. At what passes for rush hour here. I was painfully aware of the narrowness of the shoulder of the road as I examined the snow for tracks. Not just that–I was watching for the appearance of two people I love dearly, who I would willing walk along endless highways for, and who were…not visible at the meeting place.

I walked a bit faster. I hopped the guard rail and slid along the drop in the melting snow, happier with the idea I might fall into a marsh than into the path of a truck. The tracks I saw were few, and definitely not what we wanted. Then I found human tracks leading into the marsh, and heard my loved ones coming back up to the road.

The result of our time walking the highway? Coyote tracks. Bobcat tracks. Otter tracks. And, at the turn off the road and into the woods to head toward home, moose tracks. No mountain lion.

But you know, it really didn’t matter. Unlike Ahab, our (slightly) obsessive quest is built of love, not revenge. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I daydreamed of a female mountain lion lazing in the nearby rocks. I’m a lackadaisical tracker at best, but my child is a fierce one, as is her grandfather. They share a similar disdain for trails, a need to touch their fingers to the depressions made by pads in the mud, in the snow.

For me, though, the potential and the material are almost the same. I’m immensely grateful when I find signs of wild ones: tracks, scat, strands of hair caught on a fallen tree or a den mouth. At the same time, it’s enough for me to believe that maybe the big cats are traveling, that maybe some are already here. That the possibility of their presence was the gun on the mantle introduced in the first act of my life, and I’m promised its return before the end of the final act.

Both Small One and I were awake for long stretches of the night, nursing our colds. When we compared notes in the morning, we looked at one another, grinned. I said, “I know we’re both sick, but do you kind of feel like we should go out looking again today?”

(For a tiny bit more about mountain lions and the possibility of their return east, head here. For a lot more, specific to Massachusetts, contact me.)

March 26, 2015

The timekeeping part of my brain has decided to skip 2015 completely. Rather than writing 2015, or even lagging behind with 2014, I find myself writing checks or dating blog posts with 2016. No, don’t check, I already corrected the date on this one.

Time does move fast, so I’d prefer not to skip whole years at this point. With teenage children, missing a year means a greater loss than I would like to imagine. As it is, the distance to adulthood, which seemed unfathomable when they were babies, is suddenly oh so near.

Spring is the birthday season for us. Two of us in March, ushering in the return of fifty degree days and mud. Two of us in May, waking to birdsong and lilacs blooming. This week it doesn’t seem possible that the snow will finally go, but it is retreating, in skips and jumps. The roof is almost clear. The walkways show bare ground. The river of shells under the bird feeder is now resting on grass, the snow sooty to either side. It’s time to take the feeder in, before the bears come roaming, but I hate to leave the faithful chickadees looking, looking in the tree.

I’ve stalled on writing. Actually, it’s less a stall than it is a conscious choice to take a little time off. April and May have become the confluence of three large projects, one writing, two life, and I’ve decided to enter them with a clear head. I’ve been reading instead, a little of everything. I’m not talented at taking pleasure in things. Reading for pure enjoyment has fallen by the wayside a bit in recent years. Finding my way back to it seems as valid a choice as writing at this moment.

That means lots of time at the library. I’m a glutton when it comes to library books, taking out far more than I’ll ever finish. Some of them I never even start, just keep for a few days, a week, before returning them. Many I read a chapter, four, five, and stop. Good books, for the most part, just not the flavor I’m looking for at that moment. That’s why I don’t do reviews, or try to keep track of things on Goodreads. If I don’t finish a book I’ve gone so far as to bring home, it’s almost never a comment on the quality of the writing. It’s just me navigating the constraints of time and my own needs as a reader.

At some point, the homeschooling will end. When it does, things will change. There will be, I imagine, more time for reading everything. There will be less (no?) algebra, and no dissecting of flowers at the kitchen table, and no discussion of how to build 3D printers. There will be just my own work to edit, my own library books to return. It will be a change of seasons quite unlike any I’ve been through.

For now, I’ll try to remain planted in the current year. I’ll read my bits and pieces of books, and savor the ones I follow through to the end. I’ll take the bird feeder down, say goodbye to the snow. And though I’ll look forward to June and the end of the rush, I’ll remember to enjoy spring while it is here.

No bad news

It is March, and it is cold. I have no dry socks at the moment, and the heat is gone from my tea. The snow piles around the house are tall enough that I can stand on them and pat the roof as I work on the ice in the gutters.

The only proper response is to shed the socks, reheat the tea, and listen to this song, inserting “snow and cold” in the place of “bad news.”

Spring is gathering her energy. It won’t be long now. Dream of the wild, of foxes barking outside of open windows, of bears sniffing the air, their stomachs rumbling.

Not long at all.

February 2, 2015

It’s snowing here. More than a little. The view onto the deck suggests the snow is attempting to swallow the house, a sort of slow and steady boa constrictor approach. The question is whether it will succeed before spring weather arrives. I’m giving it fifty-fifty odds at the moment.

I’ve been on a writing tear, which means things like blogs move way down in life hierarchy. This is the time when my family has to ask me the same question repeatedly before it will sift down into my brain, when I have to remind myself of the date or the time of day, and feel startled to discover it is February, not high summer, like it is in The Lost. It’s when I check phone messages and have that little touch of disappointment that none of them have called, and I must remind myself that they don’t call because they exist only in my head.

In other words, pure magic.

So, I’m not here much. I’m on Twitter a bit because it provides the mental equivalent of getting up and walking around the room for a few minutes. I’m making one of two salads (roasted beet/arugula or kale/quinoa) and eating them while thinking of other places, other times. I’m working on yet another hat, this one for my daughter, dark brown to help her blend into the trees outdoors, and listening to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell read aloud by my husband while the kids and I knit. I’m walking up and down the road, thinking, thinking, thinking.

And the writing? Still a tremendous mess at this point. New pieces to write, old pieces to choose, tenses to rearrange. It’s not just the history of that world I’m rearranging, it’s my own as well. We all live in houses inside our heads, and much of mine has been gutted and rebuilt since I last worked on this story. For now, there are moments when it feels impossibly difficult, and others when it feels effortless. The only absolute is the need to keep going.

In Crossroads, I made a deliberate decision to avoid romance with a capital R. There were a handful of reasons for this, not the least of which was that Blue’s quest was about family, about art, about friendship, about the kinds of love that don’t turn up in Valentine’s cards. By comparison, The Lost is drenched in desire. It’s also part of a bigger arc, and every piece I place now requires thought about how it reverberates through the story as a whole. There are moments when I miss Blue’s open plains, her determination to continue forward, alone, until she’s reached her journey’s end.

That’s the thing, I suppose, about houses in our heads. New wings can be built, strangers become friends, the view from every window can be different. Open one door, I’m looking out from a freight train onto spring in Idaho. Open another, it’s summer in an old farmhouse, and everything is about to break, but for this moment it is quiet and home.

The snow is slowing a bit. My brain is not. Off to write again.

Winter solstice, 2014

SolsticeTree

Yesterday we hiked along the water. We found a fallen hemlock and planted it in the mud there, decorated it with stones and fungus, dried oak leaves and ice crystals. Beyond, we came to a flock of chickadees in the trees, and for a moment I was surrounded by the sound of wings as they flew past, investigating. On our way home, we paused to watch otters in the water. They watched back, snorting in…disapproval? Invitation? Curiosity? Further out was a loon, and ducks floating beyond the reach of the forming ice.

This morning we woke to a solstice visitor, one we often hear but rarely see, sitting on the deck railing as the snow fell.

BarredOwl

Today we spend outside, looking for tracks, leaving seeds, finding light on this, the darkest day, before returning in to roast vegetables, bake pie, light our candles and enjoy the warmth. It’s good to be in this place, to connect to the land, to one another, to feel both the change and the sameness of life.

Be well, everyone, and blessings to you all. Feet to the soil, faces to the wind, hearts open to the need around us, and hands prepared to work for the good of this world.

Love,
Me

Housekeeping

We seem to have survived the move. Everything is functioning, at least it seems that way. I may have missed a setting or two, but nothing apocalyptic. It’s kind of pretty, isn’t it? New design, everything a little shiny, no fingerprints yet, and an actual picture of driftwood. What more could you ask for from a new blog home?

Everything is in flux at the moment. The first job change for my husband in his professional career, happening in one week. New cat (and yes, she’s doing very well, thank you, though very different from either Cinnamon or Ripley, who I think still prowl the hall and wonder what on Earth we were thinking when we invited Coco in). New car, which doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal, unless you know two important facts. First, I am a compulsive researcher of things, and the car we bought is not what I expected to buy. Second, as a child I once hid my red winter coat in the basement of our apartment rather than let it go, despite the fact that it no longer fit me. Let’s just say that I have a tendency to cling and leave it at that.

Anyway, change is in the air. Also, colds, which is why I’m sitting here with a drippy nose and sleepy eyes. Stress and illness do love one another, don’t they? Like ivy and bricks, or peppermint and honey.

Did I mention that Coco has giant feet? She’s polydactyl, in a big way. I was told by the vet that there is a story that sailors loved to take polydactyl cats along because they believed them to be good luck. According to Wikipedia, this is true, which is about all the research I can handle today. It does feel as though we’ve taken a turn in a good direction lately. Whether it’s Coco’s doing or just the usual tide change of life, it’s much appreciated.

There’s not much else to tell from here. Only the oaks are still holding on to their leaves. Everything else has gone bone-bare, aside from the pines, of course. It’s time to den up a bit, start knitting, start baking, start watching the sky for first snow. Time for a good book or two.

Are you warm? Are you well? I hope so.

April whimsy

It’s April, and it snowed. The snow was the end to a day in which I wandered about in the rain without my raincoat, which I didn’t have because I couldn’t find it because it was hanging on the back of the bathroom door (obviously).

In the midst of wandering in the rain, I went into a used clothes store that had also been a used clothes store way back when I was in high school. It was the place where I bought my one and only piece of cool clothing when I was eighteen. I wore said piece of cool clothing all the time until it became threadbare and tired and gave up on existence altogether. This time through, I was very tempted to buy either a sailor’s uniform (why? because) or a long black overcoat. The overcoat was so long, though, and so large, that I could have used it as a tent as easily as a coat. I decided against it.

(Why, you might ask, didn’t I just look for a raincoat? Because practicality is not one of my strong points.)

After coming home wet and tired, and with a throat that had turned the corner toward sore, I discovered a drip. Kind of like the Telltale Heart, only I hadn’t planted the drip in my floorboards, or anywhere else. This drip had located itself in the ceiling. Up into the crawlspace I went, with great enthusiasm, of course. Who doesn’t love fighting the elements in tight spaces filled with insulation?

(As a side note, I managed to spell insulation as insultation, which I really, really wish was a word. I’m sorry, but you’re about due for an insultation. Let me see what we have available.)

Then, crawl space tasks accomplished, I climbed back down. (Hey, if you have a phobia of…well, I don’t even know what the correct term would be, so, if you have any phobias, skip this next bit.) Only, things weren’t quite right. My finger hurt. A lot, like I’d stuck a nail in it. Or a staple, or anything pointy and not meant to be in fingers.

I looked down. There, sticking off my finger, was a mouse skull. Yes, my finger was impaled on a bit of bone sticking out of the eye socket of a mouse skull.

Occasionally, there are times I want to scream. This may have been one of them. I’m not really bothered by bones, or mice, or even by things stuck in my finger, but…A MOUSE SKULL STABBED MY HAND! It was like Sleeping Beauty and the spindle, only I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a fairy showdown at my christening, and I definitely don’t live in a palace, and…MOUSE SKULL. Really, it was more like the urban fantasy version of Sleeping Beauty, where she gets impaled by a bone and ends up asleep in a unused subway tunnel full of thorn graffiti that comes to life whenever anyone tries to enter it.

Okay, so then it rained more, and then it snowed. That’s more or less all the news from here, aside from my raging cold.

For those of you in the market for more hard-hitting blogging, I’ve got interviews coming! Multiple ones, with writers, about sky-diving. No, not really. About writing, of course. Perhaps not as flashy as mouse skull impalement, but trust me, writing is more interesting.

With that, it’s time for more tea and nap. (For me, though I encourage everyone else to partake as well. Tea and naps have never done anyone any harm.)

Greetings from the last days of snow

Did you miss me?

Hopefully not. Hopefully, your life has been so unbearably rich and full that you haven’t had even a minute in which to think, oh, that blogger, the driftwood one, where has she gone?

If that’s not the case, if you’ve been checking your email every day, hoping for my return, I apologize. But don’t tell me. Make me believe you haven’t noticed I’ve been missing.

I should be back to my usual erratic schedule. There is sun now, and less snow than there was, and the chickadees have started their hey, come here often call in place of their it’s winter and yet I’m still cheerful call, so I have to assume spring is near. The kids and I had a snowball fight the other day with bare hands and wet snow, which tells me I also forgive winter and will be ready to see her once she comes round again.

But for now I have no interest in thinking about anything but the possibility of open windows and warm breezes in the near future. Is it warm where you are? Have you, by any chance, seen grass? There will be no green around my house for some time still. I’m trying to appreciate the moon on the snow instead. A night hike might be the perfect thing to do.

Tell me something about how your winter has been. Unless, of course, you’ve been enjoying some other season, in which case you should work on making me jealous. Trust me, it won’t be hard.

Monologue

Snow!

Sorry, had to get that off my chest. I’d assumed I’d slipped into an alternate reality, something like Narnia under the White Witch in reverse, and winter would never come again.

Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. That white stuff was lying in wait this morning.

I often go to bed with my head full of whatever story I’m working on. Lately it’s been all Crossroads, all the time. It’s not the best bedtime story, as it involves being cold and broke and on the road, but I do what I can with it, tuck Blue in to some safe corner or under a big pile of leaves before I drift off. I always feel like I should dream about my characters–it seems only fair–but I never do. Instead, I dream abut other people’s characters. Last night, for example, I dreamed of Rupert and Istvan in The Mercury Waltz, a book that isn’t even out yet and one I know little about, aside from the fact that it’s a sequel to Under The Poppy. Either I’m really excited to read it or I’m the victim of an evil new dreamscape advertising scheme.

Snow and dreams aside, I’m mostly just busy. More time is needed, or more hands. Maybe more brains, though that sounds rather grim. I promise I’m not taking a turn down Frankenstein Lane.

No, I’m just doing the usual–writing, momming, living. Two days ago I wrote my first supernatural horror scene and realized just how subjective scary things are. Next up, I need to be thoroughly educated in hopping trains. I’ve also been writing lyrics for songs performed by multiple fictitious bands, because writing wouldn’t be writing if it didn’t hold the possibility of spectacular failure. We’ll see whether they make the final cut or end up in the Crossroads discard file.

That’s the extent of things here. The draw to hibernate is currently strong, but I’ve too much to do to succumb to it.

Snow Sunday

Hey! It snowed! A lot!

It’s lovely snow–light, drifting, easy to shovel (although the sheer volume is daunting). Aside from packing into the vent pipe on the roof, necessitating a climb up there to open it up again, it caused absolutely no trouble at Chez Mason-Black. There was a travel ban for the state for twenty-four hours or so, but not being someone drawn to driving around in snowstorms, I didn’t find that a hardship. Our kindhearted neighbor came with his tractor yesterday after the snow let up and dug out our driveway, so all in all, we led a rather charmed storm existence.

This morning it’s 5 degrees out, and the sun is shining brightly, and I’m thinking about joining the cats in a cozy spot in the sun and working on Crossroads. I have most of it plotted out in my head. I’m sadly lacking a lot of travel experience though, and that’s hanging me up a bit. What I need is a grant to travel across the U.S. by car. What I think I’ll get are a lot more books out of the library. I may need to storm ahead and fill in some details in edits. I have a head full of characters that really need to come out.

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