A meditation for winter

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Pyrrha in the snow.

I despise the cold, but I’m finding some joy in the winter this year. This attitude has been helped along by daily walks, with the aid of competent warm-weather gear and my good German shepherd, the perfect walking companion; more time to read, and read by the fire; and the quietness of the landscape. This winter, more than others, feels like this restful season of anticipation. Spring brings new life (literally for our household this year), and I am enjoying thinking of winter as a time for appropriate dormancy.

A poem along those lines:

“The Cold”
Wendell Berry

How exactly good it is
to know myself
in the solitude of winter,

my body containing its own
warmth, divided from all
by the cold; and to go

separate and sure
among the trees cleanly
divided, thinking of you

perfect too in your solitude,
your life withdrawn into
your own keeping

to be clear, poised
in perfect self-suspension
toward you, as though frozen.

And having known fully the
goodness of that, it will be
good also to melt.

. . .

Like the flukes

Things I have taken up lately, for general happiness

  • Reading while walking
  • Darjeeling tea
  • Not reading the news
  • Not looking at Twitter for more than 60 seconds
  • The Curly Girl Method, inspired by my mother

It’s been a very slow year for me with my calligraphy business, somewhat intentionally, and I’ve been really happy about it. It is a nice thing: To come home after working for eight hours and not have another two hours or more of work every night.

“The book was in her lap; she had read no further. The power to change one’s life comes from a paragraph, a lone remark. The lines that penetrate us are slender, like the flukes that live in river water and enter the bodies of swimmers. She was excited, filled with strength. The polished sentences had arrived, it seemed, like so many other things, at just the right time. How can we imagine what our lives should be without the illumination of the lives of others?” — James Salter, Light Years

End of October
Pyrrha, creeping.

Sweet, sad Pyrrha, my older dog, has been in a lot of pain lately, and it’s incredible to me how much this has affected my well-being. I feel this pit of dread in my stomach when I think of her, whenever I hear her whine, whenever I let her out in the morning or look over and see her ears pinned back to her head. (It’s probably her hips, which is almost an inevitable ailment with German shepherds, but I’ll take her to the vet next week for a more in-depth assessment.) Just today, I was trying to tell Guion I was worried about her while pumping gas, on our way to work, and these fat tears were rolling down my face. Ugh. She’ll be OK. It’s me that might not be. Emotions! Hate them.

Shakshuka by the fire

Fatniss Turkeydeen 2016Family is always a solace!

In times of general nationwide gloom, there will always be Fatniss Turkeydeen. (We were delighted to host Kelsey and Alex this past weekend for our Third Annual Fatniss, to celebrate Kelsey’s birthday, cram our gullets with good food, and watch an apocalyptic film.)

It is good to spend time together, as much as we can spare, even if it is loose and unstructured and mostly just punctuated by food and drink. Talking about people we once knew well. Sitting by the fire and having overly spicy shakshuka for breakfast. Walking the dogs on narrow sidewalks and musing about domestic architecture. (I’m thinking about this great little essay from the New York Times about the myth of quality time: There is no “quality” time. You just need time. Don’t put that kind of emotional pressure on time; we resist it.)

And now, for more feasting and more family time, we head into the Thanksgiving weekend.

Having met my reading goal for the year, I am going to take December slowly and start my second read of War and Peace (translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky). I am going to force myself to savor it. And allow myself the time to take as long as it takes. Read the dialogue in French before looking at the translation in the footnote. Re-read a whole page if I didn’t catch the gist the first time. Don’t worry about the fact that I still have 1,100 pages to go.

I want to read fewer books next year. I am so competitive with myself that I find it hard to slow down and dive into the long, complex things. I just want to tear through as many books of essays and short novels as I can. But this is a bad orientation to literature. I am trying to fix it.

Here is a photo of Pyrrha, taking herself seriously:

November home life

Intellectual sloth

MontanaSam turns 30We went up in the mountains this weekend to celebrate non-brother-Sam’s birthday. A really lovely, much-needed time away with dear friends.

We also sit around and talk about Paris and Beirut and ISIS and the elections and fear and realize: We have no theoretical solutions. We are at a loss. (To solve the human condition?)

In light of this, Paul gave a helluva sermon yesterday, All Is Forgiven, which I recommend heartily. He speaks about the deeply, undeniably offensive nature of Christianity.

“Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great.” — William F. Buckley

Waiting for @jacktarpey's visit... #pyrrhagramPyrrha doesn’t care about any of this. She just wants to know who put her on a diet.

And then there was one

Lounging
Content murderess.

I think I have always known that this would happen. Eventually. I had just hoped I was wrong. On Friday afternoon, Pyrrha killed Mayumi, one of our remaining hens.

Mayumi was our rebellious soul; she was the one who liked to escape the garden fence and fly into trees, and occasionally, into the backyard where the dogs run and reside. She was generally able to fly back over the fence into safety, but on Friday, she was too flustered to save herself. And I was not fast enough to intervene.

I had just come out onto the back deck, and I saw Eden chasing the hen at the end of the yard. Eden, unlike her elder sister, is a terrible hunter and seemed merely to want to pin her down. I started yelling and running down the stairs out to the yard, but I am not as fast as Pyrrha. Unfortunately. Before I could even get down the stairs, Pyrrha had Mayumi in her jaws and I watched her give the chicken a good, strong, murderous shake. I was still screaming at this point, and I grabbed Pyrrha so hard that she yelped and dropped the hen. I dragged both dogs indoors and then came out to assess the situation. It was too late for little Mayumi. But she met my gaze, which was horribly sad, as she slowly died, and I felt like a huge failure. I called Guion, breathless and trembling, and he came home from work. By that time, Mayumi had died, and he did the man’s work of confirming her state. We left her body in the alley, where the hawks and foxes roam, and something picked it up by early morning.

So, now we just have one, the long-suffering and surviving Fumiko. It is not good for chicken, like man, to be alone, so we are trying to rehome her. If you or anyone you know in the area would like to add a sweet Japanese bantam to his or her flock, please let me know.

Sigh. I think we will try chickens again next year, after we get back from London. And this time, we are going to target the big, fat breeds who can’t fly.

Autumn day

Pyrrha and home in September

I am really taken with this poem, by Rilke, translated by David Ferry:

Herbsttag

Now is the right time, Lord. Summer is over.
Let the autumn shadows drift upon the sundials,
And let the wind stray loose over the fields.

Summer was abundant. May the last fruits be full
Of its promise. Give them a last few summer days.
Bring everything into its completion, Lord,
The last sweetness final in the heavy wine.

Who has no house will never have one now;
Who is alone will spend his days alone;
Will wake to read some pages of a book;
Will write long letters; wander unpeacefully
In the late streets, while the leaves stray down.

— Rilke, translation by David Ferry

I am sad to see summer go, because it was full and lovely, but I was a little bit excited to come home yesterday and feel cold and feel the urgent need for a sweater. Just a little bit excited.

Days of Our Youth
Mom and Dad on a camping trip, circa early 2000s?

Today is my parents’ 31st wedding anniversary. They are funny and weird and delightful and totally crazy about each other. Until I was married myself, I do not think I realized what a profound blessing and relational boon it is to have had (and to still have) happily married parents. We are given domestic gifts we neither deserve nor anticipate.

It turns out that I am simultaneously (a) full of ambition and (b) fabulously lazy.

We have a very busy season ahead of us (e.g., every weekend in October is currently booked with either small travel plans or house guests), and that makes the large portion of my personality that is introverted feel extremely anxious, but I have to keep telling myself that it’s always fine, or more than fine, in the end, because it turns out that I actually like people, despite what I am inclined to believe.

Vestiges of summer

Edie baby
Dog life.

Are the dogs happy? I wonder this frequently. It’s a question that is more applicable to Pyrrha, because Eden—as you can see from the photo above—is always ready for action, which gives off the appearance of constant verve and joy. The corollary to Eden’s constant need for play, however, is that I believe she is often mentally and physically frustrated, because we cannot keep up with her and her playful demands. Very often, if denied her request to play, she will fix you with a look that says, in no uncertain terms, Screw you, old ladyI’ll make my own fun. And then she tries to destroy something in the vicinity (the door, a forgotten shoe, a pillow, et hoc genus omne).

Pyrrha, on the other hand, is happy about 50% of the time, by my best estimate. Owing to her deep-seated anxiety and psychosis, her qualifications for happiness are strict and precise. Pyrrha is happy when she is eating food, begging for food, or sitting in close proximity to food. She is happy when she is playing with Eden or with other dogs. She is happy when I come home and when she can see me at all times. She is happy when Alex is petting her. That’s about it.

Surviving twoFumiko and Mayumi are recovering after their sister’s murder. For about a week after Chiye’s death, they refused to peck around in the open and instead would spend the entire day in cramped darkness underneath the shed. I don’t blame them for feeling this way. Once you know that death can swoop down from the blue sky, you start treading a little more carefully outdoors (I daresay our hens understand what a bit of what it must be like to live in a country terrorized by US drone strikes). But as of this week, they have resumed parts of their normal routine, and it brings me joy to see them puttering around the garden again. Our illusion of farm peace is shattered, however, and we wait with bated breath every day for the next assassination.

If you ask me about my family, be prepared for an earful that borders on excessive, gleeful boasting. I love them all so much. I want to talk about them for days.

It’s time to take the calligraphy business a bit more seriously. By way of a small step in that direction, I now have an Instagram account dedicated solely to my work: @bluestockingcalligraphy. Follow along.

New favorite things:

  • This face oil
  • Tailoring clothes
  • Concord grapes (got the best little bunch from this local farm, via Relay)
  • Using an iron for once in my life
  • Homemade granola (thanks for the inspiration, Tara!)
  • Seinfeld

What's going on?What do the dogs want? What fulfills their most desperate desires? Can we ever truly know?

Free and content

Front yard in July 2015
In the summer, we take our time. We talk about the plants, the chickens, the dogs. We eat slowly. We read poems on the back deck if we want to. We sweep the kitchen again. We slide over the clouds of dog fur. We pick little theoretical fights with each other about politics, religion, or art, each of us playing devil’s advocate to the other’s position, just to make it more interesting. We dream up far-fetched home renovation plans. We fail to keep the mosquitoes away, and we never remember to put on enough sunscreen.

And I can’t help but think, every evening, Ah, we can do all of these things because we are childless.

One day, perhaps, our freedom will be interrupted. And one day, perhaps, we will welcome that interruption. But for now, we are free and content and we recognize and appreciate that.

Front yard in July 2015

Mini-farm life

June Thunderstorm

Our weekends are hot and placid, and we spend most of our time tending to the garden in the early part of the day, before the daily afternoon thunderstorm rolls in. On Sunday, we harvested garlic. I wore my hat, which is fully intended to transform me into a replica of my mother. I think it’s working.

Garlic braiding

Guion deserves all the credit for this bountiful harvest. This is our second year growing garlic, and I’m increasingly convinced that it’s the best and most practical backyard crop.

June 2015 garlic harvest

The summer is lovely and peaceful, but I’m excited for a bit of reprieve with the much cooler temperatures in Reykjavik and the wild surrounding areas. Stories and photos to come.

June Thunderstorm

A summer update

Another bouquet from the front yard #wildflowers #flowerlove
Wildflowers from the front yard.

Apparently, I haven’t had much to say lately. There are dogs to be walked and books to be read and friends to be moved, near and far. After a run of house guests and weekend travel, I have relished our recent weekends at home — even if the last weekend meant relishing by way of contracting this horrible fever virus that is worming its way around town. I was in bed all day on Thursday, fantasizing my death, sending incoherent e-mails to family members, letting Pyrrha lick my limp fingers as she made her rounds around the house. She is a very sweet nursemaid. I was going to say that she had such concern in her eyes while I was laid up in bed, but I think she might always have concern in her eyes, burdened as she is by her myriad fears. My dear troubled dog.

Beauties
The girls.

Eden, on the other hand, was quite put out with my laziness. She is merciless toward the weak.

Lately, I have derived pleasure from:

  • Post-dinner walks with G. and the girls
  • The wildflowers in our front beds (an Easter gift from Mike and Windy)
  • The short stories of Paul Bowles and re-reading Pale Fire
  • Looking up words I don’t know in Pale Fire, only to discover that Nabokov made them up
  • A granite/Corian counter-top cleaner I made myself, thanks to the glories of Pinterest
  • New jewelry from Tara Montgomery’s fall line
  • Watermelon and peaches
  • Going to bed before 10
  • Teaching the dogs some (much needed) new behaviors
  • The resurrection of family e-mail chains
  • Not having any calligraphy jobs on the immediate/urgent docket
  • Guion’s new melodies
  • July days that top off around 81 degrees

You?