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The first sticky-snow arrived three days back, on the sixth, about 5 inches, and has remained with us; today we get are promised a real storm.  Maybe it is the famed nor'easter, a northern winter-hurricane.  winds are predicted be to 55mph on the coast.  We don't need no stinkin' wind here; falling powder is nice all on its own.  We went out to the store this A.M. driving slow and tentative; very few cars on the roads, and the plows aren't beginning to keep up yet. It's easy to miss the pavement off to the side and start bumping along on the shoulder, two wheels into adventure.  Pat obliges with little shrieks.  After groceries we went to Starbux and celebrated with real coffee - well, I did:  the Venti Mocha, my secret vice. (A necessary adjunct to the coming spate of roof-raking, shoveling and blowing the chicken-path clear.)

Checked out the greenhouse and despite what Eliot Coleman says about no growth at this latitude when the sunlight drops under ten hours, 5 Nov. to 5 Feb., I would swear the brassica and kale and spinach are getting bigger and bigger.  We may be onto something here.  I forsee wonderful red cabbage, brussel sprouts and broccoli come March/April.  The curly kale just never quits despite the temps and never bolts; the plants are a couple years old now.  We really need more kale recipes, and the willingness to try them.  The cook/editor is dubious; so far kale's biggest victory has been in soupa tuscana. My fav dish at Olive Garden, now available on Marston Hill Road. Winter is soup-time, is time to nap the days off and delve deep into the night in a big armchair with books and music, and this letter. Dogs wander by at all hours and need rubbing.  (Met a girl working at Starbux who said "winter is the best time - there is more night.")

Only about 12 days to the winter solstice, a major point in my life in Maine.  I recall in New Mexico the solstices were of interest in that I could see on the endless horizon just how close together sunrise and sunset came in geographic terms and then watch the two spread back apart as we marched into the next year. There is essentially no comparable horizon here in the forests. It is not a world bereft of sky, just one where measurements are done differently. Something more internal seems to happen; a process in the flesh, cellular; instead of events written on the sky like calendar pages flipping forward into spring I feel the season advancing from within.

We have cut back on our Xmas stipend to Water for People.  Consumer activists amongst Pat's g'kids have put forth convincing arguments re: giving cash to needy children sporting blood ties.  Being a long-distance g'mom is hard.  I don't begin to understand the inner tides that buffet Pat in regards to family and the obligations of these connections.  Water for People will get something in January this year, after our finances heal from various recent blood-tie surcharges:  Pat's trip to the Left Coast was great, both too long away and not enough time spent there both in the same twisty package. I have my own surcharge coming up when Z turns 40 in June; this apparently demands some special attention...  She buys wonderful 22k gold jewelry in the soukhs in Dubai and Kuwait; I think something on that order is expected.  Hmmmmm.....  As far as gifts go I don't think she has ever quite gotten what she might have expected.  My theory is that this makes gifts so much more special when they do occur:  a father's convoluted logic at work; eye ever taking measure of the credit and debit columns. Not the emotional ones, just the dollars and cents of what we do.

I have actually watched my first opera.  I like to listen but find myself distracted by their visual onslaught.  Priming herself for Verdi's Otello on stage in S.F. Pat watched two versions on DVD.  I liked the Zefirelli one the best.  Now I am ready to get even closer to the real thing so we have purchased tickets to 3 of the upcoming Met Opera simulcasts.  A couple of theaters in Maine show these; demand for the tickets is high.  We will see Tales of Hoffmann, Carmen and Simon Boccanegra.  One each month through the winter at a cineplex in a town about 30 miles away; the first is in about a week.  Culture comes to the tundra. (Just read a review of the production.  Has a Korean robot-soprano.  Blade Runner gone high brow.)

Snow is still falling and things are beginning to disappear.  Will stop here for my yogurt and granola lunch.


It is with some grimacing, grinding of teeth and determination that I start each of the book group's selections for monthly review.  They can be so feebly stale, reminding me of bad bread pudding - 'why do we bother?' we ask ourselves, then read them, then sigh and launch off into digressive discussion.  Which is actually the fun of the group:  the talk veers wildly into personal history and theory and little doors open up into all these lady's heads and I become an avid voyeur of their minds at work. A jumble of bits float loose and entrance me. It is like they have begun to shed in public. The book for tomorrow evening I just started; I do this because my memory for what I read is so bad that unless I have actually just put down the book I won't even recall the title we are discussing.

I may have waited a bit long to start this one.  Twenty-four hours isn't going to cut it.  At 40 pages in I am overwhelmed.  'Whose choice was this?' I ask Pat.  Of course, it is from the woman I mentioned recently, 'pale and frail as a snowflake' I think I called her.  She has found an author to match the best in us all.  The book is 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog' by Muriel Barbery.  It is so good in its English translation that I can only imagine that when read in the original French it causes readers to faint with the pleasure of recognition:  she knows about 'me' you might tell yourself. 

Had a small hedgehog moment at book discussion when the snowflake asked me how I had liked the book.  When she asks you something you know that it is because she is truly interested in what you think.  I answered that "It was the best thing I had ever written."  Her brow furrowed and she peered at me "...written?" she inquired.  Flustered at my transparency I fluttered my hands and said "Read!  Read." and shrugged it away.  I realized I did feel like this was a book I might have written.

This book is a letter from two women, in the sense that I mean the 'Letters from Maine' to be, a sideways look at what it is to be human.  But in my best phrases and thoughts I can only hope I brush the bottoms of Ms. Barbery's feet.  Stop your daily routine and go out and find this book! You are authorized to ignore your children, your husband/wife, the cat, the bills, the ringing phone, the sudden pain in your chest - but don't ignore who you are, the only part of you that is really alive, the you inside your head - the curse of incurred ignorance will fall like a blanket on you. This volume slides very comfortably right into the shelves next to the 'Tao of Physics.'  Synchronicity has learned where I live.


Black Friday made a clutching move my way via email. These emails-of-SALE!! that come my way are like little leeches sent along wires and waves to attack me in my home and fatten on my consumerist impulses. They, the marketeers, have studied us all and are sure they know what we want - need does not come into it. I take the declining retail sales figures to be a sign of our return toward the sanity of discerning the difference between the two.

I have a 16mb Zen mp3 player from Creative Logic that cost $200, and though I love it it doesn't hold enough music.  The teasing email said I could, with a wave of the plastic, become the proud owner of the new and improved 32mb Zen for a very limited time at a cost of only a buck twenty-five.  Who was I to argue with fate? My order went like lightning to the central office. I have spent the last few days loading 55 operas into this device.  It took me about 3 days initially to realize none of the software I was using was going to do it - software really hates opera, wants to interpolate tracks, refuse entire discs on spurious grounds, and generally just fuckitallup.  Why had I ignored the software that comes with the Zen?  I am taking the Fifth and continuing to load music.

So, I am sitting here listening to the Druids duel the Romans:  Callas as Norma - who wouldn't want a blue diva to charge your position waving oak fronds?  I digresssss....  And I have a mild epiphany-ahha! moment.  Something comes to me out of nowhere, an understanding of a complex problem. 

But the irony here is delicious; even as I see the absolute clarity of the understanding I have just begun to gain it already starts to slip.  I close my mental fist around it.  It leaks through my fingers like fog.  It is gone, and I am left with the understanding that a real understanding came to me for just an instant and then slid away.  For maybe a second I could have stated what I was understanding, and then it dissipated. Fumes disappearing and then even the faint odor forgotten. A memory of a memory.

As this happened I had the vivid picture of myself as a ship plowing through the sea and a cannon ball bounced off my bow and sank.  Old Ironsides got her name that way.  Made with green oak she was almost impenetrable.  The perfect metaphor for impenetrable me. Though I would have liked to experience, and recall, the full epiphany I don't mind, because it was so interesting. (The editor intervenes to say I should point out to my now-confused readers that the joke-oak being waved by Maria Callas has nothing to do with the green oak hull of the U.S.S. Constitution.)

This slippage is so, so funny.  I haven't just forgotten a word or a name, feeling it tingle on the tip of my tongue, a neonate of a sound, but I have forgotten it before I even learned it.  I had been thinking earlier about waking and not knowing where you are.  I imagine that has happened to all of us.  I think it can only happen if you awaken and haven't opened your eyes yet.  This morning I did that, but instead of the tiny jolt of panic this usually brings I found myself thinking that it wouldn't be too hard to figure out if I just thought about all the places I had been. Maybe there is a calm center in there.

One time I really did get a fright, when I was 22; I woke up and couldn't remember 'who' I was.  For about 30 seconds I sat in bed in a strange room knowing that I had a name, a history, was someone, and I was not able to recall any pertinent details. I was drinking heavily those days and had just moved into a room in an old Quaker lady's upstairs in a little village named Jordans. It was an unsettled time.

A junior family member recently called me critical.  When even children say something jarring about you maybe it is time to listen.  Pat concurs, that I am unduly critical.  Both my kids find me critical.  I recall once being flabbergasted, or was I gobsmacked?, when one of the guys I was nominally in charge of in my nursing duties said I was too critical.  Each and every time this comes up I just shake my head in disbelief.  Me critical?  I am the easiest-going guy around.  My view, anyway.  Though I truly cannot see it I am going to have to look at this now.  It is bothersome to find my view of me so at odds with how others see me.  Gobsmacked - yeah, that's the word.

Along those lines I have come to realize I am spending too much energy hating. I hate what is being done to us, to our way of life, to whatever dreams we try to nourish by the malfeasant-many, the asswipes that run most of our institutions.  I have to get over it.  Civilizations come and go; face it, I tell myself.  The creepy, evil bad guys get to win some of the time. My part in it is to not get bent over things I cannot rearrange. Hatred subverts humor, and humor is probably the most powerful weapon/tool the human mind has. That is my personal balance.

Maybe all this thinking has spurred my drift back into opera.  I own 55 operas because 20 or 30 years ago I heard Puccini, and I decided he knew secret roads into my heart. Wanting to make sure others weren't on the same path I bought tons of operas by everybody and his brother.  Now, as I relisten to them, I find I like more of them than I used to. Puccini has a quality that cuts right into me. Opera is, emotionally, a field of razor blades; any happy endings are accidental.  Rage, murder, deception and treachery are the norm, but even as Puccini cuts you the healing appears, a soft lyrical roundness, like light, smooth hands on your brain. The power, and beauty, of other composers is now closing the gap a bit. None as lyrical as Puccini, they are like solid struts compared to his flying buttresses.  Winter does this to me, too.  I get to retool an old project.

It is amazing how many Mainers hate winter - is that an authorized hatred?  or does it too eat at the soul?  The matriarch from across the road pulled up in her truck on the day of the first snow, stuck her head out the window toward Pat, and said "How about this CRAP!"  Anyone in Maine who has the wherewithal has already left for Florida, or is packed.  These two states have a symbiotic thing going:  people as import/exports.

I will stop here.  A great problem in writing fiction was that I wanted to explain too much.  So silly.  I appreciate the unspoken, the only hinted at possibilities, in other's stories.  And then I want to fillet my own until all subtlety and nuance is vanished.  I try too hard to explain, so I will stop and say goodnight and may your long dark hours be warm and calm.  don e, and the hunkered-down.








 


No title comes to mind - it is December.
                      It is 2009.
This page was last updated: December 13, 2009