Thursday, December 23, 2010

Winter Solstice

I woke up just at dawn on the Solstice this year and lay in bed with Lucy The Purr, waiting for the house to grow light enough to see in the kitchen; we don’t turn on lights or the radio on Solstice Day, so there is no point in hopping out of bed. The sky was a pale grey green. The house was silent. When it was light, I climbed out of bed and made oatmeal with dried apples and honey—all from within ten miles of home. After breakfast, I cleaned out the chicken coop and rabbit hutch, then harvested the last of the fall salad greens from the cold frame. All that is left is some slug-munched lettuce and a lot of vigorous weeds. The garden beds are dormant—not covered in snow, but leaves. I suppose I could coax some more greens out of the earth, but my energy shifts inward—literally and figuratively—when school begins. Dormant is good.

After lunch, we headed for Finley Wildlife Refuge for our traditional walk along the Mill Hill trail, tied in with over The Woodpecker Loop—about five miles, total, over all of the diverse ecologies of the refuge. The sun was out—a rare sight in December, but there were some clouds backed up on the hills near the refuge. Some years, we have been drenched on this walk. I clearly remember taking off my old rainpants once because they were cold and clinging to my legs. “I’d rather be wet!” I yelled when Mark (in well-treated pants) asked what I was doing. That year, water was streaming down the trail and puddling several inches deep in the low spots. This year, it was a gentle trickle down the middle of the path. It grew dark quickly under the trees and we could hear drips all around us, but it did not rain. When we broke out of the woods to the upper oak savannah near the end of the walk, the sun was shining on the snow covered Cascade foothills across the valley and we could see the Three Sisters as darker grey mounds against the far clouds.

We came home just before dark. As the light dimmed and I could no longer read, I fell asleep, furry beast of a cat on my lap, purring. Mark startled us all awake half an hour later, when the outside lights came on. It was time for the Solstice Night rituals—a fire with a piece of last year’s tree, which we grandly call a Yule Log, even though it’s more like a Yule Stick. Dinner from nearby foods—pumpkin, tomato, and pinto bean soup this year—and an apple cranberry pie. Planting paper whites which will bloom around Twelfth Night. Listing the highlights of the year and establishing goals for the next. Reading a section of A Christmas Carol aloud. We do all of this by candle light, quietly. The night moves more slowly without the radio, without being able to plunge into a book for several hours.

Before we went to bed, I slipped out to check on the chickens and close them in for the night. The moon was out, slipping in and out of a thin cloud cover. The backyard was bright. The sky dark. The cats followed me and chased each other around, thrilled to have a person out with them at night. George, our elderly chicken, talked in her sleep as I swung the door down and I could here the other two shifting softly on the perch. Everyone was fine. For a moment I stood, watching the moon, surrounded by the dormant gardens. The Earth paused, shifted, and moved, once again, towards the light of summer.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

When Mark and I converted the garage to a dining room, I created a little space…

The stairs to the basement, which are in the garage, had a gap between the stairwell and the outside about four feet wide and six feet long. An awkward space, but there was a window in the outside wall and, when we first moved in, an old washing machine rested there that the cat loved to sit on to view the world. When I cleaned out the washer, I built the cat door into the window, with a perching shelf inside and out. So, when the conversion time came around, I had an idea. If a shelf was built up near the window and the wall for the room built about the stair wall, we could have an enclosed window seat, with storage underneath (which is a different story). Then, if a little kid came for dinner, after we finished eating, she could climb into the window seat, read and dream, and eavesdrop on the grown-up conversation without ever being kicked out of the room, because everyone would forget that she was there. My childhood dream space. (I was kicked out a lot when my cousins squealed on me…)

It worked. It is, some days, my favorite aspect of our new room. There’s an old futon, a pile of pillows, several blankets, a hanging light, and a windowsill to rest a tea mug on. One window looks out into the yard. Another lets light through to the stairwell and looks back into the house. The space above reaches up to the peak of the garage, which keeps it from feeling claustrophobic. You can still see the old wiring for the house in the peak. When we first finished the space, I graded papers there, but I quickly realized that that was a Bad Idea, so, now there are rules for being in The Nook: No grading or school related thinking. No Major, Meaningful Conversations—the neighborhood, our relationship, the state of the world are all banned. No list making. Napping is okay. So is staring into space, reading, or worshipping a cat. When you leave, take your mug and turn off the light. Kayli, our fluffy casual cat, has The Nook down. She’ll do a bit of kitty cleaning yoga, then curl up in the blankets for a long nap, only rising when she needs a snack. She is our role model.

Winter Break is coming in two days. I plan on having lots of Nook Time for the next two weeks. But, we’ll share. There is room for two—plus two cats—if you are willing to squish in a bit.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Red Cups

“High school English Teacher Arrested for Trespass,” Mark muttered to me as I ran to catch up with him. He likes to try and scare me with possible headlines when I do something illegal, hoping to dissuade me. It never works. For someone who believes in anarchy, he is exceptionally law-abiding….And I wasn’t doing anything really bad—I was cleaning up the neighborhood.

Until l a few years ago, when the Idiot Fraternity moved into our neighborhood, I had a live and let live attitude towards college student drinking. It was part of the college experience. Just don’t drive, or have unprotected sex, and I didn’t really care. Then I was kept up for three weeks straight by their beer-pong games and bellowing and my frame of mind shifted to a Let Me Sleep or I’m Calling the Cops attitude. It was at this same time that I developed my antipathy towards the big red beer pong cups that were littering my neighborhood. After a fierce game, they were spread all over the yard and no one ever picked them up. The piles grew larger and larger, suggesting more and more drinking games. Trashy!

One day, while stomping to school at 7 AM, after calling the cops at 1 AM, I snapped. I Gathered up the cups and flung them at the offending house’s door. They spilled over the porch. Humpmph, I thought and moved to the next mess. Pick and toss, pick and toss…No cups were left in my path. On my way home, I noticed that they were all gone. And they didn’t come back the next weekend. The red cups were not new every week—they were leftovers from parties months before. I spread out; coming home from the movies, I pitched several beer boxes and bottles onto another porch, while Mark kept walking, pretending not to know me. A few days later, I pulled an offending couch out of the parking strip and back into the yard of the owner before calling the Code Enforcement officer. And it worked. With the exception of one very trashy house with a cracked foundation, the block was cleaner. Simple.

Now, I just have to trespass about once a month. Mark still mutters at me when I catch up with him, but he’s resigned. So, if you’re in a house with red cups in the yard and hear something hitting the porch, it’s just me, on a rampage once again. Throw them in the recycling on the way out….and call the GT. I’d love to be in the paper again.