The Noise

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all pictures in this post are by the wonderful Maxfield Parrish…what a dream to dream!

It is late, dark, and quiet. Next to me, someone is sleeping sweetly, curled against a pillow and under a blanket. To my left, the air conditioner blows on and off, and to my right, a fan oscillates slowly back and forth. It is the quiet time, when no one and nothing stirs: if I go outside, all I can see is the guard light shining its amber glow, stars that flicker but remain in position, and occasionally, a passing car.

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My home is very quiet. A few weeks ago, a nice woman who is in Chinese medicine school but who moonlights as a phlebotomist came by to do some medical tests for our life insurance policies. She took her shoes off at the door. They were so small, black tennis shoes, that I thought they were a child’s shoes! She remarked how quiet it is here, and that was during the day.

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Lately, I find the external world so very loud: so much noise. News, social media, and people driving on the highways just seem to be shrieking, screaming, pushing, prodding, yelling: the common theme, fear of…..what exactly? Fear of the unknown? Fear of the inevitability of change? Fear of the direction in which our society finds itself? Fear of not having enough, or too much? I can’t put my finger on it, but I see examples everywhere.

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Currently, I drive 3 hours round trip as my commute to my school: this is about to change. I drive with hundreds of other people to and from Austin. I find that at least 10 each day drive so aggressively that they scare me, and I worry about finding myself in an accident like the ones I hear about every day. People chase around me in their cars, cut me off in their cars, drive just behind my bumper in their cars, and every time it happens, I wonder why. I hear teachers at my school yell or complain: I hear students do the same. I see article after article online and hear article after article on the radio about the President. Its as if the noise is catching: once it starts, it has to keep building to some mad crescendo.

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The presence of the noise makes me thankful for the quiet. I find that I catch myself in its moments rarely, and so, I try to cultivate them. Today I walked in the garden and checked in with the cotton and roselle plants, gazed at the sunflower seedlings. I pet the neighbor’s dog. I sit here, typing. I find the quiet helps me understand that the noise is just that: noise. Meaningless, temporary, distracting: the reality is the moments of quiet, the moments that I catch the mockingbird sitting on the garden’s arch, the arc of a cotton stem, the funny way that sunflowers bend toward the sun, the way children look when they are distracted and staring off into space, breathing. I suppose the task of the moment is to change the focus from the noise to the quiet: otherwise, where shall we go?

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Eaten By Wolves

 

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Today I went on a sunset walk with a friend. As we walked, the light changed from gold to blue and then became complete darkness, lit by a gibbous moon that rose quickly over our heads, to hang in the sky, over the path, back to a bridge over rushing, snow-melt water.

She joked that if we were caught in the dark that we would be eaten by wolves, and just after the sun disappeared, we heard their calls just off to our right, in the woods. Yipping and howling together, it was no doubt a group of coyotes living large in the forest. Their calls waffled between high-pitched, human-like screams and howls, and seemed to be very close to us.

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She grabbed a large stick from the side of the path and we formulated plans including climbing trees and calling for help and standing on the bridge and making ourselves larger than life. The moon, luckily, lit our way with its white light: shining down on snow and ice.

As we walked, a bit faster now, we saw the first one as it leapt across the path in front of us: a black streak with a long tail. We stopped, dead in our tracks, not knowing what to do as coyotes will circle people and dogs in the woods. It was then that we saw the second coyote run across the path, just a bit farther down than the first one.

Grasping each other and the stick, we forged on, beginning to yell at the coyotes to scare them off and looking back to see if we were being followed, but we weren’t. They simply were there when we were, and we were lucky enough to not be very interesting to them.

As we reached the stone bridge, the one that we had crossed earlier while staring down at the stream, full of roiling waters and lined with rocks, we breathed a sigh of relief; we were within eye shot of the car, and therefore, far enough away from the coyotes in the forest.

It is a magical and sometimes unnerving thing to live in nature; this place has very little separation between the wild and the domestic, outside and inside. In the times when the light fades, at the end of another winter’s day, and you find yourself in the woods, walking along with a friend, it feels better to walk softly and carry a big stick.

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

John Muir

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Frozen, and Friction-Free

“Do you have skates yet?” a voice said over the phone, while I was sitting and polishing silver at my table at the craft fair.

“It’s funny you should ask that, because I was just shopping for skates the other day, and was planning on getting some this week!”, I said, smiling.

“Well. We should get you a pair. I am going to come and get you and then we are going to go skating!”, he said.

I smiled, and said, “yes!”.

Sonja Henie Skating

I was wearing a green dress with blue and pink striped tights, a beautiful but crazy jewel-toned scarf my friend Seze made me years ago, and the requisite cowboy boots: not your typical ice-skating outfit. In fact, my friends who stood there chatting and eavesdropping on my conversation said,”you are going to go skating in that beautiful dress?” They also said, “it would be perfect! You out there on the ice, with the fabric floating around you as you skate!”

Studio shot of woman wearing ice skates

So. I called him back and asked him to go my house and pick up corduroys and a better shirt, and he told me he’d dig through his attic and find something. It is the small battle of two stubborn people, two people used to running their own show, trying to figure out how to do things together….I pull, he pulls, one of us wins. He did, and when I climbed into the truck, he informed me that we had clothes enough for five people and that I had to wear everything, all at once.

Man putting on ice skate on woman's leg

Pulling off the side of the road, at the edge of Acadia National Park, near the closest to Bar Harbor entrance to the Carriage Roads, he disappeared into the woods, through the trees to the edge of the beaver pond, frozen two inches thick with ice that been consolidating for the last week or two. A few days ago, we stopped at the same spot, and he grabbed a cordless drill from the floorboards and we went and measured the ice; then, too thin, but yesterday, perfect. I could see him, crouched at the ice’s edge, lacing up his skates as I waited for a moment when no cars came by to take off my green dress, braving the cold air with my almost naked body, naked save my tights and undies and socks, pulling an old striped wool sweater over my head and warm pants over my tights, laughing at myself as the air whipped around my body, blowing my hair all about my head as I adjusted the scarf and zipped up my jacket over my new, skate-friendly outfit.

1930s silhouette figure shown from knees down wearing ice skates skating in ice sun glare

At the ice’s edge, on a large shelf of bumpy granite, I laced up my new skates, pulling the laces as tight as I could, remembering my days as suburban roller-blade champion. I was instructed to scoot out onto the ice on my butt, and then stand up. So, I did. Not falling, I held his hand and we slowly, slowly, skated out over the ice.

Skating Waiter Falling on the Ice

Clear ice, with white bubbles frozen in its surface. Clear ice, with leaves and lily pads suspended beneath my feet. Clear ice, with trees and two beaver dams poking through it. Lightly carving curves into the surface with our skates, marking that we had been there, on that ice.

Alaska. Air bubbles layered in ice.

As I got my bearings, my ice-legs if you will, he let go of my hand and I skated on my own, slowly at first, but then picking up speed as I felt more comfortable, feeling myself fly over the ice, smooth as silk under my skates. I found that if you barely turn your foot, you can spin in delicious circles and not fall. If you bend your knees, you get more power to push forward, and you can lean quite far over without the fear of falling. You can move your legs out or together and control your motion; you can skate over bumpy patches and pretend you are on a bike, cycling over gravel, using the motion of your body to absorb shock and keep going.

Frozen water

We skated to the edge of the pond and I saw flat granite pieces going down into the ice; this place must have been a quarry years ago, before the Park gained the land and absorbed it. The granite, flat as a blade, covered with lichen and mosses, its smoothness broken only by a small fir tree growing at the ice’s edge. I was struck, again, by the beauty of this place and inspired to make more beautiful things based on the beauty that I was witnessing.

Branch in frozen lake

We then skated to the opposite edge of the pond, where the darkness of late afternoon had begun to creep through the trees, casting black shadows out onto the smooth surface. There was a half moon of clear, black ice near the water’s edge, and then a cast of ice so different. It was clear that the water had refrozen there, over a bit of time, for under the surface were cross-hatched rectangles of white ice crystals, frozen under and over each other, like a basket woven of ice. Creeping together and out over one small section of the pond, looking like tiny tiles laying on top of each other, turned this way and that, out into the center of the pond. Here and there dotted with trees or grasses poking out, the white cast of ice spread before you like a road to follow, albeit bumpily, with your skates. I came back over and over to skate on that section of the pond, just to appreciate the amazing processes of nature that can happen as temperatures warm and dip at the beginning of winter.

Frost and ice patterns in a beaver pond, Greater Sudbury (Lively), Ontario, Canada

After a while of skating in huge circles and small circles, of watching someone much better at skating than I do cross-overs and figure eights, of remembering that scene in Fantasia when the faeries turn the landscape to winter, of attempting to balance on right foot and then left, of realizing I didn’t know how to stop, he said, “five minutes?”

I said, “seven!” and then he taught me how to stop.

Ice crystals on frozen pond, Bavaria, Germany

When we were finished, and sitting on that same granite ledge again, taking skates off and putting shoes on, the dusk was imminent and pensive, shrouding the trees and the pond in an almost tangible cloudiness of early winter: looking out at the trees, their colour changed from the pure green of daytime to a rusty, bronze green as the darkness imbued everything. Looking up, the sky was a blanket of silvery grey clouds, deep and close. The trees’ reflection shimmered on the frozen surface of the pond: all you could discern was a shape of a mass of trees, not the individual trees that you can see on a still day in summer. We walked back to the truck as night fell, darkness coming down from the sky to the earth as another day came to an end.

Milky sunrise over ice on beaver pond in early winter, Greater Sudbury, Ontario, Canada

We finished the day by driving along Somes Sound, gazing out at the lights of houses dotting the waters’ edge on the other side, looking at the toothed silhouettes of the two mountains that line the southern edge of the Sound, watching the trees disappear into the blackness of night.

Deep blue mountains, black water, grey sky: winter.

sargent drive november 13