January Thaw

Acorn cap in the ice, Partridge Run.

Acorn cap in the ice, Partridge Run.

I was struggling. And then I froze.

First in September, October, and November came an extended burst of business activity, wherein I neglected much of my essay writing in favor of creative-writing-to-build-my-new-venture. Stiffening commenced.

A long viral illness ran concurrently.  Rime condensed on the edges of me.

Painful anniversaries blew in; December holidays challenged.  Whether it was the early darkness of the afternoon or the late darkness of the mornings, I slept longer than I wanted to, resistant to pull up and out of heavy-blanketed winter slumber.

The weather turned truly arctic, hikes became sporadic; cookies called my name beseechingly, promising energy, and I answered, too often. (Those no-good sweet-talking sweets.)

Movement slowed to glacial and the yoga attention wavered. Through the swirl of internal storms I couldn’t make out my wonderful new habits.  Extra pounds crept onto my body.

I solidified.

Fall leaf captured by ice.

Red oak leaf captured by ice.

Inside my hardened self, I started worrying:  How can I get back to my contemplative life? Why don’t I have energy to write about things that yes, really do, excite and feed me?

Finally, self-judgment crinkled deep into me, a solid-through, could-drive-a-loaded-semi-on-top-of-my-lake, subzero temperature drop: What’s wrong with me? Am I a failure at all of this? Will my blog join the thousands of “dead” blogs out there?

Perhaps I froze because over the months I would come home from the few hikes and instead of meditating on them, I would be planning yoga classes. Or writing about a workshop. Processing how those classes and workshops succeeded—or didn’t. Corresponding with people. Building networks. Learning my new phone. Applying for tax IDs. Rediscovering aromatherapy, selling products locally.

-Ing, -ing, -ing. A fall-into-winter shower of unique “-ing” shapes that softly, quietly, buried me.

***

Now it is January.  I took a four hour tromp on the melting icy paths looping through the woods and around Tubbs Pond, at Partridge Run.

My hiking partner called the weather a “January thaw.” I’d never experienced that at higher elevations before; just imagined it, from books. Above freezing, the snow melted some and then some more, and streams ran.

The legs were sluggish at first and didn’t want to pick themselves up over frozen upheaved beech and birch leaves, and stones covered by slushy moss.  The hiking partner’s legs protested too.

We walked and walked, up and down. I started to sweat, pulled off layers, walked and walked, got hungry, devoured peanut butter and apples, walked and walked; I walked the worry out of my body, walked until I was so tired by dusk that my eyes could barely focus.

I got to see three ponds I’d not seen before.

And ice. Oh, the ice.

Woods detritus on ice, in ice.

Woods detritus on ice, in ice.

If this were a painting, the brush strokes are magnificent.

If this were a painting, the brush strokes are magnificent.

Harsh angles.

Harsh angles.

Soft blobs.

Amoeba-like blobs.

Broken glass.

Broken glass.

Photo after photo, I lost myself in the teeny tiny: a single leaf on snow, and closer still the ridges of its veins, the iridescence of decomposition, backed by reflective crystals.  Jagged shapes, clear, opaque, rectangles, rounded blobs, layer across layer of frozen, half-frozen, refrozen. Miniature hemlock cones, red pine needles stacked pick-up-sticks style over white pine needles, leaves trapped under bubbles that couldn’t move.

The light--

The light–from below and above.

We two photographers gasped, giggled, and gestured: Look here! It can’t get more amazing—yes it can! I LOVE ICE.

Movement of water captured as it froze.

Movement of water captured as it froze.

The winter sun moved from white to gray across the sky.  We stumbled past Tubbs Pond and cheerily waved goodbye to snowmobile and deer tracks, and the chickadees who flirted from tree to tree.

My cheeks were ruddy, legs exhilarated. Days later, I still feel the warmth of following my instincts, listening to my body’s craving for beauty—and the walking, walking, walking.

I think I’ve been thawed, by the frozen.

Shimmering seeds on snow.

Winged seeds glowing red on snow, ready.

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To Clean is To Wander is To Meditate

Clean colors of evergreen against the snow, Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center.

Crisp colors of evergreen against the snow, Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center.

A few hours ago, my hands were barely able to curl around a knife in order to butter a bagel for dinner. Even now, it’s not easy to grip and flip open the laptop, and type. I plan to do an hour of yoga later, but along with achy wrists, my knees are sore from kneeling on the kitchen floor–not brush-scrubbing; I don’t have Cinderella fantasies–just wiping and rinsing, wiping and rinsing, the layers of dust and dripped food from Christmas and New Year’s and daily living.

And vacuuming–I seem to have lost, or never owned, the extension arm to my vacuum, so the bare-floor attachment clicks to the end of the hose and requires an up-close relationship with the floor to maintain contact. I did manage to squat part of the time but often the angles were too awkward to maintain. Hence the bruised kneecaps and cramp-y hands.

Tools at hand! my vacuum

Tool at hand, back together for the rugs.

It was time. The apartment needed cleaning way before the holidays, but since I had December guests coming, including a large, sweet, and very fuzzy dog, I only disinfected the bare minimum before their arrival, and left it at that.

Until this week, when it couldn’t be put off any longer.

When I thought about each room and how many things needed to be moved in order to de-grime properly, my old surgical aches came back–a wonderful indicator that I need to approach from a different mental angle.

I used to be very list-driven. The lists always started out long, and even as I circled jobs-done, more got added, seeming to approach infinity.  Now the inventory is general: “clean kitchen, clean bedroom, clean front room, clean dining room.”  I wander from space to space, trusting that the big job will get done through all the little jobs I feel called to do.

The question I ask: What will make it enjoyable, and let me do something I’ve secretly really wanted to get to? 

The speed I go, even with the compulsion to rush, since there’s so much to do? Slow.  And when panicked? Even slower.

Yup, house cleaning as meditation.

Today’s answer as to what I secretly want to do?  Put on my bed the new blue and white batiked duvet cover from Ten Thousand Villages. Well, have to change the sheets and sweep the floor first. Doesn’t that feel good, crisp sheets and plumped pillows? Oh, but I have to dust all the surfaces before doing the floor!  All right, leisurely pull every piece of jewelry off the hanging organizer, wipe the hooks and smile over the beads, the iridescent bangle, which earrings went with the sparkly outfit, for that delightful community dinner on Christmas Eve–and for the raucous snowy romp with the dog on January First….

Objects hold memories and I remember, as I handle them.

A bit of feather-down, fallen into snow at Dyken Pond.

A bit of feather-down, fallen into snow. Remember the snowy walk?

Another answer to the question about what brings joy for me today: organizing all the snowshoeing gear, after drying my trekking poles.  Ok, better stack the grocery bags to go out to the car, which reminds me–start the shopping list.  There’s the camera–upload the photos from the latest walk at Dyken Pond, where I got the gear wet in the first place. And wasn’t it a great walk?

A third job to bring relief:  moving the red chair into the front room, exchanging it for the reading chair, whose awful green checked cushion at last gets covered with a deep purple fringed blanket. Vacuuming the dining room wasn’t so bad, I can finish this quickly and after moving the chairs, pull out different candle holders–look, there’s the battery charger I’ve been missing!

All day, for days, I’ve wandered and somehow along the way become motivated to do the hands-and-knees cleaning that has now transformed my living space.

Finally, all those wonderful negative ions have been moved around, along with my belongings. I learned last year how to rearrange photos and sculptures so I see them again, how to shift the tchotchkes endowed with history and stories so I recognize and appreciate; after sitting in the same-old-same-old spots, my eyes would no longer be caught and would pass over them–along with that slight layer of dust that faded everything.  Now I’ve cleaned the dust, I’ve re-seen the objects, all is new again.

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Now I can see the art glass tray, the ceramic lotus, the dried flowers still bright with pink and yellow.

A confession: the bathroom only got a quick wipe down, and it will take a couple days to really scour the kitchen.  But wood is glistening and lights shining brightly, surfaces are clearer and paintings placed in new positions of honor.  A votive flickers in the window.

Tomorrow morning as the tea water comes to a boil, I’ll do more smaller-scale wandering in the kitchen:  washing dishes, wiping down cabinets, reading recipes. I’m cleaning, I’m dreaming, I’m wandering; I’m meditating my future life into being.

The rhododendron blooms are already set January 8th; they need only wait for spring.

The rhododendron blooms are already set here in early January; what does that say about being more ready than you think?  about not needing to rush? about trusting in Spring?

Structure: the Old Year, in Pictures

Bridge over the Mississippi, Minneapolis MN

Reflections that create balance. (Bridge over the Mississippi, Minneapolis MN)

Like monthly bills and seasonal equipment, 2012 will soon be put away.

Annually I take the week between Christmas and New Year’s and look back.  Not that I don’t regularly return to carefully saved artifacts and reflect on my journey at other times, but it’s an interesting practice to hold the twelve months in hand all at once.

Because I am still coming to the words–how can you encapsulate a year, a month, a day?and should you?–this week’s blog is almost purely visual: an admittedly incomplete retrospective of what has fed me, gifts given and received over the year.

The theme that emerged in my almost-random selection from the 6,000 digital photos? Structure.  Structure in general, and the structures I am building. Of what underlies my daily life, how to not split time into dreaded work and distracting play, but to find joy in all of it.

Once again, I wish I’d hatched a fully grown, spectacularly stunning concept that would bring surprising insight, followed by deep understanding–and aw heck, while I’m at it, world peace!–but laughing, I repeat the mantra: I accept being in-process in my thoughts and in my life.

Oh, and thank you, Gentle Readers, for joining me (however briefly or steadily) during the past six months.

The whimsical dancing turnip.

The whimsical turnip.

The whimsical turnip: its graceful arms reminded me of Shiva, whose cosmic Dance of Bliss simultaneously brings destruction and creation. How appropriate in studying days gone by, the wave pattern of the past, present, and future.  On the culinary side, it became part of a potato-turnip-leek au gratin dish for Christmas Day.

Watermelon radish in a salad of green leaf, cucumber, green and orange sweet pepper, carrots.

Watermelon radish in a salad of green leaf, cucumber, green and orange sweet pepper, carrots.

That shocking pink, what a surprise! Yes, I was ready to laugh at surprises, and open to new foods and sensations and thoughts and concepts.

Adirondack Park creek, near Jockeybush and Good Luck Lake

Adirondack Park creek, near Jockeybush and Good Luck Lake

Stillness in the water allows reflections. Same with my life.

Snowy tree early 2012

Snowy tree early 2012

Snow on tree. Just looking outside my window, I found meditation objects, beauty.

Votives, St. Patrick's Cathedral, NYC

Votives, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC

I took them where I found them, those meditation objects and rituals, and adapted them to my own house: candles, incense, writing, yoga, walks, cooking, talking, time with friends and family.

Mohawk River: beauty in browns and blues.

Mohawk River: beauty in browns and blues.

Yeah, just some grasses along the Mohawk River, nothin’ special. But no–eminently special, subtle color and stillness again. Just look, that’s all. So I did.

A study in red, brown, and white

Food is fun! A study in red, brown, and white.

The daily is worth attending to, including the daily food.  Vegetarian chili with Community Garden tomatoes, those familiar basil-garlic cheese curds and black beans, followed by strawberries with chocolate sauce and slivered almonds.  (Yes, technically the tomatoes are more orange than red, but in other light they matched quite closely.)

Ice at Dyken Pond

Ice at Dyken Pond

Like a modern art painting of skyscrapers, just the beginning of the freezing process–I spend a lot of time “at the beginning,” but those moments are striking, too.

Mountain beyond Hildene (Battenkill Valley), Manchester VT

Mountain beyond Robert Todd Lincoln’s home Hildene, in the Battenkill Valley, Manchester VT

A classic wind battered evergreen with snow topped mountain behind. What does it evoke? Back to the idea of stillness. But more: active stillness, strength from within, a yoga thing. Responding to the wind, relaxing into holding the snow, moving with circumstances as they arrive.

Tomatoes and pears: early morning still life.

Tomatoes and pears: early morning still life.

My life is art, my food is art: more meditation objects.

Sunset over the Helderbergs

Sunset over the Helderbergs: note the teeny electric pole on the right,  which helps you realize the distance you are viewing

Beginnings and endings and the in-between.  A huge sky sweeps toward me, over me, I am immense and minuscule all at once. 

Pea sprouting in late spring

Pea sprouting in late spring

Back to the garden.

A pea plant breaks through hard ground, living into its defined structure, but how it grows, the rhythm and size and potential production, are all to come yet. How fragile it looks there, and yet it is so strong.

That’s me, that’s the new year. Delicate, to be nurtured, but hardy and riotously ecstatic and full of surprises. To be attended to every day, carefully but not with anxiety, just responding to changes as they come.

Along the Long Path at John Boyd Thacher Park: fall leaves color streams that are just above freezing.

Along the Long Path at John Boyd Thacher Park: fall leaves color streams that are just above freezing mark.

Detritus of the old is beautiful, and will feed the new life to come, after the quiet time, the enforced rest, of winter. Welcome, winter; Welcome, new year!

A wonder-ful 2013 to all.