Simultaneous realities II - The Kitchen

     The second snowstorm in three days has passed, and fortunately (for me) there is no ensuing snow day.  Andrew reminds me as I drop him off at school this morning that there are only three days left before Christmas vacation. The mild panic that rises motivates me, but where to begin?  I have a blog post to finish, assorted household chores (the never-ending kind), shopping still to do before the kids are around full-time, and -- ah yes -- a batch of shortbread to bake by 1:30. 
     By late morning I find myself standing in front of a 1954 Kitchen-Aid stand mixer, creaming butter and powdered sugar and vanilla, scraping and becoming frustrated by how it is sticking to the tines of the mixer and getting all over. I am just trying to get through this, my mind on the mess on the dining room table that I need to clear away, and who is going to pick up Anna. Everything is just totally disorganized, and on top of it all, any minute Meg's friend is going to walk in.
      And suddenly I see the whole scene differently. When Meg's friend walks in, she'll find a kitchen bright with sunshine and woodstove warm. She'll see a mom baking Christmas cookies in a comfortably disheveled kitchen, carols playing quietly in the background. This is... this is ideal! This is what the holidays, and family, and friends are all about! I'm doing it, and I didn't even see it. I had to get out of my head
     Two realities – the very same scene but different perceptions – exist right in my kitchen. And I have a choice (I always have a choice): be conscious in the present moment, non-judgmental, accepting, or live in my mind's unattainable construction of what should be. So here I am baking Christmas cookies for a dear friend, my happy family's chaos evident in its blessed abundance of laundry and advent calendars and clothes drying by the stove, and it is good. Very good.

Simultaneous realities I – The Window

(written this past weekend)

     Today, our first big winter storm is howling outside the kitchen window.  Last night when we walked the dog, sugar snow was starting to fall.  By this morning, there were maybe eight or nine inches on the ground.  As I wash the dishes and look out the window, bushes are laden with snow, snow blows off the roof, all is white and frozen.
     When I shorten my gaze, I look into a plexiglass box that sits just in front of the winter window. In that box five weeks ago were the dormant vestiges of fall: small evergreen plants including one with red berries*; some mosses and lichens; three withering herbaceous plants**; the soil they are rooted in; a piece of rotting wood hosting the lichens; acorns; decaying leaves; and a stone. It looks like a piece of the forest was lifted and settled into the box, like a diorama. In those five weeks, nothing changed.
      But something was happening. I knew it would, because I've done this before. I knew spring would come to the box, but I didn't know when or how.

      And now in the midst of a snowstorm a moth has emerged, just as two green spikes of Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) have pierced the soil. Over in the Oxalis corner, a little stem with a tight crunch of embryonic leaves has appeared, and I expect 
later today it will open its three shamrock leaves like the moth opened its wings, ready for sunlight.

      I don't know if there even was winter in my box, or if it went from fall straight to spring. But just on the other side of the window, winter lives ferociously in the dragon wind of this storm. It seems miraculous – or like cheating – that here on this side, is spring. I can stand here washing dishes, and witness two realities simultaneously while I am living in the dry protected warmth of a third.

* clubmoss (Lychopodium sp.), a white pine seedling (Pinus strobus), a balsam fir seedling (Abies balsamea), partridgeberry (Mitchella repens), and wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

** starflower (Trientalis borealis), bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) and wood sorrel (Oxalis montana)


The Abundance of Quiet

     And suddenly, it's quiet.  It's a surprise, this trough of unactivity.  I am alone in the house; they have all gone out, some to a show, one to visit a friend.  The evening here has laid itself down to rest.  The couch is mine, and I sit down gladly.

      What a Thanksgiving it was!  Meg is home from college, and Andrew and Anna had half the week off too.  There were comings and goings: appointments, lunch with friends, movies, shopping. On the Big Day itself, fifteen cousins, aunts, uncles, and a grandmother gathered around the table. In the door came squash and pies and wild rice and fresh baked rolls, cranberry sauce cooked on a woodstove, salad, creamed spinach – and outside a turkey turned on a spit over the grill in the driveway. Afterwards we played charades in the living room. As they finally rolled out the door saying goodnight, we made more plans for the next day.

    In the morning light, wine glasses remained by the sink unwashed as ten pairs of bread lined the counter and became turkey sandwiches. Two hours later, ten people and four dogs began an ascent of Pleasant Mountain. The lakes and foothills of Maine's western mountains rolled out to the horizon under a blue sky so clear it crackled. We spent the day taking pictures, crossing the ridgeline, eating nuts and clementines and sandwiches, telling stories in pairs on the trail, and even as the sun set on our descent, we gripped each other and the glorious day, unwilling to let go. And we didn't. We came home and piled on the couch to eat pizza and watch a movie, eager to keep the connection going.

     At what point does the hunger for indulging in family and the stream of our activity become gluttony? Sometimes I feel like the Gross Domestic Product, mindlessly pursuing more, more, more.

     But wait: suddenly here I am on the couch; the dog is asleep by the woodstove; there is nothing to prepare for or clean up from; and it is in this moment of quiet, of no family and no activity, that gratitude walks in. It's like sliding out of the current and into an eddy: when you're out of the flow, there is the space to turn around and see the current for what it is.
     It is important to stop. To be alone, with the dog, the woodstove, the night sky, or a mug of tea at the kitchen table before dawn. Don't read the paper or make a list or fill the moment with a screen. Instead, find out if the quiet is full or empty, or if it's soft. Is it the color of cinnamon? Are you in the quiet, or is it in you?

    Outside now, I hear the wind rising; snow and sleet will come tonight. The dog breathes evenly. The refrigerator chuffles off its cooling cycle and the room settles even more to quiet. Soon enough the family will be home again, and I will happily hear their stories burble and cascade through this space. But for now I am grateful for the abundance of quiet circling around me like a blanket, a place of calm from which to finally see clearly the joy of our Thanksgiving.