Winter Stream of Consciousness

Storing up sunshine

Storing up sunshine

A December visit to Santa Barbara reminds me what great weather is like, feeling sun under my skin, remembering the variations on warm and dry, sunny and dry, cool and dry. Friends there ask about Portland weather with fear and awe, and every visit brings questions about how I’m adjusting and tolerating it. It is, I admit, perhaps the biggest challenge of moving to Portland for me, one that I have to reexamine (and keep writing about) every year, girding myself with physical and mental armor.

~+~

I like Portland weather partly because I have no choice. I repeatedly re-embrace it in a cognitively dissonant way, forcing myself to think: It’s exciting! It’s variety! It’s opportunity! instead of: Oh this sucks! The two viewpoints battle within, and I struggle to appreciate the true beauty in the seasons. It’s not just the colors and changes, but the shock of each seasonal change, just when you thought it would never get warm again, never cool off, the surprise of plants so verdant and alive, or when they wilt and fade. Each season lasts long enough that you don’t remember what came before or what’s to come, sort of like childbirth, that watershed moment that erases discomfort and pain because look! New life, a miracle!

The last of Fall

The last of Fall

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Jackson Pollack leavesFall went on forever this year, which was fine with me. I spent a lot of time outside, in denial about the impending winter. It stayed dry somehow, and trees took turns changing color, one after the other, the revolving reds and oranges lasting for months before slowly dropping away. The early yellows clung on well into December as if waiting for a solstice signal to let go completely. The winds try their best, but leaves stubbornly resist. The dominant feature in our yard is the neighbor’s towering willow tree, much of which hangs over the fence. It holds out the longest, yellow leaves glowing in fall sunlight, but branches now growing bald, and our yard is a Jackson Pollock in shades of ochre.

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The view from my window finally turns bleak and there’s no denying. The last of the yellow leaves still cling to the branches, but there’s the scrape of bare wood rubbing together, fallen branches scattered across the landscape, the stark horizon with a skeleton of branches reaching toward sunlight, and the grey grey sky.

Couch viewpoint

Couch viewpoint

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The couch-trap

The couch-trap

I end up at the gym, walking the treadmill instead of braving the cold damp outside. The fireplace catches me, the couch is deep, the stack of books whisper, snacks insistently call out, and anything indoors looks ever so inviting. There must be laundry to do. Shouldn’t I rearrange the cupboards? Clean out a closet? But I need to get a grip. The four year old solemnly looks out at the setting sun and says, “Soon it will be the shortest day of the year,” as if the impending gloom was weighing him down too. But he is the one who just looks at me when I say we can’t go out because of the rain and cold saying, “We can wear jackets.” Oh yeah.

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Over Thanksgiving in Bend, on the eastern side of the Cascades, we had a couple days of light snowfall and temperatures in the 20s. Returning to our side the temperatures were much warmer, but somehow it felt colder because in contrast to the dry high desert air in Bend, it’s a wet cold, and damp seeps between layers. It reminds me of the 115 degree heat wave in Texas that banished the humidity, and people would joke, “At least it’s a dry heat.”

Winter for the weekend

Winter for the weekend, Bend, OR

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Winter sneaks up here rather than slamming down a big freeze like in some other places. A cold metallic dome descends bit by bit, and I am the frog in boiling water, insisting everything is fine. It’s sunny and warm, it’s sunny and cool, it’s sunny and cold, a little rain starts up, warming the air back up, and then wait, what? Oh hell, it’s rainy, foggy, grey, and freezing and I wonder if this is the day to worry about driving in sleet, whether the bridges will freeze up, whether Oregonians will remember how to drive in weather, whether I will ever leave the house again.

Fog and flood

Fog and flood

~+~

I'm so freaking coldAt a concert the other night everyone bustled in, fleece and down rustling, shedding layers as the crowd swelled. A woman wears a sweatshirt that says, “I’m so freaking cold.” As the ubiquitous stocking caps come off everyone looks slightly drunk and disheveled, not caring. We all have winter hair. Some treat their hats as an all-day commitment, but mostly we look unkempt and we do it together.

~+~

I look for the rewards, because how else to persevere? Wind and rain clear the haze, occasionally clouds lift, Mt. Hood jumps out, magnified enormously, appearing closer than the 60 miles of city and suburb that lie between. The pointy snow covered peak glows a blinding white in sunlight, pink at sunrise and sunset. It pops up at certain turns of the highway, at the ends of particular streets, from the tops of bridges, a lovely surprise, a reward for getting out, even if it’s in the car. Mount St. Helens rises up rounded and relaxed, and on a really good day Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams wave from a distance. Then the grey dome claps down again and there’s not much beyond the foggy grey rain-streaked streets.

Mt. Hood, by Alan

Mt. Hood close enough to touch, by Alan

~+~

Aragorn

Aragorn – there is always hope

My annual Lord Of The Rings extended version marathon calls, offering hours of solace, light, victory, and a hard won ending that satisfies the need for valiance and action in this not yet stir-crazy cusp of fall into winter.

~+~

On the treadmill, trying to push myself as my trainer would, I listen to the Preet Bharara podcast (you must check him out!) as he explains current events and intrigue. I try to keep the row of TVs out of my line of vision, with their subtitles un-subtly designed to make you panic, watch more, the “and you won’t believe what happens next” equation of keeping viewers on edge. No. Look away. Walk away. I trust Preet to make me smile, help me understand, and maybe even sweep me up alongside in his optimism and faith that America’s systems are stronger than any individual. As John Craigie sang at that concert, there’s only one of him and so many of us. Let’s keep each other warm.

backyard rainbow

A different view from the couch

3 thoughts on “Winter Stream of Consciousness

  1. Beautiful as always. The photo of Mt Hood – sigh…I esp. like this part:
    “At a concert the other night everyone bustled in, fleece and down rustling, shedding layers as the crowd swelled. A woman wears a sweatshirt that says, “I’m so freaking cold.” As the ubiquitous stocking caps come off everyone looks slightly drunk and disheveled, not caring. We all have winter hair. Some treat their hats as an all-day commitment, but mostly we look unkempt and we do it together.” – because I can visualize those folks. Also, we went to see Calif Honey Drops at Soho last night (loved them! first time!) and believe it or not, lots of SB folks had the stocking cap look. For us, it was cold last night – 50-ish :).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Stack of books pic = HEAVEN. Love fog+flood pic. Totally felt like I was along with you for the weather ride and I love the words verdant and ochre : ). I also love getting reminded of your LOTR marathon every year. You had us at hello. Yes there is only one of him… Love and miss you N xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

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