The time it takes—–Lorraine Ellis Harr
For snowflakes to whiten
The distant pines.
I spent the week before our February snowstorm waiting for its arrival, watching weather reports with amusement and excited anticipation. Maybe a little dread. The ten-day predictions changed every few hours, from a few inches of snow to the extreme of eight inches one day and eleven the next, then dialing it back again. Extreme for Portland anyway. I was just waiting, checking the weather the way I used to doom scroll for the daily news – what disaster is in store today? This was way more fun however than waking up thinking, what has he tweeted today.
Since we got a hot tub (a tradeoff for 2020 travel) I’ve been sitting outside every morning watching and pondering the crows’ winter morning commute. They inexplicably head southwest for the most part. I imagine they’re heading toward some monumental gathering beyond, a convivial conference with much gossip and sharing of resources, perhaps making big plans. In the late afternoon they wing back to somewhere to the west and northwest, perhaps now to share stories of their day, the conquests, the roadkill, the dangerous encounters with traffic, the joys of flight – before tucking their wings under and hunkering down for the night.
There’s always a crow who stops off at the towering hemlock tree across the way, its topmost arcing branch the perfect scenic viewpoint. He sets my mind to wondering – why this particular crow, and is it always the same or different ones? Is he looking for his mate, is he a sentry for the rest of the crow traffic, watching for what – a meal, a predator? Is his 4-5 caw report different from the 7-8 caws? Why does he stay that specific amount of time, whether short or long, and why does he leave when he does? Is he a she? For that many minutes I’m caught up watching his bobbing, pooping, ruffling, and rustling, and not really waiting for anything. Finally.
Where does all this wondering get me, or am I just meant to watch and absorb, wait, wonder and write?
The snow, once it finally came after all the threats and promises, was beautiful and satisfying (we did lose electricity, trees and branches, but that’s another story). It started Thursday as small grains, wet and melty, then heavier overnight, until the distant pines were white, the roads thickly carpeted, the air filled with flakes. The world turned monochrome, and sounds were absorbed into an eerie silence, seemingly sucked away into crevices below the snow. Even the usually plentiful crows, song sparrows, and robins were hiding.
Living on a fairly steep hill, no cars came or went all weekend. I walked through quiet streets enjoying other neighbors’ immersion into the snow, whether it was shoveling and picking up fallen branches, or sledding and even snowboarding. I was immediately charmed seeing a neighbor with her Norwegian sparke sled (or kick sled). She and her husband scooted down the hill on wooden sleds that had belonged to her family since 1938 (her brother’s name is scratched onto the side).
Snow slowed me down and landed me right into the present in a way that nothing else does. It came at the end of all the waiting, a pause in the usual activities. Losing power for a day slowed us down even more. I read a whole book in between long moments of staring out the window at the falling flakes or icy sleet.
By Monday the snow melted just enough for cars to get through if you parked at the top of our hill, so the grandkids came over. They embraced the wet, an opportunity to experiment with the fascinating science of snowmelt. We weren’t waiting for better weather, and I wasn’t waiting for the kids to come over. I wasn’t waiting at all. It felt good, a relief.
Ezra, at six (“and a half!”), continues to be a little observation-driven scientist-engineer, and his lifelong fascination with the alchemy of sand, water, playdough, and food was out in full force as he lifted sheets of ice from surfaces and broke up snowbanks, peering in closely to watch the effects of his actions. Just as he does in the sandbox, he completely immersed himself in his experiments. Time means little to him and he is bent to the task at hand, completely absorbed, until suddenly he is not, and is lifted from his focus to realize he’s cold or wet or hungry or tired. Earlier, I had dried his socks by the fireplace, and when I put them on his feet he threw his body back in ecstasy, giving a big sigh of contentment. He is a thoroughly sensual being, in the moment.
We followed the snowmelt as it wound its way down the street, rivulets joining other rivulets, filling gullies and gutters, and pouring into storm drains. The return walk, which might take me ten minutes alone, took him most of an hour as he stomped on remaining patches, breaking up dams, scattering chunks and sheets of ice and snow, and carefully observing as the immersed slabs quickly dissolved in the rushing water. “Katy and the Big Snow” has been his longtime favorite storybook, and he seemed to emulate Katy, shuffling his feet as he plowed slowly uphill, thoroughly and gleefully destroying snow piles as he went.
This is all to say, perhaps, that the time it takes for anything, whether it’s socks warming, or snow gathering or melting, or crows moving along, it just takes the time it will take, and there’s no sense to being impatient or wishing it were otherwise. I know this and forget, over and over.
The pandemic will end when it ends. There will be a time for travel, for hugging my son, seeing family and friends. My frustrations, disappointments, and impatience are as useless as waiting for the snow to fall or melt.
This is just to say, perhaps, that I could better spend my time watching the snow and rain, watching the crows, and fly with them in imagination.
here it is–Joanna Ashwell
this quiet room
where I sit waiting
for the crow to call