It's rare that I see the Little House in winter. Come November, it's too cold and raw for a house made of balsa wood, and this fall, Fauxhawk and I did the honors in locking it up, neat as a pin, until spring.
My father, now confined to bed, frets constantly about the house. We have always taken the mid-winter trip together, camping indoors without water and happily warming ourselves by a fire of good hard wood that burns hot. But now, unable to check on the house, he imagines giant tsunamis sweaping it away, raccoons nesting in the chimney, mice shredding the insulation, salt winds blighting the fruit trees, the car battery dying from disuse. As he grows weaker and more faint, the calamities become increasingly apocolyptic. I'll go and take care of things, I reassure him. Don't you worry.
Built for the softness of summer, it is not a sturdy house, but it has never done us wrong. When Fauxhawk and I arrive, it's cold and dark and the air smells briney. Everything is just as we left it months ago – jaunty and cheerful, even in snow.
In the morning, the sky is streaked with crepuscular rays and the snow is blindingly bright. We are greeted by a single snowdrop, bowing under the weight of a tiny icicle. The holly bush, brought so many years ago by the birds, is the lone splash of color. Aside from a few brazen deer, there are few signs of wildlife, but I fill pinecones with peanut butter and put them on the wood pile, just in case the blue jays need a mid-afternoon snack.
When I was a girl, the only people who stayed through the winter were alcoholics and recluses; our two neighbors were reclusive alcoholics who steadily drank themselves to death over the course of several lonely Februaries. But to our surprise, the beach was dotted with footprints, some human, some dog.
I trust the ocean less and less as I get older - I have a healthy fear of the riptide, of waves stirred-up and bottle green. We've heard too many tragic stories of bravado to treat it lightly.
I call my father to report that all is well, that I have stacked the wood pile, checked for leaks, swept the fireplace, and pruned the fruit trees. My heart bursts with pride and happiness that there is some small thing I can do to bring him comfort.
Bring me some cherry boughs, he says. And so I do: armfuls of Quanzan and Fuji cherries, boughs of crabapples lined with fat little buds. Arranged in giant vases around his chaise, the bare branches possess a kind of latent beauty, an extravagant display of optimism at a time when there is no hope.
I bring some home to Brooklyn. They remind me that there is something wonderful to look forward to - a respite from the moments of sadness and helplessness I so often feel these days.
Since I've been home, I've filled the apartment with spring. I regularly spend my last three dollars on a bouquet of daffodils or a bundle of hyacinths. Flowers are, for me, a necessity – I'd rather go without to have a jaunty, fragrant nosegay. Yesterday the jasmine I bought at Trader Joe's burst into bloom, sending me into a fit of ecstasy. Its perfume is incredibly redolent, though at times it smells strangely of...cat shit. I have this problem with paperwhites, too. I can't figure it out.
My orchid has been frustratingly dormant for 18 months, but suddenly decided to please me. Look at all those buds! A reward for almost total neglect. I can only hope that all the people and things I've neglected over the last year are as forgiving.
I strumbled across "Israel and Iran: A love Story?" right before Christmas. While it doesn't take much for me to get my cry face on (heartwarming tale of human/animal reunion? Cry! Cat poops in shower? Cry! Run out of milk? Cry! You get the picture), this Ted talk hit me hard. I did manage somewhat successfully to stifle sobs in front of my in-laws, but then felt cheated of the catharsis that was rightfully mine, so I watched it later in private. WAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
Shit is that good. From the Ted website:
When war between Israel and Iran seemed imminent, Israeli graphic designer Ronny Edry shared a poster on Facebook of himself and his daughter with a bold message: "Iranians ... we [heart] you." Other Israelis quickly created their own posters with the same message -- and Iranians responded in kind. The simple act of communication inspired surprising Facebook communities like "Israel loves Iran," "Iran loves Israel" and even "Palestine loves Israel."
Ronny Edry of Israel accidentally created an online movement for peace in the Middle East when he posted a Facebook image that declared "Iranians, we will never bomb your country."
The image became a catalyst for dialogue between the people of two nations on the brink of war.
The funny thing (hahahaha) about loving someone whose time is limited is that it makes you selfish. It makes you grabby, greedy, appallingly self-centered. Because, let's face it, it's really about you, isn't it? And because it's about you, there is a lot of whining, sometimes using your inside voice, sometimes not.
At night, lying in bed, you think:
I haven't figured out my life yet.
Had children. Bought a house. Landed a career I love. Made peace with myself.
I can't do all the things that will make you proud if you check out so soon.
Will they even mean anything to me after you're gone?
All of a sudden, your own life seems compressed. You remember a recurring anxiety dream you had in college, a mad scramble to write a term paper with an unknown but crushing deadline. The cruel mash-up of paralysis and frenzy feels familiar. Your sense of urgency returns. All of those grand ideas you once had? The ones you shelved somewhere for another time? Well, there is no time. All you have is now and tomorrow, and maybe next month and a few months more. After that, who knows? Better get cracking, sister.
What was that idea again?
You can't even remember.
This will help. This will inspire. But knowing inspiration is a bare-faced lie you tell yourself to kick shit down the road, you think of this:
When it's over, I want to say all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.
It is not only your heartfelt prayer for the one you love, it's your call to action.
Keep it close.
Top image here. Middle image by Helen Korpak here via Sabino. Bottom image via Sabino. When Death Comes, by Mary Oliver, from here.