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.
The Little House is fast asleep. We come to rouse it, briefly, from its slumber. The world around it is already beginning to stir. Poking out from a landscape of browns and grays are edges of the palest, most tenative greens. Snowdrops greet us at the door like tiny footmen.
The house is just as we left it this fall, everything still pale and fresh and cold like the inside of sea shell. I set a fire, watching with satisfaction the chimney draw and the fatwood drip.
There is work to be done. Roses need pruning, vines need pulling, trees need feeding, shears need sharpening, ladders need climbing. And if there's a ladder, my dad will climb it - come hell or high water. The fruit trees beg for a haircut, and we oblige, clippers and saws in hand. I gather armfuls of fallen branches, their fat buds promising cherry blossoms in four week's time.
Labor Day comes and all I can do is plead for more time. More time to gather up overblown flowers into posies, to eat ice cream by the tall ships, to let the sun brown my shoulders. I am spoiled by the softness of warm nights and by the delight of waking with the sun.
I always find the last days of summer heartbreaking, and this year they've been all the more poignant. My father is fighting cancer with characteristic stoicism, confronting a huge operation last week with quiet confidence and stunning matter-of-factness. We (his adoring fans) dote on him as he recuperates in the little pink bedroom of my girlhood, propped up with pillows and surrounded by dogeared copies of Anne of Green Gables and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. How grateful we are to have him with us, and how often we find ourselves silently pleading with the gods - more time, more time.
Images: mine. Title: from Robert Frost's "Reluctance" (again).