I’ve made it through February, though it began with deep freezing temperatures and is leaving with a burst of freezing rain and fierce wind; yesterday I could hardly stop my skis from flying, and my four-year-old students fought just to stay standing. We went inside after one surprisingly fast run.
As March is beginning I’m thinking of melting snow and robins’ songs, though these things are bound to be a few weeks away still. The other day at the Sunrise Cafe–a small, bright yellow building where I’ve been finding refuge from the resort in lavender scones and lattes–I overheard a customer yearn for spring. She said to the owner, “I’m ready to smell the earth!”
I thought, “Oh! Me too!” and looked out the window to the snow-covered ground, the white flakes sifting down again, the cold peaks of Madonna and Sterling, and the ridge line across the notch running up to Mt. Mansfield, all of it smelling of ice and evergreen. Even if the mud is not here yet, the days are stretching out and steadily giving the evening hours back to the sun.
This extra light makes me think of summer, especially, and ironically, of the nighttime. Even though I saw the world longer each day in the Alaskan summer, the sound of crickets and the lighting of fireflies are part of my internal landscape. My thirst for warm darkness, moonlight, and dew drops in dawn will be quenched again in Vermont.
After spending over half a year away, I wonder how much has changed. It seems so long since I’ve been home, even now after four months. I need more than one season to feel steady and settled into a place. When I was in New Zealand, I read a poem in a Wellington bookstore that spoke to this. It goes like this:
If you want more than to brush your face
against nature, eyes clinging briefly to swatches
of sky, their blues deepening as you watch,
hit-and-missing leaves, damp paintings
patched seamless together—if you want more
than the quick epiphany of a hill line
breaking free of houses, you have to
walk the same route each day.
To know a second before the way a view
opens like a fan and close perspective crumbles,
to acquire a memory of verges and stones
where a snake may pour over your foot,
or a spray of butterflies playing chest-high,
engulf you at a sudden turn;
to feel circling through you, sequence:
how the small yellow, freckled as the common
orchid, cedes to blue-and-zebra, and both precede
the black, primadonna rare, big as a bat—
to know this cycle better than you know
your neighbour, you have to walk
the route each day.
To feel each missed occasion as a lover’s absence
short-changing the body: pumps, pulleys,
mainspring linked to the fragile, falling chemistry
of your spirits; to read the sharp calligraphy
of birds carved on the air, to ambush
nature into telling, you need to stay
in one place for more than a year.
This poem resounded so clear within me that I bought the book: Porcelain, by Diana Bridge. At the time I read it, I had been moving from one town to another almost every three days and beginning to question how much I could actually see at this pace. Reading “The Route” now, I feel that same understanding and desire to root myself to one place for a long time so as to know the tiny movements that make up a whole mysterious world.
When was the last time I stayed in one place for an entire year? And what constitutes a place? A town? A region? A state? A country? Even as a child we left the state to visit family in Massachusetts and New York, or to go on vacations in Mane, Washington, British Colombia, Virginia, Florida, England, Ireland. Within me is a seed for travel that I have nourished and watered all of my life. Now I feel another thing growing that asks for different care: quiet movement and wide eyes, deep breaths, stillness and the awareness of each small piece of life around me.
Still I ask: does the landscape ever really stop and start again, dividing itself into different places, or does it go on and evolve, merging into itself as my own arm merges into my hand into my fingers, all dependent on one another and moving in conjunction with the whole. What does it mean to stay in one place when you see the world as the body, curving, breathing, and seamlessly moving from one part to another? Then again, what does it mean when the fingers can feel in a way the knee cannot, and the ankle rolls and supports independently from the extension of the elbow?
Perhaps it comes down to this: I can only know what I can see, feel, taste, smell and hear. A place goes as far as I am willing to walk. As deep as I am willing to dive.