Stitched, Scanned, and Restricted

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Recently, I came across one of those anonymous sayings that pop up on social media like prairie dogs in Texas:

Cherish your health:
If it is good, preserve it.
If it is unstable, improve it.
If it is beyond what you can improve, get help.

And I remembered.

Walking with vigor and strength through an afternoon of erratic March weather, I felt light-headed, thought, “Whoa,” and caught a close-up glimpse of my scuffed shoe next to dirty snow.

I came to in a park a block away: my heart thumping, my vision crystallized, my walking faster. I looked around. How did I get here? Unable to remember, I continued striding across the snow-ruffled grass of the park, puzzling over my wet, muddy jeans and blood-stained jacket. What happened to me?

At home, I looked in a mirror at the ugly havoc on my forehead and mainly felt relief: At 5:00pm near a busy intersection in a town full of helpful people, I fell on my head, thrashed about in a muddy gutter like an upside-down turtle, scrabbled to my feet, and walked home, billowing blood, with no witnesses — and thus no need to explain my clumsiness or to pretend pluckiness. Whew.

Joel came home, looked at my head, and we went to the hospital. As the doctor stitched my forehead together, my comedienne husband asked if I would be too traumatized to cook dinner. Ha. Ha.

The next morning, I looked like I’d walked on the wild side: a blood-encrusted, cross-stitched wound, shades of purple, black, and green like the aurora borealis and a squiggle of red eyeball peering through massive swelling. Joel, ever happy to celebrate my life events, emailed a close-up photograph to family and friends. They all called, forcing repeated confessions of my inability to walk and think at the same time.

When the stitches were removed, an intern gave me good news: “Wow! Cool! Looks like the stitches stretched out a couple of wrinkles.” Perhaps he could team with my husband as the new Abbot and Costello.

Eventually, I stopped dwelling on my plummet to earth and my inability to remember. I thought I misjudged my step, turned my foot or tripped. So I was taken aback when my family doctor said she feared an underlying cause for my scarred forehead — potentially more serious than a lack of grace. She recommended tests and a cardiologist. I trusted her, so I agreed.

As I waited for the tests to be scheduled, I experienced strange symptoms: pressure in my nose, twinges in my chest, lightening striking my brain. Was that a hiccup or heart failure? Could a faulty aorta be causing my painful big toe?

But a second conversation with my doctor disconcerted me more than my imaginings: “Janet, I talked with the cardiologist; he said you shouldn’t drive until you’ve had the tests and see him. You could blackout again and harm yourself or others.”

Because I feared being a little old lady who passed out and drove through the window of a Denny’s restaurant, I obeyed. Grounded for four weeks, I was monitored, scanned, x-rayed, and stressed. Electrodes and wires became my fashion accessories and please-hold-still-and-don’t-cough my new pastime.

Finally, only one procedure remained before I could reclaim my car keys: a test of the electrical current in my heart. If problems were found, I would awaken with a pacemaker.

A pacemaker? Me? Ridiculous. I cherished my health. I worked to protect it. I did things to improve it. How could I need help?

Self-perceptions can change overnight. But that’s another story.

Sound Advice?

Most of my writing workshop instructors etched write what you know on their foreheads. I believed them. Stephen King didn’t. Nor did the authors of Harry Potter, Cold Mountain, The Lord of the Flies and The Hobbit. So, unsure of the general applicability of the advice, I hesitated to share it with my students. Then Nathan Englander, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for literature, addressed my incomplete understanding of the concept, resolved my conflict and informed my teaching:

“Write what you know isn’t about events. It’s about emotions. Have you known love? jealousy? longing? loss? Did you want that Atari 2600 so bad you might have killed for it? If so, it doesn’t matter whether your story takes place in Long Island or on Mars – if you’re writing what you know, readers will feel it.”

Often, young writers in my classroom clutched their pencils and wore pained expressions as they struggled with an assignment; so I’d help them discover any knowledge, experience or emotional involvement they had with the topic. I used a technique I first tried with 4th graders who had to write about farm animals during a practice for district-wide testing. Some of my students lived on a farm. Many did not.

I wrote the topic on the board and added key words for my connections to it: “When I think about the assignment, farm animals, I remember visiting my uncle. His dark, smelly coop full of squawking chickens scared me. I picture horses running in a field and think of how I wanted one when I was your age. I also remember a talking cow on a TV commercial that made me laugh.

I told them I now had three ideas I knew I could write about and added, “I think I’ll write about cows. They still make me laugh. Can you tell me some funny things about cows I could use in my writing?” I heard about mooing cows, stubborn cows, drooling cows, cow patties, bucking cows and flies on cows. When Dix bellowed, “Yeah, and teats on cows,” I decided to move the lesson along: “Thanks for helping me. I have lots of ideas about cows for my writing.”

Next, I asked them to tell me about other farm animals and how they felt about them. I accepted and probed their responses before giving them time to write. They created vivid and lively stories, so we assembled them in a class book, which they read and reread all year. On occasion, I thumbed through it as well and always read my cow story.

As I continued to use the association technique, I noticed age and environment impacted the connections students made. When rural elementary children in Utah brainstormed ideas on the topic of light, they quickly offered sun, moon, stars, sunset, birthday candles, and Christmas tree lights. The first connections made by junior high students in Carson City, Nevada, included traffic lights, head lights, casino lights, and lighting a cigarette.

But, always, the best writing resulted when I asked my young writers how they felt about the associations they offered and why.

Soon, I, too, had write what you know etched on my forehead.

IMG_0341

Seventh-grader Dean allowed me to use his connections to the topic January in teacher workshops. His resulting piece was rated advanced on the district assessment. Can you guess what he wrote about?

How Big Is Your Vehicle and How Powerful Do You Feel?                       

 

female trucker

 

My mind boggled when I heard an NPR report about a study published in the Journal of Psychological Science. Researchers found that most people feel powerful when they sit behind immense desks, in sizeable SUV’s, and on overstuffed chairs. So, evidently, while I’m sitting in a commodious recliner, I forget I’m a senior citizen with sciatica and think I’m Henry the Eighth.

Furthermore, according to the research, when we feel powerful, we tend to lie, steal, cheat and commit traffic violations. So my truck’s to blame for my tendency to park illegally? And my chair’s responsible when I assure Joel dinner will be ready in ten minutes when I know it will be thirty?

My head buzzed with questions: Does our tendency to abuse imagined power depart once we’ve exited our easy chair, six-foot desk, or four-wheel-drive vehicle? Or does it last until a week from Saturday? Also, does our own size matter? Who would be more likely to speed and ignore stop signs when driving a Humvee: Jennifer Aniston or Shaquille O’Neal? And finally, did all the research subjects lie, steal, cheat, and park illegally, or did some of them specialize?

I’d specialize. I’d lie. Or, better said, I’d resume lying. But while I’d like to blame a desk, car, or chair for the lies I’ve told during my lifetime, doing so would be like saying mountains make me feel small and insignificant; therefore they cause my overeating.

Is that the face of a liar? Couldn’t be.

When young, I never thought, “I’m feeling powerful today, so I’ll tell Mom that Bob made me eat all the cookies” Rather, I told lies to escape punishment. As I teenager, I lied to entertain, persuade, smooth awkwardnesses, and avoid hurting my friends’ feelings.

My worst lies flowed, not from power, but from weakness when I felt unimportant, disappointed in myself, or fearful of losing my parents’ approval. I regret those lies.

I forgive myself for social mistruths — my puffed-up term for little white lies. I’ll never tell a friend, “Yes, your butt looks big in those jeans, but, really, your butt is big.” A relative who habitually runs late will never know that while I wait for her, I want to scream, swear and attack her doll collection. And when an apologetic stranger runs over my toe with a shopping cart, I’ll choose to respond, “No problem; I’m fine,” rather than prolonging the encounter by telling the truth: “It hurt like hell, and I’ll have a bruise until Christmas.”

My regrettable tendency to ease situations by lying has decreased as my years have increased. I no longer tell my doctor that I followed her advice when I didn’t, the trooper that I thought I was going the speed limit, or my siblings that I don’t care if I lost the game because they cheated. Mostly, these days, I only lie to myself, and I’m ashamed when I do so.

One more confession: I’ve always been innocent of the claims made in the Journal of Psychological Science. I never, ever, told a lie because I was behind a large desk or sitting in or on any object of considerable size. Unless you count my posterior.

Rediscovering Summer

Summer: when parents push strollers through mellow evenings; laughter drifts across backyard fences; and multitudinous shades of geen shimmer in all directions.

Under the sun of summer, I’m less obsessed by what to fix for dinner and how well I slept. I stand taller, breathe easier and open more readily to spontaneity, idle chit-chat and stray dogs.

Yesterday while running errands, I stopped to visit with a friend well into her eighth decade. “I love this time of year; it makes me feel like a child again,” she said. “I used to spend my summers helping with chores mostly, but when I had time I studied anthills, watched butterflies, listened to bird song, scanned the night sky for fallings stars and walked barefoot on cool grass. There are few summers left to me now, and I like to spend them doing those same things.”

Later, remembering her words, I thought about my childhood excitement when the bus pulled away from our elementary school, and we chanted, “No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks.” School and winter were vanquished; summer would never end; and the rituals of a Lake Shore childhood could begin.

To pass a self-imposed test of endurance and nerve, my siblings and I walked barefooted outdoors in the heat of the day on all available surfaces — course gravel, asphalt, the sharp edges of salt grass, baked mud and the chicken run — hopping and complaining unthinkable. When not testing our bare-foot bravado, we timed each other to see who rode the bike to the end of the lane and back the fastest. When a treacherous rut toppled us mid-ride, we wore our scabbed knees and elbows as badges of honor.

We dove or belly-flopped into the chlorine-heavy water of Arrowhead Pool and swam as far as we could underwater, carefully marking one another’s progress. Riding bareback and double, we guided our horse along country lanes framed by sugar beets and alfalfa. Those who rode behind tried not to hold on to the rider in front, even during a gallop, but usually did. When eating watermelon, we saved the heart of our piece to eat last so we could mock those less disciplined whose last taste was gnawed rind.

We held buttercups under one another’s chins, checking to see who liked butter, and split the ends of dandelion stems with our tongues, sucking on them until they curled up like a slinky. We plucked petals from daisies to discover if he loved us or loved us not and made dolls from hollyhock blossoms, which, more often than not, we threw at each other.

When young, one day melted into another and summer seemed endless. But, inevitably, our childhood summers yielded to the responsibilities and restraints of adulthood. Then, as we busily accomplished stuff, June, July and August raced by like crazed carousel horses; and we didn’t notice.

Now, like my friend, retirement has restored summer to me. Once again, I have time to focus on the elusive smell of honeysuckle, the cool breath of an evening breeze, the sight of goldfinches jostling for position on a bird feeder and the voices of children riding their bicycles pell-mell to the pool.

My summer days will never again slow to the pace they kept during my childhood, but my pleasure in them has been renewed — and they are as delicious as ever.

Oh To Be a Child in Spring                       

It pleased me when winter finally gave way to spring and children came out to play. As daytime temperatures responded to an insistent sun, young bicyclists, wearing smiles, swarmed outdoors and turned my neighborhood into a colony of happy bees.

Two sisters pedaled along the sidewalk: both in dresses with bows in their hair, both on bicycles with the shine of Christmas presents, and both singing in clear young voices. Joel and I, discussing the green shoots battling winter’s silt in our flowerbeds, stopped talking and listened. Riding together, singing together, the young cyclists echoed happiness back to us.

Then three pre-adolescent boys hooted derisively when a fourth, the last to try, attempted to jump his bicycle onto our curb and nearly toppled. Shrugging his shoulders, the youngster laughed, accepted their judgment, then pedaled after them ready to try again.

A helmeted child, relying on the security of training wheels, rode ahead of his bicycling parents and, in response to their forceful and repeated demands, stopped at the corner. When I caught his eye, he gave me a shy wave and a grin, clearly communicating, “Look at me; I’m riding a bike!”

In addition to the bicyclists, I watched teenagers down the block, a boy and his older sister, playing a hoopless basketball game in the street and following their own rules. They dribbled aggressively, guarded illegally and made fun of one another. Laughing, bumping, yelling “No fair” and stopping only when a car invaded their court, they played all day.

In the afternoon, I walked by Breeze Park where newly installed playground equipment of many colors and tiers hosted children of all ages who swung, climbed, crawled and slid on its interconnected pieces. Some inhabited the playhouse where they filled their pretend play with intense conversations and indignant corrections of one another’s behavior.

Toddlers, plopped down to play in the soft fill below the equipment, and older children competed to be first to swing their bodies across long stretches of overhead bars. Those too young to have cars and too sophisticated to play on the equipment, gathered to sit on picnic tables and exhibit teenage behaviors. Parents watched, encouraged, coaxed and caught as dogs chased frisbees across the newly greened grass in the background.

When I was a child playing the first softball game of spring in our pasture, I got into a shouting match with my brother Bob about whether my foot had been on the base when I tagged him at first: an argument I was bound to lose. Finally, giving up, I told him he was stupid, smelled like a barnyard, and I wasn’t playing his dumb game. Then I stormed into the house, slamming the screen door behind me.

After a few minutes, Bob yelled it was my turn to bat. Face saved by this peace offering, I returned to the game. But I didn’t escape retribution: As I picked up the bat, he added, “You didn’t have to be such a big bawl baby, though.” This time, I quietly accepted his words because he was right; it was a nature-bursting day; and I couldn’t stay angry.

Children know how to welcome spring.

Things I Miss 

The fifties may have been a simpler time, but they weren’t all birthday cake and ice cream. I remember crouching under my desk, hearing my heart thump and my teacher’s hose rub as she patrolled the classroom during an atomic bomb drill. Then, the next day, she distributed iodine tablets my classmates and I obediently swallowed once a week to prevent goiters; we thought taking a pill was better than a large lump that bulged from our necks so that folks mistook us for turkeys.

That was fun?

My past wasn’t all cowering and goiters, however, and I miss many things that filled my childhood with pleasure. For example, I loved the shiny aluminum tumblers that crowded a shelf in our kitchen. When filled with cold beverages, the tumblers frosted over like windshields on a below-zero morning and made everything — grape Kool-Aid, tomato juice, homemade root beer, even water — taste better.

The tumblers also had the added benefit of being light and unbreakable; so when my siblings and I forgot our manners and hurled them at one another, they bounced off without inflicting I’m-telling-Mom damage. Best of all, their bright red, blue, green, and gold shimmer felt like holding a bit of Christmas every day.

I’d also like to hear the whirling clickety-click of a hand-pushed lawnmower again — though I wouldn’t want to push it. The soft, rhythmic sound of a rotary mower symbolized summer for me as much as bird song, butterflies, and sunburn. I even enjoyed the battles my brothers waged before the quiet clickety-clicks commenced: “It isn’t my turn. It’s yours. I mowed last week. I’m not mowing it, and you can’t make me!”

Sitting with my sister Barbara in our Radio Flyer

Sitting with my sister Barbara in our Radio Flyer

For more than a decade, a 1940’s-era little red wagon, a Radio Flyer, served as an all-purpose toy for my siblings and me. We pulled each other in it, dumped each other out of it, and threw snowballs from behind it. We used it to transport garden produce to the house and to parade Barbara, costumed as Betsy Ross stitching a flag, along our small town’s main street on the 4th of July. Periodically, we tried to give our resident dogs, cats, and chickens the pleasure of a ride in it so they’d return the favor, but the dogs were uncooperative, the cats mean, and the chickens crazy.

Five years later on the first day of school: same wagon, new Bray baby named Blaine

Five years later on the first day of school: same wagon, new brother named Blaine

Bob and I once spent an afternoon playing a delightful game of our invention with the wagon: I ran evasive patterns with it as fast as I could while Bob tried to ram it with an old lawn mower. Mom ended our fun when she saw us putting Barbara in the wagon to increase the excitement. I miss this indestructible wagon, though now I’d probably plant petunias in it.

I complained about cranking our Dazey butter churn as a child, but I actually enjoyed making butter. First, I turned the handle listlessly, thinking my life would end before the cream in the jar began to look milky. Then, when it did, I spun the handle with vigor, making its paddles whirl and blur. Soon, tiny, yellow specks danced by the glass before gathering into bigger and bigger clumps of gold until I declared myself a winner and proudly carried the churn to Mom.

Aluminum tumblers, rotary lawn mowers, a little red wagon, and a butter churn. Everyday items that enriched my childhood. But the thing I miss most from my past is my younger self. And she’s never coming back.

To see some of the interesting things people remember fondly and collect, buy, or sell go to: http://www.invaluable.com/collectibles/pc-BQWOG3FLWY/.

The Important Things

Happy Mother's day card with colorful tulips

I remember coming home from church on Mothers’ Day, looking forward to dinner and Mom’s surprise when she opened her presents — a cookie sheet, a three-pack of Dentyne chewing gum, and a boxed set of lace-trimmed handkerchiefs — gifts my siblings and I had purchased despite Mom’s claim that all she wanted was a day without fighting, screaming, tattling, or crying.

As Dad maneuvered the car along our potholed lane, I admired Mom’s bouquet: tissue-paper flowers we’d made in Sunday school, sprayed with Lily of the Valley perfume, and attached to pipe-cleaner stems. During general services, after selected classmates expressed appreciation for their mothers, the rest of us distributed the scented blossoms. “Your flowers are pretty, Mom. Hard to make, too. Did you like the speeches?”

“I did, but I hope if one of you is asked to speak on Mothers’ Day, you’ll mention things you appreciate other than the way I cook your meals, clean the house, and do your laundry. Surely there are things mothers do for their children more important than maid service.”

Unfortunately, I was never selected as a Mothers’ Day speaker and so never told Mom how grateful I am for the more important things she did for me.

My mother shaped me: She gave me her generous lips, sparse eyelashes, enjoyment of school, and belief that a day without dessert was a sad day indeed. Both of us could carry a tune, though no one in our songbird family expressed interest in hearing us do so. Public speaking, teaching, and napping came naturally to us, but a cheerful attitude before breakfast did not.

More importantly, Mom noticed and appreciated the detailed world around her. One of my earliest memories is of her teaching me to be in the moment: to swish my fingers through the cool pond where we gathered watercress, sniff the plant’s pungent aroma, and then sample a peppery leaf.

When we moved to Lander, Wyoming, I heard her marvel at the tilted red cliffs, rushing river, and towering pines of our new home and so paid closer attention than I would have if left to my self-centered teenage ways.

She once showed me a spoon she selected when she and her siblings were choosing keepsakes after their mother died. “Of all the things I chose, I treasure this the most,” she said, holding out a large silver spoon for my examination. “This was your grandmother’s stirring spoon for as long as I can remember. See how the curved edge on one side is worn flat from constant use? When I hold this spoon, it’s like I’m connected to her.”

My mother also taught me empathy. My sister and I both fled to her at different times when marriages we thought were forever crumbled. We arrived wounded, angry, frightened, and left with a sense of peace and resolution. Neither of us can remember Mom’s words, but we remember the gifts she gave us: our favorite foods, her undivided attention when we wanted to talk, and her tears when we cried.

Though my mother didn’t speak the words “I love you” easily, I never questioned her love for me. My siblings and I learned from her, enjoyed her, and appreciated her. Her home was where our hearts were.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. You did the important things.

National Poetry Month

poetry month

My uneven experiences with poetry started with Mother Goose.

I admired the little girl who had a little curl; and when she was bad, she was horrid. But I questioned Little Jack Horner’s IQ: with an entire Christmas pie to himself, he ate only the plum?

Then, during a lesson on rhyme, my fourth-grade teacher at Lake Shore Elementary had us write a couplet using the word day at the end of the first line. Inspiration struck:

The sun was shining bright that day
To cheer the birth of Janet Bray

When I read it aloud, my classmates giggled, and I decided to become a famous poet.

I abandoned my career plans in 5th grade, however, when Mr. Ralphs corrected me for saying “poyme.” He told me to repeat his pronunciation, “pome” three times, and then had the entire class chant it three more.

In high school, my exacting English teacher, Mrs. Cornaby, wondered why her students from Lake Shore said “pome” when the word was correctly pronounced “po-em.” “Is there something in Lake Shore’s water?” she wondered with a smile.

A few days later, when I answered a question in class and said “po-em,” she winked at me, and I returned to poetry.

College brought weighty discussions about the symbolism, significance, imagery and universal meaning of assigned poems. Students volunteered ideas until someone said what the teacher wanted to hear. The chosen idea was then expanded on in a lengthy lecture, and the students stopped thinking.

I gave up on poetry again, until my junior year when my roommate, a literature major, rescued me with the poetry of E.E. Cummings. His unique phrases danced with musicality and fascinated me:

“Anyone lived in a pretty how town
and up so floating many bells down.”

I continued to read poetry on my own, but never tried to write it. Then, four years ago, I started meeting with a group of poets whose work made me laugh, reflect, and feel. These good people gave me the motivation to write poems of my own and the courage to share them.

So, in honor of National Poetry Month and my poetry group, I’ve chosen to conclude with one of my efforts. Don’t bother looking for symbolism or universality. To do so would waste your time.

Dismissal

On a sun-dominated day
we hiked in cadenced silence
above a long-nosed jump where
in a ski-town’s season
winter-bright birds swoop then
soar in flashes of neon plumage.

A squared-off snout
led two cautious eyes and attentive
ears through the undergrowth
ahead then peered both ways along the
path like a parent-programmed child.

In the absence of heavy traffic,
the bear’s considered judgment
discarded us as distant-harmless
and launched its shaggy bulk
into a bowlegged shamble
up the path where we held breath.

Before the source of our
amazement popped away
into the far-side cover
of inter-woven brush and tree
the creature sent its disregards
by mooning us for thirty yards.

Achieving Relaxation

As I cradled a bowling ball and tried to look confident, my teacher reminded me to extend my arm forward, then smoothly move it down, back, and forward again in rhythm with my steps, maintaining eye contact with my selected point throughout, and releasing the ball at the optimum moment. He then added, “And relax; don’t forget to relax.”

Did he really think I could relax while remembering his instructions, coordinating my appendages, and worrying about the rear view I’d offer to fellow bowlers and innocent bystanders alike?

Doctors advise me to breathe deeply and relax as much as possible before beginning an invasive, unpleasant, or embarrassing procedure witnessed by a nurse, an anesthesiologist, two student interns, and three anatomical charts. Might as well tell a lobster in boiling water to sing an aria.

I’m also told to relax when stretching. Lithe exercise instructors twist their willowy bodies into pretzels while informing their students that stretching requires relaxation.

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Obviously, this is not a self portrait: no frowning face, no quivering limbs.

I sprawl on my back, lift a leg, clutch it above the knee, and pull desperately, trying to stretch the inflexible limb toward my body while pointing my toes as instructed.

“Doesn’t that feel wonderful?” the teacher croons as my leg muscles — tense from my heroic efforts to relax —quiver, twitch, and spasm.

I’ve heard that a relaxed gait helps when hiking. I used to hike with a friend who floated up the intimidating mountains of Colorado with a serene expression on her face and a glide to her steps, every muscle loose. I, on the other hand, grabbed my climbing pole in a death grip, staggered like Lurch, and told myself if I took twenty more steps, I could sit down and think of ways to hurt my slithering friend.

14'ner lake

Trying to look relaxed, but achieving only a grimace: I still have to hike back down.

When trying to teach me to ski, my former husband told me to tighten this, tighten that, then relax and go. How the hell do you simultaneously tighten and relax?

Of all those who’ve said I need to relax, only one has told me how to do so. During a stress-reduction class, the teacher suggested that when sleep eluded me, I should take a deep breath through my nose, fill my lungs completely, then exhale through my mouth so forcefully the escaping air whooshed and whistled. After five repetitions, the optimist promised, I’d relax and fall asleep like a model in a sleeping-pill ad.

Filled with hope, I tried deep breathing the next night. I didn’t drift off with a smile on my face and a giant butterfly floating around my head; but I did alarm Joel, who thought we’d been invaded by a troop of whistle pigs.

My dad developed a relaxation procedure that helped him fall sleep during the years his shifts alternated around the clock and his children battled outside his bedroom. When I complained to him after a night during which I fidgeted and fumed, he divulged his secret: “I relax every muscle in my body, one after the other, starting with my ears and working down; so far, I’ve fallen asleep before I had to loosen up my toes.”

Relaxed ears? Loose toes?

I’ll just go on whistling.

When Will It Happen?

We couldn’t stop talking about it.

We looked through frost-free windows at visible ground, walked ice-less sidewalks, drove cars without brushing away snow, and talked about the unseemliness of these actions.

When we met, we exchanged words like unseasonal, unbelievable, eerie, and bizarre.

We questioned long-time residents: “When was the last time you saw fall fade into winter with so little snow?”

Their answers lacked consensus.

Each morning, when I raised the blinds and looked out at a scene more typical of March, I gaped in disbelief: a baby surprised by every peek-a-boo. Confused plants didn’t know whether to die or live, the grass looked over-exposed, and dormant shrubs seemed stark without a layer of snow to soften them.

Around town, lonely roof rakes leaned at the ready below unburdened eaves, and children without jackets wandered at will on bicycles usually stored in a garage by now. At the hardware store, new snow blowers wearing red coats of paint looked embarrassed, as though shamed by their lack of customer appeal.

Joel and I compared this year’s weather with four years ago when our children and grandchildren visited. They skied, skated, fanned arms and legs for snow angels, leaped out of the hot tub to roll in snowdrifts, and flew down hills on anything that would slide.

They built two snowmen: a sophisticated fellow with expressive features from the older crowd and a startling, headless version from the little ones who managed to drop six heads trying to lift them into place.

This year, had they visited, we’d have worn out all the board games first and then one another’s patience.

As we moved toward Thanksgiving, I thought about our lack of snow; and a flood of questions popped into my head:

When will it happen? How long will it last? How deep will it be?

Will we remember how to behave when our world turns white?

Will enough snowpack accumulate to meet our needs? Will the Yampa River flow enlivened and refreshed next spring or move cautiously to hoard its sparse lifeblood?

Then it happened. On Thanksgiving morning we looked out at a white carpet spread over yards, streets, and houses. By Christmas, plowed ridges of snow lined streets and blocked sidewalks; parking lots held heaps of scraped snow shaped by snowplows. Vehicles crept cautiously on snow-packed streets, and hungry deer foraged for inaccessible food.

buck in snow

A common sight during Craig’s long winters

And — when not complaining about freezing temperatures or unavoidable fender-benders — we gave thanks for the abundant snow now gracing our mountains.

Yampa in winter

A partially frozen Yampa after our first snow