Posts Tagged ‘solstice’

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

January 1, 2013

Being Resolute

After a break of many months, I’ve decided to return to this blog. This isn’t a New Year’s resolution, exactly, but it something I’ve been holding in my mind for some time now, waiting for when it seemed right to start again. Now, with the New Year and with a bit more than a week of Winter Break behind me and a week more to go, it seems like a good time.

My goal is to shift the direction of the blog a bit. Over the last few years, I found myself writing too much about friends who had died, and part of my silence here has been to take a break from that element of the blog. More than that, I am at a point when I’m looking at a major change of life—still a couple of years out, but closing fast—and I needed some time to feel right about writing about that change—retirement from my long years of teaching developmental writing and beginning a new venture, which I hope includes all the elements of this blog: horses, gardens, dance, poetry, the psyche. To write about this, I need to be more willing than in the past to admit to a few facts about myself, including how I feel about reaching a “certain age.”

So, in this time of resolutions, here’s a new start for Mattie’s Pillow: an exploration of how to change one particular life (dragging a few others along in the process) in a way that what lies ahead draws on all the things I love to do and do well. This may include the purchase of land for enterprises involving horses and gardens; it may involve some retooling and reorienting towards a new profession; and it will definitely include musings on simplification of this complicated busy life into a more sustainable one. I look forward to hearing from those of you who read this blog about how you have approached the process of life changes at any age and about helpful hints along the way.

In the meantime, things putter along here at Mattie’s Pillow. Mattie and Sam and I came through the summer happy with weekly lessons with Colleen in her new facility, Drouin Springs. In spite of his trickster nature, I was able to get a full summer’s worth of riding on Sam, no lameness, and he never managed to buck me off—not for want of trying. Mattie has developed more looseness in her stifle joint—the equivalent of our knee joint in her hind leg—which means that her left hind leg twists as she walks. In June, Tom put shoes on her hind feet that extended out from the hoof on the outside to make her balance her stance better and had a jar caulk on the inside—a weapon of a bar welded to the bottom of the shoe to dig into the ground and keep her from sliding her hoof or twisting it on the ground. She seems more stable with the shoes, though she’s always been a barefoot girl and hates the process of nailing them on. By the end of summer, she seemed stronger than ever and far more stable in her gaits.

Now, they’re on break and shaggy and bored. The last few days, the temperatures have risen to near freezing, and I’ve been able to spend time with them, longeing and grooming, and having their feet trimmed. As spring comes and the light returns, I’ll be getting them ready for another summer. Can’t wait!

The days are short now. We have several hours of lingering sunrise and sunset with three hours of sun above the horizon. It sounds so dreary to write this, but it’s actually lovely—the light on the snow reflects in shades of blue. The sky is streaked with orange and purple morning and night. The snow sits in puffs along the branches of the spruce and birch and willows, and redpolls and chickadees flit here and there. A deep peace settles in the woods here on the ridge, and I wouldn’t trade it for a night in Times Square, New Year’s or no.

To all of you who read this, may you go forward into the new year with confidence and hope of joy. We’ve survived an election, some storms, an apocalypse, and that cliff thing. Some sorrow, some joy. We continue on.

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Poetry Challenge 76

January 22, 2012

The long cold drags on.  We were warned.  I read in the paper last summer that we were in a La Nina cycle, which would mean long cold spells and little snow.  Here in the Interior, we’ve missed the 18 feet of snow they’ve had in Cordova on the coast.  What we get is the fine, dry stuff, the moisture freezing out of the air and falling in a thick mist over the backs of horses, fenceposts, car windshields and anything else that’s out there.

But it’s warmed a bit and today I spent a couple of hours raking and shoveling manure out of the corral, stockpiling for the summer’s compost.  And the light lingers longer, too, well past 4pm; after all, we’re a month past solstice, the darkest day of the year.  And I’ve already looked at seed catalogs online–tomatoes so plump and red, the lovely ruffles of mesclun lettuce–and I’m studying plans for swallow boxes to go up on the hill behind the house.  A little fantasy vacation to the summer to come.

It will be cold again this week–40 below at night–and the blankets are airing out, ready to go back on the horses.  We have plenty of chocolate and split birch wood.

So here’s the challenge: write about the days ahead, referring to the details of the day you’re in.  What is in flux?  What red tomato image holds you steady through this post-solstice time.  Use a vegetable in the poem.

————————

Karen from KD’s Bookblog sent this:

Trimming Leeks

Goodness lies
in cutting away
leathery greens,
lopping off rootlets
like idle talk.

What’s left recalls
a roll of white paper.
The leek master
chops it, wilts it
in sizzling butter. Adds
broth, slivered potato, cream.
Purees, seasons, serves
her soup with thick slices
of sourdough.

The empty bowl
cradles the spoon and
a whisper of lost parts.
In the dark kitchen
discarded stems
decay like new bones
in an old casket.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

January 6, 2012

The New Year

I had great plans for the winter break.

After the mad scramble to pull Christmas together—cutting the spruce tree from beside the horse trailer, baking three types of pie and marinating and roasting a fresh ham, decorating the tree, and wrapping then opening presents—we had a delightful dinner and sat around playing Apples to Apples till midnight Christmas night.

My plan was to spend the daylight part of each day, between 11:30 and 3, working with the horses, a reminder to them and to me that we had a partnership, that they weren’t just going feral for the rest of the winter.  But, instead, a mass of cold air descended on the Interior and we hunkered down under 30 to 40 below temperatures, stoking the woodstove, eating leftover pie, watching movies, and sleeping a lot.  Out in the corral, Mattie and Sam hung out in their run-in shed, snug in their heavyweight blankets and fresh shavings.  We brought them extra hay during the day, and I added brome pellets soaked in warm water to their usual dinner of soaked beet pellets and supplements.

My great plans melted into a dozy, slow time, interrupted by visits with friends and the occasional fiddling with cars to be sure they kept running.  When we ventured to town, everything seemed quiet except the coffee shop, filled with the people who hadn’t left town for the holidays, all a bit overheated from their layers of clothes, and talking rapidly from the caffeine.   Saturday night, New Year’s Eve, we went to the University fireworks display and stood in the 35 below air, watching the sparks boom and spray above our heads.  In the deep cold, the sound is magnified by the density of the air and the loud rocket bursts tingled our cheeks—all that was exposed—and vibrated the snow beneath us.  We stood, but some well-bundled folks lay back against a snow berm and watched the fireworks blossom in the dark sky above them.  Later, standing around a bonfire, we set off fire balloons or fire lanterns, and I thought of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “The Armadillo,” which has the lines:

This is the time of year
when almost every night
the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.
Climbing the mountain height,

rising toward a saint
still honored in these parts,
the paper chambers flush and fill with light
that comes and goes, like hearts.

Once up against the sky it’s hard
to tell them from the stars —
planets, that is — the tinted ones:
Venus going down, or Mars…

Something in this dark, cold time keeps turning my mind back to old familiar poems.  Later, when a fine light snow fell through the cold, drifting onto the horses’ blankets, and catching the porch light, speckling the night, I thought of Frost’s “Desert Places,” which starts with the lines “Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast, ” and ends with

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces

Between stars–on stars where no human race is.

I have it in me so much nearer home

To scare myself with my own desert places.

 I’m not usually one who makes a list of New Year resolutions.  As usual, I’ll make an effort to get back to my dance classes and winter indoor riding—what passes for an exercise routine—to work off the after effects of two weeks of pie eating.  And, in the weeks to come, as the afternoon lengthens and we have the promise of above zero temperatures, I’ll make the usual plans to get Mattie and Sam fit for summer riding.  The first day of class for the semester is still two weeks away, but I’ve taken on a new responsibility in my department—my resolution there is not to let it overpower the things I love about my life—and to do what I can to solve problems along the way.  And, for the most part, to keep that part of my life out of these posts—which are, after all, about the things that sustain me—horses, poetry, dance, gardening, and the things of the psyche.

Today it warmed up a bit.  It was only 10 below when I fed the horses tonight and we all—me, the horses, the poodle—felt a bit lighter-spirited because of it.  The forecast is for 40 below by the weekend, so I’m keeping the horses’ blankets on for now, keeping the fire going in the stove, getting a little more hunkering down done.   We’ve turned the year.

The Post of Don Sam Incognito

June 28, 2011

Summer seems to be rushing past.  Though it’s still June for a few more days, we’ve turned past the solstice and the weather has also turned from the hot dry days we had in May and early June to the gray rainy days we typically get in August.  In fact, all spring and summer, we’ve seemed to be at least a month ahead of our typical weather: May seemed like June, June like July, and now late June like August.  If this were truly a seasonal shift, the next step would be yellow leaves, dark nights, and impending frost.  But it is still June and we have all of July to go before August’s slow descent to fall.

 

Today it rained again, and I came home in drizzle to find Sam standing at the fence, gray from rolling and from kneeling in the dirt at the edge of the fence to get at the grass beyond.  His forelock hung in strings, plastered on his face, and his coat was thoroughly wet.  From the run-in shed, Mattie peeked her dark head out to see if I was bringing hay.  She had been hanging out in the back of the shed all day and her coat was dry.   Sam, on the other hand, seemed like a kid who likes nothing better than to splash in mud puddles.

 

Sam is showing his age a bit this year.  His back seems to have dropped slightly. His prominent withers seem even more so and the saddle that fit him well a couple of years ago, now puts pressure at the back of his withers, where they gradually slope into his back.  He’s now using Mattie’s saddle, and I am preparing to measure her for a new saddle.  He also is growing in a longer coat in the spring than he used to.  I’m reading up on Cushing’s, though he seems OK in every other respect.  He’s already on an insulin resistance diet, since Mattie is.

 

After last fall’s spectacular bucking fit, which sent poor Trish flying, I am not letting other people ride Sam.  I started out the season longeing both horses quite a bit to bring up their fitness levels, and I have taken half of the summer lessons on Sam.

 

Sunday, we went out to Colleen’s new horse facility—her dream place.  It was raining and I took Casey and Mikeala from Horsemasters with me.  Casey rode Mattie, which was good for Mattie’s training, and I rode Sam.  With Colleen in the center of the indoor arena, Sam kept one ear cocked in her direction.  She’s their vet, and they both have a high level of respect for her, as do I.

 

We worked on flexing at the poll.  Sam has a rubber neck, so he can bend two ways at once, neither of which happen to be the direction his rider wants him to take.   But he knows what to do when I ask him correctly.  At one point, we practiced moving laterally into the trot, then asking him to move out.  He bent his neck into collection and engaged the bit just right and stepped out into a full working trot.  I couldn’t see it, but I could feel how his back was working and he was stepping under himself and moving with energy.  Casey told me later that he looked great.

 

I’m hoping for him to have a good summer and that he and I trust each other as horse and rider.  After such a long and varied life, I think Sam wants to just have one person to relate to, and I am honored that he is trusting me.

 

Now, it’s feeding time.  He’s standing watch for the approach of hay, his coat soggy with rain.  He’ll whinny if I take too long, a sweet contralto whistle.  He stretches and bows as I approach and waits with his head bowed while I bring the flakes of hay.   I’ll scratch him on the withers and neck, then head over to the other side of the corral to feed Mattie.

 

A few more June days, then July.

Poetry Challenge 69

June 11, 2011

Something New

The growing season is in full swing here.  Everyday, some new wildflower that I hadn’t noticed growing bursts out into full bloom.  On the bank where I experiment every year with seeds and perennials, the irises I planted two years ago have speared up, bulged at the tips, and curled open into purple flowers.  The roses–our Alaskan wild rose–are dotted with pink blooms, and excess of pink on those bristly branches.  The bluebells are out, and the cone flowers, the invasive but beautiful purple vetch, and those yellow things that were in a packet of seed I threw out and that come back every year in a new place.

Solstice will be here soon, but, till then, the light increases daily and our activity reaches the manic–and we’re glad of it.  In the garden and in the greenhouse, I’m trying out new plants again–tomatoes friends have given me, a new variety of baby cabbage, and the ongoing biochemistry experiment of the manure compost.  Mattie and Sam are settling in to their new lesson routine–more on that when Sam writes his post again–and I have high hopes for the summer.

So write about something new–experienced or imagined.   Surprise us with what surprises you.  Tell about your grand experiment of the season.

Post it in here in comments and I’ll add it to this.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

December 21, 2010

Dark of the Year/Dark of the Moon

Tonight, Winter Solstice, a day when the energy seems sapped from the waking hours by the cold and the infringing dark.  Today, I glanced out a window at three in the afternoon and, from inside the lighted building,  it looked and felt like midnight.  Usually, I manage to be home around this day of the year–usually perched on a hard chair, coffee in hand, a stack of papers in front of me.  My eyes get blurry after a long session of this–a day or two, depending on the class load–and morning and night begin to merge.  But today, I was up and about, putting in a few hours on campus, advising students.   I was inside for the brief hours of sunlight.

Then, tonight, a shadow dented the moon, then spread over it till it was fully rusty.  We turned off all the lights in the house and went on the deck to watch the last bit of bright moon slip into shadow.   Across the hill, people turned off their lights–even the string of blue Christmas lights we can usually see high on the ridge across the road went dark.  From time to time, somewhere on the dark hillside, a camera flash lit up.

I stood in the twenty below air, in my Muck Boots, down vest, and wool sweater, very still, hands thrust in pockets for warmth.  As the moon darkened, the stars brightened, and gradually the sky seemed dusted with them, crisp against the black curve of space.  For a few moments, I could feel the depth of the galaxy, the universe, as if the strange darkening of the moon cast it all into perspective and I could sense clearly the way we’re falling through that infinite liquid emptiness.  Strangely, it’s a comforting feeling–as if I were reminded of a long journey we’re all on or brought back to focus on the long-way-to-go destination of it rather than the minutiae of getting there, such as waiting, ungraded papers.

Standing there in the unlit night, bareheaded in the cold, my hands deep in the pockets of my down vest, it seemed like a good time to reflect, re-evaluate, refocus on things that truly matter.   Meanwhile, Sam, in the corral, pushed his food dish around like a dog, wanting to get at the last crumbs.  He’s never lost sight of  what matters, as far as he’s concerned.

By the time New Year’s Eve rolls around, we’ll be easing back into the light, making our resolutions, thinking of the first seed catalogs to come.  Tonight is the turning point, and the psyche curls into  a hibernating ball, then stirs to stretch out into another year.

 

Poetry Challenge 60

December 18, 2010

Days away from solstice now.  The light is slaty blue in the deep afternoon–sundown around 3:30 and losing a minute and a half of daylight each day.  Temperatures hovering at around thirty below.  Things that don’t seem to belong together merge: the cold of metal feels hot to the touch; hands turn to flippers in  layers of gloves topped with mittens; the darkness holds light reflected in all directions by the white snow; the ice on the roads gains friction as the temperature drops; and deep in our drowsing psyches, some wild energy stirs, gives us dreams, reminds us of the extravagance of spring months away.  Someone asked what the brief time between sunrise and sunset should be called and I suggested “dawnset,” the state of daylight for us in the Interior this time of year.

So write about opposites merging, their energy, their resolution into a whole.  Or write a complaint about the deep bitter cold.

 

Dancing in the North

December 11, 2010

More Nutcracker

On Facebook, a friend posted a You Tube video of a Glass Armonica recording of the Sugar Plum Fairy. This music is unavoidable this time of year and in many bad renditions, but this one, played by rubbing wet fingers across spinning half globes of glass, caught the magic, the delicacy, and the precise optimism of the music.

I’m always brought back to the deeper threads of the Nutcracker at this time of year.  Last week, watching our Nutcracker, I paid special attention to the progression of Fairies in the piece.  First the Snow Fairy, in her crisp white tutu, surrounded with dancers in Romantic tutus—calf-length, floating with each movement.  The music swirls them along, and the pas de deux is energetic and full of anticipation.   Everything sparkles as Clara watches, and snow filters down on the bare backs of the swirling snowflakes.

The Snow Fairy is pristine, innocent, hopeful, glamorous—a young girl’s naïve dream of her adult self.  The Cavalier is gallant, lifting his white-tutued partner in shoulder-sits and jetes.  The choir joins in—angelic, anticipatory—and the Snow Fairy leads the group on through the spangled winter scene to all that lies ahead.

Then, after intermission, the Snow is gone, and we are in springtime—warm light, dancing flowers, and the busy flitting about of the Dew Drop Fairy.  I once heard Norman, directing a Dew Drop Fairy, say that she is his favorite role in the ballet—she is liquid, bursting with life, bringing the flowers to bloom.  And, at least in our version, she dances alone, touching the flowers as she passes, diverting their motion by her touch.  She welcomes Clara to the Land of Sweets with her newly humanized Prince (who’s no longer a wooden grotesque, the Nutcracker), and she introduces them to the Sugar Plum Fairy and her court.

For Clara, Dew Drop represents a path she could, but ultimately does not take—a solo female role, powerful in all the traditionally female attributes (the ballet is rooted in the 19th century, after all)—nurturing, creating order, displaying beauty in the flowers and in her own gorgeous tutu.  In our ballet, her tutu is a rich dark green with tear drop pearls and sequins on the crisp flat skirt.   She is self sufficient, but alone.  But Clara already has her bond with the prince and the puzzle of the second act is how she will fulfill the potential of this gift of a partner.

The Sugar Plum holds the key, and she presents Clara and the Prince with a series of alternatives: the sultry Spanish dance, with its intimations of the bull ring as the dancers pass and parry; the erotic Arabian dance, with its exploration of power and allurement and ultimate submission; and Mother Ginger, drawn from the Commedia del Arte image of the comic prostitute, the Old Woman in the Shoe, who has so many children she doesn’t know what to do—a cynical vision of adult womanhood that is comic in its cross-dressing exaggeration.  Clara and the Prince watch all this play out, and we move through these phases with them, the music subtly working on us to prepare us for the final choice—the Sugar Plum.

We are ready for her when she appears, having been soothed by the Waltz of the Flowers and the Dew Drop’s ability to restore order to the scene after the chaos of Mother Ginger’s appearance.  There is a pause in the music, and the Sugar Plum and her Cavalier appear.  The music darkens; at least it darkens beneath the upper registers, which still seem sparkly.  There is a longing, a poignancy to the music.  You sense that the Sugar Plum and her Cavalier have earned their moment in the ballet through some past series of sorrows and joys.  The lifts, turns, carries are done to rising themes in the music, as if they have triumphed, and the consequence of the triumph is the trust they display in their pas de deux.  They are both the feminine and masculine of experience—the sparkling, twirling Sugar Plum and the leaping, lifting Cavalier.  When the dance is finished, they present themselves to Clara, as if to say, “Here’s what a fully developed human life is like—incorporating the opposites of joy and sorrow, strength and delicacy, passion and restraint.”  The company dances the celebratory apotheosis, and Clara and the Prince stand together ready to accept the kingdom of Sweets as their own territory, ready to step into adulthood.

And we, the audience, watching the ballet in the coldest, darkest time of year, can be rejuvenated, as well, and sent back into the path of our own lives reminded of the possibility of living them so well that we incorporate the Sugar Plum and her Cavalier—sweetness and strength—into our own lives.  In the crisp, unforgiving cold and the perfect whiteness of snow, we remember spring and all there is to long for and nourish in the days to come.

Dancing in the North

December 5, 2010

The Nutcracker: a Prelude

 

A brief word on the Nutcracker, since our last performance will be today at 2 in Hering Auditorium.

Last night’s performance was radiant.  This year’s cast is a mix of upcoming North Star Ballet dancers, a couple of returning dancers, and guests at different stages of their careers.  Although the sets have been the same for over twenty years, they still remain fresh to me–it’s like entering a beloved childhood home, slightly distorted in the manner of dreams.

I have long wanted to write more on the Nutcracker, having written publicity articles on our local version of it for nearly 15 years now.   Since the Nutcracker season everywhere can extend from now to New Year’s, I’ll post a few meditations on the story and its archetypes and significances–at least as I see it.

Mostly, don’t dismiss the Nutcracker.  At the end of last night’s performance, I thought of how this ballet, unlike, say, Swan Lake, contains no tragedy (unless you are a mouse, that is), and that this lack of tragedy allows some viewers to dismiss it.  But for me, the ballet represents a rite of passage–for the dancers, for Clara/Marie moving from childhood to adulthood, and for us, the audience, watching this ritual ballet as we head into the darkest time of year.  Who wouldn’t want to go to the Land of Sweets and be ushered into the future by the ever-competent Sugar Plum Fairy?

I’ll be there this afternoon, tearing up as I always do–the gorgeous music with its dark undertones and its possibility of light and hope–and defending my bid on the ten-pound bag of organic carrots at the silent auction!

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

June 30, 2010

Rainy days now that the solstice is past.  We’re so greedy for light here in the Interior that we grumble about rain after three days of cloudy skies, even though the garden needs it and is drinking it up, transforming it into green.  We want sun in summer to make up for all the dark days of December and January.  We store up vitamin D—some sunny days I can feel it fizzing there under my skin, like a stockpile of caffeine saved for later.

But now it’s raining and gray.  Sam stands muddy in the corral, thinking up mischief.  He’s rolled and the freckles in his white coat blur beneath the gray mud crusted over his coat.  When the wind blows—or sometimes for no reason—he startles and bolts across the corral, while Mattie, on her side of the fence, breaks into the running walk, her fourth gait.

I’ve been in the greenhouse, transplanting tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers.  As they move from smaller pots to their final kitty litter buckets or five gallon buckets, the greenhouse first looks orderly, then crowded.  I’m giving away plants as fast as I can, but then another problem arises.  As I give away plants, I also give away dirt and I’m about to run out of last year’s potting soil, even mixed with this year’s composted manure.  Strange as it seems, I now need to buy potting soil to mix with the manure in order to have enough for all my plants.

Still, rainy afternoons in the greenhouse are pleasant, with their own rhythm.  I bring a go cup of hot tea with lemon and honey, then dig my arms up to the elbows in dirt, mixing last year’s soil, this year’s manure compost, some dolomite lime and fish bone meal.  All the while, I’m thinking of the meal it will provide the plants and how they, in turn, will provide meals for us.  In fact, in the greenhouse, separated from the phone, the radio, the computer—just the drip of rain on the fiberglass roof, and the sound of Sam walking by the corral fence, checking on what I’m up to—every part of this life makes sense.  I dig in the manure that Mattie and Sam produce from the hay we load out of our neighbors’ fields, thinking of tomatoes, so sweet and tart.  It’s not a perfect cycle—I have to buy more dirt after all, and I pay for the hay.  But it’s a cycle with its satisfactions.

And there are other satisfactions of life in the Interior.  Moments ago, I went to the back door, headed out to feed the horses, when I noticed something on the railing on the back stairs landing.  A Boreal owl, slatey brown, speckled with white.  It swiveled its head to look at me, yellow eyes that looked wide with surprise from the circle of feathers radiating out from each eye.  It didn’t move, but contemplated me, and I it.  Then it swiveled its head around, staring down at the wild strawberries that grow there.  I had time to find a camera and take one photo before it tilted its head down intently, fidgeted a little, then spread its wings to float down to land on a vole, nibbling on a strawberry.

I went out on the landing.  I could see the owl there behind the delphinium leaves, his head turned to look at me once again.  Then he gathered his wings and brushed the air and soared over to land on the cab of the truck.

I’ll keep an eye out for him again.  He’s too small to be a danger to my skittish new cat, but I’m glad for his help with the vole population.  Maybe I’ll get beets and carrots this year, not just the tops.


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