Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Happiness in the Kitchen Sink

We still have a frozen septics line, but we're in good company as almost everyone in the park has at least one frozen line or tank. It has been murderously cold the past few days, with wind chills down to -25 C. Luckily we are warm and cozy inside and can work around the frozen line. The park's bathroom is a bit of a hike to dump wastewater, but the site next to us is empty so we are simply pouring our dirty dishwater and leftover tea down the septic opening there.

I was washing dishes this morning, a pretty mundane chore, when I experienced one of those treasured moments of sheer happiness and utter contentment. And why not? If we wait for perfect circumstances before we allow ourselves to be happy we may never achieve it. Even though it was -15 outside the sun was shining and I had some nice music playing. Tony was snoozing on his bunk and the cat was blissed out on my bunk, sleeping with all four feet in the air. What could be more perfect?

I finally broke down and bought a bird feeder and seed. Almost everyone here feeds the quail. They are so fat they can barely waddle from site to site. But I want them to do more than run through our site on their way to the neighbour's. I want to be able to watch them close up. Hence the feeder.

It had been up for all of three minutes before two juncos discovered it. Two minutes later two quail noticed the juncos pecking at the seed I'd scattered on the ground under the feeder and they rushed over to get their share. In another two minutes there were a dozen quail packed as tightly as sardines, scratching and pecking at the grain. They seem to be little clowns. One picked up a twig and waggled it in the face of another and they played a bit of tug 'a war.

Today's birds; a yellow-shafted flicker, right outside the kitchen window in the apple tree, a pair of chickadees, about 100 quail, 10-15 slate-coloured juncos, and numerous sparrows, including the white crowned, which has a lovely song.

The cold will pass, eventually. We'll probably be at a much more comfortable temperature by this time next week.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Many A Cold Step Tonight

I know that winter death has never tried
The earth but it has failed; the snow may heap
In long storms an undrifted four foot deep
As measured against maple, birch and oak,
It cannot check the peeper's silver croak;
And I shall see the snow all go down hill
In water of a slender April rill....
From "The Onset" by Robert Frost

The winter death has descended on us and April's rills cannot come soon enough to suit me. Right now I'd settle for +2 degrees. The frost on the window is the frost on the window just above my bunk. The frost is between the outer window and the inner storm window, the outside window doesn't seal properly and condensation has formed on the glass. It's usually misted over first thing in the morning, this is the first time it's frozen.

Outside the wind is roaring in the bare limbs of the apple trees. We are at the crest of the hill, unprotected from the wind's teeth, which right now are biting at -21 degrees. It's blowing a steady 35 kmh with gusts to 53 kmh.

The snow has drifted high enough to be up over the ankles of my jeans. I've packed my winter boots so well that I can't find them, and snow wedges into my runners with each step.

Meanwhile hardy James, who, with wife Cathy owns and runs Bel-Air Cedars shoveled snow all day long, clearing not only the walks but the roads! Here he is, clearing the walk in front of the motel. What energy these two have!

There will be many a cold step tonight. While we are a comfy 72 degrees inside our dump line is frozen somewhere, leaving us without a way to dump the septic tank. What you can't dump you can't use, hence a block's walk to and from the bathroom every time.... oh, it's going to be a long and bitter night.

Being inexperienced in the ways of winter trailering, and reading the weather forecast a few days ago, we sought the advice of the RV repairman as to whether we needed to insulate and heat the dump valve and line. He assured us that it was unnecessary, as the sewer lines don't freeze up. (Right)

He's coming as soon as he can get here, which will probably be tomorrow, as he was on his way to repair a failed furnace when I talked to him. He will regret his advice. Yes, he will be paid to do the job, but how much is cleaning out a frozen sewer pipe worth, when the temperature is -15, maybe -25 with wind chill? You couldn't pay me enough to get me to do that willingly.

Later: In a clear demonstration of James' devotion to his "snowbirders", he showed up at our door as soon as it was too dark to shovel snow. He spent an hour in the bitter cold trying to fix our problem, without success, but not for lack of trying. Gary, the RV repairman, stopped by at 5:00 to check if he could come tomorrow morning, which of course we agreed with.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

What Cruel God Did This?

Winter came to visit today, and will bring the family these next few days. It's predicted that daytime highs will be in the -14 area, with lows at -20 by the beginning of the week. Hopefully it will be a short stay and we'll get back to relatively mild temperatures soon.

We woke to snow this morning. Our high temperature was less than two degrees C. today, and it's hovering at the freezing mark at 3:30 in the afternoon. But there was no wind, and it was sunny off and on so it was a very pleasant day, for me. The Red Chief disagreed. He is of an opinion that God could have created either snow or cats, but no god in his right mind would have created both, unless he had a cruel streak.

He was dubious this morning when he looked out, but once the snow had quit falling and had melted back on the driveway he decided to venture out. Eeeeeeeeeeeekkk!!!! Wet! Wet! Wet! Run, run, run back to the trailer before paws melt back to bone!!

By 2:30 he was itching to try again, so we haltered up (He'd asked me to take his halter off earlier.) and out we went. He lasted three or four minutes, mostly because he got to within four feet of a quail as it emerged from a hedge. (I got a picture of it, eyeing us warily.)

After the quail had decided that wisdom dictated flight, Sal decided that the cold wet gravel was too much. He tried to get to his favorite walk, the dog run, but that involved a walk across a snowy stretch of grass, and his courage wasn't up to it. He came in, twitching his tail in irritation, mad as the proverbial wet hen. I may look for cat boots for him. It will be a long winter otherwise. He doesn't seem to mind the cold, it's the wet paws he hates.

But, as always, snow is lovely to look at, and I took some pictures. The light was gorgeous, the clouds were the colour of cotton candy.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

With Open Eyes

Be utterly humble
And you will maintain your inner peace.
Be at one with all living things which,
Having arisen and flourished,
Return to the stillness they came from,
Like a healthy and vigorous plant
Falling back to its root in winter.
Quiet acceptance of this return
Is criticized by some as "fatalism".
But fatalism is an acceptance of mortality,
And to accept mortality is to face life with open eyes.
To deny mortality is to face death blindfolded.


Last night, with my stuffy nose and a huge fever blister in the middle of my upper lip that makes me look like a pipping chick, I watched a PBS program on the problems society (and families) face as we are able to prolong life to greater and greater lengths. Living to be 100 is not so uncommon anymore, but few do it without serious decline of their physical and mental abilities.

There comes a time when life itself is a burden. Wracked by intractable pain, unable to participate in life in any meaningful way, medicine and families fight to keep elders alive who want nothing more than release.

I remember some 30 years ago, when a friend of my parents was struck with some illness that left her body a mindless shell. She existed in the twilight zone of a hospital room, kept alive by tube-feedings, and a breathing machine. Mom and Dad were in their 70s, and what they saw terrified them.

"Don't do that to us!" they pled. "Let us go should something like that happen to us."

When Mother broke her hip at 78 she had successful surgery, and appeared to be recovering, but died from a massive coronary a few days later. About 20 minutes before her heart attack she called the nurse and asked her to adjust the IV lines so that she could cross her hands over her breast.

"Why do you want to lie like that?" the nurse asked her. "That's the way they lay people out after they've died."

"Because I'm going home now." Mom answered.

The nurse ran from the bedside and called my brother. She told him to get Dad and come to the hospital immediately, as mother's death was imminent. They arrived as Mom was being taken to the ICU. The doctor told Dad he might be able to keep her alive with aggressive treatment, but he couldn't guarantee that her brain had survived intact, or what her quality of life would be. Dad asked that she be made comfortable, and be allowed to pass without being subjected to aggressive and invasive treatment. She died within the hour.

Medicine looks at death as the enemy, and so it should in people who are still productive and capable of enjoying life. But death is not the enemy when your body fails you and your only experience is pain. Then death can be a blessed release, a "falling back on the root" for a winter's season.

No one wants to die, even when they are 90, but death comes to all of us, and it's better to make your peace with your own mortality. Doing so sharpens and sweetens your days.

No one can prepare for every situation but make certain your doctors and your loved ones know how you want to be treated at the end of life, whether it's to be kept alive as long as possible, by any means available, or it is to be made comfortable and be allowed to die without the application of heroic measures. I am firmly in the "quality" measurement camp. If my life becomes a burden to myself and others I want to be allowed to face death, open-eyed.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Whoo Whoo Whoose Calling?

After yesterday's exciting close encounter with a red-tailed hawk I am all atwitter with bird fever. Well, maybe not that atwitter, but it was fun to sit and watch the quail parade waddle from site to site today, picking up the grain the folks in the park are putting out for them. I swear some of them look like basketballs on stilts.

But just now (11:15 pm) having turned off the television I was checking my e-mail when I heard this, just outside in the common. No mistaking that, it's the hoot of the great horned owl. It sat and hooted for three or four minutes before either quieting down or moving off.

Great horned owls grow to be HUGE, with a four and half foot wingspan. They are clever and aggressive hunters, and will easily pick your pet poodle or fattened pussy cat right off the front steps. The owl may have been sitting in the apple tree ordering cat for dinner after seeing our well-fed "lunch on a leash" out for walkies just after sundown. I can imagine it now, thinking in its owlish way, "That ginger cat looks exceptionally tender and juicy. He'd make a great midnight snack."

One winter evening, back in the 70s, when we were on our little farm in the Columbia Valley, I'd gone out to milk the goat as it was getting dark. Coming out of barn with a full pail of milk I flipped on the outside light just as I was strafed by an enormous great horned owl.

Absolutely silent, wings out a mile, talons extended, it looked like an airliner coming for me. I don't remember if I dropped the milk pail, but I know I screamed and dove for cover. When I am really scared the best I can manage is a sort of choked squawk, so I probably squawked like one of the rabbits the owl was probably hunting.

Off in the distance the coyotes are yipping too, so it's the serenade of the wild tonight!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

November Walk

It was a grey kind of day, with clouds spilling over the mountains like roiling waves. Nippy but pleasant. Our morning walk was uneventful, but our afternoon walk was a bit more exciting.

We'd made the circuit around the park, and up and down the dog run. We'd crossed the common and were watching a big crowd of quail feed only a few feet away through the fence. This is a six foot high chain-link fence with woven vinyl privacy slats. So while we had a good view of the quail, looking through small holes in the fence, they didn't seem aware of us.

Suddenly they exploded into the air in every direction, some coming over the fence, squawking and screaming. And right behind them was a red-tailed hawk. He scarcely cleared the fence. He flew about a foot over my head and landed in the cherry tree only three or four feet away. I could practically have touched him. When he saw me he almost did a double take. He hopped a branch higher, and a few seconds later he launched himself into the air and was gone.

No time to even pull the camera from my pocket, but I have his image here in my memory.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Will That Be Dial or Digital?

My desire for knowledge is intermittent; but my desire to commune with the spirit of the universe, to be intoxicated with the fumes, call it, of divine nectar, to bear my head through atmospheres and over heights unknown to my feet, is perennial and constant. Henry David Thoreau; On Man and Nature"

Ah, but Thoreau and I have not been "communing with the spirit of the universe". He's dead and I have been attempting to follow the incredibly obtuse instructions which came with the new thermostat we (Tony and I, not HDT and I) bought. The manual is written in three languages, none of which make any sense at all.

I admit to being something of a Luddite when it comes to gadgets. My timepiece of choice is a Mickey Mouse watch whose hands point to the numbers on a dial. Dear God! Give me dial with numbers, or a knob to turn. Do not hand me something with a face full of buttons labeled with arrows. I am not "intuitive" - what apparently comes naturally to modern man just leaves me befuddled and extremely cranky.

Expecting something I could set by moving a little red thing-a-ma-jiggee up and down as needed, I was (and am) truly dismayed at this incredibly complex gizmo which requires that you set the temperature separately for each 12 hour period of the entire week! Oh, wait! It comes with default settings which give you a cozy 60 degrees of heat during the night, boots it to 70 at 7:00 am and then drops it back to 62 for rest of the day. Hello? Does anyone stay home anymore? Maybe everyone who buys these things sleeps at the office. I don't mind 65 degrees, rolled up in my MEC sleeping bag, but I'm old and I have to get up in the night to make a tinkle trip. 60 degrees???

Worse, the display is stacked. There are two layers of numbers and codes indicating days of the week, hours, temperatures, cycle times, weekend overrides and other imperatives. You can't really read the stuff underneath, although those are the ones which change when you press the various up/down/hold/release/off/on/run/stop/swear buttons. The manual doesn't mention two sets of numbers, so is the manual just poorly written or did someone at Purolator or the post office drop kick this thermostat across a dock somewhere, giving it a case of digital schizophrenia?

It's Friday. The manufacturer is closed until Monday, so I guess we'll play human thermostats as usual this weekend; wake up cold, turn the heater on, get awakened by the sweat dripping into your eyes, turn the heater off. Wake up cold, turn the heater on, get awakened by...

Somewhere in the 80s I think I took a wrong turn. Two roads diverged on a yellow legal pad, one marked "dials" and one marked "digital". I took the one less travelled by and I still haven't figured out how to make the microwave do anything but run on full power for multiples of one minute.

Edit as of Monday Nov 20

I called the technical support line of LuxPro; voice mail. I hung up and e-mailed them and in five minutes had my answer to the "stacked displays" question. "There's a sticker on the face of the display. Take it off."

Well, sugar. How was I supposed to know that? Once I took off the sticker, and sat down with the instructions setting the thing was relatively easy, though fiddly and time-consuming. You have to set the temperature for four time periods for every day of the week. I managed to do some of it right, though I now see that my night time temp settings are running in the day, so I've crossed up an instruction somewhere. But give the company good marks for a fast reply on the display question. Wonder how many times they've answered *that* question already?

Bet they are having a neon sticker printed for the next shipment, "Remove sticker from face of display".

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sweet (Spit) Sunshine!

Finally a day of sun, after a week of rain and overcast days. What can you say except "Happy Happy"!!! We were even happier when Gary the RV guy showed up to address our leaky ceiling.

I took a couple of pics while I had the cat out for a walk. You can see the snow on the mountains above us, while we are still simply soggy below. The orchard, which was apple-laden and gorgeous a month ago, is bare and looks like a pile of tortured sticks. The hill behind is the brown-paper-bag velvet colour common here.

Once we were back from our walk I decided to change the litter in the cat's box, a chore we do outside. I hauled the box out and emptied it into a garbage bag. The litter we buy comes in gallon-sized plastic bottles with large screw-on lids. Part of the lid flips up to form a handle. We keep a couple of these containers under the edge of our picnic table.

I grabbed the one nearest me, flipped the lid up and... flipped yellow musky urine all over my face, hands, shirt, even into my mouth. OH YUCK! Spit spit spit!!! Not quite musky enough to be a tom cat, I figure it had to be coyote pee. They use the corridor between the back end of the trailer and the fence as their route through the park on a regular basis. One must have stopped to leave his calling card last night.

Needless to say I rushed in and scrubbed within an inch of my life, brushed my teeth and gargled, washed myself with Listerine, did everything short of setting myself on fire. I think I'm still a bit musky. I'm headed for the showers with the laundry detergent. Mmmm the fresh smell of Sunshine detergent. Maybe I'll rinse in fabric softener and lose all my wrinkles.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Lawd, Have Mercy!!

Poor Salvador; helpless, unfortunate creature.

Yesterday while shopping in Oliver's world of exotic and bizarre delights, (aka The Dollar Store) I spied a bunch of $5.00 Made in China "Victory" Harmonicas. At the risk of contracting god alone knows what from dozens of other harmonica testers I took one from its box and made a test run. No dead reeds. No Hohner organ this $5.00 sandwich of cheap chrome, basswood frets and tin reeds, but it blows a recognizable tremolo. Sold!

Almost 30 years ago I dropped $52.00 on a fancy Hohner 270 gold chromatic harmonica which included a spring-loaded button-actuated slide that gave me access to the full range of notes found on a piano keyboard. I loved that thing, even if my children cringed every time I took it from its velvet-lined case. That particular mouth organ probably costs a couple of hundred dollars now, and I'm not likely to ever buy another. That one met an untimely end when it fell into the wood stove. (I assumed at the time that its fiery end was an accident, but considering my "talent", I wouldn't swear to it.)

But I digress. I brought my $5.00 beauty home yesterday, unpacked it and blew a few chords. You could tell from the expression on Tony's face that he'd steeled himself to the occasion. I'm sure he was thanking his stars that he's partially deaf. But the cat had no previous experience as the audience of a harmonica recital. He reacted to the first notes as if his tail had fallen into a vat of hot wax. He shot off to the other end of the trailer, twitching his ears and swishing his magnificent tail in the most exquisite demonstration of disdain (if not pain) I'd witnessed since the last time I played the harmonica!

I picked the "Victory" up today and sawed out a couple of very rusty tunes. Cat was most unimpressed. He twitched his ears so hard I thought he might leave the floor. (I definitely felt a draft.) He tried to put his paws over his ears, and failing that, started trying to crawl into any cupboard large enough to accommodate 20 pounds of irritated feline.

As we'd say in the sowth, "LAWD have MERCY!!!"

I finally felt sorry for him and put the thing away, but he's gonna have to get used to it, unless he finds a way to build a fire, and can slip this poor buzzy contraption into it. I'd forgotten how much fun a $5.00 mouth organ can be.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Our Night Nurse and New Friends

SMM asked, "Of what use are furheads?" (By "furheads" she of course refers to the beasts who run our respective households.)

Our furhead is a beautiful decorative accent, as seen by this picture of him bulging from his beloved bootbox. He is also a night nurse. I have to take a pill somewhere around 5:00 - 6:00 am. He's learned that, and nows wakes me at 5:30 every morning. He expects a cat cookie in return for this wake-up service. He was quite unhappy to find it wet and cold again today and he was not the only one. I don't mind grey, even cold, but this rain has gotta quit. We have a leaky vent in the roof, and the water spot just keeps spreading and spreading. (Eeeeek!)

But, on to more fun stuff. One of the reasons we chose Bel Air was because there's a winter community of "snowbirds" here, retirees who have taken to the road, temporarily or permanently, and who spend at least a few of their winter months here.

There's a pleasant clubhouse where activities, both organized and unorganized, take place. The men have coffee two mornings a week, as do the women. There are potlucks, pancake breakfasts, games night, darts night, and happy hour when everyone who is so inclined gathers for a chin wag and lots of laughing.

No need to sit in your own little tin can and stew. There's a full calendar for November, and lots of new friends to share with. Tonight was the official welcome dinner, provided by Cathy and James, who run the place. The food was excellent and plentiful. James and Cathy brought their two little ones, Matthew and Emma, to join us, and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Matthew (twoand half) has the right idea and will only eat cake, Emma (10 months) eats almost anything as long as she can feed herself. Beautiful children. It's lovely to watch a young family together, it brings back such sweet memories of when our own children were small.

Looks like this winter is going to be even more fun than we anticipated!

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Way to Do is to Be

There is no need to run outside
For a better view.
You need not peer out the window.
Stay in the centre of your being,
For the farther you get from it
The less you understand.
Calm yourself and
Live each moment as it unfolds.
The way to do is to be.
The Way of Life - Lao Tzu

Besides, the windows are so fogged up, so it's hard to see anything but an interior view. It is raining, and raining, and raining. I like the sound of rain on the roof, which is good, because that's what we have been hearing the past few days.

Tony asked, "I don't hear the rain on the roof. Has it quit raining?"

No, it's just blowing so hard that the rain is hitting the sides of the trailer, rather than the roof. It's a balmy 2.8 degrees C (37 degrees F). If it drops too much more the rain will turn to snow. Hey! I came over here to get out of this kind of weather!! Is anybody listening?

The propane guy came this morning, delivering a big fat propane tank (referred to as a "pig"). We could have saved money by carting our 30 pound propane tanks to the station and having them refilled every week or so, but neither of us is good at wrestling heavy weights on and off the back of our truck. Best pay for a big tank, and the propane guy will come by and refill the tank when needed.

I will remain calm and live each moment as it unfolds, and in a few minutes go outside and re-light the water heater. I'll also have to re-light the furnace, which is a witch to light. Takes the strength of ten and a power of patience. You have to lie on the floor, reach into the furnace housing and depress this red button for six minutes. It's in a very awkward location so you can only come at it from the side. I have to get the hammer, jam it behind the button and pull on the hammer until the pilot lights, then hold it down for another minute and a half before turning the thermostat on again.

Hopefully this will be the last time this winter I have to do this, cause it's not high on the list of things I do to amuse myself. I guess this is being, but it feels a lot like doing.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Thick as a brick, aka the Cold Water Flat.

When we bought the trailer its old hot water heater had turned up its toes and died. No more hotsies from that old thing. So we spent $675.00 having a dandy new six-gallon hot water tank installed. We failed to get the manual and because we have a real talent for missing the obvious, we misunderstood the 10 second "Introduction to your new water heater" lecture.

Okay, he said you have to light it from the outside when you want hot water. I will swear that he said you have to go outside and turn the &^%(*% thing off when you are finished using the hot water. Tony remembered this way as well. This seemed like an awful lot of fol-de-rol for a pan of hot water, so we have never even turned the darn thing on, other than once, to make sure it works! I've just been using the kettle and heating the small amount of hot water we need to do dishes, Tony's shaving etc.

I'll admit washing your hands in freezing temp water is not all that comfy, but man evolved a long way before he invented water heaters, so we knew we'd survive. Back in our youth many apartments were what were called "cold-water flats", i.e. there was running water, but no hot water. So, we were back in a cold-water flat, just on wheels.

But we have been worrying. Like this. "The water heater has water in it. It is getting very cold. Cold makes water freeze. Freezing water expands and will burst a closed container. How do we keep our new water heater from freezing and popping it's expensive rivets? How do we drain the water heater?" We could find no way, other than draining the entire water system for the winter, and I really don't want to carry water all winter.

Well, a few days ago the RV service guy, Gary, and another park resident, Jim, came and put the winter skirting on the trailer. The next day we asked Jim about draining the heater and he looked at it, in a puzzled sort of way, before saying he'd ask Gary to have a look when he was back next time.

I'm almost embarrassed to say it. Gary came this afternoon, took me out to the water heater panel, lit the thing and explained that you don't drain it to protect it from freezing. (He didn't say "You don't drain it to protect it from freezing dummy..." for which I am profoundly grateful.) He said, "You light it! The pilot light kicks the gas on whenever the water temp drops and you have 1) hot water to wash your face and 2) protection from frost."

Once he said it - Oh geez, what could have been more obvious?

The nice thing is - I now have hot water to wash my hands in. What a luxury. Thank you inventor of hot water heaters, and thank you Gary, for not laughing, when you must have wanted to REALLY REALLY badly. I can explain how cell membranes regulate electrolytes and and neuromuscular junctions change electrical signals to chemical ones and then reconvert them back to electricity, just don't ask me about pilot lights.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Another Year of Snow

The last line of Frost's "The Leaf Treader" is:
"Now up to my knee to keep on top of another year of snow."

Having thoroughly shuffled around in Frost's leaves yesterday it was only appropriate that today began another year of snow. At 9:30 am a white veil descended from the mountain in front of us and in a few minutes materialized on our doorstep as whirling flakes of snow. Within the hour the ground was lightly covered.

The Red Chief, who is usually hanging on my legs chuffing and begging to go outside while I brew the morning coffee, sat and looked out the kitchen window with a look of pure disgust on his handsome face. At about 11:30 I held up his harness and called him. This usually brings him running. He could put the harness on alone, if he could only do the buckles. He sticks his head through, puts his feet through and holds his head to the side so I can do up the neck buckle. But this morning he didn't even want the harness on, and refused to help.

When I snapped on his leash he seemed a little more excited but when I opened the door all he needed was one look at the snow. He turned and hightailed it back to his bed in the back, next to the heater. He *hates* snow.

We had to change propane bottles, since the one we've been using since August was down to 3/4 empty. I don't want to run out of propane at 3:00 am, so did the switch while I was still suited up for the aborted walk. Changing bottles involves turning off and then relighting our cranky old furnace. What a fiddly job. We didn't need the heat from the furnace so we let it sit for a while, but it took three tries to finally get it fired back up.

By 1:30 the snow had mostly melted away, so I offered the cat another chance at walkies. He was dubious but jumped out and had a cautious little exploration around the gravel pad. Then he ventured into the grass and found it both cold *and* wet. ICK!!! He turned and hightailed it to the trailer as fast as he could run. He has canceled all outdoor activities until further notice. I guess I can forget making a sled cat of him.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Leaf Treader

I've always been partial to the poetry of Robert Frost. I keep a well-thumbed anthology of his work close at hand. Many of his poems evoke not just an emotional, but a physical response in me, a fullness in the throat, a tightness in the chest.

Frost's images of nature are never as straightforward as they seem. They are plain and spare, yet glisten like prisms. No matter how many times I have read them, each new reading reveals previously unexplored nuances.

The past two days have been cold. The temperature has dropped well below freezing each night, and with the cold came a wind which stripped most of the trees of their leaves overnight. The grass is covered with layers of leaves. The first verse of the Frost poem "A Leaf Treader" comes to mind as the cat and I wade through the drifts.

"I have been treading on leaves all day until I am autumn-tired.
God knows all the color and form of leaves I have trodden on and mired.
Perhaps I have put forth too much strength and been too fierce from fear.
I have safely trodden under the leaves of another year."

Over the years Frost has said many things to me through these lines. He equates the life cycle of the leaf with his own life. He cries out that he has triumphed by surviving while the leaves have died. But the knowledge that his life is as ephemeral as that of the leaves disturbs and frightens him.

The acknowledgment of death is a recurring theme in Frost's poetry. But he also acknowledges the daily struggles we have with ourselves. He concludes the poem with these lines:

"They spoke to the fugitive in my heart as if it were leaf to leaf.
They tapped at my eyelids and touched my lips with an invitation to grief.
But it was no reason I had to go because they had to go.
Now up to my knee to keep on top of another year of snow."

Sometimes it is our own deeds which touch us with an invitation to grief. What do we do when we are made fierce by fear? If we aren't mindful we may attack others and ourselves. Afterwards we regret it, but there is no way back.

Frost's words came alive to me once more as I trod the fallen leaves today. Thankfully, even when we tarnish a day with grief we can look forward to tomorrow's clean slate, and the chance to continue the process of transformation from closed and fearful to open-hearted and joyous.