Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Snow on Snow

"Snow had fallen snow on snow, snow on snow..." the words from the carol "In the bleak mid-winter" are kind of stuck in my head these days. Fifteen inches on top of four inches on top of an ice coating on top of a dusting, or something like that. That's where things stand in our neighborhood. Yesterday I had to laugh at the car I had left in our driveway half cleared; it looked as if it were sporting a high mohawk when I returned.

I hate to admit it, but some days I forget to admire the beauty of the snow, when figuring out what to do with it all moves up on the priority list. The birds, meanwhile, seem grateful for our feeders and our bird bath heater, and we are rewarded with a large flock of juncos, lots of gold finches in their duller winter feathers, and the many black, white and grey (in various patterns and combinations) birds: chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and such. Today three blue jays dwarfed them all. 

And I am grateful for the wood stove: there's nothing like that radiant warmth. Add a cup of tea, a favorite Christmas CD, and maybe even the length of the sofa...a perfect way to spend an hour.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

In memoriam, again

If it seems just a short time ago that I wrote here in memory of our cat, Calvin, that's because it was--less than three weeks ago. And here I am, writing a tribute to another family pet: this time our rabbit, Gandy. More formally known as Gandalf, and more fully as Gandalf the White. I remember when Gandy was a wee bunny, just over five years ago, when I took him to our vet for a first (and until this weekend, only) check up. From the exam room, I could hear the vet tech tell the vet herself what this bunny's name was when he had been carried back to be weighed. 

"Gandalf," the vet tech said. 

"Ohhh, Gandalf the White," the vet had said. And I smiled in approval that our vet (who has kids the age of ours) knew her Tolkien well enough to know the difference.

Gandy's first day at our house was in the midst of an early December blizzard. His last was the day after a mid-December ice storm. When we tucked that small bunny into his outdoor hutch for his first night alone, assured that outdoor living is what most rabbits are built for, we were nervous. He seemed so small and vulnerable. Bekah, not one to mince words, said: "That rabbit will be a block of ice by morning." He was fine.

This time we were not so fortunate. Rabbits are impervious to most pests and diseases, but they are, we now know, highly vulnerable to respiratory infection. We didn't catch the first signs of Gandy's infection until he was a rather limp and listless guy. And the Saturday night trip to the emergency vet wasn't enough to save him. He died some time in the night at our house. I had been pretty sure he wasn't going to make it when Anna and I put him in a specially prepared place for the night. The nearness of Calvin's death and my post-ice storm fatigue washed over me; "I just can't handle another animal death," I sobbed. Anna gave me a quiet hug to comfort me. (David was away; we were on our own.)

But this entry is intended to be a tribute to Gandy, handsome guy that he was, with long, silky, soft as you can imagine white hair. Rabbits are pretty quiet creatures. They don't vocalize much. No regular bark or meow or purr. Some rabbits speak with their percussive back feet, but Gandy wasn't much of a thumper. I've heard that if you cut too far when trimming a rabbit's claws or when cutting a mat of hair, they will scream an unforgettably horrible scream. I never heard Gandy scream.

I often worried that he was lonely or bored, since he spent a lot of time in his outdoor hutch, with occasional sojourns into the house, where he was generally quite well behaved (toilet training-wise). His only vice was an occasional chewed lamp cord, thankfully with no resulting electrocution. Only some ruined old lamps, lined up somewhere in our house waiting for repair. I hope he enjoyed the breezes and the birds, the seasons and the sunlight.

One of my favorite memories of Gandy happened one summer not long after the movie "Because of Winn Dixie" had come out. Bekah had two friends over, and a whopping summer thunderstorm came through. One of us brought Gandy in from his hutch, and he was hopping around the living room, along with dog Digory, cats Calvin and Lily, and maybe Anna's two guinea pigs, Chuckles and Eddie. It was just like the scene in "Winn Dixie" in the pet store (in the movie, the pet store clerk was played by Dave Matthews) with all the animals out of their cages, mixing and mingling and making their own kind of music. 

So, with two animal losses in less than three weeks, I feel a bit scoured out. As if forces are in motion telling us to simplify and let go. A Zen haiku comes to mind: 
Barn's burned down--
now I can see the moon. 

Farewell, Gandy. Maybe we'll plant parsley over your burial place.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wild and Crazy Wins the Day

The zebra print leggings nudged me as I was deciding what to wear today. And the words "wild and crazy" nudged me too. I bought the leggings about twenty-two years ago when I was still a new priest in Concord, Massachusetts. A woman from the Netherlands came to visit my boss's family, I think, and she sported some zebra leggings that I loved. So I gave her some money so that she could send me some from Europe when she got back there, which she did. I thought at the time that it would be good to spice up my days-off wardrobe, and I do remember I wore them once to the New England Flower Show with the rector's wife(!). I was exceedingly self-conscious and tense the whole time. I think I may have worn them once or twice more in public before they took up residence in the bottom drawer of my bureau. That is, until my teenaged daughters (and even a friend now and then) decided that they were good for certain occasions, Halloween among them.

Seeing them this morning (I had actually worn them to bed last night), I thought, "Perfect. I think dressing wild and crazy is what I need to do today." And putting them on, my bearing and my outlook perked up considerably! This was going to be fun; I just knew it. And I quickly decided to put together some truly outlandish combination of clothing, things that really don't "go". I found myself remembering many many years ago, as perhaps a sixth grader, having my mother and my sister react to my chosen outfit on some school days when I came downstairs for breakfast, suggesting that perhaps my stripes and plaids weren't really meant to be worn together. I can't imagine I went very far outside the lines. But today I had the pleasure of putting together a wacky wardrobe and then wearing it in public. Even Anna tolerated being with me in one store (and chose to stay in the car at the next, though she swears that wasn't the reason!). And Anna has willingly taken my photo with her camera.

I so much enjoyed wearing my zebra leggings with Anna's polka dotted rubber boots, topped by my multi-colored handmade sweater with six different buttons (buttons by Lacey Goodrich, sweater by me), and two mismatched earrings in the style of my beloved friend Sarah, that I may just have to do it again soon. I may even wear the leggings every day between now and Christmas. I think they may be magic leggings after all.

And it just may be that dressing wild and crazy, or doing something else a bit outlandish with the potential for being thought unseemly for a fifty-four year-old, strengthens one's "core muscles" of joy, delight, and happiness. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Winged Things

Last weekend I was passing through our backyard doing some long-delayed yard clean up when one of those sudden "bird invasions" happened. Chickadees, titmice, white breasted nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, and goldfinches started arriving at our feeders, darting here and there, back and forth, in a flurry of winged activity. I stood still, hoping I wouldn't scare any of them away, even though I was barely three feet from one of our biggest feeders. The fluttering and ruffling of wings of these rather small birds was loud in my ears, like a soft rapid drumming. It was exciting simply to stand and watch while the brief frenzy lasted. 

Yesterday I was among much bigger birds, and not nearly as close, on our local beach just after sunset when the Canada geese come "home" for the night in the shallow, protected salt water cove. They spend their winter days at the golf course. Really! I know it sounds silly, but I honestly think that's where they go, heading off in the mornings for a day of recreation. Actually, I'm sure some of them go to farm lands and some to the golf course, then back to the seaside for their overnights.

Some days, about twenty or so minutes after sunset, their raucous arrival is audible inside our house even with windows and doors closed. To be outside when the geese come in is even better. To be on the beach and hear the whistle of their wing beats (if they're not honking too much) and then the chhhhh sound as they land in the water is the best of all. Sometimes I try running along side them just for the heck of it; they're fast. 

I've noticed that sometimes a skein of geese will start to unravel as the geese near their destination, the formation no longer important. Sometimes the individuals start toppling and tipping as they come down. It looks as if maybe they're just having fun, veering to one side then another; or maybe it's a way of slowing down. And then they settle in, with greetings exchanged between the newcomers and those already floating somewhere in the dark.