I’ve been spending this gray, rainy morning reading other gardeners’ blogs. A lot of these are written from the UK and Europe, which right now seem to be having a cold snap and at any rate are much, much colder than here. So I’m reading about frost, and blackened leaves, and I look out my window at the overcast sky and the occasional drift of light filtering through the clouds, and contemplate whether it is or is not too mildly damp and drizzly to walk a lazy half block up the road to mail a letter to my friend L. (Digression: one upside of the pandemic is that L, a high school friend with whom I used to exchange letters during summer vacations, & I started writing real physical letters to each other again.) While I read, I consider how much I admire and enjoy snow, and admire and enjoy the crisp frost of a colder-than-here winter morning, and at the same time I love sun and find it hard to imagine what would actually be too much time out of doors. Years ago, during the six months I spent in York during my junior year of college, it started out as winter and there was very definitely snow. I went hiking in the snow with a student group on weekends, and I walked the two miles kilometers from my residence hall to class during the week, regardless of weather. I am not sure if this was because I didn’t want to spend money on the bus, or was puzzled by the bus schedule, or maybe there wasn’t a bus, or maybe I simply preferred to walk. I remember kicking my boots through the cold white drifts and stamping down the half-melted-and-refrozen crunch underfoot. I remember the fascination of the bleak gray sky. I suspect I was often cold, but I don’t remember wanting to change anything (this was when I was much younger, before I learned how to buy a winter coat, and that “made of wool” is not the same thing as “warm”).
Anyway. Weather. I am so grateful that yesterday was warm and sunny and I spent the afternoon digging in the dirt, and then I had a giant glass of fresh-squeezed navel-orange-and-Persian-lemon juice afterwards.
And I’m only a little bit jealous both of those with snow, and those growing tropical blooms in Florida and soaking up sun in the southern hemisphere!
Once upon a time in Austria, on vacation, in Salzburg, I went to a classical music concert – Mozart, I think. This was in winter, just a week or so before Christmas. Snow dusted the tree branches overhead and the edges of railings beside and the puddles of frozen winter grass I walked past. Golden light spilled out of windows.
The concert took place in a pink marble room where the notes sparkled off the polished surfaces and the ceiling and the chandeliers soared far overhead and the concert-goers in stiff side chairs sat neatly arrayed in rows, listening. It was a chamber music concert, just four musicians. It was wonderful, like a window into another room, like a moment taken from a fairytale.
But the part that stays with me, as a surprise, years later, is this: that because it was winter, all of us concert-goers arrived wearing substantial, voluminous coats. And whereas in the United States, or the United Kingdom, or most other places I have been, we would all have waited in a coat-check line to hand our coats to a clerk in exchange for a tag or a token which we would then re-exchange for our coat again later, after the concert, after standing again in a line – in Austria there were simply large and substantial coat racks set up in the lobby, unattended. The racks gleamed with chrome and coat hangers. And we concert-goers, as we entered, simply hung up our coats on the hangers on the racks, and went in to the concert. Afterwards, on our way out, we returned to the lobby and retrieved our coats. No standing in line, no tags or tokens. No awkward uncertainty about whether or how much to tip the coat-check person.
The first time I tasted green chile I was nineteen years old
in love with sunburn with the desert with the wide ranges of the interstates with the sharp edges of the peaks standing out against the hot pale sky
in love with the August thunderstorms that broke the sky’s edge sent the red mud washing down the arroyos
sent torrents of water sheeting down the old truck’s windshield so fast the wipers couldn’t keep up and we had to pull over in order to see
in love with the sparse cool grass under the one tree
in love with the need for a sun-bleached hat with cowboy boots with the hard work that started with the drive out at dawn with the dirt on my skin and the way a wheelbarrow angles down a rough-cut path and the fit of a shovel in my hands and the smaller tools tucked into the back pockets of my jeans
If I found myself – one of my selves – for the first time when I reached the Mojave – partway there! – with the windows down and a stubborn refusal to turn on the air conditioning and had to soak my head under a tap at the rest stop to bring the focus and the cool back to my brain
If I found myself – one of my selves – when the oncoming lightning storm lifted the hair from my head and I felt the crackle in the air before running rushing back down the hill to make it down off the peak before the storm struck
If I found myself in the wide cut dirt of working outside and the chile in town just the right heat on weekends at the end of the day when the sky also opened up with stars and we tilted our heads back and there was so much space
then I am still all of those selves
and in these days of less space and less motion I am grateful for remembered heat