Wednesday, January 09, 2008

I'd forgotten. About winter, that is. Not just about having to clear 6" of fresh snow off the car every morning (and the sidewalk, and the steps, and the driveway, and everywhere it gets in your way), but also about having to remember which roads can be driven in the snow (state roads get plowed before county roads, city roads get plowed according to a strange schedule that leaves the main street running through town unplowed until the end of the day), which parking lots have to be avoided (turn left out of Safeway and go around back to the highway, don't try to take the front exit). I had to relearn the process of slipping an SUV into a driveway without hitting the ramparts of month-old snow protecting the house from evil hordes of snow barbarians. Learned to take off my boots at the door so I don't track mud and wet all over the carpets. Learned to wear a stocking cap. And gloves. And even a winter coat.

Luckily, I'm a quick study, because I didn't get much time to re-absorb all these lessons. Landed at the airport in Spokane mid-day Monday, and minutes later, after cleaning the snow off the rental, found myself driving through fog and dark and herds of mule deer that didn't care much about winter driving conditions. Alone, in an unfamiliar vehicle, driving on unfamiliar roads covered with compact snow and ice, this is exactly how all those news stories about people losing limbs to frostbite after a slide-off begin, isn't it?

But, I made it, and here I am, in north central Washington, reminding myself about winter living. Mostly, I think winter is brutal, and I understand why it kills so many people: it's a lot of work, all the time. There are nice winter moments to be had, like when I come down off the highway into town, and I can see all the hills behind town covered in snow, and I can see how complex the winter sky really is--it's never just one color of gray. Sometimes, even if you can't see the sun, you can see the glow of white light at the bottom edge of the clouds to the west of the valley, even when the north valley is socked in with a heavy, icy fog; the clouds over the reservation are rising up to show off the sagebrush on the hills, and the view to the south is heavy and dark and weighted down with more snow. But there's that ribbon of white to the west, reminding you that somewhere, just beyond your field of vision, the sun is still shining. And at dusk, when when I'm up on the highway and can see the lights coming on up and down the valley, but it's still not dark enough to hide the orchards on the hills or the dark curves of the river, it's breathtakingly beautiful. While I was standing out on the porch this evening, watching ice float down the river, knocking icicles off the back gutter with my fists, I saw a coyote hurrying along the bank on the other side of the river. He was trying to hug the water, but the ice is fragile on reservation side because the water is a lot deeper there (some kids have a rope swing on a tree over there so they can drop into the river during the desert months of summer, they really do exist, those dry, hot days), so he kept making delicate detours up the bank and back down again, keeping his head turned north. When I see the coyote, I can also see that winter--depressing, cold, dark, threatening winter--is really just a state of mind. The beauty of white-on-black, snow-on-rock, is there if I want to see it, but right now, all I'm thinking is, "I wish it would stop snowing. I'm so fucking tired of snow." Nothing too pretty in that thought, is there?

So, I made this unexpected trip out here because it seemed like the end was near for my dad. A week or so before Christmas, my mom called me and told me this was it, so I bought a plane ticket out here. But once they got my dad to the hospital, he seemed to rally. He improved enough to go into a rest home, and my mom told me to hold off for a bit, because maybe it wasn't the end after all. So, I waited, and tried (mostly succeeded) in having a bit of a vacation, and my dad got better, and eventually went home. But this weekend, my dad was back in the hospital, and my mom was saying, "Well, this time, you really better come out here." And so I did. But my dad seems to be rallying again, he's at home again, and he does seem a lot better today. Unfortunately, my brother, Carl, now has the flu, and my mom is completely worn out from trying to keep everything, including my dad, in working order. There's been a lot of people in and out of the house, home health nurses, volunteers helping my mom fill out paperwork to get qualified for in-home health care, nutritionists, some person today I don't even know what she was there for...

This is a small town, so everyone knows everything about everybody. The neighbors all watched my dad leave in an ambulance, so they all know what's up, and really, I shouldn't be complaining about the snow, since the neighbor to the north of my parents has been VERY KINDLY using his snowblower to keep my parents' driveway and sidewalk clean, even though I'm here this week to shovel snow. The neighbor to the south was out shoveling snow when I was cleaning off my mom's car this morning, and he asked, "Did you get a new car? You were driving a different SUV last time you were here." Clearly, the man has been paying attention during my annual visits. I called a friend from my hometown (30 miles up the valley) today to tell her what's up, but she already knew, because news travels fast around here, especially when your relatives are all part of the Brethren Church. I'm staying in the hotel up on the highway (next to the casino on the reservation), which is a lot like home, because Carl works nights here when he doesn't have the flu, and my Aunt Fern works the late shift, 3-11, so she's always here to say goodnight before I go to bed. My cousin Wayne made his weekly visit to my parents this morning, and my Aunt Rosie stopped by last night. I'm sure if I stood in one place long enough, other relatives would eventually wander by.

I'm typing like a graphomaniac, but not saying much of anything. Number one on my list to do when I get back to Illinois is schedule an appointment with the counseling center. Last semester was my worst semester ever in terms of grades, and this semester coming up will probably be my most stressful semester ever (Ph.D. exams/proposal defense). A lack of academic confidence isn't going to help me prepare for exams, so I've got to get over my sense of failure. A lot of stuff going on with my family, obviously, and I'm still trying to deal with my own lingering health issues (everyone will be glad to know that my cholesterol levels are excellent, I'm sure). My cats no longer recognize me, and I sometimes worry that my wife doesn't, either. I feel like I've got a lot on my mind, but I can't make my mind process any of it to completion. So, I've got to get that taken care of before I really mess something up.

I hope to god it's not snowing in Indiana. Or Illinois. Or anywhere. I'm tired of snow.

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