Smells Like Vanilla

“Struck brightly by the winter, when the snow falls thick and silent, I can only hear you breathing.” ~Matt Pond PA

I miss the smell of freshly fallen snow. When we were kids I used to dive into it, just lie there all clean, just waiting to get washed in white. It wasn’t about the snow angels, or about the snowmen, or even about catching snow on my tongue, even though I did all of those things. It was just about the symbiotic relationship. I fed off the snow, and it off me, as I carved out a spot in its purity for my incomplete self.

It didn’t matter that my coats were often ratty and full of holes. It made no difference that on my block the snow was mostly black instead of white, with car exhausts wreaking havoc almost before it had even landed. I would always find a patch on the postage stamp-sized front lawn and turn it into my utopia. I would lie there with my face turned sideways, my lips nearly blue, smelling that vanilla goodness. I closed my eyes and pretended it was heaven.

I closed my eyes and pretended it was heaven.




Shoop, shoop, shoop. This guy jogged past me at a steady clip, breathing steady, smooth on his feet. I trudged like a turtle. Clip. Clop. Clip. Clop. I waved to him as he passed me heading south on a two way road devoid of traffic. It was just me and him, and the contrasts really couldn’t have been any clearer. He waved back and continued on his way. Approximately 10 minutes later he passed me again, going the opposite direction. This time I threw a few words his way. “I wish I had your stamina,” I said, and then he was gone again.

I continued trudging through the knee deep snow, head down, intent on my destination. Clip. Clop. Clip. Clop.

wp-1489532906540.jpgHonestly, I should have been driving, but I abandoned my car back in the village. It couldn’t make it up the mini-hill, despite the snow tires, despite the 4-wheel drive. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but I left it in the village because I didn’t trust that I wouldn’t run off the road if I continued, even if I did manage to make it up the mini-hill. So I began to walk. In my bright orange coat I knew I made a big enough target for possible approaching motorists, so I wasn’t too worried about getting run over. I began to walk.

Truth be told, the trip from the village to the house here is only about 2/3rds of a mile, but through knee deep snow, with constant snow still falling steadily from above, it might as well have been 10 miles. That jogger who passed me twice — I have no idea why he was out there, or how crazy he really is, but that man is my hero. Perhaps he was training for some kind of marathon, but in this weather, with these blizzard-like conditions, I wouldn’t have left the house if I didn’t have to work.

But yeah, back to the driving portion of the journey. I left work early after my wife called, upset that I was still there when the snow was coming down like this, while the Snowpocalypse was reaching epic heights without a plow in sight. So many businesses were closed, so many schools shuttered for the day, but at Target we soldier on. I didn’t want to be a soldier, but I got there before the storm began. Boots on the ground. Literal boots.

As the day wore on, though, the snow didn’t stop, the emergency vehicles were loud outside the doors, and the anxiety level of loved ones at home reached a fever pitch. So I left early, even though I almost never leave early, knowing that the journey would be a treacherous one, and wanting to start it before it turned the corner into impossible. I left nearly two hours early, and just in time. When I reached my car in the parking lot it was piled high with thick snow, not the fluffy, pretty kind, but the heavy wet stuff that causes accidents. I brushed it off and said a prayer that I would make it back here safely.


I’m not a fan of snow adventures. On my drive back there was no lack of adventure. I saw no fewer than 10 cars in various ditches along the way, often paired with tow trucks and police vehicles, but just as often on their own, having just gone down. Hazard lights were everywhere, but it was hard to see the lines beneath all the snow. Plows were nowhere to be seen — odd, but not too shocking. But with the sheer volume of snow I would have expected more of a presence from the large vehicles. Without them around I kept it under 20 miles an hour.

About a 3rd of the way back here my windshield wipers inexplicably stopped working, something that has never happened before. With the amount of snow from Snowmageddon coming down it quickly became difficult to see out of the front glass, so I improvised. I grabbed my snow brush from the passenger side footwell, slipped on one glove (Michael Jackson-style), opened my window, and began brushing the snow off while driving even more slowly. Cars passed me in waves, some of which ended up in the various ditches, but I soldiered on.

A trip that normally takes me 1/2 an hour stretched on to over 2 as one by one issues came up to impede my progress, but I never stopped for long. I toughed it out, freezing my arm off holding out that snow brush, my hazard lights on, waving others past like a traffic attendant, until I could go no further. Then I started walking. Because I was close enough to sense the finish line. Even if I couldn’t see it through the rapidly falling snow. That’s still coming down in layers.


The “Great” Outdoors

o-EASIEST-WAY-TO-SHOVEL-SNOW-facebookI hate being outside. Quite literary. It is an abhorrent enterprise, if you ask me, but I do it when I have to, when there is no other alternative to being outside. Getting married and having kids will do that sometimes, but I still try to avoid it when at all possible. This morning I had no way of avoiding it.

Heidi came into our living room and said, “Go out and shovel around our cars,” so I went out and shoveled around our cars. I learned a long time ago that my wife trumps all of my issues, even if I did still hem and haw before heading out into the tundra to do as she said.

Winter is my favorite season. I make no bones about it, but until a little while ago, when a friend asked me why, I hadn’t made the real distinction between the idea and the actuality of winter. What I love is watching the snow fall down… from the warmth and comfortable confines of the indoors. What I enjoy is sipping hot cocoa by the roaring fire and letting whatever happens outside stay outside.

Because I hate being outside. I’ve always hated being outside. There’s just something about nature that has never quite sat right with me. In summer it was the insane number of bugs that poked and prodded me, leaving welts, bumps, and bruises that were itchy and destructive. In fall and spring it was the uncertainty that each day brought. Would it be achingly cold or surprisingly warm? Would the need for layers force me to be wearing sweaters around my waist by day’s end? And of course there was winter.

I was definitely not a ‘free-range chicken kinda guy.’

Maybe it’s because I am a city boy, through and through. Which is of course ironic considering I live half an hour away from anything remotely resembling a town right now, and because both of my children are country to the core, going through the house barefoot more often than not.

chicken2Heidi was talking about possibly raising free-range chickens sometime in the future, and I told her I was definitely not a “free-range chicken kinda guy.” I’m not. I can’t even imagine walking out my front door and being swarmed by those pesky birds. I’m good seeing the claymation figures from Chicken Run on my TV.

So I was outside earlier… shoveling around the cars, and I could see the steam from my breath rising into the wintry air, and I began wondering if someday there would be robots who could be remotely started who would go out and shovel for us. If there are remote car starters, surely there will be a robot sometime soon who can do the yard work, who can shovel the snow, and who can do the various other tasks related to the “great” outdoors.

I long for that day.


Stark Winter

cold-misty-winter-seasonThe cold seeps in like a drug
Coursing its way through my veins
Settling deep into sinew and bone
Possessing its own heartbeat
This frozen wasteland of mine
Starving for a recognition
That will never arrive
And these latent convictions
Solid as a block of ice
Yet chipped away by circumstance
By a monumental love
Stripped down and shivering
In this indiscriminate wind
This blinding, frigid night
Wrapped around me like a tomb
Its grip as unforgiving
As a day without sunlight
In the middle of stark winter.


Mid-Winter Memories

snow_through_windowI remember winter breaks when I was young. My sister and I would get dropped off at Nana’s house, my mother driving us in the old, powder blue Chevy Nova that made the sputtering noises as if it would die any minute. Joy and I would make bets as to when it would finally expire, but it never seemed to care.

We would pull up to the house in the early morning hours grumpy to be awakened at such an hour during vacation. Nana always waited for us just inside the front door. We could see her silhouette outlined against the glass, past the ripped screen, in her bathrobe and fuzzy slippers.

Of course we were bundled up to face the elements in our big, puffy coats with frayed scarves and knitted caps. The crumbling front steps of Nana’s house were a welcome sight because we had seen them countless times before, and they felt like home. Nana felt like home when she opened that door and enveloped the both of us in her arms, a big smile on her face as she ushered us inside.

We quickly shed those outer layers because Nana always kept the house as “hot as hell,” our Uncle Nolly would always say. He lived with her because he had nowhere else to go, and he was constantly blessing us when we entered. I was never sure if his blessings were real or not, but I always felt like I couldn’t make fun of him for it because they might be. Uncle Nolly was blind, but he had an uncanny knowledge of where we were at all times when we were in the house, and he would mumble as such, even when we were trying to hide. He often smelled of smoke, which was comforting in its own way

We would pass by his chair on our way into the dining room where Nana would have hot chocolate waiting for us. Of course it was rarely ever still hot by that point, but those chipped mugs were as familiar to us as our own names. My mom was long gone, and we began to take bets as to her mood when she would come back to retrieve us from our winter’s day. Some mornings the 8-track player would already be on, providing a subtle soundtrack to our conversation that was always well-scripted. Continue reading “Mid-Winter Memories”

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