February 28, 2010

the end of february

today I rented some snowshoes

shoes.

and went up to the mountain. which mountain? this mountain.

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I climbed up a big hill

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and I almost made it all the way to Timberline but I got nervous because there were a lot of skiers and my legs were pretty tired. I wasn't sure if I could cross the ski path fast enough, and I wasn't sure what good snowshoeing manners were in terms of traversing the path with my crampons, so I went back down. but that's OK. when I got back down to the end of the trail I got in the car and drove to the lodge anyway.

hey, you guys? I have a guilty secret. I've lived here 4 1/2 years and I'd never been to Timberline. I know, I know. it's because, honestly? ski culture scares me. I have very little experience with winter sports -- we always vacationed in the summer and cocooned in the winter -- so being around all these alpine people is like visiting an alien tribe. there's all this gear, and I don't know what any of it is called or what it does or how to use it, and everybody seems really die-hard. and clad in gore-tex.

(I did go cross-country skiing once, in college. I loved it. everybody told me it was so hard, but it was like a cross between running and skating, two things I love to do. but I've never been since, and I've never been downhill skiing. it just goes so ... fast. so fast!)

what finally convinced me to go up to the mountain this weekend was a post on the Run Oregon blog about free snowshoeing trips guided by U.S. Forest Service Rangers. FREE! I like free. Snowshoe rentals from REI are only $20, which is almost free. So I was pretty stoked to learn about the aerial tramway from the 1950s, and Mt. Hood birds, and other things I imagined the ranger would tell us. only, see, that didn't quite work out, because the ranger couldn't make it. there was only me and one other couple waiting for the guided trip, so I debated for a minute or two about what to do in the absence of a CHAPERONE. but hey, snowshoeing is just hiking with pointy shoes! I can do that. so, I followed the trail we would have taken, and walked 2 1/2 miles up the side of the mountain. like, straight up. but that's OK! because in two weeks I'm running a 15K and half of that is also straight up, so I could use the conditioning.

anyway, I'm glad I got over my alpine sport aversion and can I just say, I want to sleep over at Timberline TONIGHT. or maybe last night. all the hewn rock and the giant wooden beams. also, the snow covering the windows. and the cozy fireplace. I'm a big sucker for cozy.

it's not exactly the same, but I'm going ahead and crossing off number 21, more in the spirit than the letter of the law. I just wanted to get in the snow.

Nub enjoyed the mountain too.
snow hedgehog

February 21, 2010

a good weekend

yesterday morning, brilliant airy blue sky; by 9:30 I was at the barn, the back doors thrown open to the sunlight. Cookie rolled & snorted the dust out of her nose. Up by her stall, she stood in the cross-ties while I untangled her mane, too long braided, with my fingers. Our riding lesson was better than usual, lately -- she threatened to buck, throwing her head down to her knees, but I managed to ride her through it each time. At the canter she finally gave in and complied. We loafed around the arena bareback for awhile, my dark breeches covered in white hair.



what a nice weekend. for nearly a week now it's been gloriously nice here, sunny and in the 50s. it feels sinful after the week of snow at home, but it's been a blessing too. I was pretty blue at the start of the week, totally overwhelmed by funerals and stress and feeling like I had no idea what direction my life was headed. it's amazing what a little sunshine will do.

nice day

this afternoon I went over to the library. I dropped 3 books and came back with 7. hopeless. I meandered over to the tack store downtown in hopes of checking out their saddles. did I mention that I've just now realized my saddle doesn't fit my horse? I've looked it over several times in the past but only yesterday did I realize that it's too narrow in the shoulder, which means it's tipped back, which is why I can't get my damn legs in the right position. I'm sure it's hurting her too. so now I'm tentatively beginning to look for a new one. to the tune, I'm sure, of several hundred dollars.

the tack store, however, was closed. so I wandered down to the waterfront, where I walked barefoot through the grass. barefoot through the grass! in february! thanks, universe.

then Nub and I went to the world's smallest park.
Nub and the world's smallest park

so, see you later, number seventeen.
Nub playing with park wildlife

I was really happy to discover a tiny treasure trove of wild park animals: a butterfly, a horse, and two dinosaurs. I'll have to go back and visit to see if anybody else moves in.

On my way home, I passed a mustache on a pillow. Good day.
mustache on a pillow

February 11, 2010

Tuesday: grief

I want to tell you about my uncle, Barry, who died last Thursday, four days after my half brother's suicide. My uncle had a stroke in the middle of the night, was flown to the hospital, but was proclaimed in too poor health to survive an operation, and was pulled from life support by early afternoon. Two of my aunts (including his wife), two uncles, and my mother were present when he died, 30 minutes after the respirator was removed.

He was 65. When I was a child he helped me learn how to play the piano by ear; he often accompanied me when I competed on my clarinet in solo & ensemble festivals. He was a cantor at several synagogues, taught voice at two local community colleges, and had a double degree from Peabody. As a child I used to love to sleep over their house, where before settling in to watch movies, we'd gather around the piano and sing. He used to say I had a "sweet voice."

His funeral, Tuesday morning, was attended primarily by family; it was small and quiet. The rabbi, who was unacquainted with my uncle, nevertheless gave a nice speech about him. My aunt and cousin held up admirably, given the circumstances. Afterwards, my entire family went to a reception, but I left them to head up to the MD/DE border, to attend the funeral of my half-brother.

I should mention that the day of my uncle's death, there was a real danger that both funerals would be scheduled simultaneously. I had a minor breakdown in that moment, and swore to my mother that if it came to pass, I would not come home. How could I choose?

It was so good to see my sister, who pulled all the arrangements together for her brother almost single-handedly, because her parents were too distraught to take any action. She was so beautiful and composed. I had spent days thinking of how I wished I could help somehow. 3000 miles is very, very far sometimes.

Before I tell you about the rest of this day, I have to take a minute to explain things to you, because I never have. My sister, Dayna, and my brother Jason, along with my two middle siblings Caitlin and Christian, are my father's other children. There are five of us; I am the oldest by 3 years.

I have never met my father.

In fact, I had not met any of them, nor did I know of their existence, until 2006 when, on the prompting of my grandparents, Dayna searched for and found me on the internet. I met my grandparents for the first time that summer, along with my sister. A year later, I met my sister's husband and son, my brother Jason and his wife, my father's sister and brother and their respective spouses, and my young cousin Hope, whose eyes were exactly the same shade of blue as mine. Slowly but surely over the years I have met most of the members of my father's side of the family, with the exception of my father himself and my other two siblings, who are high-school aged and who, Dayna believed, did not know of my existence.

One day I'll tell you about how all of this has felt -- what mix of gratitude and terror, of hope and guilt; the strange reality of the prodigal child -- but for now I want to tell you how I sat in the back of the funeral home, surrounded by nearly all of my paternal family, and held my grandmother's hand as we wept at the death of my brother.

The service was very difficult. The minister was Jason's best friend's father, and as he started to speak, his voice was audibly breaking. He talked at length, and then allowed people to take the stand; Jason's stepfather spoke, and my sister, and his grandmothers; a friend of his from high school, and his commanding officer in the Marines. It was hard to hear about this boy I never knew, with his giant bottle glasses and sweet personality; hard to know what I inadvertently missed.

Jason was given military honors: three rounds of rifle fire, the presentation of the flag to his mother, and the playing of Taps outside the building. I can't verbalize what that familiar, mournful trumpet call did to me. it was the most excruciating part of the service, and yet I was grateful for it.

Afterwards I stuck by Dayna until I had to leave because of imminent snow. I would have liked to stay. A few strangers came up to talk to me; one relative of Jason's stepfather told me that he'd spotted me from across the room. "I'd know you anywhere," he said. "You look just like him." A small gift, these few words, on a hard day.

February 10, 2010

grounded.

one day soon I'll tell you about yesterday, and two funerals, and how hard it was. it was hard. it was one of the longer, harder days of my life.

but first, I'll tell you about today:

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Blizzard Warning
URGENT - WINTER WEATHER MESSAGE
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE BALTIMORE MD/WASHINGTON DC
103 PM EST WED FEB 10 2010

MDZ003>007-009>011-013-014-110000-
/O.CON.KLWX.BZ.W.0002.000000T0000Z-100211T0000Z/
WASHINGTON-FREDERICK MD-CARROLL-NORTHERN BALTIMORE-HARFORD-
MONTGOMERY-HOWARD-SOUTHERN BALTIMORE-PRINCE GEORGES-ANNE ARUNDEL-
INCLUDING THE CITIES OF...HAGERSTOWN...FREDERICK...WESTMINSTER...
GAITHERSBURG...COLUMBIA...BALTIMORE...ANNAPOLIS
103 PM EST WED FEB 10 2010

...BLIZZARD WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 7 PM EST THIS EVENING...

A BLIZZARD WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 7 PM EST THIS EVENING.

* PRECIPITATION TYPE...SNOW AND BLOWING SNOW.

* ACCUMULATIONS...12 TO 24 INCHES. DRIFTS OF 3 TO 5 FT POSSIBLE.

* TIMING...SNOW WILL CONTINUE THROUGH THE AFTERNOON. GUSTY WINDS
WILL CONTINUE INTO THIS EVENING.

* TEMPERATURES...MID AND UPPER 20S.

* WINDS...25 TO 35 MPH WITH GUSTS AROUND 55 MPH. BLOWING AND
DRIFTING SNOW WILL REDUCE VISIBILITIES TO A QUARTER MILE OR
LESS AT TIMES... PRODUCING BLIZZARD CONDITIONS.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

A BLIZZARD WARNING MEANS SEVERE WINTER WEATHER CONDITIONS ARE
OCCURRING. DO NOT VENTURE OUTSIDE. THIS IS A LIFE THREATENING
SITUATION FOR ANYONE WHO BECOMES STRANDED.

FALLING AND BLOWING SNOW WITH STRONG WINDS WILL CREATE WHITEOUT
CONDITIONS...MAKING TRAVEL EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. DO NOT TRAVEL. IF
YOU MUST TRAVEL...HAVE A WINTER SURVIVAL KIT WITH YOU. IF YOU GET
STRANDED...STAY WITH YOUR VEHICLE.

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I was supposed to be on my way back to Portland by now, but instead, I'm sitting in my mother's kitchen, watching as it continues to snow. The snow is waist high; some drifts in the yard are taller than I am. I truly have no idea when I'm going to get back. An earlier phone call today to Continental produced a very short message. "We are unable to answer the phone at this time. Please try again later."

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On the other hand, Max, our labrador retriever, loves it.

February 2, 2010

per pieta

1. Jason.

2. Last night in rehearsal, as I was trying to stumble through after receiving the news, I was talking to a chorister & one of our volunteers about the summer of 2011, when, because of two consecutive abridged opera seasons, I will be off work (along with many of my colleagues) for five months. I said I want to see it as an opportunity to do something extraordinary, and mentioned that I hope to celebrate my 30th birthday by traveling to Mongolia to ride on a horseback expedition through the Gobi desert. Both of them -- surprising to me -- were aghast. I explained how I have always had a fascination with Mongolia; how it's considered the birthplace of the horse; how it would be with a professional equi-trekking company. The chorister, obviously not personally onboard with the idea of traveling to a very remote, very empty foreign country, nevertheless smiled sincerely and said, "I have always loved that you know just what you want for yourself, and you go for it."

After the chorister walked away, the volunteer looked me square in the eye and said slowly, as if he really wanted me to hear it: "I think you should carefully reconsider your plans." A thing I cannot for my very existence ever imagine saying to a person. So belittling, so condescending. Why?

3. Our concertmaster, who has been battling pancreatic cancer for over a year now, is back in the hospital with a grapefruit-sized tumor in her stomach. Her prognosis, which has always been bleak, has taken a terrible lunge for the worst.

4. After rehearsal last night, a group of our musicians, all roughly my age, stood around in the pit lounge making plans to get a drink. I had to walk past them at least three times as they conversed; I secretly hoped they would invite me along. They didn't. I clutched my scores to my chest and shuffled upstairs, feeling like Cinderella, alone.

February 1, 2010

I was going to tell you that as I was driving home from the barn yesterday, an entire flock of geese crossed the road in a single file; how slowly they plodded, oblivious to waiting cars. I wanted to tell you it was a magical moment, tiny, a gift from the universe.

but instead I have to tell you that today, my half-brother Jason killed himself.

Jason & Gavin

I hardly knew him. we met only once, at a family barbecue in 2007. my family story is a giant tangled knot, lengthy to unravel. I don't have the energy to tell it to you now. let me just tell you how I am thinking of my sister dayna; I am thinking of her mother; I am thinking of how I barely knew him, and will never know him, and how he must have suffered, and how we are suffering. And how my feeling of loss, though nothing compared with theirs, is tinged with the guilt and sorrow of being a stranger despite being family. my family. did you know that as a child, I always wanted a brother? he was only a few years younger than me. back then, I didn't even know he existed.

my brother. I hope you found some peace.

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