Outside, it smells like spring. The January Thaw has arrived a few days early, and the road is slick, the forest dripping like the eaves over the kitchen window, the paddock growing muddy as the layers of snow melt in a slow progression. Bits of December’s hay and the icy cocoons where the sheep lay one frozen night last week appear, undisturbed by the gentle archaeology of the weather. It’s beginning to rain.
In the woods, the Sugar Man’s pipelines cross and re-cross, stringing over the path, separating the trees into grids, running with precision in straight, sloping lines down the mountain, a giant dancing game of limbo. In a few months, these forests will be carpeted with ferns and wildflowers, just as they have been every year I can remember. But I’ve never seen them like this, and the newness is exciting. When we first moved in to this house, high on its mountain, these woods were a tinglingly scary mystery. Full of bracken and brambles and dense growths of cedar that looked like walking through Mirkwood but smelled like Ithilien, the forest whispered to ten-year-old me of adventure. The first autumn, my family found an old stone wall, deep in the woods, with a huge, mossy tree growing out of it. I’ve never been able to find that place again. The first winter, I followed the stream up to its headwaters and climbed an icy tree, reveling in the fact that though I was utterly lost in the middle of unknown territory, surrounded by trees that all looked the same, I could trace my steps back through the snow, back along the stream, back to lighted windows and hot chocolate and squabbling with my siblings over the coveted seat on the heating vent under the dining room window.
Now I know that the brambles I waded through in shorts and a tee-shirt, lost, all those summers ago, were just the outer fringes of the Old Meadow I walk through daily now. The deer path I followed through the first snowfall wasn’t taking me off into the hinterlands; it was curving around, leading me back to the road and home. The spring I discovered bubbling up between the roots of two trees, small purple and white summer flowers sprinkling its banks, which I was afraid I would never be able to find again, was likely the fairy pool by the side of the new logging trial, which I know well, now, even under ice.
Kai thunders through the woods, down the road, across the fields, running and running, heedless of snow, the wind and the warmer weather making him wild. Both ears up for once, nose in the air, he seems to know something I don’t. This glistening won’t last forever. Already the sun has turned to rain, and soon the rain will turn to mist, rolling up off the mountains, veiling the trees. Then there will be snow again, and everything will freeze, and winter will be harder than it was before because of the scent of spring we are so thankful for now. January 23rd is, on average, the coldest day of the year. Kai finds a downed tree, tries to bring me the whole thing at once, gives up, settles for a crooked branch broken loose, trips over himself, gallops proud.
Yesterday, the last day of blue sky before the rain settled in and the air began to cool again, the morning sun was blinding on the slush in the woods. My shadow stretched before me, long at eight o’clock, and the mountains were almost on fire, like the sunset on New Year’s Day. Today, they shiver and quiet and sleep under mist, dimming in the distance, heads crowned and covered with cloud.
Last week, I went out with my newly-affianced sister and her man, and we took pictures in the cold sun, and they pushed each other into snowbanks and laughed, and I will not see them again until they take the next great leap together. My mountains warmed at their going, the last of us to leave after Christmas, and the crystal snow turned to water in the air, and some of the beauty melted away into new beauty, different, not so clean or precise, sliding, shrinking, flowing into muddy ditches. The glint of sun in the snow is in the shining silver of the rain is in this new light in my sister’s eyes.
The last weeks of the old year were full, and the new year promises more of the same. I tell my friends from school that I got to shovel manure in the barn today, that I was privileged to do so, that this hard work and mess is the deepest of blessings, and their mothers laugh from the kitchen, and I know it’s not easy to understand, the way that all of this work is good and pleasing, and I don’t understand it either. Kamilla puts her smooth, still-baby hooves on my knee at chore time, and the rest of the evening, the smell of the barn follows me, and I love it. We lead the sheep up onto the hill, enticing them with hay and sunshine. The llama is less than thrilled, but the sheep are eager. When we finally stand to lead them back down to the barn, my hands are sticky, fingers blackened with dirt and lanolin from rubbing beneath the chin, behind the ears, down the backs of these woolly creatures. Kamilla is a pest, shoving her way to the front whenever I pause for a moment from rubbing her nose. Kayla hangs back, more interested in the hay and the sun. Kajsa shoulders in after Kamilla, both of them equal in size, though Kajsa is not quite so obnoxiously eager for all the attention all the time. Kendra, still the smallest, waits, patient, not quite timid, her eyes placidly hopeful. Kamilla gives me kisses, pressing her warm nose into my face, insistent.
I am eager for spring, for mud season, for sugaring and sap-collecting, for shearing, for new lambs. I am eager, but content to wait.
Photos of me: credit Kim Goodling