Today is the first day of Spring, the Vernal Equinox, when Earth in the Northern Hemisphere tilts ever so slightly in the direction of the Sun. Today the night and day will be of equal length. But, we are still in the grip of a late winter. March came in like a lion, literally a Snow Lion*, burying us in the most snow we’ve gotten all year. The snow has continued to come every week and the temperatures have been cold enough to prolong its melting. I took a sledgehammer to the ice between me and the chicken coop and still could not knock loose all of it, so hard and thick. The mountains north of us have the texture of powdered white donuts and the snow will melt there first, in the furrows and dimples of what are usually bare brown slopes. The mountains behind us are different, higher and more snow bound for now. We are on the slope and it’s all downhill slipping and sliding on the dirt road to our house.
I like how the world gets completely quiet in the snow, both when it’s falling and after when it shimmers white and silent across the open fields here. One day we saw the delicate imprint of an owl’s wings as they scraped the snow, silently, bearing down on a mouse. There were mouse tracks leading to a place where the wings appeared and it was clear the mouse didn’t make it to the protection of the sagebrush only a few feet away. It was probably a Great Horned Owl for the wing imprints were large. I’ve seen a few pairs of hawks in the distant treetops, and imagine they are scouting for nesting territories. Small birds are increasing in numbers, juncos, slate-colored juncos, swifts, and lots of plain brown or black birds I can’t identify because they move so quickly. The magpies stay all winter and we continue our competition for eggs. Today I was lucky and got all four eggs but usually the magpies get at least half.
Speaking of magpies and chickens, we still have four hens. I recently figured out the identity of one, the smallest one, that had perplexed me because it didn’t lay eggs (or hadn’t in the past year I’ve been here). She is a Dorking, an ancient species of chicken that comes from England and goes way back to Roman times. She is very affectionate and docile, doing a little tap dance before squatting to be petted. She is quite endearing and her name is Skeeter. She always jumps down from the roost to do her little tap dance when I am shutting them in or letting them out. Dorking is a very dorky kind of name, don’t you think?
The biggest snowstorm came on March 1, with terrific howling winds thrashing the house all night, sometimes so hard the house shook. Yet, I like the wind, even though it startles and sends various objects flying away down the driveway, including the big old garbage can. On days after storms, if the sun shines, the sky is a magnificently brilliant shade of blue that I have decided to call “cold winter blue.” It makes me happy to gaze up into it even as icicles form in the wind chills that seem to have stayed below freezing most of March. One of these days the storms will be gone and Spring will truly burst onto the scene with all its noise and colors. I am waiting for the first meadowlark to sing somewhere out in the sagebrush and then the gradual appearance of wildflowers that don’t last long but seem to have a processional calendar for when they appear and vanish.
In the snowy fields now there are many calves, all born in March. They are black angus on the ranches surrounding us and calving season comes despite the weather. I’ve seen a large black cow rocking back and forth in the throes of birth, the birth sac-covered head of a calf barely emerging. I can’t help but wonder why they are born in such cold weather but they come and they survive. With Spring’s arrival, though, I dread the prowling predators that will soon be stalking the chicken coop when young coyote pups are born and the huge raccoons climb down from their trees to do what harm they can, too. We have a new neighbor up the hill behind us that is a professional tracker. He tells me that he kills all the predators, especially the mountain lions that also live here. It bothers me because the lions are killed to keep them from reducing the herds of bighorn sheep “planted” in the mountains for hunters. There are many, many mule deer for the lions but people out here don’t like most predators, preferring to get rid of everything from magpies to coyotes, foxes to mountain lions, and rattlesnakes.
At some point soon I hope to travel back to South Carolina and that will no doubt be a “landscape and culture shock” after living out here in the high desert. I love the landscape here, as barren and harsh as it is, the sagebrush and rabbitbrush, the wide open spaces and absence of people for the most part. Yet, I must find a way to make a new home for myself and it is painfully clear to me that I cannot remain here, for many reasons. Elko is a strange little town that doesn’t want to grow yet it is the only town of consequence between Salt Lake City and Reno, at least 600-700 miles of Interstate 80. I still must drive to Salt Lake City for medical follow-ups and always marvel at the variety of landscape between here and there, too. The Bonneville Salt Flats, numerous mountain ranges that make up the basin and range topography of the Great Basin. Still, after months of pondering, I realize I must leave this landscape if I am to find some kind of suitable income and affordable housing for myself. I have my romantic illusions about this place and consider it home in my soul, but for now it will not work for me without a car, a job, and affordable housing, not to mention the inadequate health care resources. Elko is all about old ranching families still caught up in the romance of the West and the overwhelming presence, out of sight but not out of mind, of large gold mining companies. I wanted to like Elko but it doesn’t work for me now.
Being a cold-weather person I wonder if I will tolerate the South? I think of how humid it was in Hawaii, when I lived there, and I adapted but there were daily breezes usually and an ocean to swim in. The temperatures never varied a great deal and were seldom unbearable; it was the humidity that almost did me in. But, I wanted my way going forward these past few years to be different, to not be a “return” to what was already known or had been lived. I miss Northern California but know I cannot afford to live there. Texas slowly grew on me and now I see that the four states most Californians are flocking to because of the high cost of living in California, are Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Texas, especially Texas. I am grateful for every opportunity I have had to experience new places but never imagined I’d ever be living in the South! It remains to be seen, especially now that I have a paternal connection and family there to get to know. It is so very amazing how life works out and this Spring will be amazing, too. I am ready for new adventures and new learning. What would you do if you had an opportunity to do something different now? I keep reminding myself that nothing is lost, even dreams or wishes that don’t pan out; everything leads us into a deeper level of living if we remain open and receptive. I want to live deeply, as always, and after these last three years of illness and recovery, I am ready, I think, to go wandering again.
The quiet of a snow covered landscape has given me lots of time to think and reflect, all important for healing. At times it’s been very, very hard but I always try to take what is good and beautiful from my life, if I can, and spin it into the golden thread that I will continue weaving into my life’s tapestry. The larger world is troubling and sad and the only respite I find is to be able to go out into the open spaces and remember to breathe, to stay open even when I want to shut down and close myself into a clam. I don’t want to waste my remaining life in thoughts of what could have been or should’ve been; I want what is possible, wherever I can find and accept it. I don’t know what the answers will be but I am always asking questions. And the cold winter blue skies, the muffled world after a big snowstorm, the clucking chickens and noisy magpies, will keep me company until I go.
*The Snow Lion is the symbol of Tibet. It is said that its feet never touch the ground, but it does not fly. “The roar of the Snow Lion embodies the sound of ’emptiness’ (Sanskrit: Śūnyatā), courage and truth, and because of this is often a synonym for the Buddhadharma, the Buddha’s teachings, as it implies freedom from karma and the challenging call to awakening. It was considered to be so powerful that just a single roar could cause seven dragons to fall from the sky.” It is associated with joy and fearlessness, and the direction of the East. (a quick run to Wikipedia for this; not the best source but something for basic information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_Lion) Thus will I journey to the East in joy and fearlessness, I hope, welcoming this new season of my life and a new awakening, not to mention maybe a dragon or two!