A winter’s walk




Dark comes early. No one wished to rush the children through opening gifts when they preferred to head immediately for the art table and draw with the “water pencils” or add those twelve new sections of track to the train set, but that meant the beautiful day was closing up shop by the time we got out in it. The littlest asked to go on the walk with the farm animals, so down to the valley we went. Usually there are some sheep on offer, complete with guard llama, but this time we saw only a handful of wary cows munching hay in the twilight. At least there was the still, cool peace of a mild December, with a sunset sky and a wooden bridge over the swampy section of the path.



Once again I regretted not having brought the real camera, as the phone just can’t capture the depth of the winter palette in this landscape — the burgundy and deep greens of the blackberry vines, the cardinal flash of Oregon grape, the cheer of the rosehips and snowberries suspended like ornaments in the hedgerows, the plump rose-lit clouds billowing up behind the disheveled firs.



“I take a picture?” my boy demanded after I made a few more lackluster attempts to catch the golden light above an old barn. Here’s his work:



Mostly he nestled against my back, against the old down coat my mother used to wear when I was little, cementing his two and a half years’ wisdom about the world: Millions of trees makes a wood. The lightness is all done and the clouds is going down. Dere tiny moon swimming frough the sky. Then he broke into “This Little Light of Mine.” And that’s a pretty good way to close out a year, carrying our little lights through the gloaming. And this is a welcome sight at the end of any walk:


Wishing you all a snug harbor among those who “love you to peace,” as my four-year-old wrote on a card to her grandparents this afternoon. And see you soon. I have some new knitting to show off at last!






The last two weeks have been drywall weeks. If you’ve ever lived through drywall construction or, heaven forfend, had to hang-mud-sand the stuff yourself, you know that this is one of the messy parts. Insulation was messy, too, and smelly, but didn’t last for two weeks. When I thought about the children having to vacate their room for five days, when I thought about the last remaining floor space in our pretend kitchen being entirely covered by their mattresses, I knew we could do it if we had to. But there was a more attractive option: head somewhere inviting, somewhere with doting grandparents and beautiful scenery and no sheetrock dust. So I packed up the kids and the dog and we went, leaving poor Mr. G to fend for himself since he couldn’t take the time off work. It was a good decision.

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Family walks are still something of a challenge, and I foolishly left the baby carrier at home. So in between piggybacks from me and his willing Granny, Jolyon studied bryology and learned to eat sheep sorrel and avoid the rabbit turds. Sometimes we opted to stay home while the others exercised the dogs, because Granddad’s mighty fine swing set needed attention.

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And we stayed indoors sometimes, too, playing the kids’ favorite board game. My grandfather devised it and painted the board when my mother was a child. It’s called “Hit the Hay,” or “Hippa Hay,” as it’s rendered by the under-fives. I’m no longer sure of the rules, having played so many simplified versions, but it’s always a good time.

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We came home to a handsome new ceiling in the kids’ room and a lot of plastic and dust and more dust everywhere else. I’m chipping away at the clean-up, wiping down one surface or another any time I glimpse the sponge lying idle. Flooring starts this week. It’s exciting to arrive home and view the progress every evening. I’m still enjoying this a lot. But oh, was it nice to have a shower and a kitchen sink for a few days! Thanks, Mum and Dad. It’s so good to be able to go home.


Riding (1 of 7)

When we’re up home, as I will always call my childhood island, the thing my kids are most excited to do isn’t to play at the beach or take the ferry. Apart from seeing their grandparents, they most want to go to Charly’s and ride horses. This is where I spent a staggering percentage of my youth: in these rolling fields, in this old orchard, up in those woods. It’s no fancy riding stable, only a simple corral and a rustic shed to house the tack—if the door is latched you simply scramble in by the glassless window—and a couple of shed roofs to tie the horses under for shelter while grooming them. The barn swallows loop in and out. The paddock is fenced with branches pruned from the fruit trees and dropped from some of the big maples over many years. Here I learned how to stick on a horse and also a great deal about kindness, empathy, awareness, and balance. Charly is mostly retired and doesn’t teach many young riders now, but she has open arms and bowls full of cherries and strawberries picked from her garden for any of her pupils who find their way back with fervent little starry-eyed equestrians in tow.

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I’m chuffed at my girl’s easy way on a horse. She’s timid, or at least cautious, about physical risks, but she can’t wait to get aboard a great tall horse and trot around, keeping her head up and her back supple. No hands? No problem. And she’s attentive rather than assertive, which I like to see in a young rider.

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Riding (2 of 7)

Jolyon was not to be left out. His face got a little scrumply when he learned he couldn’t ride Chocolate, the pony of my first adventures, or Koprina, the fiery half-Arab mare who figures in so many of the stories the kids clamor to hear again and again. But he reconciled himself to Not Chocolate and sat proudly and independently astride.

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Kisses to ask her to walk on… and one for Mama, too.

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It’s good to circle back and savor old pleasures through new experience.