Spring Forward, Fall Back Down

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Frozen in Time (c) Stephanie M. Glennon


Spring forward, fall back down…”

I know, I know: it couldn’t be much more wintry in New England.

It’s a balmy -6 degrees, enhanced by an order of magnitude for those who dally with windchill.  Boston had its highest recorded tide, sweeping an icy gray lagoon into waterfront streets.

My big boy beagle gazes at me with recrimination when I am compelled to turn around and whisk him back toward home.  He clearly has places to be, but unknowingly relies upon my limited capacity to exhibit adult common sense.  My less than-scientific measure of when I have ventured half as far as we safely can go is the loss of  sensation in triple-gloved hands.  The outermost layer belonged to Jim: enormous blue-green knitted wool  gloves into which Rufus still pauses to press his snow-dusted nose, retrieving scents of his puppyhood.  I am violently allergic to wool. Angry winter welts encircle my right wrist, which one over-sized glove accidentally touched as I struggled to shovel a path through blizzard remnants.

Even my camera is too cold to do its job.  I dare not risk its delicate inner mechanisms’ life for a picture–even of wavering sea-smoke etched in bright gold across the horizon, or planes of dazzling white which migrate across eye-level snowdrifts, or tree branches encased in ice glittering under a super moon.

Other than at sunrise and sunset, which in winter tend to take place during work days, when they rarely can both be seen, bright color has disappeared from the landscape.  It may visit in the form of  a scarlet cardinal or blue jay, or a burst of berries holding fast for them to find.

But this lyric spanning the other seasons has taken its place as resident ear-worm.

I first heard the Weakerthans’ song on the radio while driving back from a solo trip to Bar Harbor.

My city’s still breathing (but barely, it’s true)
Through buildings gone missing like teeth
The sidewalks are watching me think about you,
Sparkled with broken glass
I’m back with scars to show.
Back with the streets I know
Will never take me anywhere but here

My status could be the answer to a riddle: I occupy a new old home in my old home state, having left our old old home in a new home state.

But I am back with streets I know.  In a place I never before lived, I feel I am back home.

Wait for the year to drown
Spring forward, fall back down
I’m trying not to wonder where you are

One daughter came to my new old home for Christmas, bearing a discrete tattoo she explained to me is based on Slaughterhouse Five.

Spring forward, fall back.  I realized it’s not just a handy trick to set clocks to mark time in the seasons that bookend winter’s essence, but a Tralfamadorian progression through life–including waxing and waning grief and hope.  A (Billy) Pilgrim’s progress, if you will (HT Mr. Vonnegut).

I shall try to seize on those glimmers, bright traces which foretell spring or commemorate fall, even when blanketed by colorlessness–the orange fish which glided underneath inches of pond ice as we skated at the old home we shared, the leaf  whose lime stem tilted toward the sun as if it still could absorb light when my beagle’s front paw sank ever-so-slightly into a frozen puddle’s surface, leaving in uneven colonial bricks’ lacuna a ghostly misshapen cameo, a reminder of our presence there made possible by a New England winter.



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Widow’s Walk


Clapboard and brick homes from the 1700s and 1800s line the streets in my seaport town.

Narrow roads radiate from the waterfront and climb uphill like the monture of a folding fan.  Atop its arc is a busy main road where magnificent colonial captains’ houses soldier on.

Their windows now hold modern fixtures. Simulated brilliant candles hold blandly steady, never flickering in wind that still sweeps into minute seams in horsehair plaster walls.

Some of their roofs are topped with a platform known as a widow’s walk, or widow’s watch.  Were they at ground level, where neighbors wander companionably to shops and farmer’s markets, a dog park or a church, they would be mere porches.

Some have ornate painted balustrades in ghostly white.  Elevated above these houses, the small enclosures occupy their own solitary plane, like the crow’s nest outlook on an old sailing ship’s mast.  I imagine lachrymose long-departed wives standing, casting thousand-yard stares down towards the port from which spouses might never have returned.

Widows would have floated above their neighbors, having ascended those extra steps closer to heaven into a small space seemingly open to the world’s bustle, yet set apart and steeped in solitude.

I study these houses every day on my own earth-bound path, always chosen by a beagle who hilariously fancies himself an alpha.  He and his brother, sweet Brady, used to run ahead of my husband on a long hill up and away from the centuries-old home we all shared then.  They never just walked; they ran, the pups’ soft ears bobbing.    I never picture them returning home; in my mind’s eye they are always starting out together.

Now only Rufus remains with me.  He has enough of a white muzzle that other dog lovers instantly recognize him as a vintage model.  Although we rarely run, Rufus invariably pulls me at a steady, quick clip downhill to the waterfront.  He is always searching his map of the world,  nose burrowed into particles of the past until we reach the port.  There he strains his left flank against the same old granite post, thicker than a tombstone, then goes to the low waterfront fence, and raises his deep brown eyes to scan the sea and sky.

“Why does he always look so sad?”  I would ask Jim.

“Because he’s a beagle.”    

Winter is just short of its official arrival, but by October the harbor had emptied of all but the most stalwart working vessels.  Summer pleasure craft were hoisted on enormous hanging belts and levered from the icy Atlantic.

When we turn back Rufus and I look up, where masts and rigging tower above us, a graveyard of ships out of water shrouded in heavy white plastic that gleams in harsh sunlight no longer softened by a filigree of leaves.

Another day.

Another widow’s walk.


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A Ghostly Galleon’s Glow

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“Firebirds,” Newburyport, Massachusetts

When the sky is cloudless, the sun begins to peek above the tree line and lights the  sculpted monochromatic red-brown forms as if they were candles.  They glow with fire.  A strand of spiderweb makes itself known only by razor-edged silver reflection.

Camera in hand,  I always am drawn toward such feats of light.

Sometimes an entire city turns gold in the rising sun.  A full moon can turn a clear block of ice into silver or gold, or hover like a ghostly galleon in a tumult of waves rendered in cumulus clouds.  Just a hint of sunlight can turn water into shimmery rose, or sort gray air into a rainbow.  At high noon, flowers seem to be posing in a professional studio, casting everything beyond them into an illusion of pure black.


The most amazing tricks of light do not arise from the interloping sun or moon, but seem to emerge from within: impossibly dazzling, unwavering beacons even in a deluge of rain.







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Layered Gold


It is only in the high 90s.

The 11th Century fort on the hill to our left glows bright copper in afternoon’s high sun. The desert city is layered gold.

Mottled cream and caramel cows and goats neither yield nor look up as I place my arms around a textile merchant’s waist and we careen on his motorcycle across town.  My daughter stays behind.  As I glance back I see her standing in the store’s door-less doorway, stacks of mirrored, thickly embroidered jewel-colored cotton and waffled silk beyond her, intricate overlays of ochre stone on the windows above.

My motorcycle mission: to extract a significant amount of negotiable currency from my bank account, the corpus of which lies half-a-world away.


I am wearing my daughter’s tea-and-thyme airy cotton kurta, a little worse for the wear from sleeping in the top berth on an overnight train.  It would endure yet more crumpling on our next stop: an overnight camel safari from Jaisalmer to the Pakistani border.

I am not wearing a helmet.

My mother would be appalled with just about every facet of this adventure.

My daughter, my hostess here, is pleasantly surprised and seems very pleased with me.

I am confident that her father, too, would be delighted to behold this scene in a place and space I never would have found myself had he not bequeathed to me some of his sense of adventure.

He, of course, would have signed on for the full-week camel safari.  He would have tied on a scarf, Lawrence of Arabia-style, and peered ahead into the strong sun with eyes that in his all-too-short life always gave him a better than 20/20 view of the world.  He would have looked back at our beautiful daughter and turned his head forward again before she noticed, so as not to unnerve her by beaming too brightly with pride at the young woman she has become.

If he were still alive, he would most certainly be the one here with her, and I would be at home in New Hampshire, afraid even of flying.

If he were here, our daughter would not have to constantly watch her parent for signs of dehydration and ply me with water, alert me when I may and may not take pictures, or coax me to expand my culinary choices.

But here I am.

Baby steps.



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