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.



On the Move

Most of my inspiration strikes while I’m on the move, or looking at something else in motion.

I might be on a trek through the woods or an adventure–and occasionally a near-international incident–on the other side of the world.

I might hear a song on the radio while travelling–or while stalled in traffic–and be hurled into a Tralfamadorian tailspin, on the move through time and space.

The flash of a deer’s tail or a rabbit on the run might take me somewhere else entirely.


An Empty Dock at Dusk


Satchel Paige has been credited with warning, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you,”

I did it anyway.

I surveyed my “lookback,” prepared for me by a social network algorithm that uses snippets of members’ internet pasts.

The micro-show begins with a mosaic of thumbnail photographs from recent years.  I catch a flash of Brandeis blue, a glimpse of me leaning into my son’s graduation gown in a picture taken two months to the day after his father died.  Gathered mint silk peeks from a top frame; it is the curved hem of my youngest daughter’s prom dress, which Jim never got to see.  Above the frame she is beaming, beautiful, a young lady.

Cut-off segments of the mosaic show puppies’ upturned noses and white-tipped tails, rectangles of tree branches backlit by vivid orange and lavender sunsets.

The mosaic fades out and a single photograph takes it place.  On a June day in New York City, one of  my daughters is standing in front of one of her oil paintings in a gallery.  It is eighteen days before the day everything changed.

18, 17, 16 . . . .


Then a picture of an empty dock at dusk, steeped in late summer’s stark shadows.   No one but I knows the context.  It was August. My husband was sitting outside at Prescott Park, drinking juice and snacking, waiting for a Richard Thompson concert to begin.  A fanny back held the chemotherapy drugs still being pumped into his newly implanted port by labyrinthine tubing.  He wore sunglasses, a baseball cap, and the same soft orange cotton T-shirt he had worn the day he was diagnosed.  He smiled and enjoyed the night.  I wandered to hide the trickle of tears and, facing away from the crowd, took pictures of the gathering night.

I stare at my most popular status report: it is about a Father’s Day toast we made to Jim on a mountaintop.

From pictures I have shared, the mini-movie displays photographs of three of our children graduating without their dad, a favorite picture of us on our last vacation, and, mercifully, a panoply of puppy pictures: new life, new love.


Of course, I engage in time travel every single day.

Unlike the Trafalmadorians, however, I travel in only one direction, ceaselessly back, as a member of the Class of ’17 once wrote.

It seems I lack the ability to picture my own future, except in the limited sense that I have an idea what it will be like to be in my office tomorrow, or before a certain court, or in front of my classroom.

I can peek ahead in mundane matters.  Sometimes I accurately gauge when I am perilously close to being out of dog food or gas, and I occasionally fall on the correct side of a tuition payment’s due date.

But those tentative steps into the future are repeating patterns, things I can envision doing only because I’ve done them before.  For a reasonably imaginative person, I can’t seem any longer to venture beyond what I’ve already experienced.  I wonder if that’s a part of grief. When my husband was alive I had no trouble envisioning a future.  I could imagine our children going off to college and having lives and families of their own, and see us spending decades together in the phase of life that comes when children have grown.

All of that ground to a halt in the space of a few words.  From that moment, I could only see as far ahead as Jim’s death and, perhaps mercifully, could not imagine life beyond that for the rest of us.

Some people lead lives of hopeful, assured planning and aspiration.  Some of my best friends actually write down and daily survey their future goals.  I don’t.

The rest remains unwritten, and as yet unimaginable.  

Earthly Illusions and Blackwater Woods

St. Patrick’s Day Sky: Am I the only one who sees a wide-eyed smiling face?

One can learn many things from those who channel non-earthlings.

One of my daughters recently finished a school-specific rite of passage that involves writing a Senior Meditation.   I know little of this ritual.  I do know that our puppy consumed a good helping of fiber from a book of past Meditations, because I discovered  shreds of palpable (pulpable?) evidence of that transgression.

The Dog Ate Her Homework. Really.

I  know only the tidbit of information my daughter was willing to disclose to me about her Meditation: it was about aliens.

“Did you get it done?”  I was slightly afraid to ask, particularly because she spent the last three weeks of winter term with a horrible flu that turned her silvery voice into a froggy, hacking mess.

She nodded.  And unleashed a coughing fit.

“What was it about?”


“Aliens?”  I asked, sloshing coffee on my suit, shoes and outgoing mail as I headed out for work.  “Like, undocumented immigrants?”

“Tralfamadorians.”  She replied.

“Oh.” Enough said.

Tralfamadorians, as any Kurt Vonnegut fan knows, dispensed pearls of wisdom and were not favorably disposed to linear time: “It is just an illusion, here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone, it is gone forever.”

A few nights ago, on the anniversary of the day when my husband finally came home from the hospital, I read Hallucinations.  Not unsurprisingly, Jim then visited my dreams, but in a disturbing way that left me feeling acutely that there was something more I could have done.  Time and time again, in that peculiarly concentrated kaleidoscope that makes up REM sleep, Jim and I were racing to find the solutions to intricate word puzzles–and we always found the answers, but were too late.

In this dream world, governed by the strictest of linear time, only those who got the answers first won.

When I replay the weeks and days leading up to my husband’s death I think there was something more I could have done, some puzzle I could have solved in time to help him, to alleviate his pain, to make things somehow easier for him.  Perhaps this is common for caregivers.

Some version of that searing self-doubt is my constant winter companion, when the very feel of the air and lighting of the sky brings me back to the moments when I rushed Jim to the emergency room, when snow curved into waves on the flat rooftops outside his hospital windows, when I trudged miles along an empty highway in a blizzard , ice granules whipping against my face, to get one more medication for him to try.

Yesterday was the day that contained the moment my husband’s heart stopped beating.   Continue reading “Earthly Illusions and Blackwater Woods”

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