First the river flooded and it rained for
ever an entire week , then the cold front moved in with an entire week of frost and sunlight and strong northerly wind. The house is pretty crowded with various potted lemon and fig trees sheltering indoors, the window sills are filling up with seed trays. We started six new varieties of tomatoes and a couple of peppers from a seed sharing group. This is what excitement looks like at the onset of year 2 with covid. On Tuesday, I had my first jab (Moderna). I admit that I was watching out for side effects but none appeared.
Yesterday, I just had to cycle, two no-bicycle weeks is a long stretch for me, and I wrapped up in very many layers but had to turn back after maybe six kilometers as my fingers were frozen numb and no amount of cursing and scarf wrapping and hood tightening could get that freezing wind out of my nose and face and neck. I never liked the cold. I don't even like the look of it, the godawful frosty sunlit crunchy lawn with all that stupid glitter.
My childhood winters were snowy and cold, long weeks of ice skating and tobogganing and skiing and snow ball fights. I didn't know it at the time, but I hated it. Truly hated it. What a miserable time! I was often the one who turned back first, walking home through the thick snow banks along the road, stumbling and crying. My feet white and numb, my mother sat me in front of two buckets, one filled with cold water, one with warm water, gave me her watch and I would stick my feet for five minutes first in the warm and then in the cold bucket and back and forth until they started to itch and tingle and come back to life.
While my siblings could not get outside fast enough, I welcomed every inkling of a sore throat or runny nose, any excuse to be allowed to stay indoors. Looking out into what my mother would call her winter wonderland garden, only let my heart sink. Still does.
I read somewhere something to the effect that we are confirmed, consoled and troubled by the landscapes through which we move in life and the places in which we live and have lived. About the ways our mood and our imagination and our identity has become influenced by the weather and the shapes and the textures and also the people, animals, plants, hills and shores (remembered and actual) of all the places we have inhabited.
It was always the sea I wanted. Even long before I knew much about it. It must have been from a book I read, maybe Pippi Longstocking's father in the South Seas, or one of those Sunday school missionary stories with pictures of children in fishing boats off the coast of Madagascar. Anyway, I would proclaim that I wanted to live by the sea. My parents were amused, what imagination she has and so on.
And then I lived by the sea, within walking distance to two different oceans, one after the other, one more spectacular than the other, for over a decade and it was just, well, normal. Then, I moved to this river valley, which was alien to me for so many years. Every aspect about life here was uninviting, the closeness, the dark hills, the way this big river cut across the landscape so carelessly, flooding and drying out in turn, messing things up. And for a while, occasionally even now, I so much wanted to be back by the sea, move away from what felt so claustrophobic at the time.
Yet, my parents and their parents, my grandparents, had no such longings. In their different ways, they were fiercely attached to a life that included forests and fields and orchards and riverbanks and carp ponds and vegetable gardens.
In her last years, when she was 100 years old, my grandmother, who then lived in a care home, would still oversee the apple harvest in her garden with angry instructions over the phone to my brother and cousins as to who would get how much and when and where to collect the windfalls for juice making. There were seven varieties of apple trees. I still know their names: Klarapfel, Gravensteiner, one early and one late Renette, Goldparmäne, Boskoop and Berlepsch. On one of my visits, the summer before her death, she scolded me for wearing flimsy sandals. Total waste of money, she told me, not made for walking and certainly useless for working in the garden. in other words, good for nothing.
Years ago, when I was very ill the summer after I had oral surgery, my father took me for a long drive through the hills and forests of Hohenlohe, an area just west of his Franconian homeland, where he had spent many childhood summers with relatives. As we drove through small villages with storks nesting on church steeples and past moated medieval castles, he pointed out the old apple orchards everywhere. See the wealth, the riches, he said. And he was not only referring to the soil that had produced such abundant trees for centuries. What he noted was the windfall apples. In fact, piles of it under every tree. There are so many apples this year, he told me, too many. The farmers won't harvest this year, not worth the effort, better to leave them rot, for the birds, the deer and the soil.
I could go on, memories of following my grandfather in his three-piece suit, his fob watch and walking stick with the shiny knobbly handle, while he walked deeper and deeper into the forest, pointing out adders and salamander skins, blue jay feathers and broken bird egg shells. My mother and her herb garden, her bean stalks and the way she could imitate bird song.
We are all shaped by the sound of wind, the slant of sunlight by streams of scent flowing faint or sharp in the larger ocean of air.Barry Lopez