Saturday, January 21, 2012

Foggy With A Chance Of Inspiration

It's January, it's gray, it's somewhere just above freezing and there's enough moisture in the air to annoy moss. The sun has already indicated a lack of interest in this part of the world. It is not pouting so much as it has decided that its talents are better appreciated elsewhere. Oregonian rods and cones have shut down so tightly that the oven light makes us squint. In short, it's the dead of winter. I like to call it that because it made my sister Margaret splutter and hoot so comically. She was from Maine where the sun shines and the snow sparkles and the air is filled with the gentle bloop bloop, plip plip of tits and balls freezing off.

This is my season, the damp dead of western Oregon winter. Many scamper off to Mexico this time of year, and others install a portable sun-in-a-box in their houses from which they hope to reabsorb their will to live, but I am among the group that thrives under cloud cover, even if the cover reaches the ground. If I do dream of a vacation, my thoughts drift north. I've got friends in Alaska now and the sun barely sniffs the horizon there before snapping back into its shell, and it sounds lovely to me.

It makes me wonder if my temperament is congenital, a sturdy Scandinavian legacy. My neighbor John is half Cuban, and he's got his house painted in eye-slapping yellow and spank-me red and seizure-purple and so on, inside and out. It's a neighborhood attraction and I admire it a lot, but I couldn't live there. It would feel like my house was shouting at me. John's tropical blood was kindled with parrots and flowers and other stimulants. He tried to show us proper Cuban motion in the hips when we were taking salsa lessons, and it was so easy for him, but my hips were suspicious of the whole venture, and I could only eke out a sad little chaotic waggle like a drunk walking a line. It just isn't in me. The further from the equator you get, the more the color drains out of the birds and flowers and animals and people. Even my own blood is not quite red but more of a light terra-cotta, due to the butter bits. My people spent a thousand years bumping along the edge of an ice sheet in frozen underwear and anything resembling Cuban motion dropped off the genome. I guess the horned helmets were enough of a compensation, because nobody thought to turn south.

Here, we confine the tropics to hummingbird-sized pieces. Anna's hummingbirds are here all winter, brilliant bits of punctuation. But we all have some light from within and mine, at least, burns brighter against the gray. Bare branches finger and rearrange the sky, and sometimes stars drill it and mountains sharpen themselves against it. Summer is nice enough and all, an attentive butler with a platter of pleasures, and heat for free right on the very air, but it's in winter I make my own pleasures and bundle up my own warmth and thrum with compressed energy, like a daffodil bulb yearning for the light.

70 comments:

  1. Ah, who needs the sunshine? Your wit provides all the sparkle and color anyone could ask for.

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  2. I have learned not to drink coffee when I read your blog. I love your neighbour's house. thank God he is allowed to paint it like that. too many communities would have him in court.
    I lived in the arctic years back and enjoyed the long winter night with temperatures much colder than Maine (fur-lined underwear keeps things from freezing and falling off). But damp cloudy weather hovering around 0C, 32F brings out the melancholy baby in me. I count the days until spring.

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    1. We're in the "Alberta Arts District." Painting a house like that is practically mandatory. I do love my neighborhood.

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  3. After I was fledged, my mother moved back to her hometown of McMinnville, Oregon. When she used to tell me stories of the nonstop rain and fog, I surely suspected that she was somehow glorying in it. My own dour, Calvinist, northern European genes seem to cause delight in sitting indoors glowering out the window at the snow and ice. Perhaps I'm only happy when I'm miserable. Now I'm planning to retire up by the St. Lawrence Seaway. What I'm saying is, "Yeah, I can relate."

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    1. You're not miserable. You glory when you glower!

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  4. I like having genetics to point the finger at for all my little quirks.

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    1. Used to be I blamed everything on menopause or the Republicans.

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    2. Well,I still factor in the hormones angle. And aren't Republicans only there so people can hurl their slings and arrows?
      My own Scandinavian heritage causes me to cuss mightily in this tropic summer.

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  5. I was raised as a nomad (military brat) and seem pretty much at home in most places. I never thought about it until I read this post, but I guess I kind of like the dark, too. It gives me an excuse to go to bed early, since it's hardly ever sunny this time of year. Your posts always give me something to think about. And smile at.

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    1. I always figured you'd feel at home pretty much any place. You can see it in your face.

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  6. I take a sort of cantankerous pride in the rain. Yeah, it sucks. If you can't take it, go back to California! I notice that even in driving rain, locals don't use umbrellas. Hoods, hats, and a, "hell with it," attitude seem to suffice. I have see runners in shorts and t-shirts, soaking wet, jogging right along through downpours. The rain keeps us green.

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    1. Whenever I notice I'm getting green, it reminds me to rotate.

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    2. Yep, true observations; I am one of those outrageous runners. Oh, and frequent fresh socks prevent green toes. Thank you REI sock liners!

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  7. I'm confused. Of English lineage but born in Panama. Raised in the Florida swamps but feel most at home in the southern Appalachian Piedmont. Adore the weather you describe, especially hiking in it, but can't bear it for months on end. Champagne taste on a beer pocketbook. Damn, it's hard to be a Gemini.

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    1. It's the "months on end" part that gets people here. Not me, but I'm a Libra.

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  8. Another genetics victim weighing in here. When I worked in an office where folks cranked up the heat to tropical levels in the winter, I complained. I pointed out that the human body is basicaly a furnace--put on more damn clothes and let your body do the heating. My option--well, folks, it ain't pretty. If I get too hot in an over-heated office my only option is to strip. 'Nough said--heat gets lowered.
    Ah, genetics. Thank you.

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    1. Yuck. We have to turn the heat on when people come over for dinner. Even at 70 degrees, I'm stripping down and my guests won't take their jackets off. I think a lot of people have busted furnaces.

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  9. Oh Murr,

    Just when I thought we were mental twins, you go and tell me this. NO COLOR? NO SUN. I'm slightly messed up from having to live with an hour less of sunlight here in the Sacramento Valley than I had in Texas. And I thought your neighbor is a true artist. Yellow, the brain stimulant, and red to make your more gregarious and then those moody blues.

    And you get all this inspiration living a black and white life with little sun. Just think how inspired you would be if you got to live where the sun shines at least 10 hours a day and worked in a yellow room.

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    1. I'd be TWITCHY, is what I'd be.

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    2. Black and white life?! Are you kidding? This place is radiant with color even in winter time. Trees offer green, brown, red, orange and blueish grey, the sky fascinates with blue, periwinkle, red, yellow, orange and white; the roadsides are even variegated with grasses and wildflowers made radiant by twinkling rainwater. I left California in part because the omnipresent sun bleached the color out of everything. Oregon is a haven for color lovers like me.

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    3. Uh, particularly if you love green, right, mj?

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  10. Oh, I couldn't live in the dark. I loved Sarasota, Florida and hated having to move "north" to Atlanta.
    But I love your neighbor's house. We live in a subdivision where house colors have to be approved and everything is drab. "Correct" in the eyes of the ARC, but drab.

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    1. North to Atlanta? I can't even get that to make sense. I'll work on it.

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  11. It's the dark that gets to the foreigners. They've heard all about the rain, and they're ready for it. What they're not ready for is the weeks at a time without sunlight. Whereas we natives putter along quite happily in the twilight, and really are made a little uneasy by bare naked skies with no cloud layers to protect us: it's pretty, sure, but is it safe?

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  12. nice post. My son tells me of Portland winter.... I think he is adjusting from the Wisconsin ones he is used to.

    one question, though.... //salsa lessons//

    .... Do Oregonians really need help on how to use the chips properly? see, just dip them in, sip beer, repeat. Not that hard, really.

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  13. That was just beautiful. Lyrical.

    With the exception of the tits and balls visual with sound effects, which did at least serve to underscore the delicacy of hummingbirds and the filigree of branches, rather as though Jane Austen should drop in the occasional counterpoint to her usual high-minded prose. “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you. Ain't that some shit?" Which is--tee hee--why I so ardently admire and love you.

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    1. Nothing against Jane Austen, but I think your rewrite has a lot of merit. A lot of merit.

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  14. You could have made a living flashing your prose--in the bygone days.

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    1. And yet, in the true hippie spirit, I flash for free.

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  15. Oh we are indeed cousins. Here where the heat is melting my last brain cells and the sky is a burning my eyes blue I am yearning for the softer light of winter. And the elegance of bare trees against the sky. And for a time when I don't sweat as soon as I walk outside (if not before).

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    1. 'Scuse my ignorance, but do you even get a winter there?

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    2. A facsimile of winter yes. We get frosts and some parts of Oz (not many true) get snow. And the leaves fall off the trees and nothing grows in the garden. And I can go outside before dusk.

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  16. We're studying adjectives and adverbs in 9th grade English, would that the kids could come up with ones like eye-slapping yellow, spank-me red and seizure purple!! It would be almost heavenly correcting essays.

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    1. Ooo, a teacher. Here's my idea for a terrific and fun exercise: put a list of phrases including adjectives or adverbs down on the left. On the right, have the students remove the modifiers and express the same thing better with a good verb.

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  17. Hmmm. Gotta have my sunshine. One or two days of gray matter and that ole depression descends over me like a big black tarp.

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    1. One of our friends reminded us that Hemingway called it The Black Dog. I think your simile is better.

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    2. One or two days? Holy crap. I can go months and months. I truly believe these differences are as hard-wired as eye color.

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    3. Nance, I don't know about Hemingway but I do know Churchill referred to his depression as the Black Dog.

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    4. Murr, I think you're exactly right but no way could I go months and months.

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    5. Well, it's a big planet with lots of spots to land on. Ain't that grand? (Internal sunniness here, something many of my friends would like to rip out of me by its irksome tendrils.)

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  18. Even my Scandinavian genes need some pharmaceutical help to get through the dark time. What is there for hummingbird's to eat this time of year?

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    1. Well, I cook for them. But I've seen them around the winter-blooming camellias. I defy you to be uncheered in the face of a squadron of hummingbirds zipping through a camellia in a snowstorm.

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  19. Beautiful post and great pictures. Unfortunately as a sufferer of SAD, I crave those tropical climes whence your neighbor hails. (Did I use "whence" correctly there? I've always wanted to use that word).

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    1. You totally did. Tiffin, take note, darling! For extra credit, use "enormity" correctly.

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  20. My Highland Scottish genes are thrumming in harmony with your Nordic ones (I suspect I've got Viking in me somewhere, given my Dad's colouring). An ideal vacation is Scotland in October. Since we've aged a bit, we now set our furnace at68F/20C. But here's where we differ: I do love the sun shining off the snow in an Ontario winter. You had some delicious one-liners here, Murr....you had me at the oven light.

    Mauigirl, if I may: it's "from whence". But bravo for going for it!

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    1. "Whence" means "from where." Extra credit: "wherefore" means "why."

      I love it that people care. And Highland Scottish genes are awfully sexy. Or maybe that's just Jamie Fraser...

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    2. Oh dear, you are so right: a tautological redundancy indeed. Keerap! Common (and wrong) usage led to that one. Even Shakespeare and Dickens used "from whence", not to mention that pesky King James Bible! I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, [from] whence cometh my help!

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    3. I'm always shocked and dismayed when I get caught using something wrong, not that that's such an unusual event.

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    4. Me too, Murr. It was the only thing I wasn't half bad at (thanks, Mom) in school, except for art and recess. I'm covered with humbility.

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  21. Dark, cold, and sometimes snowy is the order of the day for the Canadian prairies.

    Ideal weather for hibernating. To which I'm going to return. Maybe you should try hibernating, too!

    See you in the spring.

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    1. I'm just about to hibernate for about seven hours. You'll be back before spring, won't you?

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  22. A kindred spirit. I love the Oregon winter. It warms my Irish/English heart...

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  23. I read this post yesterday and was too bowled over to think of a worthy response.

    "Anna's hummingbirds are here all winter, brilliant bits of punctuation. But we all have some light from within and mine, at least, burns brighter against the gray. Bare branches finger and rearrange the sky, and sometimes stars drill it and mountains sharpen themselves against it."

    Makes me yearn to read your book, with a fire and hot cuppa something. You are an artist and a find, dear murr. When is that book going to be published? Please add me to the waiting list.

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    1. I think I've now written four books, none of them published, and each one completely different. I'm guessing two of them will come out eventually--the Murrmurrs collection and a novel. I'll put you down for one. Thanks!

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  24. A woman after my own heart. I love it here in winter, the gray, rain, cold. Sometimes I think I'm the only one who loathes day after day of sun in summer or the unexpected 80 degree day in March. The idea of traveling to tropical - or even sub - in winter seems unnatural. When others are celebrating the return of light, I'm secretly mourning -- no, it was long enough....

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  25. One of my favorites ever. And for the first time I'm thinking, what does that Brewster girl do when she is not writing? Do you actually have a jo-job? You should be paid to write. I look forward to your bloggies.

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  26. When I was younger, I thought I wanted to be a mailman. What I really wanted to be was a retired mailman. Now I is one.

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  27. Hey Murr! It's okay, you can relax; there's no possibility of Cuban hips in my gait. In fact, my damned pelvis twinges bad enough as it is. I think I'll go make a hot water bottle. Wow, I'm 43, and a wreck. Indigo x

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    1. Sweetie, hate to say it, but I didn't have twinges until I was 44.

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  28. This is absolutely exquisite, my friend. Once again, I bow to your awesomeness.

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  29. Lovely post, Murr. Yeeeeah....this weather is getting to be a bit wearing on the soul. And then I saw where some animal had scratch the barkdust away and tiny tulip shoots pipped out of the ground. Hope comes in 60 more rotations of the earth.

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    1. Or the day after the Rose Festival Parade in June, whichever comes last, and I think we both know which that is.

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  30. You're killing me. In the best possible way.

    Here in Minneapolis we do what so many of those of us of the northerly persuasion are wont to do: we abscond to Florida for lumpy little four-day weekend types of vacation. Enough to harvest the Vitamin D but not enough to lose "hardy" status.

    Pearl

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  31. I don't know. I think it's your mosquito season that makes you truly hardy.

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