Friday, March 23, 2012

March Madness

In the American sports world these days there’s lots of talk about brackets and Cinderella teams and number 2 seeds getting taken out by number 16 seeds. But the only seeds I’m thinking of during March Madness this year are the ones that will grow into vegetables.

March crocuses
It’s been 70 degrees or warmer the better part of the last week. In mid-March. In northern New England. Where last year at this time the snow banks along the driveway were still dwarfing the lilac bushes, this week the lilacs are budding. There is no snow on the ground anywhere in sight, except for a wee bit in the deepest rocky crevices of Mount Lafayette and on the high slopes of Cannon Mountain, where a couple months ago they stockpiled manmade snow to last the season.

Well, a week of summer weather means ski season ends this weekend. And I feel as if I should be planting the garden rather than making the final turns of the winter.

March Madness? I’m surrounded by it. In a matter, literally, of minutes we went from ski boots to flip flops, turtlenecks to tank tops, chilly air to freakin’ mosquitoes! There are dandelion greens peeking at us from the yard. The tulips are up six inches and look to be blooming in another week. Continuous warm temperatures mean maple sugaring season was abruptly abbreviated this year, so get ready for the price of maple syrup to skyrocket.

The birds are chirping incessantly. The peepers are singing already. The bears are up. While we haven’t actually seen any bruins, yet, the paths through our yard and fields are littered with their scat. It’s a good reminder to keep the muck boots on when we wander around outside, even though our winter weary toes long for flip flops.

Our mudroom, whose scattered piles are normally indicative of the season, is now a schizophrenic hodgepodge of chaos. (OK, with three small kids, two adults, a long-haired dog who likes to roll around in the mucky field, and two cats thrown in for good measure, our mudroom is normally chaos, just not quite to this extent.) There are snow boots and mud boots, ski pants and sandals, neck gaiters and sunglasses all mixed together in a confusing jumble.

“Mom, do we need mittens?” my kids shout as we head out the door. “Should I wear my snow boots or my rain boots? Or my flip flops?” My smallest one, age 3, went out the other morning in shorts, rain boots, a spring weight fleece jacket, winter hat, mittens, and sunglasses. March Madness, indeed.

The last two afternoons the kids have stripped down to play in a makeshift kiddie pool. Last night they revived one of their favorite pre-bedtime summer rituals: running around the front yard in circles as fast as they can, giggling in a slap-happily the whole time. They came in covered in mud and dirt, got cleaned off, and fell into bed exhausted.

Next week we return to cooler temperatures. Normal March weather, requiring long sleeves and socks. It might even snow a little bit. It won’t surprise me one bit if it snows – a lot – before summer really sets in. Really, we had a taste of winter in October, lots of fall-ish mud season-esque weather through much of the winter, and now summer in March. Why not winter in April? Or May? It’s a good reminder to all those North Country folks who lament snow in winter (hello, it’s WINTER in NEW ENGLAND!) that we don’t get to choose when it happens, but snow is a fact of life here. It’s easy to embrace snow in winter. Snow in late spring, after a taste of summer, not so much.

So, for a while, our mudroom will remain confused, as will the tulips. We’ll leave the bikes on the porch, but the snowshoes are still there, too. And while I’m tempted to sow seeds in my veggie garden, which is completely melted out and warmed by the sun, I think for now I’ll stick to planting seedlings inside, leaving them in the warm, south-facing window of the living room.

It’s a good place for looking out at the March Madness around us.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The joys of reading

For as long as I can remember, I have loved books.

I have long relished peaceful summer afternoons filled by a compelling novel, chilly winter days nestled by the fireplace with something good to read, or the simple and comforting act of curling up with a bedtime story.
As a longtime reader, and now a writer, I am happy to get behind the local celebration this month of the National Education Association’s Read Across America program, which strives to instill in children a lifelong love of reading.

For the past decade I have worked as a writer, and so I am sometimes invited to serve as a speaker for various groups. This month I have been asked to speak at a local middle school about my work, and to read at a local elementary school during its Read Across America celebration. I consider these invitations an honor, and I hope the students find in books all the joy and knowledge there to discover.

The first stories I remember devouring were the Serendipity books – magical tales accompanied by fantastical drawings of doe-eyed animals and colorful fairy creatures. These were some of the first books I could read on my own, and I read one after another.

Eventually I graduated to the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, once spending an entire summer day in bed with a stack of compelling mysteries and consuming a large bag of M&Ms and four entire books. Later, it was on to Judy Bloom, V.C. Andrews, and the teenage drama of the Sweet Valley High series. 

Through the years I’ve embraced several favorite authors – John Irving, Tom Robbins, Barbara Kingsolver, Jodi Picoult – reading all the titles I could find by each in the local bookstore or the library. I’ve also gone through phases of reading the “classics,” from Charles Dickens and Mark Twain to Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen. Occasionally I delve into the timeless poetry of Robert Frost (who for a few years lived and wrote just down the road from my home today), or the work of W.B. Yeats, Maya Angelou, and New Hampshire’s own Donald Hall.

Sometime into my 20s I discovered that E.B. White was not only the author of the beloved children’s book Charlotte’s Web, but also a masterful essayist, and I often return to a collection of his writing when I am between books.

With three young children, I now spend lots of time reading aloud – the zany rhyming tales by Dr. Seuss, the wonderfully silly poems of Shel Silverstein, the mischievous adventures of Curious George, and so many others. We’ve even started on some of the Serendipity books, resurrected from my childhood.

Like most parents, I hope that my kids grow up to cherish many of the things that I do. I’d love for them to play soccer and to find joy in the mountains, to travel to other places and explore close to home, to enjoy gardening and stargazing.

But the affection I most hope to pass on to them is the joy of reading. There is no other adventure that has the capacity to take us so far, to expand our horizons to new people and cultures, to carry us to other times and places.

There is nothing like being lost in the pages of a good book. Reading can take us Across America, and far beyond.

From the Record-Littleton, March 16, 2012.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Taking it from the top

Today my kids skied from the top of Cannon Mountain. It’s something the older two (aged 5) have been ready to do for a while, but for various reasons, we didn’t make it to the summit with them until this morning. And what a magnificent day it was – perfect temps, blue sky, no wind, and soft spring snow.

There is so much to love about skiing. The rush of arcing turns downhill, the tingle of chilled air or sunshine on your skin, the feeling of gliding over packed snow or floating through deep powder. Beyond all that is the indescribably awesome feeling of being in the midst of mountains, surrounded by peaks that sometimes seem tamed by human-made buildings, trails, and lifts – but that can also be wild and unpredictable, and whose beauty is astounding.

Maybe that’s why I love Cannon, or maybe growing up at Cannon has ingrained that big-mountain feeling in my skiing soul. At a summit altitude of 4,080 feet, Cannon is big for New England, but not compared to the Colorado mountains where I lived for five years. Cannon’s placement in Franconia Notch gives it a big mountain feel – and the best scenery of any mountain around.

As I followed my kids down Tramway today, restraining the 3-year-old by her harness tethers, I felt that sense of awe that hits me so often on the mountain, even if I often take my time there for granted. Lafayette sparkled melting-white in the bright sunshine. The high, rocky peaks plunged to the floor of the notch. And my kids skied down 2,180 feet of vertical like they’d been doing it for ages.

They certainly didn’t seem to notice the splendor of the mountains around them, or the significance of their feat. They were just happy to be skiing, planning who got to sit with whom on the next chairlift ride, wondering if we could go ski in the mini glades the next run. That’s how it is when you’re 5 years old, I guess. I remember exploring the stunted trees at the top of Cannon as a kid, cruising around the familiar trails with friends, catching the spring sunshine on my face at the Turkey Roost (which, regrettably, is no longer there).

Kids have a great ability to live in the moment – or at least in the day. Most of us lose that gift as we grow older and the to-do lists seem forever to be floating in the back of our minds. But it is not until we grow up, perhaps, that we realize just how lucky we are to be spending a day in the mountains.

Monday, March 5, 2012

What a Difference a (Powder) Day Makes

What a difference a (powder) day makes.

All winter we skier types have been lamenting the lack of snow, which has been compounded by the rain that has seemed to follow every scant snowfall of an inch or two, and by the numerous dashed hopes of promised storms that amount to, well, not much.

Skiers tend to be grumpy during low snow seasons, oozing sarcasm when the forecast of 6-12 inches becomes a reality of a trace-1 inch, becoming bitter when we can still see the grass in our yards in February, lamenting past winters of deeper snow.

But this morning dawned a powder day on Cannon Mountain. An unanticipated, delightful drop of 7-10 inches that fell in the night.

This morning there were only happy faces on the first Tram. No grumps. Just fat skis and smiles from the regulars, most of us playing hooky from work or whatever else it is we should have been doing on a Monday morning. Two weeks of February vacation and the associated uptick in skiers on the slopes ended yesterday, so we locals had the mountain all to ourselves – with plenty of first tracks to go around.

It was a hero snow day, with a perfectly grippy base buried under fluffy, knee-deep snow. The turns came easy, and everyone looked like a pro.

True to the zany weather pattern we’ve had this winter, the temperature is supposed to rise to the 50s on Thursday. And as we enter the first full week of March, spring is likely on its way. But last night Ullr decided to show up, at least fleetingly, giving us one sweet, smooth, wonderful powder day.

For that, we skier types are thankful.