Snow Falling on Pines

Here is a poem I wrote yesterday while it snowed steadily outside:

A long snowflake falls
from a gray-white sky.
I watch it float, lazily
to the snow-covered ground.
Snow clouds drape the ridgeline
across the valley.
Blue Buck, Pearrygin, and Tripod
Veiled by the gauze sky.
An hour later, the snow is coming down
All peaks and ridges are obscured, have disappeared.
Hidden behind a world of snow, cloud to ground
Illusory and temporary in nature.
I wonder about that one snowflake I saw
Falling hours ago, where is it now?
Somewhere, nowhere, lost in it all
Snow falling on pines.

By David LaFever

 

Swirling Delight

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Listen as she speaks to you
Hear the voices flutter through
The barriers arranged by you.
~Phish (“Water in the Sky”)

I sit in the glistening snow, sparkling in the first sunlight I can remember seeing in weeks. The warmth on my cheeks and hands, so comforting in the cold winter air, comes from so far away that it doesn’t seem possible. How could we be so perfectly situated from this everyday star? A bald eagle, wings outstretched, soars in tight circles, calls and alights in the top of a conifer as the last of its eerie echoes fade into the vastness of this place. I hear a hairy woodpecker, a nuthatch, and a raven, these friends of old from within the bare cottonwoods along the river. I hear the river too, singing its sweet song, fluid and serene. An ancient and endless voice.

As a raven’s voice croaks in the sunlight, I think about water and its importance in my life. It plays such a central part that I easily take it for granted – the food that I consume and all the products in my life, from wood to cotton to plastic, have their origin in water or close to it. As I sit in the snowy forest, I think about how much of my food is water. We are last weeks potatoes as Thoreau said, and potatoes are, amazingly, 99% water. If you have ever made latkes or potato pancakes, you will know that this is close to true.

I am water too, close to 70% and salty. Fresh and salt water mix and mingle in my body, mind and even my thoughts. I am a mass of walking, talking water. So too is the chickadee that calls from the nearby chokecherry, a bird that doubles its feathers each winter in order to stay warm and dry. I wonder how much water is in that little bird, in each of those thousands of feather. Water is life and it flows through us all, through it all.

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The river teaches me this with each bursting bubble, the sound that we call the babbling of the river. The snow too, although it seems stationary, is always moving and will soon melt and flow into rivulets, percolate into the ground and will swell the river into torrent.

As I sit in this wintry place, I write a few haiku:

The river flows on
On and on in endless sound
Taking me with it.
 
I think, who am I?
The ceaseless flow of nature
White snow all around.
 
Black specks soar above
Snow sparkles in winter light.
I sit and listen.
 
The river, the rocks
Sit talking to each other
Late into the night.

 

I stand up, stretch my stiff body and look upward into the sound of ravens, circling and swirling above in thermal delight. There are thirty or so ravens and a couple of eagles, turning together in a great gyre of feathers, bones and water eddying in the vague winter sky.


By David LaFever

A Cold Rain Starting

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A cold rain starting
And no hat –
So?
~ Matsuo Basho

 

Its thirty-four degrees outside and raining. The snow on the ground is both crusty and slushy. Not my ideal of winter weather and I wish it was both colder and snowing. Madeleine awakes, hears the rain on the bus roof, looks outside and exclaims, “It’s raining!” She is excited and thrilled and adds, “It’s really raining and hard,” although I don’t think it is raining very hard. I catch myself just before I say, “Yup and I wish it was colder and snowing.”

I am soon caught by her excitement and find myself hastily putting on my rain jacket in order to keep up with her as we head outside to play in the rain and slush. I am soon having fun and enjoying the sound of the rain as it falls to the earth. Plus warmer snow is much better for building a snowman.

 

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So why was I not simply and immediately excited by rain as she was? Seems that I, like all of us, exist too much in our heads and in the realm of “wishing for something else.” I find myself all too often wishing for something other than what is actually happening and searching for something just a little more perfect. Do you feel that same way?

Rain is okay, but wouldn’t snow be so much better? What then….

Plop! a large rain drop falls from far above and hits me right on the rim of my glasses, ricocheting into my right eye. Wow, that sure woke me up from my mental reverie! Instantly I am surprised out of my mind and into the body and mind that is larger than myself, namely the present. This exact moment and for a moment I am here. Right here! Now! Rain!


written by David LaFever

The Color of Snow

I had forgotten how the colors change.  We have spent years in a place where the color of the landscape stays roughly the same throughout the year – various shades of greens and browns in the forest; the various shades of green and blue and grey of the ocean, depending on the sun or fog conditions; the color of fog and raincloud, the brilliant blue sky or blazing red sunset.  Subtle variations, but always green and vibrantly alive.  And so you forget.  You forget how overnight the world can change from a color-filled place to one that is almost mono-chromatic, a world that looks like an Ansel Adams photograph, except that there are colors – muted greens of pine needles, barely visible beneath the hoarfrost that coats each needle and twig, and the dark brown of tree trunks, appearing almost black in contrast to the pure white snow.  The sky itself can be almost white, too – it would be hard to tell where the land ended and the sky began except for the black dots of trees and shrubs that are dotted right up to the top of the mountains.  So different from the vibrant green of coastal California – not so lush, but still alive, just lying dormant and resting.  As I drove to work the other day I was mesmerized by the colors – or really the lack of colors.  It was all so stark and so overwhelmingly beautiful, and I realized that this first winter in the Methow may be a very special time indeed – an opportunity to appreciate how different this place is from where we were before.  As the years pass we will remember what winter looks like, we will have expectations of what winter is, what it “should” be, when it will snow, how much it will snow.  We may try to fight these accrued expectations, but they are often unavoidable.  We have a blank slate here this winter, our first winter, which can be a really amazing thing.  I feel open to what is happening around us, without having any history in this place to compare our experience with.  I didn’t lament the cloudy days of late November (perhaps because I just moved from a place where rain and overcast weather is the norm in late November!), or the less-than-usual amount of snow we received in December… it is all new for us, and each day comes and we see what it brings.

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About a week before Christmas it did snow, the first significant snowfall since before Thanksgiving.  People in the valley are happy for the snow, because now everyone can get out and ski!  The trails are groomed and open, the downhill ski resort will open soon, and all just in time for Christmas – a joyful time all around.  The first morning after the storm we all went out to play in the snow, shoveling a big pile for the girls to play in, fall on, roll down.  The wind was blowing a little, and every now and again a branch of one of the tall Ponderosa pines would shed it’s burden of snow.  The snow would start to fall and then get caught in the breeze, which would stretch out the snow into a long plume, like a flag waving.  It was sunny today, and the “snow flag” would sparkle and drift down, slowly stretching out more and more in the wind, until it disappeared.

Yesterday it snowed again, and now we have a couple feet on the ground.  Several times in the night I heard the soft thunder of snow falling from the trees – miniature avalanches right outside the window!  None of us have been under one… yet!  And with all the snow and cold weather we are learning about the new season of life in the bus – much different than roasting in the summer!  As we meet more and more people in the valley, we are getting to be known for being the family that lives in a school bus.  There aren’t many around.  Now that winter is fully here, we are often asked if we are staying warm – fortunately the answer has been yes.  Around Christmas we experience our first true cold “snap” with lows around -10 Fahrenheit.  We were cozy in the bus, between the wood stove and the propane wall heater, but it’s also been interesting to see how the cold creeps in around the edges so much.  We have some insulation in the floor and walls, but left the windows as they are, which is something we love about the bus – it has lots of light and you feel very connected to the outdoors when you are in it.  There is not much separating you from the outside, and so now is the season when we try to make more of a separation – thermal curtains, insulated “skirting” that goes around the bottom of the bus to keep the wind from whistling underneath, plastic over the windows.  I am thankful we went for a propane wall heater that can really crank out some heat – we have a wood stove installed as well, and both are important for keeping the Cozy Turtle cozy during the winters!  With all that, the Cozy Turtle warms up quickly, but it also cools down fast too.  Water condenses on the inside of the windows, and on very cold mornings there is ice on the inside of the window sills.  I have a theory that we could tell how cold a night it was based on how far up the window the ice gets… during the cold snap the ice was halfway up the lower bus window, and then a thick layer of frost all around the bottom edge of the window too!  The floor of the bus is pretty cold too – around freezing when we put our little indoor thermometer down there, while the ceiling of the bus is often around 75!  Quite a range of temperature inside, and I’m glad that we didn’t try to have anyone’s bed too close to the floor!  Perhaps the most annoying winter-time bus living thing is the front door – the roof is warm, so the snow on top slowly melts, and the melting snow drips off the side and makes some awesome icicles.  Next to the front door we have a major water runoff spot, and it pools at the bottom corner of the hinge-side of the door.  So some mornings the door is hard to open and we have to chip off a bunch of ice.  Someday there will be a covered entryway that will hopefully solve the problem, but for now we keep a rubber mallet and chisel handy.  And this might all sound just terrible to people reading this!  But really, how recently has forced air heating revolutionized our indoor living environments?  Is it truly a hardship to have the floor be cold enough to warrant putting down rugs and wearing slippers?  Our children are warm in their beds at night (oftentimes too warm  when they go to bed to have more than one little blanket on), which is really the most important thing I suppose!  We are feeling very fortunate to have warmth in abundance (so thankful for wood to burn and that we can afford to fill our propane tank!), and have a pretty comfortable home to live in!

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What do the girls think of all this?  A friend was visiting last week and asked the girls if they liked all the snow – both of them instantly screamed “YES!!!!!” and howled and made a lot of noise.  That pretty much sums it up.  They love the snow, and spend a lot of time outside in it.  During the cold snap we spent more time inside – it’s hard to be outside when it hurts to breathe.  But fortunately that only last a few days.  Now the temps are back up around 20, and I really did not anticipate that I would actually have the thought “Wow, 20 degrees is really comfortable” but there it is.  The girls can play outside for a long time before needing a break, and they don’t need the break to warm-up, but just a chance for a snack!

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Some friends have asked for more details on what life in the bus is like – and really it’s just like life in a house was but with a lot more “excuse me”s, toes being stepped on, and time spent waiting for someone to get in or out of the entryway so that you can have a turn to put on/take off your boots and coat.  It seems that children are often credited for being very adaptable, which I have found to be true for the most part – but I think adults can be just as adaptable if the mind is open and ready.  Life in the bus is just life – we all get along the way we generally always have.  We still cook dinner every night.  Having our water come from a 5 gallon jug on the counter is shockingly normal (although come spring I have plans for getting the faucet running – but right now we don’t want to have to worry about the water tank freezing.  We do spend a bit more time cleaning up after ourselves, which is good practice for the girls anyway – space is tight, so if you want to start a new crafting project, well, you gotta clear off the table first!

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In September we got a puppy – a little border collie/heeler/corgie mutt who has really only improved life in the bus.  Shocking, I know.  I think I expected to regret getting a puppy on some level, and am still surprised at how great a fit the little pup is into our life.  Her name is Stella.  She is mostly black, a bit of white on the paws and chest, and she takes after her Corgie ancestor in many ways – short legs, small stature (great for a bus!).  And also has the brains of the border collie – she learns things so fast, and is extremely connected to her people.  She does not wander far, which is great since we don’t have a fenced yard, and she hardly barks – when she does bark we know there is something to see, whether it is a biker coming down the road or a couple coyotes running through the meadow 50 yards away.  The girls love her more than just about anything, and she sleeps snuggled on the end of one of their beds every night.  She was an unplanned addition to the family, but one that has been much appreciated by us all!

Christmas in the bus is a bit different than in a house – there is no space in the living area for a tree!  The girls cleaned out a bunch of toys and folded down their little craft table in their room so we could squeeze a tree in there – a tiny 3 foot high tree, and we picked out only our favorite ornaments to put on the tree.  There is very little space for presents, so most are still packed in their boxes, which is far less tortuous for the girls anyway!  We did decorate with lights on the exterior, which is fun (although I inadvertently made the bus kindof look like Mater… it has lips now….), and there has been some great cookie making on the interior while watching our favorite Christmas movies, so some things haven’t changed at all!

As we quickly approach the end of 2017 I am looking back on the past year and thinking about what a busy and eventful year it has been for our family.  I am proud of how our girls have handled the transition we thrust on them – both have adapted so quickly, and are blossoming!  I have personally felt more stress in the last year than I think I’ve ever felt in my adult life, but I am so grateful to be here and to have taken this leap that we dreamed about for years.  We all are feeling at home here and are happy we made the move to this beautiful place.  I hope you all are feeling peace and contentment wherever you are!

Happy New Year!

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Dense Peaks Thick With Snow

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Always it’s cold on this mountain!
Every year, and not just this.
Dense peaks, thick with snow.
Black pine-trees breathing mist.
It’s summer before the grass grows,
Not yet autumn when the leaves fall.
Full of illusions, I roam here,
Gaze and gaze, but can’t see the sky.
~ Han-shan (“Cold Mountain”, an 8th century Chinese poet and wild mountain sage)

 

I step outside into a cold, clear dawn. Its crisp and the world is very still. Frost covers anything left outside and the dark green pines are delicately frosted like wedding cake. I breath in and feel the cold air hit my lungs, hurting my nostrils which is a sure sign that it is cold. I set up my meditation spot in its usual place – the porch of the abandoned double-wide next to where our bus is parked –  and wrap myself in a sleeping bag, settling in to meditate. Breathing in and breathing out, counting breaths, I focus and settle down. Quickly I become focused on my finger tips and toes which are cold and getting colder, at least that is what I feel. After fifteen or twenty minutes, I bow, get up, put my cushion and sleeping bag away and head back into the bus. Damn my toes and feet are cold and hurting. I wonder how cold it is outside as I plop down on a stool (an upside down five-gallon bucket) next to the woodstove. Cozy and warm.

While I didn’t know how cold it was in terms of degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius, I sure knew how cold it was in terms of body and sensation. As I sat there warming up, I wondered, “Did I need to know what the number was or could this experiencing of cold be enough?” My mind kept wanting to look up how cold it was, which would come from a local weather station and might not represent how cold it was at our place (known locally as one of the coldest places in the valley). “Well I could just go and buy a thermometer at the hardware store,” I thought.

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Our minds or at least mine anyway is always searching for an answer, for an explanation for things. Where does this come from? Is it a hallmark of human consciousness or is it a vain attempt at making sense of a world that is ultimately unknowable? Do we seek out the “truth” because we are scared shitless about both the uncertainly of our lives and the certitude of its finality?

I found that I had to make an effort to just let go of the impulse to know just how cold it was. Andy why did I need to know? Probably just so that I could congratulate myself or boast to others about how tough I am.

The search for understanding and knowledge is not a bad thing and in fact it’s a wonderful characteristic of humanity. What I am discovering, however, is that I can know in a lot of different ways including what I think is the deepest way – not knowing. This not knowing is an open-hearted way of being that allows our life to unfold naturally, with us as co-conspirator rather than absolute controller. The insatiable drive to know everything combined with the fact that we cannot possible know everything means that we are left always feeling a bit dissatisfied. Did I really need to know what the temperature was when I already knew, in a very direct way, just how cold it was? What would this knowing do that not-knowing could not?

I pondered these thoughts as I held a hot cup of coffee in my hand and then I just put another log on the fire, letting go of desire to know how cold it was that morning. The subsiding pain in my fingers and toes told me all I really needed to know anyway.


written by David LaFever

Getting Laundered

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I set down the meditation pillow and arrange it neatly atop a small rug, which is itself neatly arranged in a rectangular shaft of sunlight. I then drop an tangled pile of clean laundry in front of the cushion. The clothes are still warm and smell fresh, unscented. I bow to the cushion then I turn and bow to the laundry and sit down, legs crossed uncomfortably beneath me.

I pick up each bit of clothes, fold it neatly and place it into a pile, separated by family member. There is a Madeleine pile, a Juniper pile, a Kristin pile, a David pile, and a pile of assorted towels, rags and the like. Each gets its due attention, imbued with my intention to take care of things. I pay attention, not in a worried or overly-attentive way like a hover-parent, but in a Rightly attentive way. I fold each item to completion, nothing more and nothing less. And of course my mind wanders and then I remember to pay attention and so I do and return to the task at hand. Grab, smooth, fold, breath, place into pile, repeat. Inhaling, exhaling; rising, falling; thoughts coming, thoughts going. Each moment, complete by itself. Each article of clothing taken complete care of.

Folding laundry, one of the most ordinary acts, is thus turned into something…. Hmmm, I hesitate here. Its actually not turned into something or transformed into the extraordinary, which is what I find myself wanting to say Rather, its allowed to be exactly what it is – folding laundry and by allowing to be just what it is, its becomes ordinary. Nothing special at all.


written by David LaFever

How Many Steps?

You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.

~ Yogi Berra

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The view eastward from the bus.

It takes fifty steps to go from the front door of the bus to the toilet tent (see pictures below) and five more to sit down. Its twenty-five steps to the summer kitchen (see picture below) and almost zero steps to get to the winter kitchen. There is one short step and two tall steps to get into the bus and six more will get you to the kitchen sink. To walk from one end to the other might take you sixteen steps and two more back and a fall would get you onto the futon or Juniper’s bed.

This summer is was 80 degrees Fahrenheit (or hotter) inside the bus; and now that it is fall it gets into the low 40s at night (without a heater or woodstove).

We went 66 days without electricity and just got plugged in last night. We are a bunch of happy lucky idiots!

 

If you have time to chatter

Read books

If you have time to read

Walk into mountain, desert and ocean

If you have time to walk

Sing songs and dance

If you have time to dance

Sit quietly, you Happy Lucky Idiot

~ Nanao Sakaki

 

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Our home.
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The bus in Wolf Creek Woods.
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Our outdoor, summer kitchen.

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Sunset view from the bus.


Written by David LaFever