Remembering to Remember

Snow douglasia (Douglasia nivalis)

Annual rituals are a wonderful thing. Whether we consciously plan them or not, we all have them. For some it is an annual family trip or a reunion like my family has every July in upstate New York. For others it is a writing or meditation retreat, a sporting event or a car race like it is for my father. Whatever form it takes, we all have them and they give shape to our lives and shape the way we think and behave. How many look forward to that summer trip to the cabin by the lake? We count the days and make sure we have enough vacation time to be able to take it off. We say no to other opportunities in order to make this one thing happen, and we anticipate it. There is something comforting about returning to the same place or activity year after year. It allows us to see how we have changed, if nothing else.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, an Indigenous scientist that teaches at the School for Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, wrote in her delightful book “Braiding Sweetgrass” that “ceremony focuses attention so that attention becomes intention.” Ceremony, ritual, and pilgrimage all have this flavor to them. This is a powerful reminder that the rituals and ceremonies that we engage with have a power to shape our we see and engage with the world.

Having moved to a new place a couple of years ago, I began focusing attention on annual rituals, ceremonies, and pilgrimages. It is the latter that I want to share today. For me a pilgrimage comes into being at the intersection of intention and travel, and may or may not involve ceremony. If it is repeated then it is very much a ritual also. Here in the Methow Valley there are several annual or seasonal ceremonies that we have plugged into and some that we have created ourselves – Summer and Winter Solstices, Autumn and Vernal Equinoxes, Ancestors’ Feast, Coyote Camp, and Native American First Foods ceremonies, to name just a few.

Upper Eagle Lake.

For decades now a friend has been trekking into the mountains to visit a diminutive alpine plant, called the alpine forget-me-not. There is only one place in Washington where it is found and we are lucky to have that place in our backyard, albeit high atop a rocky mountain massif. Last year, I joined this annual botanical pilgrimage and had such a good time that I wanted to do it again this year.

And so we did. He used to visit the plant around July 4th but this year we went in on June 17. Something is changing and the plants are well aware of it. Three of us, two botanists/farmers and myself, spent one night out in the mountains and countless hours exalting at the beauty of the world around us, especially the plants. It was delightful for me to be around such knowledgeable and joyful plant folks.

Alpine forget-me-not (Myosotis alpestris)

These alpine plants are hardy folks. They live in a rocky, thin world, where snow lingers long, winds blow fierce, and the growing season is all-too short. In a sense, the pilgrimage is about paying attention to the changes in the world around us, but it is also about honoring the tenacity of life in the high mountains, and to check our own fortitude against theirs.

Annual rituals, ceremonies and pilgrimages are also about “remembering to remember” as Robin Wall Kimmerer said. The forget-me-not pilgrimage then is a perfect way to do this. There is something different about remembering rather than “not forgetting” and I am not quite sure what it is. Perhaps it is that remembering feels more active. And remembering to remember brings attention, intention, and ceremony into being in a way that simply not forgetting does not.

We remember to observe the changes in the world around us and by doing so to notice the changes in ourselves. And we remember that there is a whole world “out there” beyond our own little world and that it is beautiful, vibrant and resilient beyond our imagination. We remember this tiny alpine plant and the beauty it shares with the world and are grateful to be here.

Star Peak.

by David LaFever

Real Life Blue Sky

Juni in smoke mask

“A mind full of questions and a teacher in my soul.”
~ Eddie Vedder

 

She awoke, looked out of the bus’s tiny windows and exclaimed, “It’s real life blue sky!” Then she jumped up and ran outside to more clearly see this amazing sight!

How many days do you or I not even notice how beautiful the blue sky is? How many times do we wake up and not even think about what a gift a new day is or how remarkable the world around us is? I can speak for myself – it’s far too many days.

After several weeks of moderate to heavy smoke in our valley, it was amazing to wake up to clear skies. It was amazing to see the landscape again, especially the mountains. And it was amazing to see clouds again, just ordinary, glorious clouds!

This August has been called “Smokust” and it has been much August 2017. We think of this as the “new normal” but Cliff Mass (WA meteorologist) says that it’s actually the “old”normal” which we are just not used. Apparently, this many fires and this much smoke was much more common in the early 20th Century and before, or so says Cliff Mass (http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2018/08/northwest-wildfires-are-we-seeing-new.html).

Whether or not this is the new normal, old normal or something else altogether, we are strongly affected by weeks of smoke and it’s having its psychological and emotional impact. The impacts are not only physical, but also mental. People tend to go out less and so suffer from a feeling of isolation. We tend to do less of the physical things that make us feel good such as running, biking and hiking. And we suffer from the loss of seeing and connecting with the places that we love. It is being called the “Lost Summer”, and it does feel as though summer just suddenly ended. No more swimming in rivers and lakes, no more trips to Black Pine Lake, no hiking or backpacking. There is a great article from The Narwhal that discusses this further:

https://thenarwhal.ca/the-lost-summer-the-emotional-and-spiritual-toll-of-the-smoke-apocalypse/

For myself I ran for the first time in weeks this morning before the smoke came back. It felt great and I connected with a promontory above the Methow River that I have not seen in weeks. I love this spot and it’s like connecting with a part of myself. In that way, the Smokust is keeping me from feeling my sense of self in this place. And that is always distressing.

So what do we do with this “new-old normal?” What do we do when our habits and passions are suddenly put on hold? And what do we do with this sense of self when the places and rhythms that define it are altered so greatly? Questions are thick like the smoke, but answers may come suddenly and miraculously like the “real life blue sky,” which is always there shining through the haze.


By David LaFever

 

The Way of Riding the Clouds

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The landscape and the language are the same. And we ourselves are landscape and the land.
~ Conrad Aiken “A Letter from Li Po”

 

For the second year in a row I participated in the Red Cedar Zen Community’s “Mountains and Rivers Retreat” on Mount Baker, which Red Cedar has been doing since 2000. This was the 19th time. Most years it is done as a multi-night backpacking pilgrimage to a large meadow below the azure glaciers of this hulking volcanic mountain. This year’s form was a day-hike of 12 hours and 17 miles round trip. We walked in silence, stopped and performed seven ritual ceremonies, chanted Dogen’s sansuikyo (“Mountains and Waters Sutra”), chanted Shitou’s “Merging of Difference and Unity” and exchanged water between the sea and the mountain. A pilgrimate of sorts and a “sutra-mapping” of the sansuikyo, where landscape, language and pilgrim come together, realizing unity.

Walking in silence through the deep conifer forests of the Pacific Northwest and into the seemingly esoteric words of Eihei Dogen, a 13th century Japanese Zen master, my mind runs rampant. Thoughts like “what’s this plant” and “what the hell does Dogen mean here”, ebb, flow and mingle with mundane thoughts about home and home-life.

Dogen’s writings, particularly in the sansuikyo, encourage us to see the realization or enlightenment in daily acts, not only of body and speech but also of mind. Words matter, he seems to be saying, just don’t hold on to them too tightly. He shows us the deep truth in going beyond thought and logic but also in thought and logic.  To understand that what is happening right now, all our words, thoughts and actions, are an expression of completeness, is to see mountains and waters as expressing wholeness.

“Mountains and waters right now are the actualization of the ancient buddha way. Each, abiding in its phenomenal expression, realizes completeness.”

The essay is divided into five parts, and we chant one section at a time at different ceremonial sites as we walk into and out of the mountains – an ancient hemlock, a headwater stream, a trickling waterfall, a mountain meadow, a rocky creek bed, and a bouldery prominence.

First stop is in decadent and quintessential northwest coniferous forest. Ancient, verdant, dripping with life. Our voices join together as we chant, raised to an ancient conifer whose bark is twisted and scarred by lightning. This ancient one’s top is broken and, with few branches with which to capture the sun’s energy, I am surprised that it is alive at all. But it is alive, erect and tall.

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The first part of the essay we read in front of this ancient and venerable teacher. Here Dogen quotes Priest Daokai of Mt. Furong, who said, “The green mountains are always walking …,” to which Dogen adds, “Mountains walking is just like humans walking…If you doubt mountains walking, you do not know your own walking.” 

Walking along the trail lost in thought, I wonder at the mountains’ walking, and my own. Do I doubt this walking? How can I doubt or not understand something that I have been doing for a very long time and that I do without apparent thought? How does this walking and the mountains’ constantly walking relate? How are they the same thing or are they? Perhaps if I wasn’t so distracted by thoughts, I would be able to see this mountains’ walking and understand my own? But perhaps the mountains too, get lost in thought, always walking, always changing.

“Mountains do not lack the qualities of mountains. Therefore they always abide in ease and always walk.”

Climbing farther and ascending deeper into the mountains, we pass through unlogged, old-growth forests of hemlock, cedar and fir. Some of these trees, feet in diameter, have been standing here for hundreds of years and are a couple hundred feet tall. Drapped in moss and lichen they seem to grow not up from the ground, but out from the atmosphere filling time and space. Deeper into silence, deeper into the forest, and deeper into Dogen we go, yet my mind wands away from the present, moment by moment.

We stop where the trail crosses the South Fork Nooksack River, downstream of where it flows out of Elbow Lake. Not only do we chant the Mountains and Waters Sutra, but we also engage in a water-changing ceremony and chant the “Merging of Difference and Unity,” written by Chinese Cha’n (Zen) teacher Shitou Xiqian in the 8th Century. As the Salish Sea merges with the Nooksack, our voices join together with the sound of flowing water, becoming one chant, one sutra.

“In the light there is darkness, but don’t take it as darkness. In the dark, there is light, but don’t see it as light.”

At this time and place I think of this as:

 “In water there is mountain, but don’t think water is mountain. In the mountain, there is water but don’t think mountain is water.”

Each is it’s own, and interpenetrates the other, completely.

Continuing our chanting of Dogen, the sutra shifts to a focus on water. Water is water, right, and we all know what it is. It is wet and flows downstream. In typical Dogen fashion, however, he flips this on its head to remind us that what we think of as water (or reality) isn’t really water. He implores us to study the moment when “water sees water.”

“Water is neither strong nor weak, neither wet nor dry, neither moving nor still, neither cold nor hot, neither existent nor nonexistent, neither deluded nor enlightened. When water solidifies, it is harder than a diamond. Who can crack it? When water melts, it is gentler than milk. Who can destroy it?”

What is this water that Dogen speaks of?  I begin to notice all the places where water flows in these mountains, trickling out everywhere – seeping out of tree roots and crevices and cascading down rocky streams. Does it only flow downwards or does it also flow sideways and upwards?

And where does all this water come from? Where is it going? Is there really an end and a beginning or is it simply an endless cycle of no-beginning and no-end? If this is so for water, surely it must be so for me as well.

Deepening our walking, deepening our mapping of this sutra, we traverse the edges of the South Fork Nooksack drainage. Cedars seem to flow down the mountainside, giant tree roots that cling like an eagle’s talons to the earth. The forest parts here and there to afford views of the South Fork Divide, Loomis Mountain and the Twin Sisters, hazy in the smoky air. We cross the divide at Bell Pass, a sweet little ponded-meadow and walk into the Middle Fork Nooksack River watershed.

We reach our next ceremonial site, a dripping, lovely little cascade where moss blankets the rocks and ferns dance in tiny breaths of wind. We lay down our packs, take out our sutras and prepare again for ceremony. Like each one before, it begins with Bob setting up the “altar” with a candle, incense and the vials of water. We all then engage in the ancient Zen dance of ritual which includes offering, bowing, chanting and dedicating.  Here it is further complicated by the tricky and often slippery ground of the mountain world, but then again, isn’t our life always a bit tricky and often precarious too?

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“Are there many ways to see one thing, or is it a mistake to see many forms as one thing?”

Our next stop is at Ridley Creek, close to our destination at Mazama Park, where we exchange water and again chant the “Merging of Difference and Unity.” We are high enough in the mountains that wildflowers blanket the creek-side. Lupines and daisys grace us with their color, bringing in bumblebees and butterflies. Suddenly there is a lot of life within this life.

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“If you don’t understand the way right before you, how will you know the path as you walk?”

I have long strove to understand the world around me, which has led me to the pursuits of ecology, Zen Buddhism, and even backpacking. I love knowing what plants and animals are around me and how they interact, and why things are the way they are. However, this can also lead me into questioning everything which can be done in a judgmental way. “Why are you doing it that way,” I seem to catch myself all to often saying. So what is Dogen saying here? How are we to understand the way right before us? How are we to understand understanding? And what does this tell us about the path we are walking?

We have lunch and take rests at a place the Nooksack people called something like spelhpalhxen (“large, open berry picking place”, or something like that) and gaze up at where the icy top of the mountain usually is. We can just barely make out the glaciers on Mount Baker’s flanks through the hazy smoke, which if you didn’t know they were there you might not even notice. We engage in ceremony yet again, and continue our chanting of Dogen:

“When you take one view you see mountains flowing, and when you take another view, mountains are not flowing. One time mountains are flowing, another time they are not flowing.”

Which is the truth, where does reality lie? Is Mount Baker really there or not? Does it have to be an either/or situation? Can it be both there and not-there, can we be both alive and dying too?

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We turn and head back down the trail. It has gotten late and we take an inventory of headlamps in case we need them. Our next stop is a steep, rocky and dry creek bed at the very top of the Middle Fork Nooksack watershed. Looking down the watershed, it feels as though we are at the very top of the world. The drainage winds down, sinuous and serene through forested mountains made hazy blue by smoke. It seems as though we can see to the sea and perhaps you can on clear days. A gorgeous view that draws me in. This could very well be the abode of sages and wise ones that Dogen writes about:

“You may think that in mountains many wise people and sages are assembled. But after entering the mountains, not a single person meets another.”

What is Dogen getting at here, I wonder as we continue on our journey? It was true that we have met very few people along the trail, and who knows if they were wise ones or sages, but still, didn’t we meet someone here? If no one else, then perhaps we meet ourselves here in the mountains, and come to a better understanding of our own walking, our own true nature. So how is it that we meet no one? Isn’t the point of this trip to meet someone, anybody? “Is anybody out there,” I want to yell into the void.

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The last stop on our pilgrimage is an outcrop of rocks high above the South Fork Nooksack, looking more or less directly at the Twin Sisters range. I remember this spot from last year and the astonishment I felt when I looked around and realized how many tree species were growing together here. It’s a place of mixing and mingling where wet-loving species like hemlock and Douglas-fir meet with mountain species like western white pine and mountain hemlock, drier species such as juniper and even Alaska yellow-cedar, with its characteristic draping foliage.  A remarkable spot and I feel a sense of something special here. No wonder this is one of our spots for ritual.

“Although mountains belong to the nation, mountains belong to the people that love them. When mountains love…a virtuous sage or wise person enters the mountains…trees and rocks become abundant and birds and animals are inspired.”

I sling my pack back on and say hello to the juniper growing low over the rocky ground, touching its scaly-foliage before turning and heading down the trail. I think of my daughters and the mountains and the future of it all. How are we to best take care of our home and each other? What is this “entering the mountains”, and what does the “green mountains constantly walking” mean for us at this juncture of time and space? What does love have to do with any of it?

Love, ahh love, is the key to it all, I believe. But it is not the kind of love that is possessive, greedy, or shallow. It is a love that is simple and deep, selfless and freeing rather than controlling and limiting. It is a love that comes from the knowing that we are all connected, so what each one of us does matters.

“Free your minds and your ass will follow,” George Clinton once said, so we begin with freeing our minds which may be what Dogen is getting at with all of these words, after all. We let our minds flow freely, not resting (for too long) on anything, like the purplish copper butterfly we saw near Ridley Creek. It alighted on a white daisy for flying off again, fluttering in the mountain air. And we engage in and acknowledge relationship just as the butterfly did with the daisy. We pollinate the mountains and the mountains pollinate us.

“Because mountains are high and broad, the way of riding the clouds is always reached in the mountains; the inconceivable power of soaring in the wind comes freely from the mountains.”

Both Dogen and the mountains are showing us the way to love, generously, and that what comes from this is abundance. When we are greedy we constrict the world and create limits, but when we give our lives and our love freely, the world opens up all around us. There is reciprocity and interpenetration. Actually this is already, always happening and we are simply called to see it. The green mountains are constantly walking, and the waters flow freely in all directions, and when we come to know this, we too can understand our own walking. And be set free, not from but into our very lives.

 

 

Where there is fire there is smoke

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Society, your a crazy breed. I hope you are not lonely without me.
~ Eddie Vedder “Society”

I step out into the smoky morning street and make my way along the wooden clapboard sidewalk of the old western town. I am wearing a mask, an N95, which is the best cheap one you can get to keep the tiny particles of air pollution out of your lungs. I feel self-conscious and am uncomfortably, literally from wearing a mask, although I am getting used to it, and socially because I am the only one wearing a mask. Tourists go about their day – poking in and out of shops and stopping at Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe for ice cream and candy. They seem unaware and oblivious of the smoke and its harmful effects.

The air quality here has been rated as “unhealthy” or “very unhealthy” for weeks now and I am surprised at how few people, locals and tourists alike, are wearing masks. Today seems clearer than it has been lately – I can almost see sun and sky – yet the WAQA (Washington Air Quality Advisor, which is more stringent than the EPA’s Air Quality Index or AQI) for Winthrop is 198, which is just two points shy of moving into “very unhealthy.” It smells like smoke outside and you can’t see the mountains. We should all limit our time outdoors, and need to be wearing masks if we do.

I have a book waiting for me at the library and so I am walking over there to pick it up. I feel very self-conscious about wearing the mask and find myself actually walking with my head down and not making eye contact with anyone. Wow, I am shocked by how strongly I feel and am affected by social pressure and the need to “fit in.” No one is probably even judging me but I act as though they are. I walk fast, head down, eyes averted. It is so interesting how the need to be a part of the crowd can influence us so strongly, even when I am someone who has often done things my own way and a little bit out of the norm. I mean I live in a freaking bus for crying out loud!

Yet, we are a socially adapted and dependent species and so I too feel that wearing a mask around town.

I reach the library and take it off as quickly as possible. I leave it dangling around my neck and there is a part of me that hopes people see it and think that maybe they need to wear one too. There are a growing number of us wearing masks and I think it is important to lead into my discomfort and wear one anyway. By me wearing one, I give “permission” to others to wear them also, to make it “normal” or at least not super-weird. So while I am wearing one for my own personal health, I wear it for others as well.

Are there other places in our lives where this is true as well? Places where we can embrace the discomfort in order to encourage others to act appropriately, or to say that a certain behavior is not okay? I am thinking of times when someone says something that just isn’t cool. Do I say so or just shrug it off to keep my position as part of the in-crowd? Do I wear the mask or not, and who am I wearing it for?

These questions rattle around in my brain as I pull the strap over my head, securing the mask for my walk back from the library. My eyeglasses fog with each exhalation and I can’t see the strange looks that I imagine I am getting for walking through the discomfort on this smoky, hazy summer day.


by David LaFever

Don’t Forget

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“Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.”

~ William Wordsworth

 

A recent backpacking trip took me, yet again, to a magical and beautiful place. I usually go to the mountains to refresh my spirit, test my body, and to be enveloped in beauty and serenity. This trip was all of those things but the goal was to see if there was a certain rare and special little plant blooming. The alpine forget-me-not only grows in one locality in the entire state of Washington and we have the honor of that place being right in our back yard. Er, well a 6.5 mile hike in and a scramble up a boulder-strewn slope, but, hey, that is our backyard after all! This trip had the added bonus of being with folks as deeply interested and moved by the world around us, particularly natural history and ecology, as I am. The company was perfect, the conversations deep, and the observations astute. Not only did we find the little beauty (pictured below), we found a whole “mountain-side” (really just a mountain shoulder) colored by the most vibrant blue I have ever seen. Getting down on the earth with a hand-lens was all I needed to be struck with awe and care for this delightful planet.

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I then stood up and looked around, where mountains beyond mountains, snow-capped and rugged, filled the land. Both the micro and macro can inspire us to be better humans, to care for both the small and insignificant and the grand and jaw-dropping. This was just such a place to remember this but really any place, every place is sacred, if only we see it so.

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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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