November 17, 2018
I took my dogs downstairs to the porch door, and they leapt into the snow. Yesterday, Friday, it snowed. My husband Garrett is a high school science teacher, and he was half-excited, half-depressed by the idea of a snow day in mid-November. It’s early for this kind of weather, even in Maine.
We have five acres that are just ours, though our plot is a weird, staggered rectangle, so it’s hard to tell where it ends and the next lot begins. Fortunately, the surrounding land is all owned by a lumber company, and they never seem to harvest within a mile of our house. It’s almost like we have an endless wood surrounding us, and I really love that.
But that’s also the worst thing about our house. Since it’s lumber land, and since Maine state law requires that the owner post “No Hunting” signs, hunters are free to come and go as they wish. The responsibility falls with the owners to warn hunters, not with the sportsmen to get permission. So if you don’t see an orange sign, you’re free to hunt wherever you like. Our land is posted, but we still get hunters in the woods. I sometimes find shell casings. One time, I found a pile of human shit. In the fall, we hear gunshots on a daily basis, echoing booms issuing from the pines.
I called the dogs back inside, and they came, after a few minutes of hemming and hawing and sniffing at mouseholes. I fed them breakfast, which used to be simple, but as Deja gets older, this task gets harder and harder. She can’t keep down normal dog food, so we feed her a mixture of chicken and cooked white rice. She’s a big dog—a retired sled dog, husky-hound mix—and she requires a lot of food, so lately it feels like I’m constantly stewing vats of bland rice porridge with butter and chicken. You’d think it would smell good, but it doesn’t. It smells terrible, especially when it’s cold. I ladled her share out, heated it up, poured in some water, before I took care of Rex, my Carolina dog. He gets regular food, and he’s easier to take care of in that way, but since he has terrible separation anxiety and a tendency to hurt himself on locked doors whenever we leave him, he’s trouble in his own way.
As I got ready for yoga class, I thought about having a baby. I think about this all the time. G’s been ready for kids since he finished his last round of chemotherapy. He had Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma a few years ago, and it made him baby crazy. It made me cautious. Before he got sick, I was always the flightier one, but now I’m constantly planning for every possible impending disaster. I want to have kids, but I can’t stop thinking of everything that could go wrong. We’re not that rural, but sometimes it feels like we’re living decades behind most people I know. I worry that it will be hard, out here in the snow, by myself with a baby. I worry that we can’t afford it. We can hardly afford to fix our stove, even though it won’t spark anymore and I have to light it by hand, even though it has a small gas leak, even though the temperature has rubbed off all the knobs and I mostly cook by instinct at this point. But on the other hand, I have learned how to take care of other people and creatures in the past five years. G had his cancer, my dad had a mental breakdown, and now Deja has constant diarrhea and vomiting and dog cancer, I guess. I don’t dislike or like taking care of them. It’s actually kind of nice, how liking the task doesn’t enter into the equation. You do the task because you must and then it’s done.
I was still thinking about this as I drove the 15 minutes to the nearest yoga studio. The clients are mainly middle-aged women, though on Saturday mornings, there are usually a few older men (one middle-aged dad who doesn’t talk, and a chatty Scottish guy with a close-trimmed gray beard and a tendency to go into child’s pose whenever he feels like it, which is often). The teachers are all beautiful and wholesome with strong teeth and strong thighs and some of the best hair I’ve ever seen. Before each class, we all sit on our mats and talk about the weather, or Whitney’s chickens, or Michelle’s kids, or something else.
At the end of class, I lay for a minute and looked up at the pounded tin ceiling, admiring the floral patterns hammered into the metal. When I get up, I looked again at the Saturday morning instructor. Her name is Valerie and she was six months pregnant. She was round all over—round arm muscles, round legs, round belly—and her blonde hair looked like it’s glowing. If I could tape Valerie’s voice, her quiet crooning as we transition into shavasana, I would. During the week, she’s a middle school teacher. I could already tell that she’s going to be an incredible mom, all kindness and homemade soup and snowmen. I thought I might be jealous, since I doubt anyone has ever looked at me and thought, “Now that girl is going to be a great mom.” But I couldn’t really tell if I was jealous or if I was secretly proud of myself for being a bit spikey and sharp.
On the drive home, I made a quick detour to stop at Snell Family Farm, which is exactly what it sounds like. It was late in the season, but they still had so much squash, a half dozen varieties of apples, big bunches of hoary broccoli, and plenty of dirty golden potatoes. I bought my favorite pickles (green tomatoes) and some squash (acorn) and a half-quart of cider. There was a little girl picking out a decorative gourd and she waved at me, and I smiled at her dad, who was wearing faded overalls and a camouflage jacket.
When I get home, G had started a fire in the living room, warming the whole house. For a few hours, we sat together in front of the fire. At first, we watched it and talked about yoga, babies, the firewood, the dogs, the backyard, whether we should build a fence, whether we should make another cold frame for the veggies, whether we should paint the kitchen cabinets, whether we should dry the sage that’s bound to die in the early snow. But then we got quiet and watched a nature documentary together for a bit. He ate cereal, and I ate leftovers (a huge bowl of beef stew).
I started to get antsy on the couch, so we decided to do a loop on the backyard trails. There weren’t any trails when we moved in a few years ago, but G has been working hard to build them so we can cross-country ski, snowshoe, and run with the dogs. We tied orange bandanas around our arms and wore bright orange caps. The dogs had orange neckerchiefs. They ran through the snow, chasing squirrels and snapping at birds. We gave them a few minutes to tire themselves out before we took them back inside and locked them in the basement. I wish we could leave them in the main house when we’re gone, but Rex gets too upset, and claws at the windows and doors. Our vet says that, before we adopted him, he was probably kept in a cage without food and water for a very long time.
On the drive to Saco Heath I got a call from my mom. She wanted to talk about Thanksgiving, but I don’t really want to think about it.
The Saco Heath was glorious in the snow. Half the walk is on a sturdy boardwalk over an open expanse of bright red bog, peppered with gnarled yellow pines. After talking for a few minutes about baby names, we switched over to chatting about the things we saw. “Is this some kind of laurel?” G asked, and I told him it’s a blueberry bush. I wondered what kind of pine we were looking at, and he picked a few bundles of needles so we could examine them together. All our hikes are like this. He knows how to tell the difference between a raven and a crow (I can never remember so I ask this question once every few months) and I know what those treacherous hollows are called, the places where animals can fall in and get trapped (it’s called a “flark”).
After we got home, G sat in front of the fire to grade, and I did some work. I let the dogs out of the basement and mopped up the little puddle of pee. Deja is getting incontinent. She’s the first pet I ever had. I didn’t know how much I would end up loving her. It’s unexpected, how devoted I feel to this animal. I worry constantly about when she dies, and how devastated I’ll be. It’s silly, but I’ve made myself cry thinking about this before. This kind of love makes sense for a child or a husband, but not for a dog. Sometimes, I think that’s a good reason to have a baby. If I have a kid, I might not care so much about my dog.
It was starting to get dark, and I spent the next few hours reading and writing, working on an article about the color green and another piece about a mussel farm that operates off the shores of Portland. I moved back and forth, from transcription to research, from place to theory, over and over.
After I felt like I’d accomplished enough work for a Saturday, I went downstairs to make dinner. I cooked couscous and roasted vegetables with whatever protein was around, which is pretty healthy except I piled on little ski slopes of parmesan cheese at the end. We ate it on the couch in front of the fire, and I told G about the little girl at the farm. He asked me if I like the name Willow, and I told him that I do.