Nothing says “country” like a fella taking his draft horses for a walk. This photo, snapped at last month’s Sap-Gathering Contest at Stonewall Farm, is my submission for today’s Photo Friday theme, The Country.

Just as I did last October, this morning I went dog-walking toward Beaver Brook Falls just to make sure the brook was behaving herself and not breaching her banks.

Even at the height of a dry summer, Beaver Brook wends dangerously close to the now-abandoned highway that skirts its banks. When swollen with a weekend’s worth of rain, this otherwise tranquil tributary becomes the Beaver That Roars, sloshing beyond her usual boundaries and spilling into wooded shallows. Usually, you have to walk about a half mile to the modest waterfall that gives Beaver Brook Falls its name…but when the brook is swollen with rain or snowmelt, the gorge that hems her sprouts several side falls that channel run-off from surrounding woods: water on the fast-track down, down, down.

Because of the microclimate fostered by the stone-choked gorge that shades and shelters Beaver Brook, there are still patches of snow on the road alongside her, and the spring freshets that fringe her are hooded with ice. It’s a picturesque scene if you don’t live within Beaver Brook’s floodplain or if you’re a dog-walker with nowhere to go. Now that the road to the falls is closed to cars, you needn’t worry that a swollen stream, eroded bank, or buckled pavement might keep you from your official destination: if you’re walking along Beaver Brook, you have no destination, the walk itself being ample reward.

Even more than a year after the flood that soaked Keene and scoured away several surrounding towns, I feel unsettled whenever it rains more than a day here in New Hampshire: the sound of day-long drizzle still sounds like disaster to me. This time around, Keene has been spared damaging floods while other parts of the state are drenched and drowning. On a day when downpour has been downgraded to an almost-invisible, spitting mist, it felt calming to visit a place where water is moving down, down, and outta here, wending its way downstream to some Nowhere that can capably contain it.

If you live in the nor’easter-buffeted Northeast–or if you’ve seen news reports of the storm that’s been drenching us here in New England these past few days–you know what this picture shows: a nor’easter breather, a spot of blue-skied tranquility in the midst of several days of constant precipitation.

It was raining when I shot the above photo. In fact, about 95% of the sky was overcast and spitting rain, rain, RAIN when I saw an odd glint of light angling through my living room blinds. “Is that sunshine?” I asked myself audibly and incredulously. Never mind the risk of taking my digital camera outside in the midst of a several-day rainstorm; never mind the risk of pointing my camera lens straight up into the drizzle. Hell be damned, I was going to record this momentary spot of hope in the midst of weather alerts and flood watches. Yes, we’ve had the blues here in New England since Friday–yes, we’re forecast to have rain, snow showers, and wind through Thursday. But for a brief few moments around 11 am this morning, The Blues magically transformed into The Sky Blues: a moment’s respite that was gone almost as soon as it arrived.

Even Mother Nature, it seems, gets tired sometimes, growing weary at the sound of her own incessantly drip-droppy voice. Even a weekend-long monster nor’easter occasionally needs to take a breather, giving the drizzle-drenched folks below a reminder of the blue skies that span beyond.

This is what my walking commute to campus looked like yesterday: gray and sleety. At least when it snows in April, the result is photogenic. Both yesterday and today, on the other hand, have been dull, dull, dull, with a sludgy, sloppy mix of intermittent sleet and snow providing a yucky and alarmingly unseasonal backdrop. As I sit here at my desk, this is the cheery April scene I see on my calendar: will we ever see the likes of that again?

This is what my walking commute home looked like last night: a handful of poor souls doing laundry while the rest of the world slogged through the slippery slop. It’s difficult to get excited about much of anything when the skies are spitting and everything’s slushy. Today I’m the one doing laundry while playing another round of Perpetual Grading Catchup: what else are you going to do when the world outside is one big mess of Yuck?

Yesterday’s only aesthetic Bright Spot–and believe me, I use that term loosely–was this: a zoomed shot of the sugar-sprinkled hills that circle town. Had I the time and courage yesterday to grab the dog and some good raingear, I could have taken a sunset walk through pine trees rimed with white…but there was no sunset on a day without sun, and the prospect of returning with a slush-spattered dog kept me home. Last night, I spent some Quality Bonding Time with my couch while the skies continued to spit slush on my windows. Is it any wonder that these days in New England, almost everyone has The Blues?

    This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, The Blues. If you think I’m the only one bummed by this week’s unseasonal weather, check out Leslee’s report from Massachusetts. You know spring’s a dud when you’re forced to post pretty photos from last year.

There aren’t enough first hours for me to write a proper post before heading off for a day of teaching and to-dos, so this extreme close-up of one of the dairy divas at Stonewall Farm will have to do. Here’s looking at you, cow.

Most days, my life feels like I live on a highway, or at least right near the Information Superhighway. Although I don’t enjoy the exciting urban nightlife of Sex in the City, my workdays are busy with a full dance-card of tasks related to teaching both off-line and on-. As I prepare yet another weekly to-do list with more tasks than hours to do them, it’s tempting to think that a country life would be easier than my close-to-campus one, a life close to the land being somehow simpler than the life of the mind.

In recent reviews of his film I Think I Love My Wife, comedian Chris Rock is quoted as saying, “You can be married and bored, or single and lonely. Ain’t no happiness nowhere.” I think Rock’s quip can be applied to many things. It’s easy to think that life would be easier, happier, or more fun if we were something we weren’t: maybe if I were (or weren’t) married, or maybe if I had another job, or maybe if I lived in another place, or if I owned X or had access to Y, then I’d be happy. Chris Rock’s mantra that there “Ain’t no happiness nowhere,” however, points to a simple if sobering truth: there ain’t no grass greener than the grass you’ve got. If you’re sticking your head through the metaphorical slats trying to scope out greener pastures, you might as well start munching the hay that’s within reach. If there ain’t no happiness nowhere, then it’s possible to make your own contentment anywhere. As I once heard a minister insist, “The grass is always greener where it’s watered.” You can spend your days wishing for the things you don’t have, or you can spend your days tending the things you do. Which do you prefer?

As I contemplate the to-dos that loom during another mid-semester work week, I have to remind myself that the tasks on tap are how I tend my own greening pasture. Might it be lovely to live in the rural slow-lane where life moves at the speed of slowly plodding horses? Perhaps. The realist in me knows, though, that life in the rural slow-lane isn’t as slow as it seems: farming and the chores of animal husbandry are back-breaking work, and both are accompanied by loads of manure. At least the shit I encounter in my day-job as a college writing & lit prof is entirely metaphorical, not the kind that comes from a literal horse’s ass.

    Today’s pictures are from this weekend’s massively muddy Sap Gathering Contest at Stonewall Farm. For more information about the contest, see my post from two years ago, when the ground was solid enough for me to follow a sap-gathering team into the sugar bush.

I’ve been meaning to re-visit May Sarton’s grave in nearby Nelson, NH but haven’t been back since I first photographed it a little over a year ago. As I explained then, I feel a strong sentimental connection with Sarton after having read and deeply resonated with her published journals over the years. As a divorced woman writer living on my own (and blogging bits of my private life) here in New Hampshire, I continue to consider Sarton one of my deepest inspirations: another solitary soul who saw the written word as being the most accurate means of communicating her true self.

I’m a sucker for cemeteries and feel particularly sentimental about the graves of authors I admire. Although I haven’t been back to Willa Cather’s resting place in Jaffrey, NH since I first visited in July, 2004, I feel an inexplicable sense of groundedness knowing that Cather’s remains are nearby…and the mountain she so loved to contemplate during summer stints in New Hampshire still looms over my shoulder, Dame Monadnock being another of my grounding inspirations.

And although humble Henry David Thoreau lies buried a state away from me in Concord, MA, I get a little emotional (forgive me) when I remember that he himself once walked Keene streets, remarking during a stop on his way to Canada in 1850 that our own Main Street “strikes the traveller favorably, it is so wide, level, straight, and long.” Thoreau’s mother was born in Keene, where she lived in a house along the Main Street her son would someday admire and immortalize; is it any wonder that I feel a more-than-merely-literary connection with Thoreau and feel a bit sentimental about his grave, too?

Someday we’ll all find our own resting places whether famous or forgotten. In the meantime, I get a bit emotional knowing that three authors who have inspired my own writing–three authors who are long gone but whose words still resonate in my heart–lie within an easy drive of my humble abode here in Keene. We’re never alone, I think, if we’re surrounded by great ones and the ones who inspire us to greatness. That might sound a bit cheesy…or maybe it’s just me being Sentimental.

The calendar claims yesterday was the first day of spring, but it sure looks and feels like winter out there. This morning when I walked Reggie, it was 10 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and when I walked to campus for my noon meditation group, the temperature was hovering just below freezing. Thermometers notwithstanding, for most of the day the warmth of the sun has been melting exposed surfaces, giving just a hint of hope that winter will be over, eventually.

Although I’ve lived in New Hampshire for about eight years now, I still haven’t gotten used to life without a proper spring. In Ohio where I was born and raised, there were four full seasons, and spring was one of my favorites with its riot of woodland wildflowers. In New Hampshire, we don’t have spring; we simply have Mud Season, a time when hunter-orange Frost Heaves signs are the brightest thing blooming along rural roads. On sunny days like today, what gets me itching for spring isn’t a hunger for warm temperatures; it’s a craving for warm, bare dirt with wild green things sprouting from it. Around month’s end, I’ll go stalking crocuses, planted greenery having to satisfy my yearning for wildflowers. It won’t be another month or so until the first of the flowers starts blooming in New Hampshire woods; until then, the ground is blanketed in white, not green.

Theriomorph recently described a malady that’s little-known outside New England: M.A.D., or March Affective Disorder, an annual depression that afflicts anyone longing for a spot of green before April. “We�re just worn out by this point,” she remarks, “hunching against the wind and slogging through snow in the dark, the ubiquitous mud our only respite – and that only between bouts of the year�s most energetic last-word storms.” Yes, that about says it; as I remarked in a “been there, had that” comment, here in New Hampshire “you’ll see snow in March, mud in April, and blackflies if you dare step out of your house in May.”

It’s heartening to have more hours of sunlight now: those hours of light are what keep us holding out hope here in snow-blanketed New Hampshire. But until the earth is bare, warm, and sprouting, part of me will continue to squirm with a different sort of March Madness, my inner eye fixed on wild blooms, not basketballs, as my heart yearns for the mild mirth of May.

I often refer to my upstairs neighbor’s cats as my “step-cats” because they’re not mine, but they occasionally visit. My upstairs neighbor and I share a front and back hallway, and in the summer when I leave my back door open so Reggie can lounge on my screened back porch, Tara or one of her house-mates will sometimes slink into my kitchen looking for an edible handout or a clueless canine to taunt.

Having had her first paws-on experience with snow earlier this winter, Tara has since turned into a homebody, staying inside and lounging on the front hallway steps that lead to my neighbor’s apartment. Apparently Tara’s stair-step is the perfect place for a step-cat to lounge, stare at clueless canines, and partake in an occasional game of peekaboo.

There’s nothing cozier than being holed away inside during an ongoing winter storm…as long as the precious radiators keep emanating heat.

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