Fallen leaf on snow

By the time I left Keene last night, the several inches of snow we’d gotten throughout the day had already begun to melt. There was enough accumulation that I had to brush off my car…but the snow was wet, destined to melt. By the time I got to Newton last night, the half-inch of snow they’d gotten was gone, with nothing left as proof but cold, wet leaves.

That’s the trick with autumnal snow: it’s ephemeral, merely a harbinger of snowfalls to come. Soon enough, I’ll be tired of digging out my car, but last night, the novelty of the season’s first snow prevented any sense of tedium. On the roads yesterday, drivers seemed careful and unsure, spinning wheels when they accelerated too roughly. “How are the roads,” the woman at the apothecary asked yesterday afternoon when I arrived in a snow-sprinkled hat. “I don’t know,” I answered, “I’ve only walked in it.” In a matter of weeks, drivers will revert to their usual carelessness, and clerks won’t ask how you got to their shops. Yesterday, though, there was a mood of awe-inspired fragility as everyone re-remembered how to walk, drive, and cavort on snow. Thank goodness we’ve had months of leaf-fall to practice for the snowfalls to come.

Click here for a photo-set from yesterday’s snowfall. Enjoy!

First snow...

So far, it’s only a dusting. But that didn’t stop these college students from making the year’s first snow angels.

Milkweed pods

Wednesday afternoon was gray and colorless; on Thursday it rained incessantly. Neither “gray” nor “wet” makes for good pictures, nor does spending most of several days reading, commenting on, and returning student essay drafts. The colors in these pictures are muted, and that seems appropriate. In Moby-Dick, Ishmael described the “damp, drizzly November in my soul” that drove him to sea, but in my case, gray November days drive me to a long list of tasks. Does it matter if it gets dark by 5:00 if you’ll be spending the evening grading papers inside?

Originally, I’d planned to drive to Ohio this weekend. I have plans here in New England for Thanksgiving, and I typically visit Ohio in November: one last chance to travel before winter weather gets too unpredictable. But this year, the thought of scurrying to finish face-to-face teaching tasks before packing my car with a daunting load of online work seemed foolish. If I’m not hurrying home for a particular Thursday in November, wouldn’t it be easier travel home in January when my teaching load is lighter?

Defaced display

When my mom returned my message explaining I wouldn’t be driving home this weekend, she was supportive and sympathetic. “It gets dark so early these days,” she remarked. “At least when you drove here in August, there was light to drive in.” This morning as I was walking Reggie here in Newton, the still-colorful leaves underfoot were wet with last night’s rain: muted. It felt good to be walking rather than driving, and I felt strangely happy to be heading into a weekend where all I have to do is work. What kind of person enjoys gray November walks and working weekends? The kind, I think, who enjoys muted colors for their quiet calm.

Now in late November, I remember all those years when my ex-husband’s moods took a marked turn for the worse as winter approached. The period between our anniversary in early November and his birthday in late March was always a tenuous time; along with the constant undercurrent of seasonal depression, there was the sporadic drama of manic surges and surly slumps. Like the fabled hare, my ex was prone to fits and spurts of productivity punctuated by sudden urges to travel as an escape from the routine. I, on the other hand, was a tortoise who preferred to stay at home precisely because my shell was my home: why do you need to dash off anywhere when all you need is right at hand?

Defaced display

In those mismatched, married days, I remember coming home from teaching with a nervous dread: what Mood would I encounter upon arrival? Would my husband be upbeat or sullen, mad as a March hare or hopping with enthusiasm? This morning as I walked Reggie on the same sidewalks we take every morning we’re in Newton, I realized how thoroughly predictable my life has become. Tortoises thrive on stability, and here I am surviving a workload that would crush those with thinner shells. This morning, I felt grateful for the dependable monotony of my own incessant presence, Reggie’s nonstop dogginess, and J’s routine reliability: whereas C dreaded winter, J loves it. These days, I’ve traded the excitement of mood swings for the merry-go-round of the routine, and I love the slow, steady spin of that predictability.

It would have been fun to see my family this weekend; a change of scenery always offers its own kind of thrill. But Ohio in November is a known entity, and so is the experience of coming home to a daunting to-do list. Many times in the past I’ve returned from a whirlwind weekend away then pulled an all-nighter to prepare for class the next day: being married to a hare will do that to you. But I, it turns out, am a tortoise, and this weekend in Newton is my turtle-time. This weekend, I’ll enjoy the quiet tranquility of essay drafts and lecture notes as the semester heads into the backstretch of its last month. In January, there will be time for fun and family; for now, working slow and steady offers its own reward.

Picnic squirrel

You might remember this picnic table, sans squirrel, from about a month ago. Back then, I mentioned the shade under which this picnic table sits; what I didn’t mention was the walnut-laden source of that shade. If you’re a squirrel laying up provisions for winter, it’s mighty convenient to have a picnic table right under a walnut tree upon which you can sample your collection. And if you’re a strolling blogger who never goes out without a camera, these days blog-fodder is ripe for the taking.

On campus today, I saw more students in each of my classes than I’ve seen in months. Now that we’re heading into Thanksgiving with the end of the semester soon thereafter, students are getting serious about their studies. I’ve often joked that I do more real teaching–and to students who are actually listening–during the last two or three weeks of the semester than during all the other weeks combined. Weeks one through eleven are purely preparatory; weeks twelve through fifteen are when students sit up in their seats, listen to what you have to say, and actually seek you out for extra help.

Walnut squirrel

I guess it makes sense that students, like squirrels, get serious about stockpiling only when there’s a bite of briskness in the air. When the semester starts, it still feels like summer, so it’s easy to think “I’ll do it later” when considering assignments or even class attendance. As the days grow shorter and colder, things heat up academically. The next few weeks are when the intellectual rubber hits the road with term-long research papers and other projects approaching full ripeness. Which squirrels have been faithful hoarders and which have been only acting squirrely? We’ll find out in a few weeks. In the meantime, I still look forward every marathon Tuesday to the brief midday break I take to consider squirrels and other shade-loving creatures.

Frosted window with leaf

Thursday is a busy teaching day, so while I’m off to read essay drafts then teach classes, here are some images from yesterday’s first-thing-in-the-frosty-morning dog-walk. Enjoy!

Frosted mullein with maple

Frosty brew



Birth of an alien

This is where alien eyes are conceived: on the shining surface of otherwise normal windows. This morning when I let Reggie out for his morning pee, I saw the orange glint of sunrise reflecting in a psychedelic swirl on one of my across-the-street neighbor’s windows. One window had a neon glow; the other did not. Thus is illumination random, happening for one eye but not another.

In a matter of moments, after Reggie had peed and sniffed his way around my backyard, the reflected light on my neighbor’s window was gone. The Mother of Lights had returned to the mothership: alien absconditus.

Washington Cemetery

These days, my schedule doesn’t give me much time for dog-walks here in Keene. On Fridays through Mondays, Reggie and I walk in Newton, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I teach all day at Keene State. So Wednesday has become my default Walking Day, my one weekly chance to take a leisurely look at Keene on foot.

Sox-lovin' scarecrow

Inspired by Leslee’s Halloween post, today I set out to snap something appropriately seasonal. The homes in Newton have been decked with skeletons, mock tombstones, and witches for weeks, but for some reason I haven’t taken any pictures; it must be my lingering reticence to take pictures of other people’s lives.

This morning here in Keene, I didn’t find much that struck me as photo-worthy. Yes, there’s a funny Red-Sox-loving scarecrow on Water Street, and yes, downtown merchants have the usual pumpkins and black-hatted mannequins in their windows. But Halloween in Keene has always felt anticlimactic compared to the annual Pumpkin Festival that happens a week earlier; how can an occasional pumpkin or black cat compare with more than 20,000 lit jack-o’-lanterns? This year, for the first time since 2003, I missed the Pumpkin Festival by going to a Bruins game, so I’ve been feeling photographically deprived, my usually brimming October photo-archive feeling thin instead.

This morning as Reggie and I took our Wednesday walkabout, nothing jumped up and grabbed me; nothing screamed “photograph me, I’m worthy!” And then I saw the first of the morning’s alien eyes.

Alien Eyes alley

I suppose it’s appropriate I’d see on Halloween several examples of the gleaming, X-shaped window reflections I call “alien eyes.” If aliens have indeed descended to shine their intelligent eyes on earthlings, what better day to start one’s extraterrestrial investigation than a day devoted to the odd and unusual?

X marks the spot

Whereas in the past, I’ve seen alien eyes only on the sides of commercial buildings, this morning I saw examples on a handful of residential homes on Marlboro Street: a pretty plain Jane destination to travel across the universe for.

Residential alien eyes

Of course, the whole message of alien eyes–if said aliens came to this galaxy to impart a lesson–is that the supernatural nests in the natural just as the extraordinary imbues the ordinary. After seeing the first of this morning’s alien eyes downtown, I was on the lookout for them closer to home; after seeing the first one on a plain-sided house, I quickly spotted another across the street, then another next door.

Alien eyes in the shadows

This afternoon on the way from the laundromat to the post office and then gas station–this afternoon, in other words, on my way from one chore to another–I saw two witches, a wizard, a bride, and a couple of cats-in-the-hat strolling downtown streets. Wednesday is my one day for walking Keene streets, and Halloween is our one day for walking with the weird. The lesson of alien eyes, like that of Halloween, is that there is magic among us if only we have eyes to see.