Touchstones


Last year around this time, I was deep in the fatigue of post-Hurricane Irma. I’m sure anyone touched by Irma felt that way. The days of ever-changing landfall predictions; storm-shuttering the house; stocking up on food and batteries; buying gas for the generator and looking for it afterward in long gas lines; witnessing a magnificent but sobering display of natural fury as wind ripped trees from the ground and rain raged against the house — all of it was exhausting.

Our neighborhood was wonderful, though. We rode with each other, checking phone apps for gas stations with gas. We grocery shopped and bought each other food and other supplies. We shared what we had. But in the true darkness that comes with nights spent without any hint of artificial light, with only the drone of the generators giving witness that others shared my world, I had time to think about what really spoke to my spirit and how far I strayed from what mattered in my desire to “get ahead.”

By the time the power came back on, I felt cast away and unmoored. I needed a respite from the heat and humidity and the place where “bundling up” meant pulling on a pair of long pants and a heavy sweater on those few-and-far-between forty-eight degree nights. I yearned for snow and a visit to real winter, the favorite season of my childhood. I missed my sister and needed a visit with her, in snow country. 

But I don’t like to travel as much as I once did and I really, really don’t like to fly. I have these attacks of anxiety-that-borders-on-panic. Once, while flying, I felt the intense need to keep the plane in flight by sheer willpower. This time was different. I calmed down a few days before my departure, unafraid and looking forward to the reconnections.

The first flight into Atlanta ended okay, despite the plane bouncing once and skidding a little to the left. No reason to panic, right? The connecting flight into Cincinnati lifted off the runway, just minutes ahead of the storm that dropped nine inches of snow in the city and surrounding parts of northern Georgia. Temperatures in the twenties greeted me in Ohio, not a snowflake in sight but a heart still believing it would snow that weekend.

Snow has always been my personal touchstone, the one thing that brings me back to the most elemental child who still resides within me but is often left to play by herself in the corner while the adult me pursues other activities. Maybe snow-love was deposited into my mitochondrial DNA the night I was born:  a wild night, I was told, with wind and sleet-that-turned-to-snow challenging my dad’s driving skills as he took my laboring mother to the hospital. Maybe its purity somehow re-ignites hope in my soul or somehow reassures me of the world’s goodness.

Going out to dinner that first evening didn’t quite pan out because one of my sister’s dogs injured her eye bad enough to force an emergency trip to the vet in temperatures that had dropped into the teens. The wee one had to spend the night and my sister was told to pick her up the following morning.

A few lazy snowflakes drifted down as we prepared to go to the vet the next morning. I felt a rising joy. By the time we reached the vet’s office, snow coated the grass and swirled across roads already dusted by it, blown by a fiercely cold wind. As we drove down the winding roads toward the river, the snow still blew, more gently but no less beautiful and exciting than its wild counterpart on the hill. The snow, the blue light of a wintery day, and wreaths hanging on the perimeter fence around my sister’s house, dusted by snow, were perfect backdrops to my sister’s warm house. While we waited to make sure the dog navigated well with her Elizabethan collar, my sister and I talked, read magazines, and laughed over projects that we could do but would never get around to.

During this quiet time I realized my sister is another of my touchstones. We not only share our mitochondrial DNA, we share a lifetime of experiences and those experiences bind us together despite our different personalities, life paths, and trajectories. Those experiences help us hold similar values and share a heritage replete with memories. And as I get older, I am so grateful for her and the refuge she provides me when I most need connection and a reaffirmation of me.

Snowy days with my sister.  Two touchstones I experience in real time as well as in memory; the things that keep my heart happy and soul nourished.  And this year, we’ll be heading off for an adventure in Nashville.  

In November.

I hope it snows.