I could say any number of things about this last week. How when the power went out on Sunday night, just as I’d started to wash dishes, I let myself believe what, if anything, this past year should’ve taught me not to believe: maybe it won’t last long. How, after seven years of living in the hills, I have mastered the art of being snowed in, but not, of course, without power in my gas-less, fireplace-less, poorly insulated studio, exposed on all sides (and below) to the cold. How life seems to delight in sending that for which there is no preparing.
I could talk about how the wind was what I feared would cause the trouble—that and the temperature dropping into the teens and twenties, a rarity for Portland. How the wind stacked the snow in such a way that I ended up with a good foot and a half along my entire walkway, which I had to cut a path through with buckets of hot water, kicking, and sweeping. How everyone kept talking about the ice, the ice, the ice, and I had no idea what they meant, until some friends came to fetch me Monday morning and drove me twenty miles south, and then I saw.
Ice. Everywhere, ice. Like God had emptied out His freezer onto the streets, the lawns, the cars. Everywhere, trees and branches split in the messiest of breaks, power lines dangling like ribbons hanging out of the trash. This, I witnessed on three hours of sleep, after spending most of the night alternating between listening to snow and branches clatter on the roof and wondering just how cold it would get, if I might freeze to death and not wake up. Off the hill, among the ice, I walked because I hadn’t the mind for anything else. In the streets, cutting a wide swath around the fallen power lines, I walked, absorbed in the howl of wind and the jumble in my head, until I heard them, saw them—geese, calling, flying, like nothing had even happened.
I recently got a new tattoo: a mountain, falling to pieces from below, with the pieces gradually forming into geese. The layers of meaning this image has for me are many, but one of them is the secret order of things. For years, geese have been like messengers to me, and while those messages have varied, lately, they’ve come to remind me that there are only so many things we, as humans, can screw up. The human world, for most of us, has been terribly altered this last year—the human world raked over a cheese grater, leaving us with a wet pulp we’re somehow supposed to pretend is still our life—and yet, the geese flock even so, saying whatever it is they say up there, out of the reach of our chaos.
And still, on a day when so many of us were just, in every sense of the word, surviving, there they were, up in the sky, and I stopped where I stood and watched until I could no longer see them. And I did not feel better (a word which has lost all meaning to me), but I did feel reassured, in my sleep-deprived and uprooted stupor, that the planet had not spun off its axis and gone careening into the abyss. I felt reassured that I was seen, for that is another thing geese have come to mean to me: God sending a message and reminding me, I see you, in a time when practically no one sees me, literally or otherwise.
Less than forty-eight hours later, I was able to go home and slog through the snow up my fully shaded driveway, which is always the last thing in the entire city to melt. Four days later, the part of my walkway that I had not cleared is still covered in a thick sheet of compacted snow that I’ve begun mentally referring to as the Kanan Glacier (named after my street), wondering if I’m in the middle of some earthly migration I don’t have the sense to recognize (because these are the kinds of things one thinks after spending a year alone). I am tempted to regard all of this as some sort of metaphor, but then, I’ve been tempted to regard everything that’s happened this last year as some sort of metaphor.
Today, I went on a drive, another thing that’s altered: what used to be simply a mode of transportation has become a way to clear my head. I took my same route, hoping the road would be open, and most of it was. But all alongside it, branches were piled in gnarled heaps, some trees still holding onto their breaks, some power lines still sagging. I drove seeing and not seeing, turned around at my usual spot, and headed back, and that’s when I noticed: some of the trees were starting to bloom. Not the pretty pink kind, but the whitish brown kind—unremarkable, and yet, remarkable still. Because it’s the end of February, and ice storm or not, this is when the trees begin to bloom.
I had forgotten. Forgotten what day it was, what time of year. Forgotten that ice, that snow have happened before, and yes, I’ll have to give some of my yard up for dead. But some of it bounced back, the life seeping into the leaves as soon as the cold had cleared. Some remnant of last spring’s wildflower experiment had begun to push up a week ago, and I assumed it would be long gone after the storm. But no: there it was, too, under the ice, the tiny green shoots still insisting on existence. I could say any number of things about that, but as I drove home and caught sight of a few more blossoming trees, caught a flash of hawk circling the forest below, something like a smile crept onto my face, the thought that “better” might be a word I could learn again to understand.