Sweet Baby James in the Snow

From the living room boom box, I hear James Taylor singing his greatest hits. I purchased the CD to replace the LP I could no longer play, and I enjoyed it as long as I could. However, along with “borrowed” equipment that remains on-loan to this day, the resident teens would toss the nearest CD out of its case if they couldn’t find the one they needed, leaving the ousted disc to be damaged in various ways. JT’s Greatest Hits was one such victim, eventually found covered with scratches and dust. An apologetic offer to clean and polish the disc resulted in further damage – it turns out that you have to go from start to finish with the polishing process to get good results.

But, miracles happen, and the CD is playing through now, as I type. I have been to Carolina in my mind, saved my goodbyes for the morning light, and seen fire and rain. More than that, I have traveled backwards in time …

I found myself at Star Lake, in the Adirondacks, site of a cross-country skiing phys. ed. class. We were taught how to wax our skis, attach our shoes to the bindings, and “kick off” with our feet while doing something with our arms – I was flailing around, but that wasn’t it. Already suffering from the usual monthly discomforts, I was faced with further agonies: my long hair caught in the ski wax, my natural clumsiness made balancing on the skis impossible, and my thermal long johns were no match for the amount of soggy snow and ice that accumulated with every landing I made in the snow. And that was just the first night.

Saturday morning, we headed out on the trails for an eight-mile loop through the forest. The snow averaged 3-feet deep, but there was a crust of ice over the surface that made things interesting. Once we got moving, we could hit some impressive speeds, but if we fell, we dropped below the level of our skis and climbing back up was difficult no matter how often we practiced the maneuver. By late in the trip, our class had sorted itself into clusters by expertise, with a few showoffs already back at the cabin guzzling hot cocoa, several people actually taking their time to enjoy the scenery and exercise, and a handful of struggling newbies doing as much travel vertically from ground to skis as we did horizontally along the trail.

I didn’t learn how to ski that weekend. Instead, in the quiet evening hours, I hauled out my guitar and learned how to play Sweet Baby James.

This afternoon, through the miracle of music, I traveled back in time, finding far more pleasure in remembering the weekend than I had enduring it. I wonder if James Taylor remembered the snow-covered Turnpike that way, far more beautiful in retrospect from a warm cottage, having safely completed his trip.


Another Walk with Smokey

This morning, I brought my car, Rooney, to a nearby service station because of a problem with her headlight. She tends to wink at all the other cars on the road, which might be cute, if it weren’t the sort of behavior that earns the attention of State Troopers way too often. I decided I needed one less stress factor in my life and called the garage. What I didn’t consider was that the garage couldn’t attend to the headlight immediately, and I found myself on foot for the bulk of the day.

So, I called my boss and explained that I was taking an unplanned day of vacation, and then I gave some thought to the new form my day had taken.

My first reaction was to find my camera, of course, and the next move was a hike to the Town Clerk’s office. Here in suburbia, we must license our dogs, and it was the usual time to renew Smokey’s license, were she still alive. I was fine until I got to the counter, and had to say those words out loud: my dog died.

Our Town Clerk is a lady I’ve known nearly as long as we’ve lived here; she was so gracious and understanding while I blubbered… if the Town Dogcatcher was in, he would have cried right along with me, though. Smokey and Dave had a relationship close enough that Dave would call me before he actually “arrested” her on those days when she’d get loose and explore all her favorite places. She was always so pleased to see him when he showed up that he didn’t have the heart to put her in the kennel.

I realized that, years ago, Smokey would have loved taking today’s hike with me, but toward the end of her life she could not have done so. Her hip dysplasia made even the shortest distances agonizing treks, and she wisely stayed put and listened to whatever we had to tell her while we scratched her ears.

Today, she was able to come along on the walk, though, as graceful and curious as she ever was, and she never once wrapped the leash around my legs or tried to launch in pursuit of a squirrel or chipmunk. The relationship hasn’t ended in death after all.