Wednesday, December 1, 2010


or Cleansing the Palate

This is the snowstorm that closed both interstate highways in town for several hours on Thanksgiving morning.  To be fair, black ice was the real culprit, and to be even more fair, the 25-car pile-ups caused by the black ice are what really got in the way.  The native Coloradoan/transplanted Vermonter in me snorted a bit at all the drama, but then, I wasn't out on the roads until well after the sun came out.

I don't recall snow even being in the forecast for Thanksgiving, so waking up to a little dusting of it—not to mention the overcast skies and the sight of the Sandias blanketed in clouds (clouds!)—was a lovely surprise.  Normally the color palette here leans toward the warm side; I think of it as the visual equivalent of local flavors, whether the earthy spiciness of red chile or the smoky pungency of green.  The cool colors of snowfall are like a lemon ice—refreshing, cleansing to the palate, and deeply appreciated in small servings.

Wandering the garden on Sunday morning after the holiday away, I encountered more fall-blooming crocuses, this time in bud.  Apparently, not only the leaves but also the stems show up late in the growing process—the buds arise almost directly from the ground. (Aha! I will know what to look for next year.)

In spring, I would probably interpret this shade of lavender as a harbinger of warmth; in late fall, hard on the heels of what we might as well call a snowstorm, it strikes me instead as cool bordering on icy, as a refreshing "verge of winter" purple (destined someday to become a Crayola color, mark my words). The color venations in the bud seem as precisely etched as the edges of a snowflake.

As one of my friends is fond of saying, "We create our own realities." I might not go quite that far, but I would say that our interpretation of reality depends a lot on context: a storm that wouldn't even be a blip on the radar in Colorado brings life to a halt in New Mexico; clouds that would be oppressive elsewhere are a pleasant change of pace in the desert; colors that sing of warmth in February murmur of cold in November.

A palate cleanser only works in context; you don't start a meal with the lemon ice. I've never known anyone who really stopped to think about it who didn't find it eerie how little of their perception is based on unshakable truth and how much is based on circumstance; maybe that's why I have an odd liking for ex-pat communities, who encounter that truth every day and are willing to be thrown off stride by it.  In a way, living with chronic illness is like living in a foreign country, because things you used to take for granted no longer work in familiar ways:  flights of stairs that never used to phase you suddenly become epic obstacles; accomplishments that used to come easily—like writing a simple sentence—become Herculean labors.  Everything takes more effort than it "should," if a state of health is your context.  In the context of illness the moments of refreshment are exquisite, like a holiday visit with family, or a crocus in November.

Like a snowstorm in the desert.


  1. Wonderful writing as ever! I remember when rheumatoid arthritis hit the Ungardener and he said proudly I walked all the way up (2 flights of stairs) to the garage today. That is when we decided to sell and move. Built this single storey house. Stairs are no longer a problem, he is much improved.

  2. Thanks, EE! It's good to have you back posting your own beautiful work again after your holiday. Sometimes the changes we make to cope with health problems lead to all kinds of interesting new adventures—I'm glad the move has been so good for the Ungardener.

  3. I really appreciate the foreign country analogy. It has taken me 13 years to learn the native language in my current nation, and I miss the ease and convenience with which I used to be able to navigate in the old country.

  4. klbrowser--Thank you. I don't know how else to describe that feeling of alienation from your own mind and body--that even if you learn the language in this new country you're never as at home in it as in your native tongue. I miss those things too, my friend.