Sandra Neily here.
This has been a very strange weather-winter. If I’d known it was going to offer up only a few special days when skiing or snowshoeing would work, I would have sought out each special day more carefully and treasured it. Between the rain and the constant ice, ice, ice, and the crust layers that collapse unevenly under one’s skis pitching the body forward and the lake hiding layers of slush until one is knee-deep in it, it’s been a strange winter.
I’ve worn ice cleats on my boots just to make it to the car or fill the wood box and or pop out to give the dog a quick pee in the dark. (The full moon shining on thick, unbroken driveway ice has been lovely though.)
I can count the special ski days on one hand and a few fingers, but am glad I paused on Moosehead Lake to video and record this one.
For this post I looked around for some powerful winter images and found Andrew Wyeth’s amazing line: “the bone structure of the landscape.” And I am sharing more here.
“Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
― Mary Oliver
“Winter then in its early and clear stages, was a purifying engine that ran unhindered over city and country, alerting the stars to sparkle violently and shower their silver light into the arms of bare upreaching trees. It was a mad and beautiful thing that scoured raw the souls of animals and man, driving them before it until they loved to run. And what it did to Northern forests can hardly be described, considering that it iced the branches of the sycamores on Chrystie Street and swept them back and forth until they rang like ranks of bells.”
― Mark Helprin Winters Tale
“I do an awful lot of thinking and dreaming about things in the past and the future – the timelessness of the rocks and the hills – all the people who have existed there. I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.”
― Andrew Wyeth
“In winter the very ground seemed to reach up and grab the elderly, yanking them to earth as though hungry for them.”
― Louise Penny Bury Your Dead
“You can’t get too much winter in the winter.”
― Robert Frost
The last days of winter frame up my next novel…… last days when snow and ice are tricky to deal with. Excerpt:
We both saw where my dog had disappeared at the same time. The otter slide angled downhill into a gigantic crack in the ice. It was slick with black dog hair. Most Labs like a good slide on snow as much as the otter community. Pock must have turned on his back and wiggled his way down the slide toward the lake—down toward two upended slabs of ice. I thought I could flop down on my back, follow him down, and yell into what looked like an ice cave, but Moz grabbed my elbow.
“We cannot go there.”
“What do you mean? I’ve got to get him. What if he finds the lake under there, goes for a swim, and can’t find his way out again?”
Moz used one arm to pull me tight against his side. “He needs to return to you by his own wits and skills.”
I sagged against Moz. I had a very clear picture of Pock seeing light and swimming toward it only to find ice over his head when he’d run out of air. He was my best friend. Sometimes he felt like my only friend. Sleeping on my feet at night, he was more reliable than any hot water bottle or heating pad. Sometimes he was the only thing I could grab onto when I felt like I was drowning.
I pulled against Moz’s arm. “I can yell from here. You can’t stop me. Let go so I can do it right.” He dropped his arm, and I cupped hands by my mouth and yelled the reliable call for greasy meat. “Yip, Yip! Zip, Zip.. C’mon, Pock. Burgers! Streak! Hot dogs! Yip, Yip! Zip, Zip.”
I felt Moz’s hand return on my elbow. “I know you can probably catch me while I’m stuck up to my groin in snow down there, but I’m not going anywhere.” Tears soaked my fingers. “Leave me alone.”
He stepped back and reached for his phone, fingers flying across the keys. I knelt in the snow and bent my head into my crossed arms. Breathe, I thought. Breathe. This probably isn’t the worst mess my dog’s been in before, but we’d been in those messes together. Caged with wolves. Almost buried alive in a culvert dump, Now Pock was on his own—and I was on my own.
Moz stopped typing as high-pitched squeaks echoed up from the ice cave. “Heads up,” he said. “Company.”
Three otters raced from the ice and clawed their way up the slide until they saw us and froze. Water rolled off their dark brown coats as if the trio had bathed in an oil slick, not a lake. They wiggled long whiskers, testing the air, and then slid over and around each other chirping until I couldn’t tell one otter body from another.
“Confusion,” said Moz, “We appear to be blocking their escape route.” He reached down and helped me to my feet just as Pock appeared outside the ice cave and gave us all a joyful bark.
The otters heard it as an invitation to flee. Jumping over each other to see who could maintain the lead, they scrambled up into the woods, propelled by longer rear legs that gave them almost a humping kind of bounding gait. The last otter turned at the tree line. “You’re welcome.”
You helped him?
Not what we intended, but we have watched him before and know him to be playful so we waited for him. He’s a very slow swimmer.
How can I ever thank you?
The otter turned. Take away the crawfish traps under your neighbor’s dock. Crawfish die there now he’s gone. We’d rather eat them.
“Done,” I said out loud.
Sandy’s debut novel, “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and was a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” was published in 2021. Her third “Deadly” is due out in 2022. Find her novels at all Shermans Books (Maine) and on Amazon. Find more info on Sandy’s website.