Where Is Winter?

Where is winter? Yes, I know, it’s another 24 days until astronomical winter. The solstice will duly arrive on December 21st, at 11:28 am EST. But meteorological winter should have made an appearance by now.

I remember Novembers with both mountain snowfall and frozen Piedmont ponds. Instead, it’s 65 degrees outside. Spring-blooming ornamentals, like my neighbor’s azaleas, are in full flower. What passes for my lawn sports new violets and buttercups. The cannas outside my front door don’t have the first hint of frostbite.

At least the maple trees have finally assumed their seasonal responsibility for providing autumnal color. They set scarlet, orange and gold leaves adrift on today’s all-too-warm breezes. But none of the oaks, be they red, white, willow or burr, are contributing to the fall color spectrum. They still appear fully foliaged, and are only hinting at the russets, browns and bronzes their leaves are destined to become.

This endless warmth and green and sunlight has to stop. I need winter. I need to light the first fire on the first frigid night, and lose my thoughts in the dance of the flames. I need to rest my eyes on tones of brown and gray, need to see the still hidden bones of the trees silhouetted against a steel-gray sky. I need to hear the cold silence of a dark morning as stars still sparkle overhead. I need to feel the fierce bite of the north wind wresting the warmth from my face as I pad down the driveway, wrapped in fleece.

It’s been a hard year. Too many hours spent in emergency departments and hospital rooms. Too few hours spent with my dear friend before she was gone. Too much fear. Too much dread. Too many goodbyes.

I need winter. I long for dormancy, for the deep winter sleep of trees. I need to be winter-chilled like a tulip, left undisturbed, underground, to gather life and the promise of growth from the dark earth. I need the coming months of palest winter light and cold, need frost to cover me like a blanket, need darkness to be a bed in which I may rest.

I need winter. Where IS it?

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Hunkering Down With The Woodpile And The Harp Bench

20140212-124153.jpgWe’re in day two of a three-day winter storm that’s blowing through the southeastern U.S.  Yesterday’s two inches of snow took most of our local weather forecasters by surprise. They told us to expect an early morning “dusting.” Instead, snow fell all day, and cooled off sidewalks and roads so that today’s snow won’t melt, and travel on unplowed neighborhood streets will become impossible.

Local and national forecasters got closer to reality today. Snow began falling early this morning, and is expected to accumulate at the rate of one inch per hour during the afternoon. They warn that our 4-to-8 inches of snow will be followed by a coating of ice, courtesy of sleet and freezing rain this evening. Our last big ice storm hit ten years ago this month, and left my neighborhood without electricity for two weeks. So I’m back to the basics of preparing for the worst.

There’s a waist-high stack of dry wood on the front porch, tucked under a blue tarp to keep it dry in the blowing snow. The candles are in their holders, the emergency oil lamp is filled and the wick trimmed, the wooden matches to light the gas burners when the electric ignition fails are on the counter by the stove. The flashlights are filled with fresh batteries, the electronic devices are charged. I might be a city girl now, but my years of living in the country taught me the value of self-sufficiency and not depending on the power grid during bad weather.

I’m back to the basics with my harp lessons as well. Last fall I read this quote from Deborah Henson-Conant’s blog entry, The Mystery Of Mastery, on HipHarp.com.

“I’m not dissing mastery. I’m just saying that – especially for adult learners – is it really about mastery? Or is it about having simple structures that help us express the richness of the lives we’ve created, and to share that richness with others?

When we, as adults, learn something new, what we want is fluency.

There seems to be an idea that ‘mastery’ means adding complexity – but fluency can be about getting more and more comfortable and creative with simplicity – so that we can express OURSELVES through it. 

And expressing ourselves through it is what’s important.

Last year my focus was on performance: playing at Hospice, learning repertoire to play in two harp chapter concerts, and the ongoing jousting with fear and performance anxiety. This year I am still playing at Hospice, but not signing up for other performance opportunities. This year my focus is on fluency and musicality. This year I am investigating what keeps me from expressing myself musically on the harp, what keeps me from playing a tune as beautifully as I can hear it in my head and as fluidly as I can imagine my fingers moving.

My “simple structures” are scales and arpeggios, and my primary tool for investigation is the video camera in my iPad, which when placed on a spare music stand beside my harp, captures everything my hands are doing. Since video-taping my practice sessions, I’ve discovered major inefficiencies in my harp technique that interfere with me playing fluidly and expressively.

I’m back to the very first steps of playing the harp: closing my fingers into the palm when I pluck, and replacing my fingers on the harp strings without buzzes. The videos showed that I have a lot of unnecessary hand motion when I close and replace. These hand motions take more time, which creates hiccups in the fluidity of the music and which traps me into playing slowly.

I am practicing scales with the mental images of “quiet hands,” and fingers that effortlessly fold shut, and then unfold and return to the strings without waving up and landing from above. After lots of very slow practice, I’m able to play ascending and descending scales a good 20 beats per minute faster than before. And my scales sound really good! Not allowing wiggling hands to siphon off energy that should go towards fingers pressing and releasing the strings creates a richer, fuller sound.

With the Alexander Technique lessons, I am developing both the core support that allows my arms, hands and fingers to move freely, and greater awareness of how I am moving and using my body. I can connect suddenly clumsy fingers to subtle shifts in my posture that causes my neck and spine to collapse forward, which then keeps me from supporting my arms and centering my hands on the strings, which prevents my fingers from moving freely.

When my hands are supported and balanced on the strings, my fingers naturally snap closed into my palms without forcing them to move after I pluck a string. That’s what they want to do. With tension released by closing, my fingers unfold, again without “making” them move. This effortless movement feels delicious! For the first time, I’m consciously aware that good technique really does feel good.

But my most significant shift is being able to watch the videos and view my harp technique issues as inefficiencies that stymie fluency and expression, instead of as failures that I should have corrected given the number of years I’ve had harp lessons. The Inner Critic no longer has a seat in my practice room. I know that for all the harp years, I’ve worked hard and practiced conscientiously so that I could play the very best I could.  And I know that I’ll keep doing that for all the harp years to come.

The Transformative Power Of Snow And Friendship

Waking To Sunday Morning Snow
Sunday Morning Snow

“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.” – Author unknown

I thought we were done with winter. Daffodils began blooming in January. The star magnolias and tulip magnolias burst their buds this week and are in full flower. Migratory robins are dining daily on the worms that rain drives to the surface in my soggy back yard, and chickadees are already gathering sticks for their nests. Friday I walked the neighborhood in shirt sleeves, under long-awaited crystal blue skies.

Yesterday I awoke to snow showers, to saucer-sized flakes drifting past my upstairs window. Snow soon turned to another day of the gray, drizzly rain that is the hallmark of this winter, and I thought we were done with the excitement and beauty that snow promises in the South.

About five in the afternoon Charley ran downstairs to where I was practicing recorder. She rarely takes the stairs on her own, but the first flashes of lightning and rolling booms of thunder explained why she sought me out. She hates storms, and usually predicts their arrival several minutes before I am aware of a change in the weather.

With another explosion of lightning and thunder, snow poured out of the sky. An hour later an inch clung to the fence posts and daffodils. By the end of the storm there was almost three inches covering the ground and outlining each tree branch.

This morning I awoke to a crystalline wonderland. The morning sun lit the top branches of the crape myrtle and cedar, making them sparkle with fairy dust. My back yard was transformed from mud and mire to a white canvas that captured the beauty of the snowy night.

The mud and mire of my heart’s distress is also transformed by the comments and emails I received in response to my post The Yawning Gulf Between Where I Am And Where I Want To Be. You helped me regain both perspective and faith that sight-reading skills do not make one a musician, and that I am a musician whether I ever sight-read another note. You helped me remember what I have accomplished with the harp, and helped me refocus on what I can do instead of seeing only what is still beyond where I am today. You assured me that I will find my way back to the joy that is Music. You held onto the song in my heart when I could not hear it, and sang it back to me when I needed it most. Thank you for your caring, your kindness and your support, and for being my companions on this journey.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Winter

It’s typical for us to have Christmas weather that requires turning on the air conditioning if we want enjoy sipping eggnog in front of the fire. But on Christmas Day, 2010, snow began falling about 7 pm. Snow continued all through the night, and I awoke to winter in all its stark, textured, crystal glory.

Back yard juniper

 

Crystal tree