In Praise of Rivers and Walking (Dogs)

We were dog-less for at least a year after beloved Tetley died. Without a dog, I rarely wandered around the neighborhood, particularly not in winter when I’m inclined to be a slug. Now we have Rufus. We think he’s a chihuahua-scottie, pretty darling and an easy, sweet dog. While sometimes I complain, I’m grateful he gets me outside even during a recent cold snap. Walking behind his jaunty strut, him pulling a little too much on his leash, it’s hard not to smile.

Molly and I have worked out an informal labor sharing system. I do morning, she does night walks. Either one of us tries to get a good long one in during the afternoon. The morning one is a quickie to just take care of business. I throw a big coat over my pajamas and let him sniff around the street while I yawn and wake up, thinking about my dreams, clearing sleep from my lungs with deep breaths. These days, the sun is just about rising and the morning planets hanging around on the Eastern horizon give me their last twinkle before fading into the day sky.

The good long walk is when I get home from work, if it’s still light enough. I need it as much as Rufus does. My favorite walk is along the river because there are no cars and because – river! I love rivers – the sense of always coming from and going somewhere. As I write, my cheeks are cold because I just got back from a jaunt on this sparkling, bracing winter day. The long way takes about 40 minutes if you factor in Rufus’s pit stops and smell checks. Today I took pictures.

The mouth of the river leading into the Long Island Sound is not very far, so high and low tides are quite noticeable. The tide was out when I got down to water and I thought about hanging around to hear what I suspect might be some nice cracking sounds as the incoming tide shifts the ice around. One very cold winter,  I lived a block off of Riverside Drive in Manhattan and heard, from blocks away, the ice cracking on the Hudson River. Strange and alarming, almost like little bombs going off, and then exciting to be reminded of the force of nature even in that metropolis. Today I settled for the crack and crunch of a little frozen puddle beneath my shoe.

I like this walk as much for the industrial stretches as the glimpses of bird life, rose bushes and a well placed bench. It’s real like this diverse city. The Norwalk river is a working one and there are even a few barges. Not like the monsters that travel the Ohio River – another river I once lived near and am fond of. There are stone lots and an asphalt plant, stretches of the river are blocked by huge piles of dirt and machinery. Some people think all this is ugly and I guess it kind of is, but I think it more interesting than an endless view of condos even as I enjoy the benefits of their lovely open walkways. I like the grittiness. And I’m not alone. I don’t know if this huge machine works but Osprey come return here every year. See the glimpse of last year’s nest where the antenna is?

There’s also a rowing club along this stretch. I’m sometimes tempted to try this. I like the way sculls move through the water, swifter and more elegantly than my little sea kayak. In the warmer weather this stretch is often filled with rowing kids – white and wealthy judging by their private school swag and the fancy cars waiting to pick them up. It seems a shame that the neighborhood children who live by and pass over this river daily don’t get to do this stuff. To see their city from the water, sometimes making that exit into the salty mouth to the sea. What a great way to ignite imagination and a sense of possibility. Too bad it’s mostly a rich-kid sport. I think about this when I pass the big boat tent and docks. Today I didn’t see a soul.

Up river there isn’t much ice. I’m not sure why. Deeper water? The tides are not as apparent as down river. The pathway stops here so Rufus and I leave the riverbank, cutting up through the grounds of an historical museum. One day I’ll go inside but it’s never open when I pass. There’s a well maintained herb garden in and a very old cemetery. I like to read the fantastic early American names. Here it turns pretty and feels like New England. I salute these old souls as we pass through. I think about time and the land and the river. They were digging up the road nearby here not too long ago, revealing cobblestones and trolley lines. From my car I never would have seen these details, this glimpse of the past.

Back to the streets we cross the busy one to the quieter roads of the neighborhood. Sidewalks disappear when we get off the main drag so I have to stay alert. But that’s the thing about walking: I pay attention to everything. The weather, the seasons, the neighborhood. I chat with people who have other dogs or want to meet Rufus – he is very friendly. Like the tides, a great ice-breaker.

Clearing the Way

Christmas Eve I cleaned my gutters. At least the ones I could reach from my rickety wooden painter’s ladder or by climbing up on our flat roof garage. I’m pretty sure I didn’t do this last year thus the great layer of sludge that, if I were that kind of efficient, organized person, would become perfect compost for my garden. Instead, I scooped and tossed the rich goop down below with a splat, trusting the coming rain and snow will wash it all away.

Reaching the gutters around the garage and breezeway entailed scooching along the edge of the roof – not exactly treacherous but some bone certainly would have cracked if I’d taken the 7 foot fall.

At first I was fearful wondering what the hell I was doing up there on Christmas Eve when I should have been baking cookies. But I moved carefully and stayed focused and in less than 5 minutes felt at ease.

Every year I try to do some pre-New Year’s cleaning and my gutters seemed a good one — a perfect symbol for my clogged psyche, heavy with sediment. While sitting on the edge of the roof, I pushed through some of it – including a good dose of fear and anxiety.

Earlier in the day I heard an inspiring interview on On Being interview with David Steindl-Rast – this wonderful sounding 90 year Austrian monk who has to be a good guy because he was pals with Thomas Merton. If you have time, read through or listen to the whole interview – you might find it inspiring too.

This bit resonated with me and I thought about it again while crouching on the shingles: “… anxiety has a way of paralyzing us… But what really paralyzes us is fear. It’s not the anxiety, it’s the fear, because it resists. The moment we give up this resistance — everything hinges on this trust in life. Trust. And with this trust, with this faith, we can go into that anxiety and say, it’s terrible, it feels awful. But it may — I trust that it is just another birth into a greater fullness.

That’s where I’m headed: a greater fullness. From my roof I took it slow, payed close attention and managed to enjoy the view.

Slow Walking the Neighborhood

I love the thrum of a summer night – cicadas and crickets and mystery making the darkness vibrate. As a child I was terrified of the summer night racket, sure that whatever made those noises must be huge and awful. Now I am enchanted by their crazy chorus – different at night from day when under the scorching sun the cicadas seem to speed up their crazy chant with the heat.

Have you seen the leaves are beginning to fall? The other day, a yellow leaf from the Tulip tree rocked slowly through the air, floating, floating down – a quiet reminder on a still-hot day that summer is almost over. And the moon tonight was lovely – waxing and bright with a few stars I don’t know shining not far from it’s light.

These are just a fraction of the rewards I’ve found in my recent walks when not gazing at the new love in our lives: Rufus.

This little man is actually full grown – adopted 2 weeks ago from WASA Westport. Last we heard, his two brothers are still available. I’d almost forgotten the joys of a dog. And Molly – well, she’s smitten with Rufus and he, with her.

So I’m slow walking the neighborhood again and it’s very sweet indeed.

Lurking Beneath

‘So what’s going on in your life?’

The Doctor’s question gave me pause. Or maybe I was still stunned by the diagnosis she’d just delivered: shingles.

Well, I suppose work is stressful. That’s what I told her – the easy answer. I have been very busy. But it’s a job I’ve done for 20 years and still enjoy. I mean it’s books I sell. And I’ve actually been taking a fair amount of time off. No, I don’t think it’s really just work-stress that triggered this weird virus to emerge from dormancy more than 50 years after chickenpox ravaged my little body with excruciating sores and scabs I couldn’t resist ripping to bloody shreds.

I love that my Doctor asked me this question. Always up for a metaphor, I’ve pondered during this past uncomfortable week, what IS going on in my life – while wincing from stabbing pains, flinching from any touch to the affected skin, strangely on fire. What in my life awakened this virus in me now? What do I need to be attending to? Is it my subconscious screaming at me – too long ignored as I busily go about my life.

Two friends and I recently coordinated our first community building story-telling project a la The Moth, with the idea of strengthening ties in our very neighborhood-centric city. The first one, held last week, was a great hit with so many inspired to share personal stories with more than 50 strangers, that we ran out of time to accommodate them all.The power and joy of sharing stories was apparent in that beautiful space on a summer evening. Every one there was attentive and moved. Jennifer, Judith and I were elated and are planning the next for October. I did not tell a story.

I have long reaped the psychological benefit of telling stories, yet since I began purposefully writing, I have never felt so far off-track as now. I have lost my personal creative practice.

‘What’s going on in your life?’ That question. Are these stories, my own stories, that I’m not listening to – making my skin crawl and ooze? I need to dig deep, dive beneath to uncover what’s there — including toxins that have laid me low.

If I’m not carving out enough time to be contemplative and creative, I begin to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. That’s a message I’ve felt before but never has it manifested itself in such an excruciating way. Community storytelling is brilliant and I’m excited about it. I feel passionate about the importance of gathering people to listen to each other – a small local gesture against the nasty forces of this time. But I also need to heed my own hollering nerves with roots deep beneath childhood scabs. Write, sculpt, paint – get up and tell a story – it doesn’t matter. What matters is to pay attention to my heart and soul – below the surface where endless untold stories and viruses linger for life.

PS: I’d get the vaccine!

This Mother’s Journey

Kamogawa at dusk

I was 28 and living in Kyoto, Japan when the letter arrived. An ex-boyfriend wanted to let me know he had tested positive for HIV. The year was 1988 – early days of the disease when a positive diagnosis was still thought to be a death sentence. For a week I waited for results of my test and stared my mortality in the eye. Up until then, my life in Japan felt almost ideal – I could spend only a few days teaching English with plenty of free time to sculpt and paint and explore one of the most fascinating, inspiring cities in the world. I loved my life there, living primarily as an artist in a remarkable community.

That letter changed everything. I did not mourn I might never visit Morocco or make some piece of art. During that week of waiting, I walked up into the mountains  around Kyoto, biked along the river and felt lonely in that beautiful place. I discovered what I’d regret: the chance to be a mother. For the first time in my life, I not only thought about but wanted a baby.

When my test came back negative, I decided to return to the States. I’d had a Japanese boyfriend and imagined how beautiful a child would be – but I worried that for me, the differences between a man and woman were hurdle enough without adding cultural and language challenges to the mix. I returned to the USA with my new dream and hopes of finding my mate.

My years in NYC, working at the United Nations were punctuated by a few adventures but no man who was right. In 1992 I joined a UN Peacekeeping mission to the Former Yugoslavia – still determined to find a way to start a family even as I went off to a war zone. (I know, I know!) There I met Neil – the charismatic, handsome, funny and loving – but troubled Englishman I would marry. He too was keen to have a baby and we got right on it.

Premie Molly with proud parents at the beach in Ostuni, Italy.

At 36, I gave birth to Molly in Italy. (Another adventure I wrote about here.) I was right about the man-part of creating a family being a challenge – it turned out to be even more impossible than I imagined. Neil’s demons got the better of him and he ended his life a month before Molly turned 9. Being a single mom was never part of my dream and I know both of us have had flashes of feeling sorry for ourselves. Certainly there has always been the financial stress, but I have also worried about being the only one to cheer her on in life.

Except – I haven’t been and I am not. Together we learned to find love and support beyond the boundaries of home. This neighborhood has become family for us, pitching in to lend a hand on the turn of a dime, showing up — well, you can see in the photo below taken just before her high school graduation. Living in this community helped me to be a better mother. And my girl has learned what it means to create a ‘family’ of support and love.

A week ago, Molly picked up tickets for her college graduation. She was allowed 10 but needed only 1 ticket – for me. She felt embarrassed to just ask for a single ticket so took 3. As always, I fretted about how she’d feel when all her friends would have a cheering section for this momentous event.  And she would have ME. In fact, two of  her adorable friends joined me – cheering and tearing up beside me.

Over the years, there has always been noise for my girl when she has taken a bow or crossed the stage for an award. I clap until my hands sting, and hoot and whistle. But beyond my racket, there is always more of a roar from a circle that knows and loves her – though they may not share her blood. Molly has created friendships that run as deep as family. And like her two friends that sat beside me (and there was another row besides!) they show up and they make lots of noise so she will have no doubt that she is loved.

We did it!

We are a devoted duo – proud of each other. “We did it!” she captioned her graduation Facebook picture of the two of us. And it’s true. We did do it. She has graduated with pretty minimal debt and that, these days, feels big. For the last 20 plus years my primary, heartfelt focus and drive has been to nurture and launch my daughter in every way. And it is the best thing I ever did.

That glimpse of mortality delivered to a Japanese mailbox in 1988 clarified my dream and it came true. I write this on Mother’s Day – a holiday I mostly dismiss as a ‘Hallmark Holiday’ – but for the record on this day and everyday – I am indeed a happy mother!

PS  – While the HIV positive ex and I do not stay in contact, I know that thanks to remarkable advances in medicine, he is still alive and well.

Sunrise, Sunset, the Moon, the Stars and My Dog

 

2013-01-20 15.05.19My breath is visible and a cloud of steam rises from Tetley’s pee as he lifts his leg over a pile of leaves. I look up at the brilliant blue sky promising a beautiful day. I follow the flight of a little bird as it bounces through a shrub with golden leaves – the last foliage left in the wood. Yesterday’s wind cleared most of the leaves and now I shuffle through them as I follow my sweet old Cairn Terrier down the street. He pulls me forward then stops, lingering a long time to smell a suspect rock. So I stand and look around, listen, fill my lungs with fresh air – my initial grumpiness about getting forced out into the world earlier than I wanted fading. Like most of us, although I’d love to, I rarely get to loll about in bed past 6 AM and it’s now just after 8 on a Sunday – a little later than our usual circling of the neighborhood.

2013-01-20 15.06.19

Multiple times a day, Tetley leads me to moments of meditation. He gets me OUT. Even when I’m cranky or the weather sucks. And so I see the sunrise, the sunset, the moon and stars, the passing flock of geese honking through the sky, rabbits, and once even a coyote. He gets me closer to the subtle change in the season, I speak with my neighbors rather than just waving at them from my car. I watch the light, hear the bird songs. We sometimes go to the beach in a neighboring town where he can climb on the jetty in search of rodents and I watch the tides, hear the waves, smell the salt air. He greets strange dogs and I talk to their owners.

Tet color profile

Tetley makes me move when I’m inclined to hide at home, not leave the couch. And once outside, there is no purpose but to be there with him and see the world around us.

I’d Like to Walk (More)

tet

In this car-dependent community where I live, walking is something I do with intention. I walk my dog Tetley before and after work. More ambitiously I walk with my friend Chris. We walk fast and far and sometimes with weights – for the fresh air and exercise. Where I live, like most American communities, walking is not a viable way to take care of daily business. I miss that.

I did not own a car until I moved to Connecticut in my 30s. I lived in Kyoto, Japan; New York City; Zagreb, Croatia; even Cincinnati, Ohio (I lived in the city) and never owned a car because I didn’t need one. Stores, markets to buy food – were in every neighborhood. And public transportation was accessible and good. Or, I rode a bicycle with a basket big enough to fill with groceries. I knew the fastest, scenic, safest routes to work.  I became familiar with the patterns of light, cracks on sidewalks, faces and sometimes the names of shopkeepers, my neighbors. All of my senses were attuned to my place in the world. In Kyoto, the sound of ancient weaving machines heaving away down the narrow streets of my neighborhood, were my cues I was nearing the old wooden house where I lived, as did the splashing of water from the tofu shop on the corner. When I moved farther north in the city, I smelled the fermenting kimchee from the Korean community on the next street, the scent of the pine forests up the hill and felt the wind, the first snow.

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In Zagreb, I befriended neighbors and shopkeepers passed daily on my walk to catch the tram to work. After Molly was born, I walked with her pram to the market where I piled fresh produce and maybe something from the butcher in the rack beneath her.  In Cincinnati I lived at the edge of a ghetto surrounded by empty buildings, accepted by the few residents in that mostly abandoned neighborhood, as one of the weird artists that lived in the building that used to be a school. I only felt nervous when I had to leave at 4:30 in the morning to pick up a waitress shift at the hotel downtown – I’d throw my ten speed onto my shoulder, dash down the broken church steps and pedal furiously through the empty streets – the dark morning terrifying and thrilling me.

42nd

And New York – well, everyone knows New York – half the fun of being there is just walking, walking, walking. Most days I happily joined the river of pedestrians rushing down Broadway, dodging around the slowpokes, when I remembered to have change handy in my pocket, giving to the usual gauntlet of panhandlers. Sometimes I’d choose West End Avenue – a wider, emptier expanse of only apartment buildings with no shops – a short reprieve from the masses before cutting over to join the flow at 96th Street where we descended to the subway.

But here, an hour outside of New York City, I’ve never even boarded the bus. The grocery store is at least a mile away so not practical to walk to unless I’m just buying milk. Work is 5 miles and my job requires a car for visits to schools and companies.

Except for the hurried morning Tetley walks  – so short they hardly qualify – me following him at a snails pace as he sniffs and pees, sniffs and pees, barks at long-gone creatures from the night before. I have to get to work so we barely make it down the street before I have to tug him to hurry along and take care of business. Still, I get a glimpse of the day, a sense of the seasons.

body vibe

Recently, I walked a different route to pick up my car. Not a pretty street, but one I drive down often. And in walking it, I noticed new things. This company’s name intrigued me – its a wholesale distributor of body jewelry – so if you’re in the market for nipple rings, check them out.

American communities do not encourage pedestrian life. In fact, walking can be deadly. Sidewalks are intermittent — even along busy thoroughfares like the Boston Post Road. I’ve seen families pushing baby carriages along a busy stretch between strip malls, hugging the curb while traffic barrels past. Throw in the frozen snow banks of winter and a texting teen…

According to the CDC: “In 2012, 4,743 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in the United States, and another 76,000 pedestrians were injured. This averages to one crash-related pedestrian death every 2 hours, and a pedestrian injury every 7 minutes. Pedestrians are 1.5 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to be killed in a car crash on each trip.”

This doesn’t exactly make you want to break out your walking shoes, now does it?

I miss the easy exercise of being a functional walker but even more, I miss the intimate connections to the world around me only possible beyond the boundaries of my home, my car. I devour the blogs of madcap adventurers biking around the world, shlogging through all weather, up mountains, through cities, camping by rivers, part of it all – meeting up with hospitable citizens who share their food and drink because who doesn’t love a traveler – someone pedaling, walking, wanting to know about your place in the world? And in doing so, in getting out of a car, slowing down and being in a place, we make it a little bit, our own.

Don’t get me wrong – I love to drive around in the warmth or the cool of my car, my music playing. But so much of life is missed when you travel 30+ miles an hour.

What about where you live?

My Canine Love

Weekends, even when I’m inclined to linger in bed a little longer, Tetley, my Cairn Terrier, gets me up. Now that he’s an older dog, he’s more of a sleeper himself, staying curled at the foot of the bed later than he used to. But he’s still going before 9, sidling up beside me, nudging me with his wet nose. I can buy myself more lazy time by scratching his ears and usually, he’ll rollover onto his back so I can rub his belly. Soon, squirming upright, he shakes and starts pawing at me, sometimes punctuating his gentle punches with little guttural pleas to get the hell out of bed.

Tet color profile

Especially during these winter months, I’m inclined to hibernate, but Tetley gets me outside a few times a day – at least for a walk down the street. I feel the weather, taste the air, notice the changes of the seasons, the comings-and-goings of the neighborhood. I pay attention. This morning the roads were slick with black ice so I stepped carefully, walking only on the snow covered part of the street.  He pees his way up and down the street, sniffing and sometimes barking at phantom or real squirrels. These days, with the branches bare, I watch the birds – Nuthatches, Cardinals, Woodpeckers – darting around the wood. Mourning Doves were perched around like clergy waiting for their flock to show up on this Sunday morning – I still hear their insistent cooing an hour later. I look up at the sky – today, beautifully blue and clear after yesterday’s snow. At night, I watch the stars, where the moon is, whether waxing or waning. These little jaunts, I notice the world in a way I might otherwise not. Thanks to my beloved dog, these walks become a kind of meditation.

Tet on wintry walk

Tetley is getting old. Molly was in second grade when he entered our lives and now she is in college. He’s the only dog I’ve ever owned – my only canine love and as true a love as I have ever felt. I purposely forget his actual years – we’ve been saying ‘about ten’ for awhile now.  Small dogs can live quite long lives and I trust (and pray) Tetley lives to a very ripe old age. He’s still fit, although his teeth aren’t great and his breath smells like a swamp. He prefers not to have to leap up on the bed anymore, (I lift him) and he sports a distinguished white goatee. Recently, we’ve noticed he gets underfoot and I’m beginning to wonder if he’s just a tad blind. That’s okay – I’ll lead the way, aging too with my aching love for him.

tet glasses

Musings on Love

soap blanket

I have a front row seat to holidays thanks to my job in a bookstore. I track the changing seasons by displays with holiday relevant books and gewgaws almost as much as I do by observing nature. Christmas hoopla, we all agree, starts way too early. The arrival of merry product the retail cue for imminent insanity, makes me groan when it shows up in September. St. Patrick’s Day stuff of dubious Irish humor books and clover chotchkis, is pretty lame but the sight of it still makes me happy. Like sandals displayed in the shoe store next door even though snow still blankets the ground, the green of St. Patrick’s day signals that the end of winter is near. Of course Easter and Passover bring with it lovely garden books, so what’s not to love?

But Valentine’s Day is my favorite. Vibrant red blankets and boxes of chocolate, heart shaped candles, stones and French milled soaps, pocket sized Pablo Nerudo Love Sonnets, gorgeous displays celebrating the warmth of love to get us through frigid-February. I am almost as much a sucker for this Valentine stuff as I am for love.

I think, it’s why we are here.

Pete Seeger died this week at 94, only months after the death of his wife of 70 years. Toshi Ota was Pete’s anchor throughout his well-lived life, so off he floated after her, following the love of his life. Moving stories of devoted couples dying months, days, minutes apart, abound.

Not all of us are lucky enough to discover and keep such a love. Sometimes it takes decades and many, many false starts to find ‘the one’, if we ever do at all. While I now blissfully share my life, I had plenty of false starts. (In fact, my guy and I reunited 20 years after such a start – but another time for that story.)

I’ve always been love-crazy, maybe even a little obsessive. When I began writing this post, I thought love might be a nice break from my usual musings on addiction and grief. But then it dawned on me that for most of my life I was a romance-junkie, pursuing impossible notions of true love across the country, even around the globe. Plenty of grief got mixed into the soup.

My addiction started in early adolescence with serious crushes on my older brothers’ and sister’s friends, unattainable because they were either oblivious to my 13 year old designs or just decent guys. My best friend Rita (who shared my affliction) and I spent long hours sprawled across the bed in her purple bedroom listening to Cat Stevens after strategically prowling the streets, hoping to encounter our current obsessions. That sense of pining with an edge of pain stayed with me through high school where my most serious romantic episode could have landed the guy in jail. Early on, I associated the thrill of love with an element of danger.

There is danger. We risk getting very seriously hurt. Perhaps that was the thrill for me. My version of psychic cliff-jumping, the madly intense feelings, the brew of first attraction that I was convinced was love.  Of course, in a healthier person this is where things start – and go somewhere or nowhere. For me, it was that very intoxication of questions, hopes, dreams swirling in a crazy alchemy of beginnings where I got stuck.

ti amo blanket

I can conjure the weird drop in my stomach still. Will this be the one? With no roadmap to what a healthy relationship with a man might be, I regularly got lost, mistaking those mixes of passion, wine, fantasy for something that might last. And mostly, they didn’t.

But I never stopped hoping. Finally, I discovered what the gift of real time together means and that after that first rolling boil of love slows — a delicious, long-burning simmer begins.

How does a first encounter turn into 70 years? What a mystery! While we no longer have a chance at 70, R and I are shooting for 30.

Cold Nights in Old Houses

As I was falling asleep last night, the patched-up cast-iron furnace in our 1930s Cape, kicked on with a burp and a heave. We crank the thermostat right down when we go to bed, preferring the cold for sleeping. Besides, oil’s expensive and we try to be energy conservative. But temperatures dropped so low last night, even the radiators in our bedrooms got hot. I was reminded of frigid winters at Machamux.

Tom on a wintry walk with two 'roomers'.
Tom on a wintry walk with two ‘roomers’.

Machamux was Tom’s rambling, leaking, old house across from a rocky little beach on the Long Island Sound. I landed there in early summer of 1987. Back in the States after almost 4 years of living in Kyoto, I had no idea where to go or what to do next with my life. My friend Laurie told me that Tom, her Dad, a 70-something but ageless and charming man, rented rooms and might just have one available for me.  Tom, Machamux and everyone in that ramshackle house, were just what I needed for my American re-entry. Settled in my  room, I felt home.

Now there’s a fat book’s worth of Machamux stories to tell, almost all remarkably joyful and hilarious ones, but this is just a memory of the warmest-cold house I ever lived in. The house was drafty as a wrecked ship so mostly we hung around in the living room and kitchen area where the wood stove was always stoked as were our glasses at cocktail hour, beginning promptly at 5. Tom drank martinis with pimento olives. As ‘roomers’ and visitors wandered in, newspapers were shoved aside on the saggy couch to make space. Laughter and good cheer warmed the room and we took turns standing near the wood stove, letting our backs heat up rather than turn away from the usually lively banter. We took our time going up to bed, knowing our rooms, would likely be cold enough for our breath to be visible. But when it got really, really cold, like it did here last night, the baseboards running along the perimeter of our rooms hissed and gurgled, emitting rare heat with cozy old-house smells. That felt luxurious.

I met R at Machamux back in 1987 – his room was at the top of the house. That’s one of the stories I have to tell another time — about a love that got lost — then found again. And together now, so many years later, we savor our shared history of two old drafty houses made warm by love, fire and sometimes reluctantly, very old furnaces.