Tag Archives: winter

“A Small Fir-Tree Was Born in the Forest.” (Russian Folk Song)

She was encouraged to grow up as tall as her father and to smell like her beautiful mama, even if she was ever caught in the midst of a drought.

“Because that’s what we, pine trees, do, my little one,” her mama told her.  “And if you grow up particularly pretty, they might choose you, in the middle of next winter.”

“Who are ‘they’?” the baby tree would ask, every year.  (Like all children, she liked her favorite stories repeated to her, endlessly.)

“The unrooted ones,” mama would whisper and sway to block the tiny dust clouds heading into her child’s hair — with her long, long limbs.

Oh, no!  She wouldn’t grow up to be an ordinary tree, her mama gossiped to other mothers.  Her daughter was meant to be unique.  First of, she was gaining inches day by day.

“The taller you grow, the sooner the unrooted ones will get you!”

And:  She was pretty!  Such a pretty baby tree:  with long, dark green needles that weighed down her lean branches toward the ground!  All the other kids seemed to have upright branches.  Their needles lined up into mohawks and made them more susceptible to storms.  When winds gained speed, or rain began to pound the soil above her roots, she seemed to endure it all with grace.  Light on her feet, she would let whatever weather run its moods through her hair; and after every type of precipitation, she made tiny slides for the rascal raindrops.  The little ones would chirp and tumble into one another; hang onto the very edge of her needles, then leap onto the next one — and repeat.

She didn’t know where the rascal raindrops would go once they rolled off her long hair and hit the ground; but she imagined they built tunnels in the soil and lived there, with their families (but after they would fall in love, of course).

One time, though, she questioned her own theory when a particularly familiar rascal raindrop appeared her eyelash, after she awoke from her impatient dreams:

“Haven’t I seen you here before?” she asked the sparkling babe.  But he was already chirping too loudly to hear her question; and as soon as the other kids woke up, he began to slide, slowly at first and on his belly, with his arms outstretched forward.  The further he slid, the more rascals joined him, and they would go faster, laugh — louder; and their chirping made her tilt her branches even lower and give the kids a bigger thrill.

“Maybe,” she thought, “they all fly up to the sun instead — to tell its rays to be a bit gentler on us.”

(Drought — was told to be her only fear.  Besides that — she had none.)

Sometimes, she would get the glimpse of the unrooted ones.  A particular one continued coming around too early in the mornings; so, most of the time, she would sleep right through his visits.  One day, though, he came up to her and woke her up with his shadow.

He was taller than her, but not as tall as mama.  He had flat hair, the color of a sickly pine.  It was flat and so dense, it clung to his trunk in one single layer.

“What a strange creature!” the baby tree thought.

“Don’t!  Slouch!” she heard her mama whisper through her teeth.  She snuck a peak:  Mama looked sleepy and wet.  But she would NOT shake off her raindrops yet:  Because she wanted for all of the unrooted one’s attention to go — to her child.

Would that be it?  Is that how it would happen:  The moment when she would be taken away to the magical place from where other pine trees never-ever returned?  It had to be wonderful there, she thought.  Oh, how she craved to travel!

She let the unrooted one pet her hair.  He made an unfamiliar noise and bent down to her.  A little current of air brushed against her branch.  The unrooted one repeated the noise and petted her, again.

She then noticed he had a patch of different-colored needles on his tree top.  They were the color of gray snow (like sleeping raindrops).  Then, he went back to giving her a treat that smelled absolutely atrocious but mama said it had to be good for her.  So, she closed her eyes and sucked it all up, to the last stinky bit.  She would behave and do whatever the main unrooted one would want her to do.  Whatever it would take — to get her to that place.

There were some stories she’d overheard from the elders.  Some said that unrooted ones took them to more delicious soils.  Others mentioned that they would only feed them water, in that place — and that was truly strange.  But the common truth was that the chosen ones got to wear pretty things and learn how to sparkle.

“Like the rascal raindrops?” the baby tree would ask her mama.

“Much better, baby girl!” her mama said.  “Much better!”

“Oh, the Weather Outside Is Frightful!”

Oh, my!  It’s really coming down, today.

Just the other day, I was bickering to myself about the 72-degree weather we’d been experiencing, mere three weeks before Christmas.  But how else was I supposed to get in the mood for the holidays, if I couldn’t pack away my tank tops and tees; my sarafan dresses and gypsy skirts?  Wasn’t this supposed to be the perfect time for cuddling up in oversized sweaters and knee-high socks, and coming up with a slew of excuses to stay home, with one’s beloveds:  A case of marshmallow overdose?  A failure of the alarm clock due to the shift of the Milky Way?  A brutal paper cut from the wrapping of Christmas gifts?  A finger burn in Santa’s kitchen?  A sparkles attack from the unpacked box of Christmas ornaments? An all-nighter spent counting the falling stars and making wishes?

It has been pretty cold inside the house as well.  Something to do with the angle of the sun not hitting my windows.  But inside the greenhouse of my car, I could easily bring back my summer’s tradition of driving in a bikini top.  And how was it, that I was tempted to drain my battery by running the AC — this time of the year — than to sweat through my sweater dresses and tights?  to peel off my shoes and roll down all the windows?

But today, it had began to come down — finally!

While in this City, I am unlikely to see any snow for Christmas.  Instead, it would be a season of downpours for which none of us, year after year, would be prepared.  Until the first heat wave in the late spring, I would have to switch to primarily driving in the left lane due to the plugged-up gutters and failed draining systems.  ‘Tis the season:  for bad driving, perpetually broken traffic lights and potholes of gastronomical diameters.  Alas, the joy!

Still:  The drop in temperatures would be a lovely enough change.  The City’s women had already been sporting their high-heeled leather boots and quirky Uggs (mostly hated, as I’d learned, by men — no matter how much quirky).  Just the other day, I noticed some furry numbers on a tall and lovely creature with long legs and straight hair.  She was walking arm in arm with her texting companion.  He — was sporting a beanie hat and sparkly converse shoes without laces, a la David Guetta.  On top, however, the girl’s ensemble was finished off with a wispily moving chiffon dress, the color of eggnog.

“How is this winter?” I thought.

Diane Lane diane-lane-19

But this morning — finally! — it had begun to come down!

At first, through my dreamless sleep, I heard the traffic along the main boulevard.  I could tell LA-LA’s citizens were speeding, just a few minutes before 9:00 a.m.  (What silly creatures!  Didn’t they know about the slew of excuses that came with this season:  A cookie dough invoked stomachache?  A hoarseness after Christmas caroling?  A carpal tunnel from writing letters to Santa’s elves?)

Normally, the tires would swoosh against the asphalt quietly, like the whisper of Tinker Bell’s wings.  Or like some hooligan little wind trying to squeeze into the invisible to the eye rift in my windowsill — to gossip about the foreign coast on which it had been born.  So, unless the morning rush turned audibly aggressive with honking, police sirens or car alarms, I would sleep right through it.

This morning, though, the cars chomped and slurped as they gained speed.  And when the rain drops hit the shiny surfaces of tree leaves, on the trees right outside my window, they sounded like metallic brushes against the taut skin of drums in a percussion orchestra.  The sounds blended into a monotonous flow, and it had to be the white noise nature of them that had actually woken me up.  Having lived in cities all my life, I had been reprogramed to be soothed by the typical aggression of urban sounds.  This monotonous lullaby, however, was unlikely.  Unusual.  And, finally idyllic!

A message from a beloved buzzed my iPhone before its alarm.  From under the covers, I responded:  Love — right back at cha!  Going back to sleep was tempting but impossible:  What with all that change happening outside!  So:  I sat up.  Got up, made coffee.  Thought of which holiday excuses could be utilized today:  The too slowly drying nail polish with Christmas decals?  The scratched up limbs from the night of trimming the tree?

And while my coffee machine laboriously percolated on the kitchen counter, I peeled on my lover’s sweater and a pair of well-worn knee-high socks — and began studying the raindrops, crawling along my window.

It was really coming down.  How magical!

“Try to Remember the Kind of September…”

This absolutely must be the last of it:  this heatwave, right?!

I’m sitting in my friend’s backyard:

“Dang, this joint needs some work!”

The flower bulbs are waiting to be put to sleep, for the winter…  What winter?!  I’ve been chasing fucking butterflies this morning and playing pingpong with the bodies of wasps.  (Don’t worry!  I’m so not into the whole animal cruelty thing.  But these monsters are curiously attracted to my papaya perfume.  So, I give them a lil’ push and watch them fumble away, with their dangly legs, above my head.  That’s right!)

The wild weed that broke through the pavement three years ago, when I first met the man, is now a wild shrubbery in dire need of trimming.  It’s now taller than the fence.  (His child is also taller by now, but she still crunches my heart every time her strawberry chin is in my vicinity.  And she looks more — like me.)

The rectangular flower bed usually filled with pungent bright orange flowers that remind me of Russian Septembers is completely desolate right now.  I wonder if he had even planted anything this year, or if nothing simply could survive this heat.  I have spent most of my summer on the beach; or more north of here, with more tolerable climates and more grounded humanity.

Here, we’re just fried all the time.  Baked — out of our better minds. 

I noticed it yesterday:  this heat-induced irritability that enters all of our faces and makes us lose ourselves, in want.  I was craving the caramel-colored heart that my barista draws in the foam of my lattes, in the morning.  So, I stepped out, to hunt for it.

Surely, I expected warmth that day.  But not this heatwave!

“Coffee?  Am I crazy?!”

The traffic along Venice was crawling Westward.  The sweaty face of a motorcycle cop showed zero delight in response to my wave as he waited for me to cross:  He seemed annoyed, exhausted.  Baked inside his helmet — and out of his better mind. 

A man in a white tank-top with yellow armpits was walking ahead of me, with two panting Rottweilers, without a leash.  In his left hand, he carried an open bottle of beer, super-sized.  Be it the heat or the liquor, he swayed and zigzagged quite dramatically across the walkway.

“I hope this poor guy doesn’t collapse from a heat stroke,” I thought and looked back at the irritable cop, in a helmet.  He was gone.

I would have caught up to the poor drunk, but the two bitches next to him were meaning business.  So, I slowed down too.

I waited for him to get ahead enough, so I could sneak into the door of my barista’s coffee shop, but the red-faced man turned and noticed me.  He started staring.

“So pretty,” the man slurred as I took a few hesitant steps to pass his bitches who by then got busy sniffing the streetlight’s pole.

I hesitated and took a sudden turn into the thrift store to my left.

Inside, the heat punched me in the lungs:

“There is not enough air around here,” I thought and looked through the glass door at the bitches outside.  Yep, still there.  “Fine.  I’ll take a look around.”

“Take a look around!” she said.

She had appeared out of nowhere:  A face that I would cast for a children’s most feared witch.  I thought of the strawberry chin, and it crunched my heart.

“I have a lot of good stuff here!” she continued, sweating and bulging her eyes at me.  “And I have a dress I’d love to show you:  IT’S SO CUTE!”

A good day for the crazies to be out, I thought, counting myself into that camp.  It wasn’t even noon — and I was already starting to feel on edge.  Baked — out of my better mind.

Maybe it was the fault of the full moon, from the last couple nights.  At first, I thought it was cool:  Its roundness reminded me of my motha’s face — and of Russian Septembers.  (And neither occurrence — is to be fucked with, by the way!).  But then, the heat would not subside even at nighttime.  And I would rummage through my linens, in nothing but my ex’s dress shirt, until I would find another cotton sheet to soak through, in my sleep.

The strange face would follow me, from one rack to another.  And when at the back of the store, I noticed the backdoor:  “Freedom!” I thought.  And I charged out.

Once outside, the heat, that seemed to have increased in the last few minutes, punched me in the lungs.

“Fuck coffee!  Am I crazy?!”

I made my way back home.

And now, I’m sitting in my friend’s backyard, on the West Side of the city, where the temperatures promised to be more tolerable.  The metallic surface of my laptop is now hot enough to fry a stake.

I’m getting messages from NYC about gray skies and blue moods.  My comrades wish they could be in the sun.

“Not this much sun!” I respond and bury my hand in a flower pot full of potpourri as dead as… well, potpourri.

To the left of me:  A plate full of seashells is sitting on a cracked asphalt.  In the winter, I had seen this thing filled with water and moss before; and it used to remind me — of Russian Septembers.

But now, the surface of each shell is whited out and chalky to the touch.  I reach out to rearrange them:  If I put them to the ear, I think, I bet they are too arid to echo the Ocean.

“Coffee?” my friend sticks his head out, through the back door.

“Coffee?  Are you crazy?!” I respond.

But then:

“Well, sure.  What the hell!”

“Mama’s Lil’ Baby Loves Shortenin’, Shortenin’: Mama’s Lil’ Baby Loves Shortenin’ Bread!”

It was a long and sleepful night…

That’s right:  I said “sleepful”.

It was a long and sleepful night, for a change!

And I do love to sleep so!

To this day, motha often pontificates on my possible genetic relation to polar bears.  Because I don’t just sleep:  I hibernate.  And once awoken, it is better for others to keep a safe distance until I get that first cup of coffee, in me.

Over the years, motha and I have figured out how to maneuver around each other, after I stumble into her kitchen, barefoot, in search of my caffeine fix:  We prefer to have at least a town, in between us.  It’s just better that way.  Because two stubborn, moody Russian broads unleashing their wild hair and temperament at each other — never makes for a safe situation.

So, instead, motha leaves me cryptic notes on her counter, next to the pot with burnt coffee on its bottom; and she gets the hell out of her house (about a town away):

“Went to store.  Fear to wake you.”

Or:

“Call me when you go.”

So, okay:  I do love to sleep so!

But it is always a pretty rare occasion for me to pack the mandatory 8-hour gap of rest into a night.  Because there is seemingly never enough hours in my day; and after hour of writing and tending to business, after my rituals of fitness and nourishment, I tend to retire to bed quite reluctantly.  There, I arm-wrestle with the ghosts of my nightmares first; then, I eventually drift off to sleep.

When the alarm goes off at an ungodly hour (because there is seemingly never enough hours in my night), I yank its cord out of the wall and try to nap for a bit.  But before I pass the hour at which I would start calling myself “a sloth”, I leap out of bed and stumble out into my kitchen, barefoot, in search of my caffeine fix.  The thoughts of the day flood in with the first inhale of it, and I’m off:  Chasing the hours, of which there is seemingly never enough in my day.

And I’ve heard of the luxury others entertain when they decide to spend an entire day in bed.  In order for me to do that, I must be deathly sick.  If not, the town is better be going through an apocalypse.

And every single time I’ve entertained the idea of a vacation this year:

“Ah, shit!  I gotta write in the morning!” I would think immediately after, and that idea would be put to rest.

Because there is seemingly never enough hours in my day — and just way too much work to do, in my life!

But today, it was a long and sleepful night.  And before I leapt out of my bed right at the hour at which I would start calling myself “a sloth”, I wondered:

“How ever did I manage to get ten hours of rest?”

Let’s see:  Yesterday, I wrote and I tended to business, as usual.  There were rituals of fitness and nourishment, punctuated with more writing and more business.  I’ve even managed to repack my bags and reshuffle my joint.

But right around the time when I would normally freak out about seemingly never having enough hours in my day, instead of brewing myself another pot of coffee —

I cooked!

I made a meal, for a change.

After a late-night run through a park with maple trees that haven’t yet changed their leaves — but surely seemed to be entertaining it — I decided it was time for fall.  And with fall, it was time for pots of magical thick stews with flavors of the world whispered through a whiff of exotic spices.  And although it wasn’t time to change the clocks yet, it was time — to change the pace.

So, I ran back home and I started a pot:

The eggplant was caramelized first.  The trick there was to be patient:  to give it time.  Fussing with it would ruin the slowly forming crust.  Eggplant is a vegetarian’s stake, and it demands specificity.  Because there seemingly may not be enough hours in the day, but in cooking — it is always about the time.  With time, last night, my patience paid off:  And soon enough the joint was filled with aromas of meatiness and slowness.

The red peppers were caramelized next, married with the sizzling garlic a few minutes later.  And there is nothing more domestic — than the smell of sauteed garlic:  My joint was beginning to smell like home.

The spices went in next:  cumin, coriander, yellow curry, cayenne pepper and sesame seeds.  With spices, one must move quickly.  Because if the mind drifts off — they burn and lose their magic.  By then, my nose had adjusted to the unleashed aromas of the fall, and I had forgotten that I never started that last pot of coffee of the day.  Instead, I was tending to my spices, fully present and perfectly patient.

By the time the rest of the vegetables and liquids joined the stew, I was beginning to dream of cooking by a campfire, on some Moroccan adventure, with all of my comrades napping in surrounding tents.  They would wake, of course, to the smell of slowness and patience — to the smell of home; a world of difference away from the aromas of caffeine.

And I thought of all the future meals I had yet to make in the slower hours of the upcoming winter; of all the pots of magical thick stews with flavors of the world narrated through the whispers of new spices that I had yet to learn to cook.  And I thought:  There is still so much time, in my life!

According to my recipe, the stew would taste much better the next day.  So, I retired to bed quite willingly last night, looking forward to the new flavors — and to waking up in a joint that smelled more like home.

According to my recipe, the stew would taste much better the next day.

And it does.