For days there hasn’t been a cloud in the sky. We’ve been going about our lives bundled up under an expanse of cold, crystalline blue. The thermometers are stuck in the teens at night, the twenties during the day. Its unusual for Seattle, even in the midst of December. Starting out on my walk to work yesterday afternoon, bundled in wool and fleece, I deterred myself from wimping out and taking the bus by cranking up the Prince song “Chelsea Rodgers” and setting it to repeat on the ipod. Nothing like a little funk to get the blood flowing. They call it a cold snap, but a snap seems like something that ought to end as soon as its begun, like a snap of the fingers. There are so many moments in these cold days. Most of them are Ordinary, and for that, I love them.
The dog is sleeping next to me on the couch, using three pillows and hiccuping softly. I’m sipping tea, watching the leafless branches in the front yard, still and elegant in the cold. Having a quiet morning. Read a few articles in the Shambhala Sun with my oatmeal and toast at the kitchen table, and then some short stories, curled up beneath the window by the furnace vent. Decadent.
On Mondays and Tuesdays, my closing shift days, Ryan and I never see each other awake. I leave for work thirty minutes before he gets home, and slip into the house after work three to four hours after he’s gone to bed. We leave a notepad on the kitchen counter, and collect the bits of our days we want to pass on to each other in scribbled lines. Sometimes the cultural historian in me flips thru the pages and geeks out a little over our tiny archive of 21st century love and domesticity. We look forward to Wednesday evenings. He’ll have had a full day, and I’ll have been running errands with my Saturday, likely as not, but we make the most of those few hours, and the rare chance to share a meal and fall asleep together.
Outside, the winter garden is curled over on itself. Leaves of brussel sprout plants and kale and chard and spinach and cabbage and broccoli are bowing to the earth under the weight of the frozen water in their vessels. They’ll spring back up once as the freeze lifts—last year they spent three weeks under 2 feet of snow and emerged healthier than ever. But still, I worry over them. They seem vulnerable, trapped in suspended animation like hibernating animals or fish in frozen water.
Walked to the bus today to go to an appointment in Columbia City, and the winterlight was spilling over every corner of the neighborhood, setting every frozen contour aglow. Found a friend on the bus, and caught up for 3 minutes before her stop. Noticed how her almond vanilla smell mingled with all the other scents on the bus after her stop, and realized that a good many of the strands of odor on a city bus represent someone who’s no longer there. Found this fascinating… metro bus as temporary olfactory museum of humanity.
Downtown, I walked a few blocks to catch the number 7. A man was playing a cello to the empty space of pioneer square, and the notes carried perfectly in the cold air, the vibrations floating like clear water through alleys and grates, invading all the same corners the cold did. I couldn’t tell if he had a case out for donations, but given how few people were out walking, his playing seemed more altruistic than anything else. I listened as I strode past, and decided the city ought to find a few hundred bucks to subsidize talented street musicians, for the good of humanity. Sure, everyone’s tastes are different, but I bet crime would drop.
Picked up my second bus at 3rd and main, and waded through the crowd to a seat midway back. Dozens of conversations were taking place in a bevy of languages, and a whole city of smells mingled together in the heated aisleways. Elderly riders boarded in Chinatown, clutching plastic bags of groceries. A woman asked me for five dollars for gas money, offering me her costume jewelry in exchange. She spoke too quickly and though she clearly needed the money, I didn’t feel comfortable giving it. She moved to a different seat. A middle-aged man carrying two bags of fast food takeout asked me if I’d ever ridden public transit in Portland. I said yes. “I like it down there,” he said, looking out over the crowded seats. “They don’t let homeless folks with real strong bad smells get on. Not that its those people’s fault they smell that way, but it gets on you, and you can’t get it off sometimes.” I say I know what he means, and agree Portland is a nice city. “You have a nice day,” he says, and I wonder who he is carrying the second bag of food to. I imagine it is his son, home sick from school, or his elderly mother. Maybe its just for him.
Back at home later in the afternoon, I let the dog out to romp in the cold air, and sit down to edit a paper for a friend. The house creaks loudly and often in the cold, as if there is someone living in the attic. Slice an acorn squash in half, scoop the seeds out with a spoon, and slide it into the oven on a cookie sheet to roast. It pops and crackles in the heat, and I find myself craving time in a sauna.
Ryan leaves a message that he is racing the sunset home to me, and I sit here watching it fade on the near horizon, brilliant orange and salmon-colored pink hues trailing across the saltwater to the peninsula.