A View from the Hill: We gotta get outta this place

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My brother told me I seemed a little down lately. 

What a surprise. 

At least I’m not Kevin Costner’s character John Dutton in “Yellowstone,” I joked. Wife fatally crushed by horse. Angry daughter barely survives bomb blast. Cattle killed by bad guys. Barely survive ulcerated hernia. Beloved grandson disappears. Sheesh!

Andrew MarstersToday’s lifestyle counselors might suggest for John a meditation app; aromatherapy; box breathing; bedtime stories for adults.

I use all of those and more, but still, the dark days sneak in, when I am challenged to roll myself off the couch and away from my book.

Much of my malaise is thanks to the numbing, unending boredom of the pandemic. 

But the seesaw weather lately hasn’t helped. Rain. Rain. Gray. Gray. Neither warm nor cold. Just uncomfortable. Then very cold. Extremely windy. A bright sunny day! Snowstorm. Rain and more howling wind. Plunging temperature. Plunging mood.

I try projects around the house, but they overwhelm. I read, but sad things happen in books. Driving to Boston, I listened to “Bewilderment” by Richard Powers. As I crossed the Zakem Bridge, the lead character’s wonderful young wife died in an icy car crash.

A familiar tingling burn moved up my nostrils and weepy tears rolled down my cheeks. A small, silent cry in sympathy with his grief.

I’ve noticed others who are weepy these days. A sentiment expressed, a memory shared, a certain song, a certain smell, a grief revealed, and there it is, the damp cheek.

How unsurprising this should be in a January that is nothing like the January we thought it would be.

But at my lowest, I have found one thing that nearly always works to reverse the mood: Get. Out. Now. Find the beauty beyond the grief. See.

Which is what I just did after punctuating that last sentence. 

It’s 29 degrees. There is ice on the sidewalks. I wore my new ice cleats and crunched my way through the city and into a new and much better mood.

I was going to fill the house this evening with book group friends and good food, but it didn’t seem like a good idea right now so I canceled. I would have loved that.

For now, small magical things will have to do the trick.

During the snowstorm, I finally rolled myself off the sofa, put on my warmest clothes, grabbed a camera, and headed out. My self-imposed assignment: a black-and-white rendering of the delicate lips and curls sculpted by wind on snowdrifts. On my hands and knees at Fish Point on the Eastern Prom, I lost myself in the project as I froze my exposed fingers.

That other world seemed far, far away. For the moment, the only thing in my universe was this lovely drift as I studied it through the viewfinder.

The day after the storm the sun came out in spectacular fashion. I didn’t only need to get out. I wanted to get out, and I wanted company.

A friend joined me on a trip to Biddeford Pool, where we hoped to see the snowy owls that favor the Audubon Sanctuary and adjacent golf course. On a similar day last year, we saw four of the magnificent birds, natives of the Arctic who come here when their usual favorite food, the vole, becomes hard to find.

Yesterday we walked the entire sanctuary trail, chatted with other hikers, asked about snowy owl sightings. None.

We walked on through magical woods where the snow stuck to the trees, creating spectacular sculptures.

But no owls. 

On the way out we walked onto the golf course and scanned the horizon through binoculars. Nothing. Disappointed, I turned toward the sea and – bingo. Very close by, at the top of a pine, two bright yellow eyes peered at me from a clump of white feathers. On the trail below, hikers walked by, eyes to the ground, oblivious to the owl’s presence.

We took photographs and reveled in the discovery of this magnificent bird on this beautiful afternoon by this deep blue sea. The chaotic, crazy world depicted in the morning news was far, far away.

We would get back to that world, but for now, there was only the owl.

“Sometimes,” my friend said, “the thing that we are looking for is right in front of us.”

Andrew Marsters is an award-winning Maine journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.

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