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If you could see the snow flowing down past the bedroom window, silencing the mid-April morning, you might not know where you are. Then you would remember: you are at home at the foot of the Colorado Rocky Mountains where this is the peculiar incarnation of spring.
You might wish to be somewhere else — on a beach at the bottom edge of the country, watching for migrating birds dropping from the sky after their long flight, looking for a place to rest. You might wish to be in a gentle scented city with azaleas and magnolia and redbud in bloom. You might wish to be near your children in New York City, watching the sidewalks fill with color as spring wardrobes burst forth.
This time of year always makes you think of living somewhere else. You want to move in warm air, shed your coat and scarf, free your limbs, but it’s too damn cold. You’ve met this familiar unrest every spring across the 22 years you have lived here.
Out your window, the steep-pitched roofs of the town’s oldest houses turn white. Tree limbs collect the wet spring snow. Birds and squirrels take cover somewhere, but where? You remember an April day like this years ago when you were in love with a man, ready for a new adventure, and you drove down the tree-lined avenue toward home where he waited. Snow poured out of the sky like rain, covering everything, silencing everything but your restless desire.
You are older now, grateful momentarily for silence on a white spring morning. Out here in the middle distance, you have seen people come and go. You have seen families pulled apart. You have watched the neighborhood children grow into substantial adults. You’ve seen the faces of new grandparents, releasing all dreams of youth into the eyes of the bright-cheeked baby toddling toward them. You’ve seen the old folks disappear, like the squirrels and robins, but for good.
This week, you have finally understood what it feels like to stay in one place for a good long time. You heard news of a neighborhood boy, a high school athletic star, returning home a movie star. Handsome and humble, he hugs his mom on the 5 o’clock news and says this will always be his home.
One day last week, you got an email announcing the release of a book written by a friend and her son, a memoir of their struggle through the early years of his bipolar illness. You read it in one night, and you know the house they describe, just across the street from the elementary school. For years you have received regular reports of their struggles, watched them do whatever it took to get through, heard that they would write this book together. Between last year’s spring and this one, it happened. Mother and son are alive and whole and bravely sharing their story.
Another day last week, you got an announcement of a new web site, authored by a mother and daughter who lived across the tree-lined avenue from you for many years. Both of your big houses pounded and swayed and swelled with so many children, all of theirs, all of yours. Now — how many years later? — their youngest girl, who you last talked to when she was in high school, is a high school teacher and a writer. Together, she and her mother are writing about the principles that guide their daily lives, a catalogue of prayers and customs and traditions and songs of their catholic existence. You are thrilled by their smart entries, their fresh ideas and smart design. And you are struck again with that feeling that time has passed and everything has changed and here you have been all along, watching the parade stream by.
Somewhere in the neighborhood, the young woman who you will always think of as a girl is pulling mittens and boots and a hat onto her own little girl who wiggles and stomps, ready to go out into the downpour. You remember a year when an early May storm brought so much snow that neighbors cross-country skied down the streets. You remember your wet kitchen, puddles left behind by your children’s hastily flung boots and hats.
You glance at the window every few seconds because you fear the snow will stop pouring down. The sky has brightened, the flakes lightened. Across the way, a fat robin lands on the tiptop of a very old ponderosa pine, dislodging a clump of snow. It falls, ruffling small avalanches below.
(Referenced obliquely, but obscured by snow: Walks on the Margins: A Story of Bipolar Illness by Kathy Brandt and Max Morrow, available for digital download at Amazon.com, soon to be released in paperback; and www.thecatholiccatalogue.com by Anna Keating and Melissa Musick.)
Kathryn Eastburn is the author of A Sacred Feast: Reflections of Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground, and Simon Says: A True Story of Boys, Guns and Murder in the Rocky Mountain West. You can comment and read or listen to this column again at The Big Something at KRCC.org. “The Middle Distance” is published every Friday on The Big Something and airs each Saturday at 1 p.m. right after This American Life.