Awake in the early morning hours, I relish the silence. The steady tick tock of the kitchen clock and the breathy hum of the refrigerator cycling on and off are my ambient noise. The human world is still and silent here at The Angle. Outside, the wolves prowl sometimes near but mostly far, the skunks raid my winter compost, and the owls hunt. The rare yard light hums and sputters, reflecting wide across the ugly April snow. Frozen and waiting, life feels hushed and reverent.
Until 6AM on the dot, when the Angle school bus roars by each weekday like a blaring alarm from the outside world sent to remind us we’re not truly alone and independent. The scattered village wakes and yawns, grumbles and scratches at the thick winter skin grown itchy. And then with a stretch and a stumble to the coffee maker, we remember who we are and all there is to do.
The low temps are still making ice. The wind chills are still reaching below zero. Firewood gatherers scramble before the ground softens too much during the mid-30’s heat of the day. The scouting Canadian geese, the first of which I saw on March 3rd, report back that we are still a frozen wasteland. There is no open water here.
Driveways that weren’t closely plowed are frozen, then slushy, then frozen again, but the main roads are dry and unblistered. We pulled out the five-year-olds’ bike sans training wheels and took to the hard-clay streets these last few weeks; she is determined to master it by summer. The quiet, off-season roads are perfect for practice, and my back and physical stamina are stronger from months of exercise. It is the first and perhaps only time I will teach someone to ride a bike, and I’m finding it both exhilarating and relatively uncomfortable. It’s a bent-over, quick-moving posture complete with the overriding mental tension that she’s going to crash and burn at any second. She’s carefree; I’m tense. She hasn’t fallen yet, but I suppose it’s only a matter of time.
I remember well some of the bike crashes of my youth. We used to ride two miles just to get to the smooth pavement of County Road 2, where we would loop in figure-eights, meandering up and down the highway for hours, always obeying the rule that we weren’t to get on busier Highway 5 another mile west. (All when we were quite young, I might add. I was twelve when we left Minnesota.) On one such trek I hit a patch of thick, loose gravel, lost control and left behind three inches of skin from my forearm. We continued-on despite my gravel-crusted road rash; pain didn’t always stop adventure back then.
Before age twelve, I was out selling greetings cards and stationary door to door, riding dozens of country miles to collect points to earn prizes. A set of walkie talkies that stopped working at about 30 feet were my biggest haul. My younger sister and I used to walk down the road together, each with a walkie checking-in constantly, laughing and talking about important nothings as only little kids can do.
I recently found a set of sophisticated 2-way radios deep in our junk drawer, loaded them with batteries and taught Iris how to talk while pushing the button. We’re still working on the funny lingo. “Breaker breaker won nigh,” she repeats in her sweet little voice. She forgets to let go when she’s done talking, but we’re having fun with them and I can’t wait to venture into the woods out of sight of each other.
The Angle will be silent nevermore.
I have resisted establishing hard and fast rules and routines for most of my life, but now with a testing, stubborn pre-schooler in the house, we have Family Rules posted on the wall. I’m also adopting my own morning routine and I’m much better at setting and enforcing limits. Despite the romanticized wildness of our north woods, screens are everywhere and we are all addicted. Given complete freewill, she would likely sit all day on the couch watching some magic wishing rainbow show, asking me for a snack every two hours. Behavior deteriorates at the exact rate that tablet- and tv-time increase, so we’ve instituted a two-hour screen time rule. Chores are to be done first and foremost, food is to be eaten at the table, and screen-time is the reward most often lost when she makes poor choices. Of course, it’s my choices, my behavior that needs the most work. When I am patient, kind and consistent, she’s an angel. And when I follow my own healthy routines, it’s easier to be all of those things. When I get out synch, procrastinate, and am inconsistent, I wake up grumpy and the whole house suffers.
So, I relish my mornings. I sit in silence. I listen to the world and the thrum of my blood-filled ear drums. I read. I stretch. I sip my cinnamon tea. I make lists and free-form write out my worries and wondering thoughts. I lace up my tennis shoes and move. It all helps.
And when she wakes, no matter what I’m doing I hold her like I did when she was an infant. Cross-lap, arm cradled, curled together in blankets or robes. We’ll gaze into each other’s eyes like there is nothing left of the world.
And then the day breaks. Spring beckons in some new form as the sun rises higher. The steady tick tock of life calls us out and we’re off on another adventure.
All is well on this little plot of earth.
Over and out.
(Published in the April 17th, 2018 issue of the Warroad Pioneer)