The doldrums is a nautical term for the belt around Earth’s equator where sailing ships can get stuck on windless waters for days—an apt metaphor even in landlocked Vermont.
For those who get in serious doldrums after the holidays, you’re not alone. In the 70s, as the tree splintered and shed, we’d beg our mother, “One more day!” Understanding, she’d consent to leave it up. I still suffer while boxing up decorations accumulated over 50 years, many hand made by beloved people now grown—or gone. It physically hurts and I go down.
My theory on the plummet’s severity is this: a combination of most humans’ inability to make transitions easily, plus the nostalgia of where one was 5, 20 or 30 years ago—or even just pre-COVID.The holidays are an annual plunge into sentimentality that wrecks some people for a while. After all the togetherness, even if at times fighty, many have to part with beloved people we wished we still lived with, or near, now miles or oceans away. Add to the emotional soup that sometimes we can tell when these people have had enough of us, or vice versa.
There’s something about that pre-holiday hustle and year-end philanthropy. I love the craft sales and transformation of everything from garlanded gas stations to tricked-out buildings. Carols evoke a simpler time. In truth, there were untold disasters and wars and far more domestic abuse back then, fueled by widely accepted over-drinking (think: the “hilarity” of Red Skelton’s drunk character; Dean Martin crooning basted). But hear the first couple of bars of O Holy Night and smell that balsam fir and you are swept back into your own (hopefully abuse-free) childhood or a dreamy image of happier times before you were born. When the decorations left up too long start getting dusty and something—anything—to look forward to seems a long way off, it’s easy to to go into a death spiral.
So last week after a Covid exposure, for the very first time I decided to wallow. None of this Yankee toughie bootstraps crap. No health-giving exercise or efforts to cheer self or others. Just a marathon of self-isolation, sorrow, and mourning.
It was not at first intentional. After leaving family to return to Vermont, I drove and cried until distracted by old radio interviews with Desmond Tutu (an evolved human, yet strikingly down to earth). But then Christmas music came on and sunk me anew, thinking of this very drive I had taken countless times with my now-gone mommy. Once home, I carried inside only my freezable belongings, got in bed, and let it rip. I cried over everything. Loves, parents, pets, houses and friends lost forever. Strangers who got stuck home alone for the holidays by cancelled flights. Refugees. Great people who died in 2021. Awful situations endured both by people I adore and by complete strangers. Sad pieces of fiction I read that never even actually occurred. I ate nothing but old foods around the house. Slept, woke, ate garbage, cried, slept. And you know what happened?
I’d love to say something profound here. But basically….nothing. Nothing happened. I didn’t come up with a grand epiphany. I didn’t resolve to start a new career or humanity-saving nonprofit, invent a climate change solution or clever movie plot. Nothing came of it. As Yukon Cornelius says, “Nuthin’.”
If you bottle it up and never let it out, you’re in trouble. That’s called being repressed. Although I did ask a male friend how he deals with the deaths of his legendarily party-throwing, smarty parents within weeks of each other. His answer: “I keep that locked up deep, deep down inside.” Hell, maybe that’s the right approach.
The virus and supply chain madness factored in. Due to Covid exposure, I couldn’t leave my apartment for a week upon returning home — Xtreme solitude rarely boosts mental wellness. As for the supply chain, disappointing in December was the lack in stores of favored holiday items, e.g. the annual “limited edition” cookie by Pepperidge Farms’ called Snowballs®. They were only on Amazon—for $19 a bag. A year without Snowballs® is like a year without…Snowballs®. And this year I didn’t get into preparations or meticulous wrapping the way I once did. Threw things into bags with tissue paper. No hand-drawn gift notes. No Christmas cards. I skipped movies I watch yearly. And all of that, while freeing, ultimately felt crummy. Next year I’m going back to overdoing it. Obviously, that’s the answer. So there’s the epiphany.
At this time of year I usually suggest one of three things.
- Make a list of what you got done in 2021. You’ll be surprised.
- Make a list of intentions for 2022, before it gets frittered away.
- Books: Greenlights; A Girl’s Guide to Missiles; Life (Keith Richards); Boys in the Trees (Carly Simon); Good Habits, Bad Habits; Olive Kitteridge, Olive Again, and Oh William; Mobituaries (Mo Rocca); Dodging Energy Vampires; A Girl Named Zippy; All The Light We Cannot See; The Power of Now; How To Be Alone; Joyful; Elevation (S. King); and my personal favorite, A Man Called Ove. Email me for a personal recommendation for you. That’s my gift.
Good repression, good wallow, or good New Year with light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.
This summer we were overjoyed to revisit our most beloved spots, events, and people – before the snow flies and COVID handcuffs us anew. Yet another winter where we don’t get to hang out with people indoors? Oof. We’ve gotten clever, though. We’ll find new ways not to lose our minds.
Temporarily freed this summer, we jetted around like dragonflies suddenly winged. We went to Chandler, the Bethel Drive-In, Montague golf course, Vermont’s rivers, ponds, and lakes (nice and full due to RAINS), White Cottage, Blue Moon, and Red Door (free jewelry cleaning and inspection! Watch batteries!), hardware stores, and pizza joints, to name a few. Now we’re scrambling to do things outside even when unmotivated because, suddenly, the sun is low in the sky. Winter is coming.
Which is good news because sometimes summer goes on a little too long, no? Maybe not for college kids, whose schools summon them earlier and earlier, but, growing up, the last two weeks of summer were just painful. That lingers today for me, though I still manage to be saddened by the closing of each pool, park, festival, and outdoor eatery at end of season.
Like many, I hates change and was crushed to return to Vermont and see Belmains and the Woodstock yarn store gone forever … among other places … poof! But gladdened to find other joints afloat or nascent, with open doors and rules in place. Randolph’s Playhouse Movie Theater and Chef’s Market and Rumor Has It. Colorful Life Creations in Bethel. Libraries, public pools, and post offices. Hair salons galore. Must be more heads around here than are evident.
Togetherness made a comeback, carefully. People got together in ways they have been unable to for a long time. With travel still iffy, looking for ways to connect? Try a chorus, or house of worship – before the COVID numbers go up and make things go virtual again (one church in Randolph is in a thrift store—I’ll bet it’s good). It can give you a real boost. Most Sundays I cry at incredibly poetic or moving words, spoken by ordinary folk. Or try volunteering with youth. That’s cheering, for whatever reason. Their little faces? Their energy? When they listen to what you have to say, and you listen back? Another option: talk to strangers, where convos are very surface-y and likely to be upbeat and interesting. There was a great article in The Atlantic on this.
Or create togetherness. Start a blog. What’s that? A Web-log. You’re reading one right now. No one does these any more, some say. But I believe that everyone who wants one should make one. It’s easy and free. You can count your viewers and countries of origin. Heartening. My most popular search terms people use are hilarious (to me): The Mullet is Making a Comeback, Dear Certified Finalist, and Skinny-dipping in Vermont.
I have not actually seen the mullet make a comeback, but other things have. The Rolodex® (you can’t mistype what you’re entering into it, repeatedly – it’s paper!); the flip-top desk (hide your mess from view with a swing of your arm!); going to bed early (why stay up soaking in bad global news?). Also a resurgence in nature: birds, bees, and butterflies everywhere.
Other things making a comeback, from the nutters I call friends: puzzles, Pinochle, cribbage, bridge. Sundays at the lake. Eighties fashions, overalls, rompers, hair scrunchies, hair bonnets, high-waisted jeans, hot dogs, fanny packs, the ukulele (again?), state fairs, tumbleweeds, saying Eureka!, steak sauce, shoe cobblers (let’s hope), fascism. My boyfriend when they were invented loathed the term “fanny pack.” He swung his around to the front and called it a Crotch Pouch.
Mercifully, Randolph’s New World Festival made a delightful, controlled comeback. Mental snapshots I won’t forget: women dancing in the rain; the little boys talking to their idols, the big boys; Le Vent du Nord whipping the dance floor into an otherworldly frenzy. These musicians are intergalactic beings sent by God to uplift.
Next up, Tunbridge World’s Fair. Catch you there, even if we don’t recognize each other masked. Name tags might make a comeback. Good health, and good day.
And along came larva #2. Having concern that #1 (now a pupa) is dying on the vine, I quickly jarred this one, using more visible glass (not plastique) so that we hopefully get to view at least one emerging Monarch butterfly.
And so a predator or parasite doesn’t get him outdoors!
I build a gorgeous condo. Does he hang upside down from the perfect stick? No, he hangs from the cheese cloth. So I can’t open the “lid” to show you photos.
He looked a little sickly — note drooping antennae — and did not build his cocoon that night, though I checked many, many times and barely slept.
He goes into the classic J pose. I wait for the big moment. I’m dying to see this with my own eyes.
Annnd the moment you blink, he does it. In broad daylight. I totally missed it again! Though I checked on him every single time I checked the US Open, on TV in another room.
The early hours of the chrysalis (pupa) stage are dicey; the exoskeleton is soft and delicate. So don’t move yours!
Meanwhile, #1 is either rotting or changing color for the big reveal.
He is supposed to turn black or clear. He is turning golden brown. Against all odds, I remain hopeful.
Here you can see he’s getting angular. Clearly something is going on inside. I’ll paraphrase from this gory article. Enzymes are digesting the caterpillar! Inside him are embryonic-type cells growing called “imaginal disks.” One imaginal disk will become, for example, a wing; a butterfly has 4 wings. There are imaginal disks that form the legs, antennae, and other parts.
Inside this thing, until a few days ago, was a — yuck — “bag of rich fluid media” that the cells started growing on. He has been getting shorter.
“The entire internal contents of the caterpillar — the muscles, the entire digestive system, even the heart…the nervous system — is totally rebuilt. It’s like you took your…Ford into the shop and left it there for a week and it came out as a Cadillac.“
What’s nerve racking is the black line at top. I can’t tell if it’s a discoloration or an open slit. There are parasites that bore a hole, but I’ve read nothing about a slit.
I add this shot because it shows a little better that the dots along the slit are an exquisite gold that goes beautifully with the chrysalis’ green.
The nail biter continues, folks. I do hope he’s still alive in there, parasite-free. This is why we don’t watch nature shows. Who can take the anxiety?
It won’t be long now, either way. We’ll know by Friday, you and I.
To refresh (from 7th grade science class?), butterflies go through four stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult butterfly.
Friend says: 8-14 days till he emerges. He is on Day 7 and the chrysalis is getting lumpier, pointier. I believe the wings are forming inside! I’ll report how in the next post.
Cool feature: you know when he’s about to hatch because the chrysalis turns black or clear. Then it’s about 48 hours. Can’t wait.
He or she? The gender story is complicated.
A friend told me how her young sons pick a caterpillar from a milkweed plant every year. They put it into a container with some milkweed leaves for sustenance, and mesh over the top.
Crazily, the next day, this guy crawled towards me as I sat on our steps. I texted my friend a photo; she confirmed this was indeed a monarch caterpillar.
No idea what he was thinking, there was no greenery whatsoever in the direction he was headed. I grabbed the only container I could find. Clearly, the Forces had sent him my way.
It wasn’t a great container, but I was in a rush, afraid a bird would grab him.
He didn’t like it in there too much. He curled into a sad lump despite my careful selection of soil with clover growing in it. My friend said I needed some milkweed leaves and a stick for him to hang off of to do his thing.
Sure enough, he sprung to action.
You can see this is basically the container you get sesame noodles in. Not roomy. How was I to move him to something larger without causing permanent mental damage to us both?
Turned out I didn’t have to move him. Because I saw him that evening hanging upside down from the twig, shaped like the letter “J.”
I wondered, what’s he doing in there, man? I should have stuck around…taken some video…because look what I awoke to the next morning. I know I can watch it on YouTube, but I could have seen it live for God’s sake. It’s astonishing.
As my friend put, “They are like babies being born — always seem to do it at midnight!”
I don’t know what the heck is going on inside that chrysalis, but will research and report in for you. Honestly, how does it HAPPEN? How does he coat his entire self with silk? For that one, watch the short, time-lapsed link above from Fish and Wildlife.
This is how we know there’s something greater than ourselves in the cosmos. Stay tuned.
In this case, to get to the swamp on the other side. Which begs the question, why wasn’t he there in the first place?
After I held him high and showed him the swamp (“Head off in that direction, buddy; do not turn around!”), he let me see his cool little face. That, or he was preparing for attack. No idea if he was a snapper. But I think not.
Pretty much everyone that happened by was thinking, “For God’s sake, lady, quit taking photos and get him out of the road.” There are few things sadder than a crushed turtle.
Off to his new home. I hope. I didn’t stick around. Brief interventions with nature are best, no?
[And if you think that was exciting, wait till you see tomorrow’s mind-blowing intervention! It’s a night blooming cereus – grade nail biter that will go on for days.]
Apologies for this tardy posting of the NBC’s final 2021 glory.
The thing never fails to astonish.
God Love spectacles of nature such as the Night Blooming Cereus that cheer us in hard tymes.
The inner guts. Tantalizing!
Never seen it with a dangler bloom like this. I’m impressed!
The question is: will it open by Saturday night? Because it’s moving Sunday morning. Remember, it’s the NIGHT Blooming Cereus.
No way it’ll make the drive on Sunday intact. A new component to the nailbiter. My guess is Saturday is the night. But you just never know with NBC.