Too Much Advice about Ice

This week we had our first serious snowstorm, which meant it was Thembi’s first time coming up our hill in slippery conditions. She and her car were spared a journey into a ditch, but her car did end up stuck in the middle of the road. After I backed Thembi’s car down the hill while the town plow guy watched, I hustled Thembi up the hill to the farm where there were five mother hens from 19 to 69 ready to give her guidance about winter driving in the north country.

It may have felt more like an assault than a friendly conversation, because when it comes to this hill in winter and winter driving in general, everyone has a story (or ten) and way too many theories, tips, techniques and complicated advice.

Some morsels shared:

When driving anywhere, we told her she needed to dress for an assault on Mt Everest in case, as with today, she had to abandon her car and walk in the bitter cold. This was hard for Thembi, a fashionable woman from the city of Harare to hear …….but worse advice was to come. We broke it to her that her cute hot pink boots were not going to cut it. The most she could hope for was a flash of fake fur on the right kind of boots, ones that were going to weigh about thirty pounds each.

We suggested she go slow and then slow down some more. Then go half as slow again. Then put on the brakes.

We mentioned that she would need to ignore the knuckleheads breathing down her neck because she was going “too slow”. They’d pass her in their impatience and be off the road in a jiffy.

Particular tips had to be given about our hill. Our hill is a territory unto itself. It has the steepest grade of any road in town. Think Alpe d’Huez with sass.

We explained to Thembi that any vehicle coming down our hill had the right of way, and that she should avoid being in the way somewhere on the hill anyways. Frankly, the hill is so steep that even when the road is well sanded and plowed, it’s a dicey proposition to get down the hill in any vehicle but a sled…….. and really, you don’t want to be a sitting target for some free sliding object. Not a many ton vehicle. Not even a sled.

We amended our advice on coming up the hill to include going down the hill as well. As we discussed our many adventures on the hill, this amendment became a no brainer: Don’t start down the hill if there is a vehicle coming up either. Just wait ’til you have the hill ALL TO YOURSELF and then hope it stays that way until you have safely navigated the whole thing. Everyone who navigates this hill could offer Thembi a sworn testimonial about the wisdom of waiting. It would include phrases like “out of control,” “wheels spinning,” “car with a life of its own,” “off the road in the deepest ditch of the whole hill,” and “vehicle suddenly facing the wrong direction.”

We also used props. “Yes, that enormous town plow that just passed, it tipped over on the hill two years ago during a snowstorm. Our hill really is THAT steep.”

As far as personal car hygiene went, we were adamant. A CD cover is NOT the same thing as an ice scraper.

Nor does a hot cup of coffee held close to the front window open enough of a dim little space of clear glass for safe driving. This method is no substitute for warming up the car, even though everyone I know has probably used the hot coffee technique. For our neighbor Malcolm, it was his signature winter move, used daily on his way to teach fifth grade.

Even this morning, I thought Jim was lingering over breakfast because the conversation was so scintillating, but then suddenly he said, “My windshield’s finally clear. I gotta go.”

Yep, in winter everyone around here is only half listening to anything that is being said. The rest of their brains are thinking about the hill, the snow, the ice, their windshields and the way these ingredients don’t always mix well.

Unlike ingredients for a cold drink where ice only makes things better.

Ah Thembi, welcome to winter where ice isn’t just for cold drinks!


The dogs and I went up into the hills above our farm today for a walk. From above, the patchwork of fields spilling from one farm to the next look a lot like they must have looked a hundred and fifty years ago when sheep farms filled this region. Besides the obvious addition of electric wires, the scene has an orderly timeless tranquility of early winter, something it must have had back then. Everything shipshape and ready for snow.

The one thing that always puzzles me as I walk the roads and fields around our farm is where are all the people. No one is ever home. It befuddles me. Morning, noon and night. Weekday and weekend. Our neighborhood is empty of people. Where is everyone? What are they doing? I really don’t know.

I wonder if a hundred and fifty years ago there would actually have been more bustle here. More home fires burning. More bumping into neighbors out doing chores. More community on a smaller neighborhood scale. I would have liked this.

As I think back to the moments I loved best this past year, they were mostly gatherings on a small scale: a winter bonfire on our farmland down the road, a night of song when one of the children’s friend visited with a guitar, picnics in the Arbor Garden to celebrate whatever we could think of to celebrate- a big garlic crop, the safe harvest of all the red shiso, the joyful return of a child coming home from travels or school.

Small sweet moments feel more and more worthy of celebration and gratitude and a feast (when the stove works), because life gives us all a lot of difficulties that make these moments feel more and more precious.

I know I haven’t written many posts this year. We have been wonderfully busy in the office and that was one contributing factor, but another reason was that we had a lot of difficult things happen to us, and it’s been hard to figure out how to even begin choosing words to describe the events.

One particularly poignant event was the death of my brother, Sam. He died this July in a motel room in Nashville,TN of a prescription drug overdose. A sorrowful end to a tragic life. Sam was the funniest person I have ever known and also the source of much confusion and pain for our family when his personality got the better of his heart, and he went off the deep end with drugs and violence directed at my family. Before his decline into drug addiction and desperate acts, he had been Jeff to my Mutt on a spiritual search for how to make sense of our difficult childhood. No one supported me more in my search for meaning. And then he was lost to us in a haze of scary choices. Letting him go when the relationship endangered my children was one of the most difficult and saddest moments of my life.

When he died this summer, I hoped and prayed he had remembered enough from all our spiritual adventures to get himself safely across the astral plane to heaven. When I heard of his death, I asked him to send me a sign that he was okay. That next morning as I walked into the office, a poster fell off the wall. Unbeknownst to me, the poster had an address label from Sam on it. His address on the label? Sunwood Place.

He always liked the razor’s edge between life and death, so it really shouldn’t have surprised me that Sam went on to spend a good bit of this summer and fall sending me wild and crazy signs that all was well with him and he was moving on and making amends. Much as I still feel in a muddle about other members of my family of origin, I have felt close to Sam since his death, and much healing has happened. For that I will always be grateful.

And while I have frequently reminded him and his Angels that I don’t want his imaginative efforts to console me to get in the way of his forward progress as a soul, I also hope he is up there in heaven giving talks on how to let the people left behind know you love them. He really is a genius at this!

Sam wanted fame while here on earth. It was one of many tragic obsessions that made it so hard for him to find his way. Now he is probably playing to sellout crowds doing heavenly stand-up, all the while finally knowing it doesn’t mean anything unless it serves the light in all of us. That was the thing about Sam. He knew exactly how to light everyone up with his humor, yet it all got away from him as darker pursuits prevailed during his life on earth. Thank God he will get more chances to get it right and be his very best self.

I cheer him on from here as he goes about his work of figuring out a new way for himself. And in the small circle of our family, we begin to mend the wounds of his crazed behavior, one small celebration at a time, and we begin to find a way forward that remembers the best in Sam and leaves the rest to God.