I love snow! It brightens up a dreary winter and makes me feel happy. Normally. But wouldn’t you know it, this morning, on the 4th anniversary of my mother’s passing, I woke up under 10,000 pounds of sorrow, as if the foot of fresh snow we’d received had collapsed our roof and was now crushing my heart. R’s comforting words or his offer of making a nice breakfast of yogurt and marionberries with granola didn’t help. Who can eat her way through grief?
Mary, my mom, was a Quinn and Irish to the core. Instead hanging out in bed weeping like me, she would have insisted on a mug of coffee with a shot of Bushmills on the front porch loveseat, tossing toast onto the snow for the crows and and a default recital of Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life,” which Sister Mary Michael had encouraged her to memorize as a young girl at Mount St. Joseph in Owensboro (and which Mom had lovingly referred to as “The PIZZ-alm”).
Tell me not in mournful numbers
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us further than to-day.
But it was too early to drink, so I switched to Plan B, a steaming bubble bath with Mary Oliver.
this morning and all day
continued, its white
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever!
[from “First Snow]
Fortified by a double dose of poetry, I had a playful vision as I soaked, beamed, no doubt, by my mom who before she died told me, “Just as the Virgin Mary appears as the scent of roses when we say the Rosary, dear, I will let you know when I’m around by the same heavenly smell.” And soon she was right there in the bathroom, my mom, as essence of rose growing stronger with each inhalation; so strong, in fact, that I had to take a couple of puffs from my inhaler! And then, not surprising since we both adore them, she channeled (I guess that’s the word) a mental picture to me of a snow raven.
I shouted to R after I’d toweled off and bundled up in layers of wool and my insulated snowboarding boots, “Darling, I’m going out to build a snow raven for Mom.”
“Okay, Sweetheart, have fun!” he called back, as though this was something I did every day.
I gathered my mother’s faded brown gardening hat, her purple plaid scarf from Ireland, and headed out the door. In the garage I found a shovel and trowel that might come in handy, and from the ground a handful of fallen fir boughs that could be useful as feathers. Out front, I was greeted by a flurry of crows squawking disapproval that I was making a snow raven instead of a snow crow.
Eventually, R, sensing that I might be going off the deep end with this snow raven business, appeared snow shovel in hand, which was good because I’d started crying again and it was damn near impossible to see my work through the blur. Plus, I was getting cold.
We worked for another hour or so until we’d achieved what looked more or less like the image I’d seen in the bathtub. The crows had quieted down, by then, and seemed to approve of what I now realized was a totem to my beautiful mother, significantly enhanced by the addition of a carved raven mask from Salt Spring Island that I’d found half-hidden under the snow in the garden.
“These crows need some toast,” I announced, once again smiling, feeling good old snow joy. “And we need some hot cider… Screw it! Let’s have some coffee with Bushmills and a fire in the fireplace to celebrate.”
R added a final fir bough feather to one of the snow raven’s wings, and then we headed back into our cozy house.