Posted by: jeannineatkins | February 13, 2015

February Excursion

Even we who love snow are kind of sick of it, and I expect those who don’t live in New England are tired of hearing us protest that really there has been a lot. Yesterday I drove into Portsmouth where I had to vault snow berms to feed the meter, then walked among others sheltering our achy-from-shoveling shoulders, eyes aimed at the slippery sidewalk. We were overdressed and underclean: salt-stained jackets, slush on our boots. (Of course I mean overdressed in the sense of bulk, not fashion – there is none.) Many mouths were pursed, foreheads furrowed. Or was that just me? My kind friend Amy sent me a photo she took of an eagle overlooking a frozen river, and I wrote back that her eagle looked disgusted. Oh, no, she wrote, he is thinking, “Isn’t this lovely.” Some of us manage better than others.

Yet people on the whole are kind to each other, showing patience at corners with vision blocked by towering snow banks and give a brisk New England wave to thank those who pull over for safety. Lost mittens are posted on picket fences. We have weather conversation and sympathy at the ready.


I went to Riverrun Bookstore, where I was greeted by a display of books on Shackleton and his collapsed and frozen ship. I bought a copy of Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Almost Famous Women and The Fo’c’sle a gorgeous picture book written and illustrated by Nan Parson Rossiter based on Henry Beston’s The Outermost House, which I decided to reread, though should I begin with winter or summer by the ocean? Then I made my slippery way over to Book and Bar, quiet that morning, so I got a great seat by the window and in the shadow of their great poetry selection. I wrote about two sisters, a boy, a dog, chickens, and summer, taking breaks to read poems in Finding my Elegy by Ursula K. Le Guin. I hadn’t known she started out as a poet. This collection holds 70 selected poems from the past and 77 new, often about mythology or cosmology, artists or explorers, cats or lions, nature, aging, elusive knowledge, and shifting gifts.

I drove back home with new books and new chicken-filled pages through fluffy falling flakes. I walked my dog down the quiet road until we were met by a golden retriever with cabin fever. I unleashed Parker and a woman and I watched the dogs and her two-year-old bound around them. The boy shouted gleefully, waving bare hands, with his mom explaining how he hated mittens. Snow fell on our little crowd without shovels, leashes, or child-sized mittens. Then the laughter of the boy with small red hands swerved to wails as he realized that while the world is beautiful he was cold. His mom scooped him up, the dogs ran one last snow-spraying loop, and we headed our separate ways to warm houses.



  1. “Amy sent me a photo she took of an eagle overlooking a frozen river, and I wrote back that her eagle looked disgusted. Oh, no, she wrote, he is thinking, “Isn’t this lovely.””

    I love that!

  2. Who knows what eagles think? But I do know that turkey vultures are quite grumpy when rain torpedoes the thermal currents they need to sail on. I loved the description of your excursion and can imagine how much trouble it is to get around. That said, we had flurries yesterday and that was enough for me.

    I especially loved that you went to not one, but two bookstores. That would be my choice, too. One to browse in, one to write in. We only have B&N with tables to work at and a drearier place I can’t think of with the awful music they choose. Fredericksburg needs a Book and Bar. Y’all need sun. I’ll try to send some your way.

    • Thanks for your thoughts and your wish is granted — we have sun today! And no snow forecast .. until tomorrow. But let’s take a Scarlett O’Hara stance to that. The snow IS good for extra brightness (and we do not allow grumbling about glare). Book and Bar is as wonderful as its name suggests, with a great selection of used books and great lattes and muffins or sandwiches if you’re there, as I was, before sundown. I liked a post by the cash register: Do not use your cell phone because it makes Dave lose it.

  3. I admire your fortitude, braving the cold up in snow country (says the wimpy girl from Hawaii who’s an expert hibernator) to visit bookstores. I’m intrigued by the chickens in your new novel. They are often a source of humor so I’m wondering . . .. 🙂

    • Yes, one must make these excursions from time to time. Thinking of chickens does amuse me at the moment, and I’m holding off for the next blizzard, forecast for tomorrow, until I get the joy of watching chickens on youtube for research, but I’m afraid they won’t bring much humor to my novel. They’re more about winged creatures that flap more than fly, and those eggs for metaphors and equally important cookies. Thanks for the hurrah from a somewhat warmer place!

  4. Jeannine, this is one of my favorites! You’ve captured it perfectly. Especially “overdressed and underclean” a treasure!

    • I can remember days when I’d shower after shoveling, but when you do it four times a day, no. Plenty of time to groom come spring!

  5. Jeannine, I love to immerse myself in your writing. You paint such vivid word-canvases. Your description of Portsmouth reminds me of a Minneapolis winter, walled in by snow. So glad you were able to find respite in a couple of lovely bookstores.

    Stay safe and snuggly, and thank you for all you share! xox

    • I know warm places have great bookstores, too, but they seem especially welcome havens when you come in from a white and gritty world, don’t they? More snow predicted for tomorrow, but I’m well stocked with books and just took some soup from the freezer. Thanks for your warm wishes, and sending some back!

  6. As I drove down the highway to the grocery store, a clump of shiny red mylar heart balloons floated high into the sky. It was beautiful to watch against the bright blue sky, but I imagine caused a bit of heart-ache for someone.

    I’d like to learn to hibernate from Jama and Cornelius!

    • Those balloons were meant for you, Cathy! But kind of you to worry about someone who might have lost a grip. Let’s hope they were many time enjoyed. And yes, we count on Jama and Cornelius to teach and remind us of other pleasures: we’re lucky!

  7. A warm and beautiful piece, Jeannine!

  8. We don’t have quite as much snow here in CT, and although it’s piling higher each day, I’m fascinated by how the texture and contours of the landscape changes with each passing storm. I love your description of your neighbor’s little boy and the dogs running “one last snow-spraying loop.” Stay safe and warm this weekned!

    • Yes, the snow slopes and shallows and shadows, not to mention the bird tracks, are gorgeous, and that hush after the storm. Thanks for your good wishes!

  9. The Outermost House is the perfect book to read right now to inject some hope back into winter. Before reading that book, January was like a dead month to me with no birds singing and hardly any even coming to the feeder. The world seemed encased in ice and snow. When Beston wrote about the migration of shorebirds in January it reminded me that life does go on, even in the winter months. It totally changed how I look at January. Great choice, love that book! I hope you will write some reflections about it on your blog, would love to read what you think.

    • Susan, your mention on facebook was what got me to take it out again, so thank you, and for the encouragement to blog about it. I think you’d like Nan Parson Rossiter’s picture book, too, which might be more for adults than children with peaceful paintings and many Beston quotes. Reading it and looking at it confirmed my need to reread the book.

  10. “I went to Riverrun Bookstore, where I was greeted by a display of books on Shackleton and his collapsed and frozen ship.”
    This made me laugh. Booksellers can truly find a book for every occasion, mood, and weather!

    • Yes, booksellers do their part to make us smile. Though frankly much as Shackleton intrigues me, I’m more of a mind to read about gardens these days.

  11. On sunny days, we get to see our white snowy mountains in the distance, but here in the lowlands of Oregon snow passed us by this year. So I very much enjoyed being immersed in your winter scenes through your gorgeous writing. I know you’ve been inundated and are probably more than ready to hang up the snow jackets, pack away the boots, and smell the bare earth once again. Here’s to melting snow and crocuses coming your way soon! ❤

    • There are moments post shoveling or mid storm when we all want to cry, “Enough.” But thankfully also moments of beauty, the intricate shadows on the snow and a bright winter light reflecting. But I will be happy to see crocuses!

  12. I always feel as if I’ve gone a little journey with you, Jeannine. As usual I enjoyed being transported.

    • I am glad you enjoyed being transported from one wintry place to another. I am sometimes enjoying the snow and sometimes very glad to let words transport me: a bit smug about setting the novel I’m working on in July. At some point I’ll have to cut green details, but I’m enjoying making them!

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