Snow and Ashes: Releasing Dennis

man holding firewood
Bringing in wood at camp

The other three seasons are fine, but winter was our playground. It sparkled, we sparkled, we could not get enough and it always ended too soon. If we were not together at first snow, Dennis would call me at work, or I would try him on his phone. We always shared the excitement of those first flurries, however modest they were, and often celebrated with a bonfire. We would watch the snow drift down and catch the occasional flake. We wondered if we knew who it was, as each snowflake has a bit of organic material at its core and could be anything, anyone.

Winter brought us alive, so we never fully understood how cold and snow brought things to a halt for so many folks. We were heading to an animal tracking workshop outside Bangor one Saturday morning. I glanced at the temperature on the car display and noticed it had gone from thirteen to fifteen. I remarked about things heating up when Dennis pointed out the minus dash in front of those numbers. We arrived at the nature preserve around the same time we got the notice that that program was canceled because it was too cold. We hiked around pretending to lead the class, but then wandered back home and discovered the Waldo Pierce Reading Room and Library along the way. We had passed the sign for it many times, but this time stopped in and are now Waldo Pierce fans. Waldo was born in Bangor, and a was flamboyant  painter of scenes with steamy color, and the perfect character to meet on that cold and blustery day. As often happens, our adventure was not the one we had expected.

Out in the snow

Winter lovers need winter gear, and we both wore warm and soft fur hats. I bought Dennis his signature badger hat in Quebec City, scene of many a winter getaway. It has now been passed to his grandson, and a companion fur hat went to his grandson’s wife. The day before Thanksgiving they wore them to Long Pond, where Dennis had taught kids, grandkids, and me to fish. We all released ashes where Dennis released too many fish to count. Full circle, he is there forever, where his great-grandchildren will learn to fish, too.

Grandson and great-grandchildren where Dennis taught so many to fish.

We had many winter adventures at Dennis’ family camp, sometimes with grandchildren, sometimes without. The colder, icier, and snowier the better. One particularly windy and frigid weekend made ice fishing a challenge. The holes we had drilled kept filling in as fast as we cleared them, even with lean-tos of shingles acting as a windbreak. We headed into the cabin. Stew on the woodstove and curling up on the couch with an old quilt was another way to enjoy winter. Outside all was dark, no other cabins or homes were close enough to see their light. The temperature was -21ªF, and the wind rattled windows in the simple building Dennis’ dad had built. We slept, taking turns to throw a stick in the stove, but warm as toast once we jumped back under the mounds of blankets we had piled on. Sometime, who knows maybe two or three am, I heard Dennis struggling to get into his snowsuit. I protested, saying there was no need to go out, we had  a chamber pot. He ignored me and searched for the zipper. I assured him it didn’t matter, whatever  he had to do, just do not go outside! I got up and tried to pull him back to bed. He looked at me and said. “I started the car before dinner, and then forgot all about it.” That was our lifeline back to the world. I let him go. He returned, said there was still gas in the car, and a really long icicle coming from the exhaust pipe. 

Snow was always worth exploring

This year first snow in Otter Creek happened while I was in the Azores. At first I felt disbelief, thinking I had to be there. But Dennis had died of a rare disease, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, PSP, almost a year ago. He wasn’t going to call me, and we weren’t going to share first snow. The last morning on Teirceira, the island we had visited together a few years ago, I walked to the public swimming spot not far from the hotel. Someone was leaning against a basket, fishing from the pier. The waves were a bit rough and frothy. I pulled out a small wooden urn and reached out to let the ashes swirl into the water below. They danced down towards the water and I leaned out to watch. A sudden updraft brought the ashes back up and into my face in an instant. I pulled away. They were on my cheeks and my black shirt was covered in white. I brushed the flakes off and laughed. We had our first snow afterall.

Across the ice and into the twilight

Energy can not be created nor destroyed, it can only be transformed from one form to another.” Attributed to Émilie du Châtelet.

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