There is something magical about the sky when the temperatures are really frigid. I don't know if this is an actual meteorological fact or just a coincidence, or if you're just more cognizant of the beautiful light overhead when everything else is so stark and icy and dark. But over the past few days we, like most of the rest of the central and eastern US, have had some pretty amazingly cold days and nights. And over these past several days I have seen some utterly beautiful skies.
On Saturday we were driving down to Etowah to see Orange Krush play a little concert at Brian's church. We were running late and it was freezing out, and I knew the place we were going was too dark for much in the way of photographs, so I left my camera at home. On I-26 near the airport, with the cold blue French Broad River ambling along beside us, I saw a huge flock of tiny little black birds swooping and flying around. There must have been 1,000 birds, all moving together in big swaths of black lines against the brilliant orange sky. I leaned forward in my seat to watch as we drove under them, wishing I had brought my camera.
Later, on the way home, a huge full moon hung low in the sky. Dora kept exclaiming, "moon mommy!". We passed the last few houses with Christmas lights on. It made me a little sad to think of how, next year, when Dora chatters to us about the Christmas lights, she probably will no longer have her unique little pronunciation of "lights", with extra emphasis on the "l". As we drove past stands of bare trees surrounded by glittery snow, the moon slipped in between the branches, casting long shadows and illuminating the icy ground. I thought about how each stage of Dora's growth is so fleeting - like little glimpses of the moon between the trees. Maybe this is why I always wish for my camera when I leave it behind - to help me grab and hold onto what I know will pass us by so quickly.
Sunday morning, Dora stayed in the nursery while I went to church. I went to get her at communion, braving the chilly breeze to cross the churchyard to where she was playing. She was coloring quietly with one of the nursery attendants, not really ready to leave with me. I told her she could bring her coloring page with her, and she reluctantly agreed. As we ran back towards the church, bundled in coats and loaded down with the blanket, diaper bag, and Kermit, a gust of wind snatched the coloring page from Dora's grasp. It spun and swirled, higher and higher, up above the church's high steeple. It floated above us, dancing crazily in the wind, teasing us by floating down, then shooting up in the air again. It looped and turned, then nearly stood still in midair, caught in some cross current powerful enough to stop time. Finally it crashed to the ground about 5 feet away, and we dashed over to grab it. After musing about how beautiful the sheet of paper had looked dancing against the blazing blue sky, I found myself wondering for a moment if Dora's coloring sheet had blown high up in the air because my mom, the artist, was looking down on us and wanted a closer look at her granddaughter's work.
There was a time shortly following my mother's death, nearly 5 years ago, when I tried to comfort myself by finding odd meteorological coincidences and believing that she played some part in them. Everyone likes to say how a lost loved one is with you, or watching over you, but in my experience I haven't really felt that very often. Instead, I found it comforting that the sun had chosen to break through those bleak, Ohio winter days five years ago at the most interesting times: moments after my mother died surrounded by her family, days later as we sat in Pastor Lynn's office discussing the funeral, a week later as we arrived at the cemetery at McDougal Methodist church for the graveside service.
I find my mother's presence in unexpected places - in myself, in Dora, even in the weather. Perhaps all those years studying the barometer in the hallway have landed my mother some eternal presence in the atmospheric conditions. Perhaps its just a coincidence. Or perhaps its that we try to find those we have loved and lost in what we find most beautiful - in those who remain with us, in the laughter of our children, in the flock of tiny birds framed against an orange winter sky. Either way, it is certainly worth noting, and worth taking my camera along, no matter what.