Sunday, January 11, 2009


It's almost 2:00 in the morning, and the sounds of winter surround me. A cold, fierce wind is blowing through the mountains of Western North Carolina tonight, and I can hear it first gusting through the big oak tree in the front yard, through the stubborn leaves still clinging to the branches. From the rustling oak tree, it then whispers through the white pine trees all around us. It's soothing and relaxing, and yet I'm wide awake.

I own a sound machine, and every night for I don't know how many years, I turn off the lamp on my nightstand and flip on my sound machine, choosing either a rainstorm or the wind sound to lull me to sleep. I can never sleep in total silence, which is why I subject poor Michael to a fan all year round. The hum, the white noise and my sound machine help me battle the insomnia that seems to overtake me on a seasonal basis.

But here, there are real sounds. Real thunderstorms and wind. Not to mention the quaint and comical rattle and hum of our furnace and the soft snoring of dear Henry the dog. Henry follows us to bed every night, dutifully lies down on his pallet on the floor, takes a short nap until we fall asleep, then he leaves for a cooler (and probably quieter) place to spend the rest of the night. Our bedroom gets surprisingly warm, and now that he's had a taste of the cold weather, Henry prefers the frostier corners of the house. All those years in Southern California...and he was longing for a cold snap.

When I was a kid, my Nan-Nan would take me outside on a windy day to stand underneath the pine trees in her yard. "Listen. Do you hear them whispering to each other?" Hearing the pine trees now, I can't help but think of her. She passed away during my freshman year in college, and it's profoundly unfair that her knowledge of me stopped then. I was such a mess. I got better, really. Smarter, more presentable. But she didn't know me past 18, and 18 is not the best I could do. She would have liked Michael, I know. She would have been proud of my education and travels and adventures. But these are silly suppositions in the middle of the night. She might just as well have disliked, disowned and disavowed me. But I'll never know. 18 is frozen in time. But the wind blows through the pines, and they whisper to each other, and I imagine it's a language I'd understand if I just listened hard enough.

I had an irrational fear about living in a cold environment again. I have this theory that cold weather ages you prematurely. I know it seems that cold weather should preserve you somehow. But I imagine the cold, gray weather turning hair and faces cold and gray and wrinkled. I remind myself that in California, people spend the whole year in the summer sun. The sun ages you more than some frigid winter wind blowing around. But like I said, it's irrational. I've been trying not to go outside unless I'm wrapped up and moisturized. I'd hate to return to Los Angeles after a year and hear, "You look so old. Asheville really aged you." Hopefully all the alcohol I've been drinking will counteract the effects of the cold.

You know, I really want to give a shot out to whoever invented the flannel robe. I've never been much of a robe person. I always liked the idea of them, but would always forget to wear them. Here, and especially since the weather turned chilly, I'm apt to wear my robe all day. I'll get dressed and go about my day, but I can't help but put my robe on, too. It's lightweight flannel, but it's warm and comfortable. I'm starting to think about researching smoking jackets, too. Maybe this is who I am now. I'm the guy who comes home and puts on his smoking jacket, but doesn't smoke. Maybe I'll get a pipe for the full effect, and just never actually smoke it. Or maybe I'll blow bubbles with it.

Henry wakes and looks at me with a frown. "Why are you still awake?" He asks. "I should have retreated to the drafty area at the top of the stairs by now." Sorry, Henry. I will go to sleep now, listening to the wind, the furnace, the fan and dreaming of Los Angeles, Nan-Nan and flannel robes.

Good night.