On December 1, the two-year anniversary of my last radiation zap, I waited for my love to get off the plane in Homer. Through the door walked Rosanna, who’d flown in from Anchorage, where she goes every week for her radiation treatments. The elation I felt for her being almost done (one week to go), at her telling me that she is suffering no ill effects, was intense, a body rush. We hugged each other hard and rocked back and forth. Sympathetic joy, it’s called. When you experience another’s joy as your own.
There is another kind of joy, one you get to experience alone. That afternoon, after dropping Craig off at his office, I drove with my dog Gris-Gris to Beluga Lake for my first skate-ski of the winter. There isn’t enough snow on the ground yet for skiing anywhere else. Skiing’s fine by me, but in this case, skis were just a means to get to the other end of the lake faster. It’s about a mile across the ice to a wild marshland inaccessible at any other time of year. Weeks of cold dry weather have sublimated the snow covering the grasses, transforming it into a quilt of hoar frost. Mounds of bowed-down grass are thick with a velour of crystals, some an inch or two long. I left my skis at the end of the lake and Gris-Gris and I followed narrow ice channels through the marsh. I was hoping to see the white owl again, the one that flew up from the ice last weekend, or one of the great gray owls my friends saw last winter, or a lynx or coyote out hunting the snowshoe hares whose tracks are everywhere on the ice. I angled toward the nearby trees, found myself surrounded not by creatures, but by crystals. I was swishing knee deep in ice-bearded grass, millions and millions of miniature crystal ferns glinting in the low sunlight of midwinter. I just wanted to lie down in it. So I did, eating handfuls of hoarfrost off the collapsed grass around my face. It is fragile, collapses at the touch of a tongue, at a breath. I ate it, and I let it cool my aching lower back, injured from last weekend’s ice-skating and too much sitting on a hard kitchen chair and working at the computer. I looked at the sparkles of the grasses’ second skin. I lay in a cradle/grave of hoar frost. I stared up at the blue, blue sky. I swear I could see the sky streaming by in a river of molecules. Let this earth become a heaven, writes Cyrus Cassells, “Down from the Houses of Magic.” Sometimes you find that it is, that prayer is answered. Heaven on earth, a house of magic, in the midst of everything chaotic, frightening, uncertain. I don’t know if I can call it joy. It is peace. It is enough. All concepts of forgiveness, guilt or fear vanish, dying into life in a meadow of hoar frost.