Exquisite confetti


From earliest childhood I was charmed by the materials of my craft, by pencils and paper and, later, by the typewriter and the entire apparatus of printing. To condense from one’s memories and fantasies and small discoveries dark marks on paper which become handsomely reproducible many times over still seems to me, after nearly 30 years concerned with the making of books, a magical act, and a delightful technical process. To distribute oneself thus, as a kind of confetti shower falling upon the heads and shoulders of mankind out of bookstores and the pages of magazines is surely a great privilege and a defiance of the usual earthbound laws whereby human beings make themselves known to one another. – John Updike, March 18, 1932 – January 27, 2009

“I’m sad. Someone I like died today.”

We were in the car, my daughter and I.

“What? Who?!” she said.

John Updike, the writer.”

“Oh,” she said, sinking back into her seat. “Don’t do that to me. I thought you meant somebody you know.”

But I do. I mean, I feel like I do. All of us do who stood in the confetti and felt lucky.

He was a pure pleasure to read. Sometimes I would just stop and reread a sentence or paragraph because it was so original and perfect.

He found humor. His irony was in the right amount. He could be hard, and kind. His fiction was true. He was intensely observant, aware and self-aware. But not neurotic.

My entire reading life he was there, writing new things. He could write about anything. And now there won’t be anything new by Updike.

“I’m sad about Updike,” I emailed my sister Lauren in California. Lauren went to Harvard and was a member of the Lampoon, like Updike, though a few decades later.

She wrote back right away. She was sad too, and she wasn’t getting much done at work. She was reading his poetry instead.

Last night I started rereading Gertrude and Claudius. It is so well-imagined, so rich and smart. I love it the way I love things there won’t be any more of.

WaPo: Rabbit is gone

“He stands, for me, at the very top of the practice of being a man of letters. Each activity was carried on with great
intelligence and wit and love.”

Boston Globe: jeweled prose and quicksilver intellect

Mr. Updike combined diligence with brilliance. Few writers have staged such elegant lexical ballets on the page.

IHT: A relentless Updike mapped America’s mysteries

Endowed with an art student’s pictorial imagination, a journalist’s sociological eye and a poet’s gift for metaphor, John Updike — who died on Tuesday at 76 — was arguably this country’s one true all-around man of letters. He moved fluently from fiction to criticism, from light verse to short stories to the long-distance form of the novel: a literary decathlete in our age of electronic distraction and willful specialization, Victorian in his industriousness and almost blogger-like in his determination to turn every scrap of knowledge and experience into words.

It is as a novelist who opened a big picture window on the American middle class in the second half of the 20th century, however, that he will be best remembered. In his most resonant work, Updike gave “the mundane its beautiful due,” as he once put it, memorializing the everyday mysteries of love and faith and domesticity with extraordinary nuance and precision.

CSM: “an interpreter of the way that the tender and the tortured intertwine in domestic relationships”

Newsweek: ‘A Standard of Beauty’

Telegraph: John Updike: a life in quotes

On America:
America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy.
Americans have been conditioned to respect newness, whatever it costs them.
Most of American life consists of driving somewhere and then returning home, wondering why the hell you went.
There is no pleasing New Englanders, my dear, their soil is all rocks and their hearts are bloodless absolutes.
When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas.


The male sense of space must differ from that of the female, who has such interesting, active, and significant inner space. The space that interests men is outer. The fly ball high against the sky, the long pass spiraling overhead, the jet fighter like a scarcely visible pinpoint nozzle laying down its vapor trail at 40,000 feet, the gazelle haunch flickering just beyond arrow-reach, the uncountable stars sprinkled on their great black wheel, the horizon, the mountaintop, the quasar—these bring portents with them and awaken a sense of relation with the invisible, with the empty. The ideal male body is taut with lines of potential force, a diagram extending outward; the ideal female body curves around centers of repose. – “The Disposable Rocket,” Michigan Quarterly Review (Fall 1993)

Thanks, Pun Salad Paul Sand, for giving the heads up on Achenblog’s excellent Updike tribute and Updike’s 1960 essay on Ted Williams’ last game: Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.

Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark. Everything is painted green and seems in curiously sharp focus, like the inside of an old-fashioned peeping-type Easter egg.

Snow and ice


Pond skating

Yesterday we skated in the late afternoon and again at night, finally. The ice is uneven but not lumpy and slushy like it was.

It’s snowing now. It’s supposed to snow all day and most of the night, dumping more white on our world.

Any hopes for an end to this winter’s brutal weather will be buried under a foot of snow by tonight, forecasters say. Link.




There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you…. In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself.  – Ruth Stout



Figure skates


Are we on our way to record snowfall this winter?

All eyes on weather as another storm hits New Hampshire

More than 500 schools and businesses in southern and central New Hampshire are closed.


Anna skating

Fresh air

Up north in Jackson, NH, there will be a snow sculpting competition this weekend. Penguin Plunge into the icy Atlantic at Hampton Beach on Sunday. (What makes them do it?)

For skiers: NH snow reports

For non-skiers: The Winter Wine Festival at Wentworth by the Sea

Brew me a cup for a winter’s night.
For the wind howls loud and the furies fight;
Spice it with love and stir it with care,
And I’ll toast our bright eyes,
my sweetheart fair.
– Minna Thomas Antrim

Winter roads of NH #1


Route 155, Lee, NH

I was here the week before last, heading to an elementary school for a pre-assessment assignment.


A Lee intersection

Lots of chimneys on that one.

Big fat snow storm coming late tonight through Wednesday night.

It’s cold


Chunky sea ice

My roving correspondent reports that Cape Cod Bay, down south in Massachusetts, is frozen.

The tides rise and fall, breaking up the ice.


Dune designs

He has an eye for the whimsical when he wanders the shores of his childhood home. I received these photos in email a few hours ago.

My day was busy, but not in any sort of interesting way.

The Burning of the Greens



We burned Christmas trees last night, out in the snowy field beyond the pond. We had about 30 of them all together, including a few latecomers.

The coals smoldered nearly till dawn.


Spark it up

How to build a fire, by John (pictured above): "I took the oldest Christmas tree, I took some shingles, bits of scrap wood that was dry, four foot logs cut from standing dead wood, then I leaned them teepee style. I infused them with 11,000 BTUs of propane and, voila, the fire was going."


Trees standing in snow, waiting to burn

We fed trees into the fire, mostly one at a time. It was breezy and very cold. Temps dropped below zero by midnight.

We stayed upwind, shifting position as needed.


Warm up

This party is back by popular demand. We skipped a year and friends were disappointed.

There's something especially fun and deeply satisfying about a good, big fire in midwinter, built from sparking old Christmas trees.


Good friends

Furry hats with flaps: functional and oddly fashionable. Excellent color coordination, girls.


John made a path and cleared away the deeper snow. Though the fire was hot, the snow didn't melt much around it.

In hand: hot chocolate, beer, or wine. Jamaican Red Stripe tasted oddly good to me. Some sipped warming whisky.

Greener trees were smoky, drier trees were sparky

Watching them burn makes you want to be especially safe when they're in your living room, we decided.

Let me stand next to your fire

One group was focused on the fire, others played ice hockey, and others warmed up in the pondhouse, which is our extra garage/ workshop with a woodstove. We shifted around from place to place.

Anna and my sister Ann put candles in glass holders around in the woods, and along the paths. Magical.

I made a couple of vats of chili and they stayed warm on top the woodstove. RECIPE.

Later there was a spontaneous jam session on guitar and bodhran.

Winter sporty

This group of friends played ice hockey on the pond without skates. I cornered them for a photo outside the pondhouse after chili and snacks. Then they went up to the house to play Wii games.

Hugh and Juliet wave from the other side of the fire

It was great to see family and friends in what is usually a pretty dull season socially. And it was great to bundle up and get outside under the stars, in the cold, and enjoy the primitive allure of a blazing fire.

Out with old Christmas; in with New Year.

Winter fire


At the Burning of the Greens

Emily and Elise are students at Rhode Island School of Design and, even though they didn't know I was taking a photo, they arranged their silhouettes artistically to match the flames.

More burn photos later.

Gift of Warmth #12

In today’s Seacoast Sunday….

Gift of Warmth: Medical bills drive family to seek help
By Amy Kane

Medical expenses and loss of income prompted Dana and her husband, Mike, to seek help with heating bills this past week. When they arrived at the fuel assistance office, Dana was wearing a neck brace.

“Painless,” was how she described the application process. A nice change from the way she has felt since early December when she fell down the stairs and broke her neck in three places.

“We hated to have to go and apply,” said Dana. “But that’s what it’s there for, and we don’t plan to make it a lifestyle.”

Dana, 48, had been having mysterious health problems including episodes of dizziness. While visiting a friend in northern New Hampshire, she fainted. Unfortunately, she was at the top of a flight of stairs at the time.

Her husband got a call when she was en route by ambulance to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center from the first hospital.

Doctors now know Dana was suffering from diabetes and low potassium. Treatment is helping those conditions.

She will wear the brace for another three months. She is scheduled for a CAT scan in March and surgery is pending.

“They have to clean out the disc matter from the herniated discs, they’ll put in screws to hold the bones together, and take out the bone fragments,” said Dana.

“But I’m walking and talking, so that’s good,” she said.

Getting a good night’s sleep is hard, though. She can only lie in one position, on her back, and the pain makes it difficult to sleep.

Before the accident, Dana was self-employed as a house renovator. For the time being, she is unable to work.

Mike, 50, still has a job, though his company just went through a round of layoffs and more are planned. He was laid off a couple of years ago from a job he had for 27 years.

Dana was an active person, but it is difficult now to do many everyday activities. She is grateful to have help from her family. She has a teenage daughter and son, and one of her son’s friends lives with them as well.

They live in an older home in a Seacoast town and heat with oil.

“It’s drafty, but we do what we can to block the wind,” said Dana.

Dana and her family are enduring a winter of bad weather and bad luck. As they struggle with medical expenses and the time required for Dana’s neck to heal, a little help with the heating bill could go a long way.

Your tax-deductible donation to the Gift of Warmth will benefit Seacoast residents who need help with heating costs this winter.

Please make checks in any amount payable to “Gift of Warmth” and send them to Seacoast Media Group, 111 New Hampshire Ave., Portsmouth, NH 03801.

Contact the Rockingham Community Action fuel-assistance program at 1-800-639-3896.