“Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey and enjoy every idle hour.” – John Boswell
I am sitting at my desk, madly working against a quickly approaching deadline for a magazine article I’m writing on summer entertaining, when I suddenly stop and look out my frosty windowpane. As I gingerly slide off my reading glasses and habitually start to chew on the gnarled, left end piece, I think about the poetic irony of essaying about warm weather get-togethers when it’s a bone-chilling 20 degrees outside. As I survey my wintry view, I drop the spectacles onto my handwritten notes (I always use pen and paper when I start on a piece) and tuck my hands under my neck. Perched high atop this bluff, I feel like a tiny bird on a high wire as I sigh at the incredible beauty of this place. That view always makes me sigh and it never fails to overwhelm and inspire me as I tap away on my laptop each day.
To my left is the waterfall, snow-capped and wonderfully full from the recent heavy rains. The thunderous sound of the rushing water is faint but familiar, softly muted within the warming comfort of our mountain cottage and burning fireplace. It’s picturesquely framed by thick stands of leafless poplars and tall, ancient pines that mildly sway against the bleak skyline. For some crazy reason, I notice that their trunks and bare branches aren’t really brown at all, but more of a grayish green and are quite beautiful in their nakedness. The huge, rugged boulders at the water’s edge, some still mossy in places, make a natural bridge over the icy pond to the small glade that leads to the apple orchard and our vegetable garden. I look to my right and catch a glimpse of the wooden picket fence that surrounds it and observe that it’s buckled in a few places, thanks to some curious raccoons and ravenous deer. I make a mental note to put that at the top of the spring to-do list. Maybe, even consider some raised beds this year. And a greenhouse. Definitely, since we have the perfect sunny spot for one. I look back at the falls and can’t help but think about the first time Adam brought me here. Here, to La Tapada, so named by his mother. The Covered One. The Hidden One.
I decide to brave the bitter cold and go out for a nice, long walk since I’m feeling nostalgic now about that initial visit, so many years ago. I throw on my parka and pull up my boots–taking care to tuck in my pant legs to help keep them dry against the elements. As I head out, I hesitate for a second, hand on doorknob, thinking that I should take the dogs with me, since they, too, love a good romp in the snow. Especially the puppy. Her hilarious antics make me laugh until my stomach hurts as I watch her bury her fuzzy face in the soft, wet powder and rapidly bulldoze a winding path through it, before popping her head out to make sure I’m still watching. She emerges quite pleased with herself and her coal black eyes and button nose peer out from her ivory shaggy coat that is crusted with ice and hangs onto her chin like a snowy Colonel Sanders beard. She repeats this game over and over with unadulterated joy as I smile like a proud parent at my unbearably cute, furry child. I selfishly decide to venture out solo because I’m feeling sentimental and I want to go back to that day all by myself. I profusely apologize to the dogs as if I’m talking to disappointed four-year-olds, all three girls staring at me with hopeful expectation, their returning guilting looks for my having the audacity to abandon them. I heartily promise them a rain/snow check soon. Then add, “Cross my heart!” Even I know how silly I sound as I reassure these spoiled canines about a future stroll in baby talk.
As I slowly trudge down our steep driveway through the deep accumulation, despite the rumbling sound of the creek as I cross our bridge, there’s a kind of hushed quiet. A stillness from the snowy blanket that is magnificent and a Robert Frost passage comes to mind. “The woods are lovely, dark and deep.” I’m in love with his turn of phrase, its dizzying cadence and am in awe of its flawless simplicity as I look around at this winter wonderland. Our own paradise. I breathe in deeply. The forest is old and smells earthy. And alive. The crisp, pine scent lingers in the air and I feel my cheeks, rosy red, I’m sure from the cold.
At the road’s fork, I take a right and I pass one of my favorite hollowed-out trees, the hole perfectly centered that I imagine would make a lovely home for a woodland creature. I almost always half expect a few little bandit-faced babies to peek out cautiously. And how I wish they would! But not today. I spy some small tracks that lead off into the woods and wonder what made them. Could be that fox that used to come up to the house for turkey meatballs. But we haven’t seen her in a good while. Frannie. Frannie the Fox. Yes, that’s what I called her. A slinky, dainty little thing with a thick reddish coat and dark markings high on her forelegs that looked like she was wearing long, silky black evening gloves. She was really something. I miss her.
I stop when I reach one of our fountains, a beautiful bronze statue of a woman on a massive Italian marble base, that is now an enormous ice sculpture, compliments of Mother Nature’s chilly temperatures. It’s breathtaking and dazzles in the bright sunshine. I keep walking, remembering. Adam had colorfully described La Tapada to me many times in great detail before my seeing it, but even I was skeptical at first, maybe even a little jaded from my growing up in the Land Where Water Falls, that his family’s summer property could be as magical, as mysterious, as he had passionately portrayed it. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I finally reach the entrance and turn around. I remember it exactly, like it was yesterday, the first time we arrived here together. I close my eyes and let the memory wash over me. Off the main highway, we turn onto a narrow dirt road that’s flanked on both sides by towering rhododendron. We pass several seemingly abandoned houses tucked into the woods before he stops at the end of the road in front of wrought-iron gates that are chained and padlocked. He puts the vehicle in park and I feel my heart racing wildly.
I crane in anticipation as he gets out to open the adjoining, ornate black panels in a slow, ritualistic, almost reverend way. Adam slides back into his seat, and with my mouth agape, I gently put my hand on his arm, as I look down the long drive, dumbfounded. The hand-painted hanging sign announces that we are indeed at our destination. Split-railed fencing as far as my eyes could see lines the left side of the narrow lane. The impressive hemlock hedge jealously hugs the right side, protectively concealing the secret jewels of this place. I slowly whisper under my breath, “Adam, I have seen this driveway before.”