The Saving Grace of Winter is Beauty

These December days are so cold the air is smoky with a mist that can’t melt. Daylight is scant.

Walking up Main Street in Greensboro, my boot heels kicking clumps of road salt, I detour to the public beach, scene of so many summer hours of pleasure.

In the otherwise empty parking lot, two pickup trucks are parked side by side, drivers’ windows rolled down, a cloud of cigarette smoke motionless between them.

December narrows us down and opens us up; we relish the pleasure of our warm, well-lit houses, the bowl of steaming noodles, our cats and our library books. And yet the cold appears to ripple endlessly, infinitely beyond the frozen lake and mountains. The winter night sky dwarfs us. We’re but tiny stars ourselves, on this icy landscape.

Day by day we’re spinning towards the solstice.

Winter solitude–
in a world of one color
the sound of wind.

— Bashō

Caspian Lake, Greensboro

Mind, Cold, Beauty

17 degrees below zero this morning.

When I head out to start my daughter’s car before she heads to work, a perfect half moon is poised over our house, moonbeams glistening on our black metal roof.

Cold. But the Vermont way is to say, I’ve seen colder. I have. I will (presumably) again. Just as the body accumulates tolerance, the mind unwittingly relaxes into perspective.

But that’s the mind. As the dawn opens up, the sky bruises violet. Stars gleam. The day moves on.

It’s interesting.
Lied upon one another
The umbrellas in the snow.

— Shiki

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Poetry, Philosophy, Piles of Snow

Snow falls all night.

In the darkness, I lie awake thinking about a line from Karl Marx; “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances.” The line figures predominantly in the book I’m writing — the initial draft nearly finished. More than that, the line is one of the main questions of my life.

In our dark house, the cat and I stand at the back glass door, watching the snow drift down in the cone of the porch light. Upstairs, one daughter reads, the other sleeps. For a little while, the cat and I read on the couch. Just before I turn off the light and head back upstairs, I glance at the pile of index cards penned neatly in my younger daughter’s hand. For school, she has to choose a poem, memorize it, and recite it aloud. I lift the top card and read, Two roads diverged in a yellow wood….

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Ode to Winter

Cleaning off my car windshield this morning, I had the impulse to remove my mitten and bury my hand in the fluffy, utterly white stuff. At zero degrees, with a stiff wind cutting my face, I didn’t.

Snow has finally really come to Vermont — and kept coming and coming. Winter’s a hassle — always — in the realm of driving, of keeping the house heated, the windows closed, of missing walking barefoot through the garden and woods.

But winter’s simply ineffably beautiful, too. Driving to work, a scarf wrapped around my neck, my heavy boots in the car, too, just in case I break down, I’m mesmerized beyond VPR’s impeachment news as I watch swirls of snow skitter over the pavement. Since I was a little girl and my parents drove me, I’ve watched snow and wind work their silent mystery over the highway. Winter.

Calligraphy of geese
against the sky-
the moon seals it.

— Buson

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Calais, Vermont

Squall Survival

Driving home in the crepuscular light, as I approach Woodbury Lake the sky shimmers violet, dusk refracted through snow squalls. I’m mesmerized by the voices on Vermont Public Radio — I cede two minutes to the gentlewoman from Wherever State — and I don’t turn off the radio as I head into the squalls.

Almost immediately I can’t see the edges of the road. I’m not even sure where to turn off, so I keep driving. Somewhere ahead, in that squall or on the other side of it, my daughters are waiting. As I drive, I keep hoping they’re not driving, that they’re safely home, baking muffins and playing music.

It’s not just me driving slowly — we’re all creeping along. The UPS truck has marooned in a driveway, flashers blinking. That last steep, curving downhill, through the Woodbury gulf, seems to take forever. At the end, there’s just snow, snow, snow. At home, my daughters have the lights on, the Christmas tree sparkling through the window. I gather my backpack and head up the path.

Whirling snow and darkness: that winter mystery.

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

“The Thing Is” by Ellen Bass

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One Day, Otherwise

A few drops of rain graced the very end of our walk yesterday afternoon. Later, our kitchen redolent with baking pies, rain hammered on the roof.

I hope all my readers have many, many things to celebrate. Oddly enough, on this day I’m mostly grateful to be in a place where I can be grateful. My life has not always been that way — or, more accurately perhaps, I’ve been pressed at times where I could think only from here to there, and not have the luxury of gratefulness. I know I’m not alone in that. Gratitude, it seems to me, needs not material or financial space (although those things certainly help), but the spiritual space to be simply in the here, the now.

One of the very loveliest gratitude poems is Jane Kenyon’s Otherwise. Here’s a few lines on this holiday morning.

I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

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And, more happiness in a world with such dear creatures, my beloved hardworking cat.