The Art of Winter

Grown to middle age, my calico is placid and content. She spends her days searching for perfect napping spots, occasionally indulging herself in bird-watching at the window. Long past the enthusiasms of kittenhood, her favorite excitement is shredding cheap tissue paper. She prefers white, although she’ll work with colored if forced, and each Sunday morning she gets a dozen sheets. For the next week she rolls in it, hides under it, buries toys in it and claws at it, until nothing is left but ribbony shreds and bits of paper.

Despite her increasing years and even temper, she dislikes every sort of storm. Lightning brings her to electrified attention. Thunder triples the size of her tail in a flash. The approach of a winter cold front sets her pacing for days. Once a low crosses the Red River, she begins to move restlessly from room to room. By the time it gets to Dallas, she’s tearing full-tilt through the house, circling around and around until she collapses in a panting heap.

She’s survived several tropical storms and two hurricane evacuations, and what she lacks in scientific knowledge she makes up for in pure instinct and experience – she knows storms are bad. When her people begin to fuss and mutter about systems still hundreds of miles away, she’ll head to her carrier, snuggle down into her sheepskin and wait it out: wide-eyed and anxious, uttering the low, undeciperable sounds she reserves for rising storms.

She has much in common with her people. While storms brew, the air is charged as much with nervousness as with electricity. Anxiety and fear mix with a strange excitement. Conversations grow a little louder, chatter becomes a bit more insistent. As weather bulletins increase in frequency, questions become more pointed and attention more focused.

We may say we want the storm to turn, to dissipate, to wander and die, but we’re equally eager to see what Nature has up her sleeve this time. We’re like children convinced goblins are living in the closet – overcome as much by curiosity as by our wonderful terror, we wouldn’t mind just one glimpse.

This strange combination of fear and fascination accompanies winter storms, as well. Nor’easters, blizzards, white-outs, ice – we hate the interruptions they bring to life, the complications, the immobility. And yet a compulsion overtakes us, an insistent need to feel nature’s effects, to walk, to measure, to experience the howl of wind and the hush of new-fallen snow. We become spellbound as much as snowbound, in thrall to the swirl of the storm.

 

Spellbound ~ Emily Brönte

The night is darkening ’round me,
the wild winds coldly blow;
But a tyrant spell has bound me
and I cannot, cannot go.
The giant trees are bending
their bare boughs weighed with snow.
And the storm is fast descending,
and yet I cannot go.
Clouds beyond clouds above me,
wastes beyond wastes below;
but nothing dear can move me;
I cannot, will not go.

Brönte had it right. As much as the storms of summer, winter storms are compelling: exciting and beautiful. Unfortunately, winter is more than storms. Vita brevis, ars longa, as the saying has it. But on this side of Solstice, Vita brevis, ars longa, et hiems longius seems more appropriate: life is short, art long, and winter even longer.

December passes quickly enough with celebration and holiday distractions. January arrives with all the hopes of a New Year, a sense of renewed purpose and optimism. But winter is winter, a season of sighing, and waiting, and longing for an end to cold, darkness and similitude. As the exultation of Brönte’s storm passes, the endurance of winter begins. It is the patience of a sickroom, the shock of unexpected absence, the tedium of sleeplessness that marks creation as the world waits in quiet resignation for a turning of the season, the lengthening of days, the coming of the light.

In the bleakness of mid-winter, the world grows quiet. Creatures seemingly evaporate, leaving no more than tracks in freshly fallen snow. Where beauty walks the land she leaves no tracks but goes and comes in secret like a wraith. For the watchers from the windows, for the walkers beneath the moon, for every harsh and glittering star reflected in the sparkle of the snow, time seems to stop. Pondering the demands and joys of the days ahead, I find myself compelled to stop and turn, leaving the accustomed road of essays for Brönte’s more poetic path. Come along, she seems to say. Enjoy a winter’s walk.

The Grammarian in Winter

Winter speaks in passive voice,
conjugates brief slants of light
and parses out her stars along a tracery of oak.
Beneath the rising moon fine participles gleam,
dangling remnants freed to float
and tumble down the sloping winds,
evocative declensions of a season soon unbound.
Split by ice, the pond breathes smoke.
Split by cold the blackened ferns grow crisp and shatter at a touch.
Split by hoarfrost, fences drip, refreeze and lean across the land.
Infinities abound.
Silent, shrouded in the pond’s same breath,
cattle cast their frozen gaze
past perfect sweeps of snow
as if to skry spring’s synonym
and punctuate the sentence of the hills.

 

Originally published as The Grammarian in Winter, this has nagged at me for a year.  Now, with both poem and prose revised, I offer it again, a gift for you and a little breathing space for me as I regain my balance after the holidays. As always, comments are welcome ~ to leave a comment, please click below.

15 thoughts on “The Art of Winter

  1. Even though I am a watcher from the window, you make me wish to take at least a cold walk before the winter ends. Thank you for the gift. As always a real pleasure.

    My best wishes for you, now and in the future.

    eMi

    eMi,

    Winter is a different kind of beauty ~ less accessible, perhaps, but always worth a look and a walk down its paths.

    Muchas gracias por sus amables palabras, y los mejores deseos para el Año Nuevo. Sé que nos dará mucha belleza en los próximos meses.

    Un abrazo,

    Linda

  2. Linda, this lovely evocation of winter’s bleakness (and stark beauty) is quite consoling to me, lost as I am in a kind of sleepy funk these last days off work. Outside my window, piled up snow has turned to ice-blocks from a freakish layer of rain (this happened on Christmas Eve), which makes outside walks a bit treacherous. The sun has conjured enormous icicles from our overhanging gutters, just above the south-facing window where the sun cycles its low arch through the day.

    Perhaps near-dormancy is not some moral failure after all, but an appropriate response to the hunkering-down season of January. As always, thanks so much for sharing your thoughtful and beautifully crafted writing.

    Mary Ellen,

    Recently, I was talking with a friend who’s also a professional landscaper about my Christmas cactus. They’re blooming beautifully, but the plants themselves look a bit anemic – not the deep, dark green I’ve had before. I was ready to fertilize them, but she said to wait until the bloom cycle’s completely finished and the plants have had time to rest. Once they show signs of growth again, it’s time to feed them and help them along.

    Your comments brought that conversation to mind. During the Christmas season, everything blooms in a riot of color and sound and activity. When it’s done, perhaps we need a little time to rest, too, before picking up with our lives. I understand the impulse to activity, but I’ve come to appreciate dormancy, too. Sometimes lying fallow is the necessary next step for renewed growth.

    Enjoy your time off, and best wishes for the New Year!

    Linda

  3. Your words are wonderful and so true about so much. I love the image of your cat loving her tissue paper and leaving wonderful bits of color everywhere you look and then probably in places you wonder how it ever got there. I miss having a cat, but for the time being I’m quite content with the wild birds and the coyotes that leave their footprints all around our property, especially now that the drive way is plowed during the winter. It’s like an easier highway for them.

    Anyway…. thanks for the info about the blue moon and this one is already so wonderful it can’t bring anything but more peace and abundance to the whole world. Interesting story about ‘ the shovel is my friend’. You are sooo right. We have them everywhere.

    I hope your new year is incredible and rich in the ways of life, love and laughter,

    CheyAnne

    CheyAnne,

    I hope you get a glimpse of the moon ~ such a special event. And blue moonlight on snow – what could be better?

    I don’t know why I just remembered this, but I came across a remark by Annie Leibovitz recently that felt familiar. She said she used to carry a camera all the time, but that now she sometimes lets photo opportunities go… that it’s as satisfying to just “be there”. All good wishes to you for a year filled with fine images, and fine memories, too.

    Linda

  4. Keep cosy and warm Linda – see in the New Year with your calico and a hot toddy!

    We’re on the other side of the spectrum here, boiling hot and living in the lagoon. I’m off to my brother’s farm in the Karoo desert tomorrow – 40 degrees C and no let up. I’d love to steal a little bit of your ice and snow.

    Jeannine,

    Such an American I am – I had to find a conversion table to figure out your temps – summer is in full force for sure. I looked up the Karoo – such gorgeous spring pictures. But not so much for summer…. no wonder. Everything must be scorched.

    Enjoy your travels. When your winter swings around I’ll send my dear, departed dad’s recipe for a hot rum punch that certainly takes the chill off!
    And happy new year – it’s going to be an exciting one for you.

    Linda

  5. No matter how lovely your words of winter, I am forever a hibernator – huddled under my blanket content with books, movies, music and a fire – with hubby and cats beside me.

    So will someone please explain to me why I bought a home in Boston and why I am eager to sit outside in the elements at Fenway on New Year’s Day to watch a hockey game? Not quite a walk in winter but enough of experiencing the elements to last me the whole season.

    Bumbles,

    I just took a little stroll over to Weather Underground to check conditions at Fenway for Friday. Oh, my… You’ll be in a hockey environment for sure!
    On the other hand, some of my best memories of my “northern life” involve ice skating for hours, long walks in falling snow, fort-building and snow-angels. I can remember the squeak of now, and the wonderful freshness of the air. I’m not ready to live in it full time again, but I surely wouldn’t mind a visit.

    Best wishes for the New Year, and have fun at Fenway. That fire will feel awfully good when you get home!

    Linda

  6. Ah, Dixie Rose and her tissue reminds me of Stimpy’s passion for it. Gypsy likes it — for a brief while — but Stimpy could do the tissue thing for hours, no, days, on end! I can see why a coming storm gives her pause. She’s had to live through rather a lot.

    I prefer my winter from the inside looking out, perhaps because our winters are so long, often snowy and icy and after the initial awe rubs off, rather annoying! Nonetheless, I welcome the seasons and how they change — as we do, yet still holding strong to the continuity, the grounding we all need.

    I wish you a happy new year, a peek at the blue moon, and much joy in 2010.

    jeanie,

    “Inside looking out” is good, when it comes to winter! Say “blizzard” to me, and the first words that come to my mind are “fire”, “book” and “oatmeal cookie”. Of course, there are those other words (“frozen door locks”, “shoveling” and “stupid snowplow”) but it’s my memory, so I get to choose!

    I wonder if our kitties have the same feelings? I watch Dixie lying at the window, looking out, and it really seems she’s content to be inside, too. After all, inside’s where that tissue paper is.

    I’m hoping for a glimpse of the Blue Moon, especially since my grandparents taught me that standing in its light is lucky. We’re fogged in still, but we always have hope!

    Happy New Year to you and yours – two-legged and four!

    Linda

  7. The Grammarian in Winter – lovely. I had to look up declensions; I always learn a new word from you!

    You don’t have snow, do you? I imagine it quite warm there now. It is cold here, and not enough snow. I feel guilty about wishing for blizzards, but I love the quiet, the snow soaking up all sounds except for the wind whipping crystals against the windows. Canceled work a nice surprise, the city shut down with plows unable to reach every street for hours and hours. Skiing or snow shoeing down the middle of the street with no fear of traffic -heaven!

    Thank you for the prose, you are most welcome to the breathing space to regain balance, after a prolific year!
    Happy new year – I hope all your dreams and plans are realized.

    qugrainne,

    Actually, we have had a day of snow this year, and all of Houston turned into ten-year-olds. We had a snow last year, too, making this year’s a bit of a historical occasion. It was the first two-years-in-a-row snow for us. In 2004 we had enough snow on the Texas Coast that I was able to build a snowman Christmas morning, and there was a BIG snowman built next to the Storm of 1900 monument on the beach in Galveston!

    This year will simply be cool, with 30s at night and 50s in the day. I’d love a bit more cold – and snow, too, if we could – but at least travel won’t be a problem. As I mentioned to ds, I remember those blizzards and snow days with great affection.

    Best wishes to you for the New Year – and many thanks again for posting that cookie recipe. I’ve found a clutch of visiting kids who are going to help with the decorating!

    Linda

  8. Oh, I remember this post–it is one of the first of yours that I read, and I was hooked! (Qugrainne is right, you deserve a bit of respite, after such a year as this) Emily Brontë caught the essence of the storms, yes, but you discovered the spaces between, the silent footprints hidden in the brush, the shadows created by slants of light, where “infinities abound.” May you always find the possibilities of those infinities, and be our guide.

    Thank you–I am so glad to know you. Happy New Year, most happy new year!

    ds,

    There’s always a time when I begin to look forward to the next year, and I can feel my vision shifting. Who knows what possibilities each of us will find, or what graces? I know this – you’ll find the ways to enlarge our vision, and find new paths.

    Enjoy the last of the holiday celebrations. May the New Year dawn brightly, and shine steadfastly.

    Linda

  9. I loved this post! Your kitty is precious. What a blessing to have her Mama know exactly what she wants and provide it for her consistently. You are very tuned in to her. I read when the awful tsunami hit several years ago that most of the animals had taken to higher ground. They knew what was coming.

    You captured my feelings about incipient storms perfectly. Your words are like a comforting balm. Your thoughts and words about winter so apt and beautiful.

    Thank you for visiting my blog. Your blog feels like a warm safe place to me.

    Blessings and peace to you in the coming year.

    Julie,

    Amazing that five years have passed since the tsunami. It’s true about the animals – they have senses we only can imagine.

    I do so appreciate your linking to me, and the kind words. What a lovely description – “warm, safe place”. The door’s always open, and you’re always welcome!

    Best wishes for the coming year!

    Linda

  10. I love winter. I am loving the cold less as I age.

    We moved to the farm in November 2003. No snow yet, and the leaves had all blown around the house for the month the house sat vacant. After we moved in, I needed that winter to stare out the winter and observe the simplicity of this place – the green barns, plain landscape, bare trees. I did not want any effusiveness getting to know the place. I still feel reticent to add our own trees, plants, landscape features. I deeply love stark beauty.

    I also love storms, as do all my sisters. We become alive when they arrive. Nancy sits on the dock wrapped in a quilt when a storm comes in over the lake at the cottage. But if I lived in Texas or anywhere on the Gulf Coast, I doubt I would be so content with storms.

    Lovely post.

    Ruth,

    I do understand about the cold. When I started varnishing I would bundle up like crazy and head out to work. Now, not so much. If it’s below 45 I dawdle, and if it’s below 40 I put on another pot of coffee and stay in.

    The same grandmother who’d take me out to see the Blue Moon used to tell me that storms were Mother Nature throwing a temper tantrum. She helped me overcome my fear of them in that way. Being a child, I understood temper tantrums, and I understood that they don’t last. It became a game with us, to see how long she could keep kicking her heels! Of course she throws tantrums in your part of the world, too. They’re called ice storms.

    May this New Year’s Day be a lovely one, and the unfolding of the new year filled with peace and creativity.

    Linda

  11. I love your blog. Your writing. Your images. Thank you for stopping by Bayou Woman today and for leaving a comment! I am drawn into your blog and plan to come back in the a.m. with my warm, dark friend, (Community Coffee) and visit with you. I look forward to learning more about you!
    BW

    Bayou Woman,

    I’ve been lurking around for some time – almost came begging for the secret ingredient for the sweet potato pie, but got distracted by Christmas and forgot. We called those half-pies empanadas in South Texas, and there’s nothing better.

    It’s been a pleasure to read you, and a fine pleasure to see you appear here. If I weren’t living in Texas, I could live in Louisiana and be happy. I made my first visit of any substance last year, and can’t wait to come back. You have some of the finest people I’ve found – not to mention some of the best fun!

    Happy New Year!

    Linda

  12. Linda,
    I’ve changed so much over the years. I loved summer and spring when I was young. Now I appreciate the subtle beauty of winter, and enjoy the sometimes forced solitude. I can see that winter’s muffled beauty is not lost on you.

    This made me laugh!
    “She prefers white, although she’ll work with colored if forced…”

    Happy New Year, Linda! I’ve truly enjoyed this place throughout the year, and I’m so glad I found you.
    Bella

    Bella,

    And I’m so glad to see you roaming around, at least a bit. Happy New Year to you, with every wish for the quick re-establishment of routines.

    That line about Dixie made me laugh, too. I suppose every true artist has his or her medium – I always think about Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” making the passing remark that his dad “worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium…” Tissue is Dixie’s medium, no doubt. It’s funny to watch.

    We had a frontal passage last night that brought the opportunity to see the Blue Moon. Today, it’s windy, cloudy and (relatively) cold again, so I’m anticipating a snug, inside day. I hope you’re nice and snug, too, with a chance to ease into this new year. I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.

    Linda

  13. I thought of a childhood story after reading what Ruth said about all of us sisters loving storms.

    When I was 7 or 8 I spent a weekend with a girlfriend on her family farm that had pigs and corn. The first night there was a bombastic thunderstorm that really freaked me out…my first memory away from my parents at night. My friend’s elder sister (high school age?) saw my fright and beckoned me to one of the farmhouse windows to watch the storm. She stood behind me and placed her hands on my shoulders, silent. I can STILL to this day remember what it felt like to be calmed in front of the storm and believe that’s where I first got my love for storms.

    Many a time I picture God of the Universe standing behind me with Peace Hands on my shoulders. I will never forget it.

    Ginnie,

    What a beautiful story. And isn’t that just the way it is? None of us can face the storms of life without feeling we’re not alone. How blessed you were to have that experience so early in life – and to have someone near whose inclination was to look at the storm, rather than hide.

    Isn’t it a wonder how such memories stay fresh, and how we truly can re-experience the feelings each time we remember them? Thanks for sharing this one!

    Linda

  14. Lovely seems to be the right word. Nice work.

    It’s generous of you to stop by, Gerard. I found The Arrival absolutely inspiring, and couldn’t keep from sharing my own first experience of poetic mystery. Your site and your insights are invaluable.

    Linda

  15. In Johannesburg, the city where i live, the ferocity of Highveld storms is renowned. I love the utter rawness and the tempestuousness of the lightning, hail and wind and rain lashing the earth. And the earth just sits there and takes it. We have a steel structure acting as our garage, which also acts as a magnet for lightning. There have been a few very loud bangs here, which usually makes me join the cats in the cupboard…but I love it all…

    Amandzing,

    The rawness and power of storms is something to behold. I’m always caught, myself, between the impulse to run out into it and cram myself into that cupboard with you and the cats!

    We’re beginning to live now on the dividing line between winter and summer – the storms when cold and warm collide can be fierce. And yet, they’re part of nature, too, and I love them all.

    Linda

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