Spell-bound in Winter

Grown to middle age, my calico became placid and content, spending her days in search of perfect napping spots, or indulging in bird-watching at the window. Long past the enthusiasms of kittenhood, her favorite excitement was shredding cheap tissue paper. She preferred white, although she’d work with colored if necessary.  Each Sunday morning, I gave her a dozen sheets. For the next week she rolled in it, hid under it, buried toys in it, or clawed at it until nothing remained but a flurry of shreds.

Despite her even temper, she disliked every sort of storm. Lightning would bring her to electrified attention, while thunder tripled the size of her tail in a flash. Approaching winter cold fronts set her pacing for days. She was my best prognosticator. Once a low crossed the Red River, she began moving restlessly from room to room. By the time it got to Dallas, she’d be tearing full-tilt through the house, circling around and around until collapsing in a heap.

She survived several tropical storms and two hurricane evacuations, and what she lacked in scientific knowledge she made up for in pure instinct: she knew storms are bad. When her people began to fuss and mutter about systems still hundreds of miles away, she headed to her carrier, ready to snuggle down and wait it out: wide-eyed and anxious, uttering the low, undeciperable sounds she reserved for rising storms.

We had much in common, that cat and her people. On the other hand, when storms brew, the air is charged with as much anticipation as anxiety.  Conversations grow a little louder, chatter becomes more insistent. As weather bulletins increase in frequency, questions become more pointed, and attention more focused.

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

This strange combination of fear and fascination accompanies winter storms, as well as hurricanes. 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.

Emily Brontë captured the feeling well, in her poem titled “Spellbound.”

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.

Brontë had it right. As much as the storms of summer, winter storms can be 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 longior seems more appropriate: life is short, art long, and winter even longer.

December passes quickly enough with celebration and holiday distractions. Even during a pandemic, 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 a similitude of days.

As the exultation of Brontë’s storm passes, the endurance of winter begins. It resembles the patience of a sickroom, the shock of unexpected absence, the tedium of sleeplessness. A sense of endurance seems to mark even the natural world as it waits in quiet resignation for the turning to come: a turning marked by lengthening days and increasing light.

The bleakness of mid-winter leaves the world strangely quiet. Wraith-like creatures leave only tracks in freshly fallen snow; sun and moon alike leave only shadows as evidence of their passage.

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. Brontë herself might invite us to stop, and turn, leaving our accustomed roads for a 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,
parses out cold stars along a tracery of oak.
Beneath the rising moon, fine participles gleam.
angling remnant leaves pull free
to tumble down the winds,
evocative declensions of a season now unbound.
Split by ice, the pond breathes smoke.
Split by cold, the blackened ferns release their shattered fronds.
Split by hoarfrost, fences bend and crack across the cold-boned land.
Infinitives abound.
Silent, shrouded by the pond’s slight breath,
clear-eyed herons sweep the snow
as if to scry its source;
their spellbound cries declaim the day,
dim and drifting hills.
   Linda Leinen


Comments always are welcome.
Watching the snow fall across the country, I was moved to edit and republish one of my own favorite posts.
Steve Gingold kindly provided images of the snow and ice. For more wonderful winter photographs, visit his website.

127 thoughts on “Spell-bound in Winter

  1. Little Dixie–such a cute photo. So funny that she loved to shred that much, lots of vacuuming at the end of the week? As for her storm predicting gifts, that’s also fascinating, but poor thing during the events. My dog, Asher, hated thunder (not unusual for a dog or cat) but once he was older and didn’t hear well, he was much more relaxed.

    1. Dixie Rose was a caution, as the Southern ladies say. She would tire quickly of other toys, but the tissue never lost its charm — and it was easy to clean up. I always felt sorry for her during storms, but she could be tough. During our evacuation for Rita, she made the nearly fifteen hour trip without serious consequences, although she certainly was happy to see her litter box when we got to the motel!

      I hear that the ‘thundershirts’ people use for dogs now are available for cats, but I don’t think that would have been a solution. The thought of trying to get such a thing on her raises my anxiety level.

      1. Dixie Rose! I knew I didn’t quite have her name right–sorry ’bout that. I’m impressed with a 15 hour trip and no litter box break. What a cat!

        1. I usually just called her Dixie. But, just as I knew to pay attention when my mother switched from ‘Linda’ to ‘Linda Lee,’ she knew it was time to go into good kitty mode when she heard ‘Dixie Rose!’

  2. This grammarian loves your grammarian’s poem- “Split infinitives” – oh, my! These images and word connections will have me musing through the remainder of the days in which I’m struggling to emerge from the passive to the active voice myself. Thank you, Linda!

    1. I’m not surprised the poem appealed to you, Gretchen. I had wonderful fun playing with all the terms, trying to arrange them in a way that would be both accurate and readable. One source for the poem was a day when I was thinking about long school hours of diagramming sentences on the chalkboard; that’s where “parses out cold stars along a tracery of oak” came from. Wouldn’t it be fun to come out one night and find the stars so arranged?

  3. There’s so much to grab onto in this post – cats, photos, poetic wordplay, and the beautiful bleak monochrome of winter. I can just imagine Dixie Rose’s excitement every Sunday morning when a new supply of paper appeared, and I bet she could tell it was coming. I don’t know what they cue on, but our cats seem to know it’s Saturday. I’m likely to make chicken or tuna salad sandwiches for lunch then and they get the juice from the can in their bowls. They cluster in the kitchen, waiting for the treat.

    And your Grammarian In Winter poem was wonderful. I love it when two disparate concepts meld so nicely.

    1. They are sensitive creatures, those cats. Every night at 10 p.m., Dixie would arrive at my desk to ask for her treat. If I was slow about meeting her needs, this would be the result. And no, I didn’t train her. She figured that one out on her own, and I was a sucker for it.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the poem. It’s been in process for a few years, but with every tweak I’m happier with it. I think it’s finished, now.

    1. Joy is good. I’m glad to have brought you a little, Michael. Those of us who are snow-deprived may not be able to build snowmen, but we can build snow-poems from our memories.

  4. Dear Linda,
    the BW winter picture of the trees by Gingold is great.
    We are getting snowbound too reading your text
    All the best. Take care
    The Fab Four of Cley
    :-) :-) :-) :-)

    1. Steve’s ice and snow photos are a real winter treat. Sometimes I begin to shiver, looking at them. If the poem brought you a sense of being snowbound, that’s all to the good. With a good fire and a nice book, snowbound can be quite pleasant!

  5. I remember “The Grammarian in Winter” from 2016 and am happy to see its return, especially in a year when parts of Texas even had a day of real winter. Have you gotten the poem published elsewhere? If not, it’s worth trying for: not just infinitives, but publications abound.

    A search for more information about Emily Brontë’s poem turned up a 1914 book saying she wrote it while at Law Hill, “a gentleman farmer’s house… with a pleasant view looking in the direction of the little church known as St. Anne’s-in-the-Grove,” and that the poem was dated November, 1837. You may be interested in further details.

    1. I haven’t offered the poem for publication, primarily because of a sense that ‘something’ wasn’t quite right with it. This time, I made a very slight revision in the last line; I’m satisfied now, and would be pleased to find it a home.

      I enjoyed your link to the details about Emily’s time at Law Hill, and ended up reading the entire chapter. My first experience of the Brontës was Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, and for years that was all I knew. I was interested in the tidbits about Emily and Charlotte’s relationship in the linked article; some biographical reading may be in order.

  6. These are the words that convey all the quiet awestruck feelings that come with storms, either the quiet peace-inducing snowfall or the sound and fury of others. You are a phenomenal writer.

    1. Those are kind words, Dor — thank you. I’m fascinated by weather, and have been lucky enough to experience a good bit of what it has to offer. I’m not entirely on board with the “write what you know” school of thought, but I do know weather, and love writing about it. I’m glad this resonated with you.

  7. When winter storms blow through up North, I find myself mesmerized by the scenes on TWC. Snow, snow everywhere. In amounts that just boggle my mind, being unused to it as I am. While it is lovely to look at, I can’t imagine having to live with it, though I know millions do.

    I’ve always liked Emily Dickenson’s winter poem, “It sifts from Leadean Sieves.’

    1. I’ve never read that Dickinson poem. I especially liked this:

      “It makes an even face
      Of mountain and of plain, —
      Unbroken forehead from the east
      Unto the east again.”

      That’s a great description of an Iowa blizzard. We’d wake up in the morning and see nothing but snow. Even our yard would be ‘an even face,’ with the sandbox, bushes, and fences buried in snow. The only thing more dramatic was the drifting. I’ll never forget the year we got stuck at my grandparents. When it was over, drifts covered both doors to the house, all the way to the roof. On the other hand, there was bare ground on the opposite side of the house; Dad and Grandpa went out a window to start shoveling us out. Good times!

    1. You know a little bit about winter, Peter. I’m glad you enjoyed Steve’s photos. He’s been a little snow deprived this year, too. I hope he gets more before the season is over.

        1. Interesting. I’ve never thought that. I’d say he loves the season; he certainly looks forward to it each year. Of course he’d be happier if it came without numb feet and frozen fingers!

        2. It’s a love/hate relationship, Peter. Glad you enjoyed the love part. As Linda mentions, the hate part involves frozen fingers (caused by Raynaud’s) that even heated gloves and heat pads in my palms don’t solve. But winter’s beauty overcomes that.

  8. Beautifully written, Linda, with an astute insight into how we eagerly await disaster, how it takes us out of our everyday existence and makes us feel more alive. I was charmed by your providing Dixie with paper to shred every Sunday morning. I wonder if there wasn’t a part of her soul that also appreciated a good storm, a break from her routine like the paper provided. And then there were the photos, countering the drama of winter storms with the beauty that may accompany them. Finally, I enjoyed your grammatically inspired poem. –Curt

    1. There’s nothing like that internal debate: stay? go? when? how bad? You know that from your experience with the fires. Apart from everything else, there’s something almost primal about a whole community watching, waiting, and debating. We rarely pay such close attention to the world around us.

      I’m pretty sure Dixie never appreciated a storm. For that matter, when the marina across from me was replacing their docks, the thuds of the pile drivers might as well have been thunder. She hid from that noise, too. But she loved rain, and the few times we got some snow, she was willing to put a paw into it.

      1. “We rarely pay such close attention to the world around us.” Probably because it isn’t nearly as imminent. A fire or hurricane roaring toward you is bound to get your attention. When a fire comes over the hill, I’m out of here.
        Pile drivers can drive me up a wall too. Smart Dixie. I smile at her putting a paw in the snow. I’ve seen lots of dogs that love to play in the stuff. Lighting, hailstorms and even tornados can come along with thunder. Best to error on the side of caution. More points for Dixie. –Curt

    1. I fear we’ll miss snow this year, although central Texas got some. Snow can be beautiful. I used to walk home from ice skating at night, and there’s nothing better than moonlight on snow — unless it’s watching a heavy snow swirling under street or yard lights.

  9. What a beautiful post. How vividly you brought Dixie Rose to life. I loved the description of fear and fascination for storms, how true that is. Wonderful photos too.xxx

    1. I hope your storms have eased off a bit. Being snowbound can be fun, but having to slog through all that water isn’t quite so charming. Steve is a skilled and dedicated photographer; his willingness to trek out into freezing (and lower!) temperatures is a real gift for us.

    1. There’s nothing so quiet and peaceful as a snowfall. I’d never move back north, but I’m glad I grew up there, and I’m as willing as anyone to watch for a few flakes when they’re predicted.

      On another subject, I thought you might like to tuck this photo into your files. You might find use for it some day.

  10. This English major gets a kick out of your poem, Linda — thank you for reworking this post and re-sharing it. I love that picture of Dixie Rose. Cats aren’t my thing, but there’s something special about a calico. And thanks for the term “turning.” I’d never heard that before, but I can empathize with the notion. That’s exactly what I do every year — watch the changing trajectory of sun and moon, notice the lengthening of daylight hours, and eagerly await Spring!!

    1. When I think about how many years it’s taken me to get this poem “just right” — or at least right enough to suit me — I have to laugh. It reminds me of what Annie Dillard said in The Writing Life: “I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.” I love that.

      Use of ‘turning’ for describing the movement of the seasons is old, but it’s been used popularly, too. I’ll bet you remember this song by the Byrds. The words may be from Ecclesiastes, but the refrain of ‘turning’ suits them perfectly.

  11. I am continually being transfixed by your words. I miss my cats and loved the description of Dixie Rose and her reaction to the paper and the changing weather. You describe the winter in such a way to make it seem more poetic than it really is. Your poem was magnificent. For all of that, Thank you.

    1. I’m especially glad you enjoyed the poem, John. As someone familiar with the editing/rewriting process, you can appreciate that it took some time to get it to the point where I was happy with it: several years, as a matter of fact. Sometimes letting a work simmer is just the right approach.

      Somehow I missed knowing that you had cats, or I’d forgotten it. I thought for a while about what a couple of cats could add to your household, and decided that might not be the best move. It was fun to think about, though.

      It occurs to me that if we view winter only in terms of the inconvenience it brings to our lives, it usually leads to prose — prose that’s often sprinkled with four letter words. But taking it on its own terms, and experiencing it as it is, sometimes reveals the poetry that’s hidden beneath all those drifts.

      1. Yes, we had two feral siblings who were bottle-fed and raised together. They loved our dogs and were with us for 15 years. Twiggy has a low tolerance for home invaders so I think another cat is out of the question. I liked your statement about viewing winter on its own terms. I think you could extend that to almost any inconvenience. There seems to be more poetry under most surfaces. It takes someone like yourself to pull it out and let it shine. I also understand how a piece of work might take time to polish. It has to be right with the author or it will never be satisfactory, no matter how others like it. You should be very proud of it at this point.

        1. I sometimes thought of getting another cat, just so Dixie would have some companionship. Then, I thought about her personality, and decided she probably was too set in her ways and too possessive for that to work. But, I made sure to provide plenty of play toys, and plenty of play time. It worked pretty well. I suspect your girls have the best of all possible worlds; they have each other, and you.

  12. I just now read your lovely post after writing my own for tomorrow about snowfall. The “storm” by passed us this time and hit those east of us but did leave 4-5 inches snow for us to enjoy. I smiled at your description of your calico who proved to be a good weather advisor. A cat we had when we lived in Oklahoma “warned” me about a tornado that headed our way, lifted up into the air and passed over us. I’ll never forget that or her.

    1. After reading your post, I’m glad snow-lover you got those four to five inches to enjoy. Context is everything; down here, that would have qualified as a blizzard.

      Have you written about your experience with that tornado? It must have been extraordinary. The erratic paths of tornadoes — one house taken, another untouched — is so odd. You were lucky to be among the untouched, at least housewise. I suspect it took a while to get over that one. How did your kitty warn you? Inquiring minds want to know! If you’ve not written about it on your blog, it would make a great post.

      1. How well I know what you mean about context when it comes to a “blizzard.” When we lived in Portland, Oregon, a mere inch or two of snow immobilized the city and everyone. But here, a blizzard is getting a foot or more of snow. In answer to your question about our tornado experience, I did write a post back in 2011. You can read it here if you like: https://mamasemptynest.wordpress.com/2011/04/28/when-nature-shows-no-mercy/
        Our kitty Jasmine sat on a window sill staring in the direction the tornado was coming from and suddenly she jumped down and darted into the walk-in closet with me where I had taken cover. In just a few seconds, it seemed, the windows started rattling and I heard the tornado overhead. Later, someone in our apartment complex related that he had watched it come across a wheat field on the side of our unit, then lift up into the air over our building. Scary indeed. And I’ll never forget it.

        1. I read your post; what an experience that was. Your brief description of the ways an approaching tornado can be sensed accords with my experience. We learned to look for green skies, too. They’re unmistakable.

          The first time I watched a live news broadcast on my first computer was in 1999: that horrible OKC tornado that seemed never to stop. It was such a strange experience: being witness to such destruction, and at the same time being utterly amazed that I could actually watch it from my desk. Of course, those were horse and buggy computer days: AOL, a dial-up connection, a CRT monitor and Windows 95!

          1. I remember the OKC tornado well. We have family who lived in the area at the time and were concerned about them. They were blessedly unscathed, but years later another one came through and hit all around them but left their property intact. A young adult family member, who was crazy enough to be a storm chaser, even managed to get a picture of it heading their way before they took refuge in their storm cellar. And oh yes, the horse and buggy days of computers — I remember how exciting it was when we got our first home computer in the early 90’s and hubby had a work computer in the 80’s. We’ve come a long way since then!

  13. Absolutely delightful, Linda, I am transported to a winter wonderland by your imagery. The Dixie Rose memories are especially moving: Our Leo, now 17, stopped eating for a few days this past week but he seems to have recovered fully. I suspect something interfered with his sense of smell, but don’t know for sure. He will almost certainly be our last pet and is a true treasure.

    1. You know something of winter, so I’m glad to have taken you there again. Not everyone considers winter wonderful, but for those of us who do, the missing of the season and its delights can be sharp.

      Dixie Rose was 18 when she died. It was a good, long life for a cat, and I’m so glad she went in only a few hours when the time came. I’m grateful I had those years with her. She taught me some important lessons. She was my first and last real pet; the squirrel and the prairie dog were fun, but both of them had the goal of total household domination rather than relationship!

      Speaking of wild animals, the possum I mentioned to you some months ago still is around, with that funny half-white tail never changing. Whatever the cause, it’s clearly not a problem.

  14. I was totally intoxicated by your descriptive behavior of Dixie Rose. I imagine that you miss in her in many ways and in others not that much. I have one dog out of a passel of pets, that can forecast the weather. However, I know when there is a going to be a weather change. I feel very fatigued- as if I can barely put one foot in front of the other if a norther or rain is coming. Love the poem by Bronte as well as the one that you wrote. Yours is quite interesting and as someone wrote perhaps you should think about getting some of your works published. Steve’s photos are simply wonderful. I recognized his work immediately without having to look for his signature.

    1. I can’t say I ‘miss’ Dixie Rose, but I certainly remember what a joy it was to have her here. I’d gladly have her back, but I don’t feel any need to try and fill her space with another cat. She was one of a kind, and I probably don’t have enough years left to develop another long-term relationship like the one I had with her.

      I have a friend who responds to changes in the barometric pressure much as you do. She lives in the hill country, and more than once I’ve called her for a weather update before heading that way. Her general ‘forecast’ usually accords with radio and tv, but she’s far more sensitive to smaller changes, and better at predicting the timing of frontal passages.

      It was years before I realized that any of the Brontës wrote poetry. When I found this one by Emily, I thought it perfectly evoked the nature of a rising storm. With mine, I tried to capture some of the silence that comes after snowfall: it’s some of the deepest silence in the world.

    1. As much as I enjoyed my years with Dixie, I’ve not been tempted toward another cat. For one thing, she was seriously low maintenance, without any vet bills apart from her yearly checkup and one tooth extraction. My budget wouldn’t allow for a high-maintenance cat. Food and litter are one thing, but those vet bills can add up.

      And of course there’s the new freedom being without her has brought. If I want to travel, there’s no need for a kitty-sitter, and hurricane evacuations will be far easier. Beyond that, there’s every chance another cat would outlive me. That brings its own kind of concerns.

  15. Your kitty must have a barometer in her head! Her antics with the tissue paper sound endearing. I love to watch cats play, so fun.
    Lovely prose to accompany Steve’s photos. Our area has 14″ of new snow, so hopefully, we’ll be seeing more of his fine work.

    1. Dixie Rose could be a playful thing, even into her latter years, and that tissue was the gift that kept on giving. She never tired of it. As for a barometer in her head, I suspect most animals are so blessed. One of the most interesting phenomena around here is the disappearance of birds prior to a tropical system. One minute they’re here, still fishing or perched in the neighborhood, and the next minute we realize they’re gone. Anyone who’s still around to see that they’re gone needs to consider getting gone, too!

  16. Linda, what sort of “feeling” did she have if it was a summer heat wave? or was it just storms?

    I think I would like to tear up some tissue paper – it’s very hot in Auckland, New Zealand right now…although I have just put the air-con on (late arvo) that will certainly dull the inside to a nice temperature.

    1. She responded to storms with varying levels of anxiety, but she responded to summer mostly with lethargy. Her favorite spot in summer was a large wash basin from an old chamber set. I always knew when summer was coming; she’d begin lying in that cool china bowl rather than on the sofa. In autumn, it was just the reverse; she’d abandon her bowl and begin looking for patches of sunlight. Here’s that dish-kitty.

  17. “But I want to SEE the storm!”, I told Dad as he boarded up the windows with 3/4″ plywood. (Hurricane Donna – 1960.)

    Blizzards in Florida – never experienced one. Hurricanes. They evoke the same anticipation, anxiety, nervous activity. I still want to be out in the weather as it’s happening. Sanity prevails. That and a strong wife.

    Our time living in upstate New York and Europe provided plenty of interaction with snow and ice. Storms of any sort have many similarities. How we and our cats and dogs handle them make all the difference.

    Absolutely lovely writing!

    I was struck by the different perspectives presented on a winter storm. Emily made me want to cower under the quilt. You, on the other hand, had me ready to go for a hike. Right after diagramming all those sentences …

    1. Your desire to see the storm reminds me of my mother prior to Hurricane Rita. Mom thought it would be cool to stay and see what a real hurricane was like. I finally gave up cajoling and went straight to steely-eyed, clenched-jaw demands, and we made it out just in time.

      On the other hand, there’s something about a storm that does draw people to the coast, just for a look. And some do decide to stay. One old man on Bolivar refused to leave for Ike. As he put it, the Gulf had been his life, and if it was going to be his death — well, so be it. He sat out on his front porch drinking beer, and sure enough, when it was over he was gone.

      I hadn’t consciously thought about the difference in tone between Emily’s poem and mine, but it’s there. Good for you for catching it, and mentioning it. Snuggling up has a lot to commend it, but there’s more to see on a hike.

  18. Thank you for including my images with your wonderful prose and poem, Linda…Brontë’s also. I have not the gift of writing so agree with Eliza’s comment above that it is nice to have your words accompany them to expand their meaning.

    Dixie Rose was adorable with that beautiful inquisitive mien. Bentley shares her habit of tearing up papers although in his case it’s chewing rather than shredding. Animals do have a sense we often do not about changing weather. In the wild it is a force of survival and in our homes, I guess, a force of disturbance from the expected.

    1. I’m glad you’re such a willing collaborator, Steve. Somehow the photos I have of snow-dustings on palm trees just wouldn’t convey the same sense of ‘winter.’ I just heard on the news that we have some truly cold weather possible at the end of next week. If nothing else, I may get some ice in the bird bath.

      You might enjoy seeing Dixie’s way of marking the change of seasons. When she was young, she discovered the pleasures of an old china bowl that was part of a chamber set. For years after that, it was a favorite spot in summer, but when autumn arrived, she’d exchange the bowl for the sofa, and that was it, until it got warm again in spring. See?

      1. She looked sweet wherever she decided to curl up I’d bet. But that bowl must have been chilly at first compared to a nice warm box.
        We continue to mostly be milder than our average winter…although this winter, when averaged with all the others, will alter what average is next year. We’ve a little snow in the forecast and March often offers one good storm before spring arrives. I hope your birds have some tiny skates so they can enjoy the birdbath.

  19. A powerful blend of verse and visuals indeed.

    What is it that makes us associate winter with passivity? Interestingly, it is the winter months that heralds rejuvenation and creativity. And life is really all about that.


    1. I’ve always enjoyed pairing words and images. Either can stand on their own, of course, but there are times when the result seems perfect.

      I suspect there are multiple reasons for the sense of passivity. For farmers and gardeners, it’s a fallow time; a season for letting both earth and body recover. (Granted, there still is livestock to feed and equipment to repair, but the constant labor of the growing season’s relieved.) And in truly cold country, there’s nothing more pleasurable than being inside with a fire and a warm drink while the winds howl.

  20. I love your line ‘parses out cold stars along a tracery of oak’ – it puts a very vivid image in my mind. Your writing and Steve’s images combine very pleasingly. And your lovely Dixie Rose sounds like she was a fun companion – I wonder if my two would enjoy some tissue paper.

    1. The nice thing about trying tissue paper with your kitties is that it’s one of the least expensive tricks in the book. If they don’t like the first sheets, you can use the rest in gift parcels.

      Just as it can be convenient to have a friend with a tractor, it’s good to have photographer friends in different climates. It’s much more fun to introduce people to Steve than to just pull a snow photo off an image sharing site. I know only one photographer who states very clearly that he won’t allow use of his images for any purpose, but he says so up front on his site, so that’s fine.

      1. I think a lot of photographers will be OK with their images being used if they’re asked – that makes a huge difference! I’ve found some interesting blogs through others linking to their work – and it gives a strong community feel.

  21. As happy as I usually am about being far away from winter storms, I do on occasion look fondly upon those days of hibernating in the house, warm and cozy, watching the snow pile up outside. These days, especially this past week, I make do with the images my daughter sends of her winter wonderland views of lamp-lit Boston outside her own windows.

    Cute kitty, serene images, and your usual fine words.

    1. This was the year I finally came to terms with the fact that I’m never going to be living in snow country again. The daughter of a friend lives in Maine, and I gave her my wonderful sheared mouton jacket. I’ve had it since college, and adored it, but I haven’t worn it since 1973 — time to let go, wouldn’t you say? The daughter sends her own snow-bound photos to her mom, who feels just like you: it’s nice to remember those days, but it’s easier to live down here.

      This just occurred to me: this post might fall into the category of fan fiction.

  22. Life is short, art long, and winter even longer.

    I’ve never seen that line before and am taken with the last part of it. This is turning into the longest winter I’ve experienced yet, to a point where I’d welcome a big old snowstorm just for the change of pace. As long as we were safe inside…

    1. You haven’t seen that line before because I made it up: at least, the hiems longius part of it. A friend who knows languages advised me that it should be hiems longior. What I learned in Latin class lingers, but lightly. Here’s what Steve had to say:

      “After I saw your hiems longius I got to thinking about the declensions of Latin adjectives, whose forms may have weakened but are still mostly retrievable from memories my brain formed in 1960 or 1961. I recalled that for longus the comparative splits between longior and longius, with longius for the neuter gender and longior doubling for the masculine and feminine gender. (I checked online to make sure I remembered correctly.) What I didn’t recall was the gender of hiems; when I looked it up I found it to be feminine. As a result, “winter [is] longer” would be “hiems longior [est],” with longior coincidentally coming out pretty similar to English ‘longer.’

      And there you have one reason I love blogging as I do. There’s always an opportunity to learn from my readers.

  23. Thank you for this visit into the world of Dixie Rose, whose “commentary” I miss in your posts. She and Lizzie share the same storm issues, though I think Dixie Rose probably was far more astute — and with good reason; she lived through far more dangerous and complicated storms than Lizzie. That said, when the thunder rolls, at we are at the lake, she heads straight to the linen closet in hopes I will open it for her — and I do, where she hunkers down amidst sheets and beach towels, washclothes and blankets till the storm ends or it’s dinner time.

    I love your poem and I’m so glad you shared it with us. You say this is an older post but I don’t remember it (these days, everything old is new again!) so thank you for that and the lovely photos, too.

    1. I laughed at Lizzie hunkering down “till the storm ends, or it’s dinnertime.” Hunger trumps fear more often than not, I’d say. A linen closet would be a perfect hidey-hole, though: soft, warm, and dark.

      I’m thinking you must be experiencing some winter-like weather yourself. I heard on the radio this morning that the coldest spot in the nation was in the UP. You’re going to be glad you still have some snow people around; you could read the poems to them!

  24. A wide choice of subjects to think about. We had a cat for many years that preferred living on our roof. We had to always climb a pair of steps to leave food for her on the roof. I think she felt secure there and of course was close to bird watching as well.
    As for those lovely winter photos; how can sun laden summer photos ever compete? That harsh blue sky and bright sands? Give me the muted winter anytime. The snow laden tree branches! Such a lovely post, Linda.

    1. For some reason, it surprised me that you had a cat. I suppose I’ve read so much about Milo he’s the one I always think about. It was good of you to go the extra mile — or the extra steps, at least — to provide for the creature. You’re certainly right that a rooftop provides both a good vantage point and a little protection — as long as the raptors aren’t flying about.

      Your affection for winter certainly reflects your time in the Netherlands. I can’t remember; did you and Helvi live in Finland for a time, or only visit? I was thinking of her when I came across the traditional “Ievan Pollka“. Do you know it? I’m going to put together a post about it; it’s some of the best feel-good music in the world.

      1. Yes, I lived in Finland for about 9 months, Linda. Thank you for remembering Helvi. It was a great time and I learned a lot about that wonderful country.

        Even though the polka is popular, even at least as popular is the tango. The Finns also love the tango.
        They are also very big on coffee drinking.
        And then there is Sibelius and his violin concerto. I could go on forever.

        I look forward to your post on the Ievan Polka.

  25. This is definitely a spectacular post in all respects — your prose, the poetry, the photos — I love it! I, too, experienced that spellbound feeling in Arizona one afternoon when I looked out my window to see a sandstorm in the distance filling the sky and headed my way. I was hypnotized and could only stand there as the sky darkened over our house and bits of sand somehow found ways to make entrance.

    1. I’ve reworked the poem over the years, and now I’m happy with it. I changed one word in it this time, and it’s funny how much difference it made — for me, at least. And Steven’s photos have been a treat for years. He’s a good friend, and a wonderful photographer.

      The closest I’ve gotten to a sandstorm is the Saharan dust that fills our sky from time to time. I have seen photos and videos of the ones that roll through the Panhandle, and it’s quite something. I can only imagine what it was like to clean up after something like that — or what it was like to see it approaching.

  26. You’ve captured the essence of winter and storms quite well here. Your prose on winter is beautifully accurate, and Steve’s images complete the feeling. I bet you miss Dixie Rose and all of her quirky little habits and ways. Most animals are quite intuitive and sensible about finding shelter from storms. I shall never forget awakening at 3:00 in the morning last summer, to loud clomping of hooves on the back porch. I opened the shades to find Tukker deer folding his legs and plopping down on the decking. I had never seen him on the back porch other than to come for an apple or carrot during the daylight hours. Not two minutes later, a hail storm hit, and the hail balls fell for more than 45 minutes off and on. And then, just a minute after the hail stopped, Tukker leapt off of the porch and into the night. I can only conclude that he sensed the weather was coming, that he knew he’d be safe under the shelter of the porch, and he knew when the danger of the storm passed. I believe we humans have that same instinct, we just don’t tune in most of the time.

    1. I certainly remember the downside of Iowa winters, but the pleasures always outweighed them, even at the time. I like remembering it all — the shoveling, the ice skating, the swirling snow under the lights during a blizzard, the frozen door locks… Well, maybe not that.

      Your tale of Tukker on the porch made me smile. A friend in Florida had a horse that sought refuge in her house during a hurricane. As I recall, the horse was made to stay on her porch rather than in the living room, but she said the same thing you have: that he just seemed to have a sense that things weren’t right, and a little extra caution was needed.

      I think you’re right about human insensitivity to weather, too. You spend so much time outdoors that you’ve obviously developed your weather sense, and that’s especially important in a state where tornadoes can roam around during part of the year.

  27. What a sweet cat she was! I’ve never had one, so I didn’t realize that cats reacted to bad weather the same way dogs do. And I loved your description of Winter storms…it’s so true, part of us dreads them and another part is fascinated by them. It’s those dull days in between the storms that can be so hard to endure, with their cold and darkness and not much happening to distract us. (And hasn’t Covid made that worse, since we can’t even go eat in a cozy restaurant on a cold and gloomy Winter night?) Still, Spring will eventually arrive and Covid had better plan on eventually leaving!

    1. Dixie Rose was beautiful, and a little odd. I rescued her from a home with young boys who tormented her, so she had some ‘issues,’ like never wanting to be picked up, and she never was a lap kitty. But she always stayed close, and was a gem when it came to behavior. She never clawed anything, she refused any food but her own, and she didn’t jump on tables or counters. Purr-fect!

      As for those in-between days, the dull days, you’ve brought to mind one of my favorite stories. Annie Leibovitz’s photo of Nixon leaving the White House is one of the most famous from that time, but she didn’t photograph him. Instead, she caught the helicopter leaving, and the carpet being rolled up. This is what she said about it:

      “When Nixon walked down the red carpet towards the helicopter that would take him away, there were dozens of press photographers, most of them shooting with long lenses to get in tight, since the news magazines didn’t have room for larger pictures. Everyone pretty much moved away after Nixon was inside the helicopter and the door was closed. The guards began rolling up the carpet. It wasn’t the kind of picture that most magazines would want to run or had room to run then, but a lot can be told in those moments in between the main moments.”

      Those “moments in between the main moments” often can be the most interesting.

  28. A great post and poem, and Steve’s images are great. Winter hasn’t been long here, it just arrived last week, with a cold spell dipping to single digits, and more than a foot of snow. Before that it was mild, in the 40s.

    1. Mild, you say? I guess I’ll forgo mumbling about the highs in the 40s we’re supposed to have in about a week. Things are starting to bud, and we need some cooler and damper weather to slow things down until we’re really in spring. I wouldn’t mind one or two more cold, wet, and gloomy weeks. It’s been so mild we’ve stayed green, and it feels like we’ve missed winter. I just was in the mood to experience it by proxy!

  29. Your calico is so cute. And don’t we all share that feeling of both anxiety and fascination with a storm. As for myself I am in the middle of a unusual winter with temperatures down to 5 degrees. And for weeks now. I really enjoy it.

    1. I hope you’ve had some snow to go with that cold! I don’t particularly enjoy cold weather at this point in my life, but if it arrived with snow, I’d be out there in the middle of it by choice as well as necessity.

      I’ve been a little amused in the past few days by people’s response to our forecast. We’re not expecting a storm, but it may drop below freezing — significantly so, according to some forecasters. It seems that any change can evoke that anxiety/fascination response: even an arctic blast.

  30. Thanks for this and the invitation to think of winter as a language. It certainly speaks to me! I am just back from a skiing adventure. This winter the cold has been sharp enough to allow the snow to stick around, which makes the world a little bit lighter – no small mercy this year. And while some lament the cold, I am happy for bright days, hearing a hint of hope in the days.

    1. Properly dressed, cold’s bearable, and properly equipped, it can be great fun, whether that equipment is a sled, a pair of ice skates, or some skis. Even feet will serve if needs be! It’s strange that I remember cold and snow with such affection, and yet never would move north to live in it again. Age surely has something to do with it, but maybe those who say a few decades in the subtropics thins the blood are right, after all.

  31. When I was young and green….
    I feared not storms, floods or blizzards, frost and ice, I revelled in them. I went out to let the elements buffet me, toss me about. I laughed out loud measuring my strengths against all weathers.

    Oh, those were the days.

    Now I am afraid that tall trees in the garden might fall, that I might slip on ice, that floods might cut me off from help.

    Oh dear, oh dear me.

    1. You sound like a sailor, letting those elements buffet and toss you about. That sort of experience certainly was a part of sailing’s appeal for me. I well remember my first experience of night sailing in heavy weather; it was a test of psychological strength as well as physical.

      Now, age and other interests have led me away from boats, but I still work outdoors in the cold of winter and heat of summer; if the tests are different, they’re still a way to measure myself. Part of the trick is not allowing others’ fears to influence me. I’m surrounded by people — in life, online, in the news — who insist that ‘old people’ are fragile, incapable, incompetent. Some surely are, and the vicissitudes of life certainly bring accidents, illness, and ill fortune to us. But too much of my mother’s favorite game, which I called What-Iffing, can lead to a different kind of paralysis — or irrational behavior. I try to watch for it, and root it out where it appears.

  32. This was a beautiful read, full of so much life. I love winter and her storms. Summer and hurricanes, not at all. Your calico reminds me of one of my calico cats (Bella) who also loves tissue paper, but it is her sister (Izzy) who predicts the storms around here.

    1. Despite my love of winter, I can be ambivalent about some of her gifts: ice, for example. But like you, I’m never ambivalent about hurricanes. Their drama isn’t worth the cost. It’s interesting to me how many cats love tissue. I suspect the noises it makes while it’s being ‘disassembled’ is part of the charm!

  33. You got it just right about the “fear and fascination” that we feel about storms. And I love the tissue paper story. I know you still think of her. Our cat, Gypsy, used to sit in the middle of the kitchen floor and sway back and forth and meowing with me as I sang “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.” Pets all have their own personalities.

    1. Right now, fear and fascination are battling it out as we await an honest-to-goodness bit of winter: below freezing temps, sleet, freezing rain, and maybe snow. When I wrote this, I didn’t mean for Mother Nature to take it as an invitation to come visit!

      I didn’t realize that you and Jeanie had cats with the same name. They’re such wonderful companions. I know dog people sometimes think cats are boring, or aloof, or untrainable, but they really aren’t. I do miss Dixie, and would enjoy having another around, but occasionally I made a rational decision. I might foster some day, but another long-term commitment’s not in the books. It’s not guaranteed I’ll live another eighteen years — the time that I had Dixie.

  34. Beautiful poem! The b/w photos somehow make it look colder. I haven’t researched on the origin of Valentine’s Day, but now looking at your winter pics and winter poem, I just wonder why this special day of Love falls on a day in February, of all the warmer months of the year. Just thinking…

    1. The short explanation is that there were saints — maybe three — known as Valentinus, back in Roman times. One (maybe all?) were martyred for doing things like performing Christian marriages. But it was Chaucer who first mentioned a “Valentine’s Day” as a romantic occasion. Eventually, all the traditions we know grew up around it. As I recall, it was celebrated in February because a pagan holiday celebrated at the same time was ‘Christianized.’ It’s a long way from Chaucer to candy hearts!

      It’s cold here — 12F just now. We had ice yesterday, and sleet and snow overnight. I drank coffee while watching it snow this morning. Now the sun’s out, but we’re not going to get above freezing for a couple of days. There are birds and dog walkers out, but that’s about it.

      1. Thanks for the background story! And wow that is cold for you down so south. Take care. We’re warming up now at -18C, so am driving out to visit my avian friends.

  35. I thoroughly enjoyed this literary celebration of the winter storm, Linda. The poems were wonderful. And I espec. found your words the most moving. Starting out with the paragraphs about your calico and the tissue paper, and then the storms she felt coming was dynamite, my friend. And your words about winter storms in general, and how we react as humans to them, was a joy as well. Stephen Gingold’s photos were a wonderful additional touch.

    1. The past couple of days, it’s been interesting to compare what I wrote with what we’re experiencing. There’s snow all across Texas, and sub-freezing temperatures, and unfortunately we’ve got more cold than pretty snow. Up in Austin and San Antonio, they have much more attractive bad weather just now — although it has started snowing here again, and it’s fun to be watching the flakes come down. For the people without power, it’s going to be a struggle, though. Part of our problem is that the grid has lost a good bit of the power generated by wind — the windmills iced up and stopped working. Ah, those unforeseen difficulties!

  36. Marvelous read for February in Texas! I’ll read this to my calico when she wakes … her weather sense is to just sleep through whatever. Our heat’s on, but we’re w/o water. Guess who prefers to drink from the bathroom faucet – she’ll be distressed when she wakes. A good read might pull her focus away from the faucet …

    1. Aren’t calicos the best? I smiled at yours and her faucet-drinking. Dixie Rose didn’t drink from the faucets, but she went through a three or four year period of loving to jump into the bathtub when it was filling. She jumped out when it got to three or four inches deep; it was the funniest thing ever.

      I hope you have water by now. I saw tonight that St. David’s South was having to evacuate 300 patients because of a lack of heat and water, and that other hospitals are having water issues that affect procedures like dialysis. That has to be traumatic for the patients, and so difficult for staff. I just hope that by the weekend you’re back to some semblance of normal!

  37. Thank you bringing out this rich tasty again. Too good to be left in cold storage. I’m curious about myself in relation to Bronte poem. If I have read it before, I don’t remember it; however, at my age it means a lot to me. Perhaps I will not forget again. Nobody better than you at using words to make me fall in love with a cat.

    1. I didn’t come across the Bronte poem until a decade or so ago, and it’s one that’s really stayed with me. I don’t know why I find it comforting, but I do. Maybe with age we’ve faced down so many storms we understand her lines in a way a youngster usually doesn’t. I don’t know. But I love it, and I’m glad it appealed to you. As for Dixie Rose, she’s sending you a purr from the Great Beyond. She was standoffish by nature, but she always loved an appreciative word or gesture.

    1. How wonderful that you have access to that sort of landscape. There used to be a British photographer who posted; he was a climber, and his photos of climbs in the Alps and elsewhere were breathtaking. I admired them, but confess I had no desire to follow in his footsteps!

          1. Last time we really went to the mountains was january 2020! Since then had many full lockdown in which we were not allowed to go out of home if not for a very urgent reason like buying food or medical issues. Then we had semi lockdown, allowed to go out but not to leave our town…it was hard, difficult and scaring but better times will come and the Alps are still there.

            1. Yes, we can depend on nature to endure. Things are improving steadily here, as more receive the vaccine. I hope the same for you; all of us need comfortable human contact as much as the mountains!

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