A Cold Winter, Good for All SoulsJanuary 18th, 2013 © by Susan Swartz
Instead of our usual Winter Lite we are having record cold. A cold snap, they call it. Nothing as punishing as in other parts of the country. A Kansan might poo-poo how we fret over our lemon tree, wrapped up like a dowager on a cruise ship. A New Englander might not share my delight in how my neighbor’s frosted roof glimmers in the dawn.
I relish the cold. I’m glad that our winter has strongly declared itself this year. I like a two blanket night and the dog under the covers. A fast hike in the bright cold. A hot tea afternoon with a good book.
We celebrated the winter solstice in December with candles and hot pepper soup, a toast to the shortest day of the year. After the solstice the daylight would grow but there would also be more winter. I reread Mary Oliver’s poem about winter coming. ”So let us go on though the sun be swinging east and ponds be cold and black,” she wrote in “Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness.” To me, the message is that the earth and maybe humanity need the darkness in order to start again. “In order that it may resume,” she said.
In winter we warm our hands in each others coat pockets. We sit by the wood stove, which, in our case, is really a gas burner with faux red coals. And huddle under my mother-in-law’s nubby apricot blanket, all wool, made in the USA. I call it “the Eloise,” as in “it’s freezing in here, where’s the Eloise?”
When a friend died his Native American soul-mate instructed those who had gathered at the hospital to go back to his home and build a small wood fire in the yard. It should keep burning for at least four days, and it would be the obligation, he said, not of the family, but of friends, to tend the fire. That fire has now been going for a week, there being no pummeling rain to douse it and enough friends with firewood to contribute. It stays lit from the last log at night to the first one in the morning.
Visitors toss weeds and herbs into the fire – sprigs of sage, rosemary and lavender that haven’t shriveled up in the overnight freezes. It’s a fine way to pay one’s respect and comfort each other. I think the idea is to encourage the spirit of the dead on its journey. This fire also lifts the spirits of the living.
People stand around the fire, warm their hands and swap stories about our cowboy-reporter-conservationist friend.
Winter gives us a close-up look at nature. The hydrangea bushes dropped all their leaves together in one night, like dancers fluffing their skirts. Every morning the dog and I pass the rose bush down the street, all twigs but for one tattered red bloom. The birds come close in winter if you wait quietly. I stand at my kitchen sink and nibble toast while they breakfast ’round the bird-feeder.
Our days will warm up, we count on that here. But there will be more winter, more birds and stories, and then like Mary Oliver promises, we will resume.