Let us now consider winter, the iron-jawed season in which we currently find ourselves.
You hear it said that there are only so many themes in art: man against nature, man against man, man against his own stubborn slow-to-learn self.
So, too, are there are only so many topics for the general-interest newspaper column, “the passage of time,” “our wacky culture” and “these gosh darn kids” being three of them.
A fourth topic, “the seasons,” is a favorite one of mine. Accordingly, let us now consider winter, the iron-jawed season in which we currently find ourselves.
Winter buried us last week.
Not even halfway through its first full month, it put snow on the ground in 49 of our 50 states.
It sent a storm that thoroughly trounced the South, then rolled on up the coast to join forces with a second storm and pin the North down, too.
We had a 30-inch birdbath when I was little that stood sentry in our yard through fair weather and foul. “Check the birdbath!” the grownups would call out once a snowstorm had passed, because the birdbath was our marker: its top hat of snow measured exactly how much we would have to shovel.
When, in my early 40s, we closed my childhood home, I brought the birdbath to my current yard and, well, I’ll just say this: I suppose it’s still out there, but it’s still buried completely.
The snow fell so thick and fast the tree branches bent under the weight. Then the temperature dropped, the wind came up and what were once flakes turned to stinging steel pellets that broke many of the branches the snows had bent.
Our sweet old lilac bush lost its whole middle section. It was here 50 years ago, as I learned by looking at old pictures, and maybe it was here for 50 years before that.
Anyway it is gone now, or mostly gone.
And a full week after the storm, the world is still dipped in thick white batter.
Snow crunches underfoot and covers up our boots.
And yet for most of this last week the days have dazzled. The sunsets have flashed like crystal.
And when night has come on, it has come with such a dark beauty it thrills the soul as starlight spills on all that white.
“Do you BELIEVE this? It’s like Antarctica!” I said to a stranger whose path crossed mine outside the hardware store.
“No it isn’t, silly! It’s like Vermont!” she said back, which made both of us laugh, I guess because my reaction was so typical. All too often after a big snowstorm we panic, convincing ourselves that no snows like these have ever fallen and that we will never again see green grass or feel the soft moist earth.
That’s when it’s time to turn to those who are best at observing nature.
I turn to Robert Frost, whose poem “The Onset” closes on this hopeful note.
I know that winter death has never tried
The earth but it has failed: the snow may heap
In long storms an undrifted four feet deep
As measured again maple, birch, and oak,
It cannot check the peeper's silver croak;
And I shall see the snow all go down hill
In water of a slender April rill.”
Read the lines once and then go back and read them aloud. The rocking beat comforts as much as the words and reminds us of what we already know: that nothing ever stands still really; that even the bitterest winters give way at last to spring.
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