Christmas

Our white Christmas held, though temperatures hovered on the edge of snowmelt. The longest night of the year was past, hours of daylight not obviously growing but very clearly not shrinking any more. Doug put on his Santa hat to bring cookies to the neighbors; I queued up my extensive playlist of Christmas music.

b-lightsThis holiday means many things to many people, and nothing annoys one group like being told what it means to another. The Christian, the Secular, the Druidical, all sides have made arguments for ownership. The central factor in everybody’s story is light overcoming darkness, yet there are partisans unwilling to concede even that their stories have a central factor, let alone what it is. Trying to convince each other of the truth of your faith is difficult, because religious feeling is like love. When you love someone, you know it – it has perhaps hit you over the head with great insistence – but when you try to explain it to somebody else, well, you sound like a babbling idiot. Why do you love him? Because he’s wonderful. This is woefully lacking in detail. The only way anyone will understand it is, if they have been or are in love themselves, and recognize the futility of explanation. Emotional truth is not susceptible to logical argument.

I find that readings of the Christmas story don’t do much for me, with their words that fly in the face of experience. But carols are something else. The music carries with it the feelings of hope, of yearning for goodness, for love, for reassurance that life will go on, that are the universal aspirations of humankind. Music, like love, rises above the need for explanation.

fogWe woke up on the 26th to a warm rain and a world of fog. A row of deer stood in the backyard, silhouettes barely visible in the mist, like Santa’s off shift taking a well-earned break. It will be cold and snowy again, and soon, but today the grass stands up for the deer to graze, and no wind blows. Life is good.

 

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Winter Done Right

The sun has come out and the snow is all sparkles, glitter, sequins, and blue shadows, never settling on being just one kind of thing, keeping its options open. It looks so substantial I’m surprised to find my boots sinking into it when I step onto the porch. With a few light sweeps of my broom it flies off like a flock of startled birds rising into the air together, but I see that where I stepped before sweeping, the broom has left behind a perfect, icy image of my bootsole on the concrete. Once I noticed this I took a few steps here and there, sweeping in between, checking it out, until there was something like a dance chart on my doorstep. How to tango with the snow.

Squirrels do seem to pass mostly over the top of it, leaving shallow imprints. Deer leave deep trails that look like they’ve been cross-country skiing. deer trails – Version 2Winter dark comes so early and lasts so long, I don’t see much of the actual deer in late December. I see evidence of them written in the snow, a perfect map to the Deer Highway System, its on-ramps, and its rest stops. These are color photos, but look black and white because I took them at dusk, standing on my balcony looking down. No people walked across this yard. Some other animal tracks are mixed in there, but it’s mainly the deer, high-stepping when they leap with hurry, slow-dragging when they take their time. They prospect in the herb garden, but are disappointed in what they find. deer tracks twoThis is why the plants there are still standing. But the herd increases every year, so the deer know what they’re doing.

Winter is easy to deal with in Michigan because the inhabitants know it well. Streets are plowed, sidewalks are shovelled, and people who can’t be cheerful in the cold leave for Florida. I knew it was a good sign when I realized the state was shaped like a mitten.

Finally, Snow

The first snowstorm of the season arrived, on a Sunday, like a sacrament. We were waiting, wondering what happened to it, and then it fell all day, all night, over the tired, empty flowerpots of November, until their frost-wilted remains, no longer a rebuke, were transfigured. first snow 2We heard the plow scraping in the night as it passed under the second-story bedroom window, and woke to find every twig of each tree made bold with a thick white brushstroke. Monday morning dawned to ten inches of stacked and powdery snow altering shapes and altering perception: a forgotten cushion, an upturned tub, a sledding hill for hardy squirrels, all these were potential to every windblown drift. School, we heard, would be cancelled. Is there such a thing as a child who does not root for the snow?

Zerlina is a California cat. The first time she saw snow falling, she pressed against the window and craned her neck, trying to see up into the sky for whatever was causing this unknown phenomenon. It could have been a flock of big white birds shedding their feathers; I like to think she was hoping for that. We opened a door for our transplanted indoor cat, pretty sure she wouldn’t go far. She took two steps out into the snow, stopped, took the same two steps back – unstepping them – and went and stood on the heat register. She has shown occasional interest since then, and even tested the snow another time or two. Finding it equally cold on each occasion, she has since decided snow is best ignored.

Later in the season I will agree with her, but the first snows show you all over again how beautiful everything is if you stop to look at it. Each of the four seasons does this as it shifts, and it’s luscious to wallow in having these changes right at your door, no driving into mountains or deserts required. They come miraculously, automatically, a gift just for existing. By March I will be hungry for spring, but though I might prefer to adjust the number of months allowed each season – more to autumn, say, or cut February altogether – I do not want to do without them. They restore, inspire, refresh and reanimate as they rotate the world through its possibilities, and I go along for the ride.

Winterizing

The first week of December marks, for me, the end of fall and start of winter. I toss out the pumpkins, which usually means wading through snow either to reach the compost pile, or to pick a squirrel-worthy spot where I can watch the process of discovery. wayward harvestBut so far this year snow has been a casual visitor, stopping in for tea and gone again in a matter of hours. Fall temperatures linger, but as hours of daylight continue their decline the garden drifts deeper and deeper into sleep.

The catmint is still green. I step in it on purpose, so my cat will flip all over my feet when I go back in the house. In the garden I fasten down the lid on the cold frame to keep the wind from catching it and pulling it off.

Kicking up leaves instead of making snowy footprints as I walk into the woods, I’m looking out for forgotten tools when the first thing I find is a surprise – a dead elm tree has fallen over. When did this happen? I didn’t hear a thing, which I guess proves that if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, it falls just the same. Though it’s possible one of the neighbors heard it.

Doug’s in the front yard putting in snow stakes to guide our plow service through the curve of the driveway, keeping them off the flowerbeds.

“Did you hear the tree fall in the back yard?” I ask.

“What tree?” he says, ambiguously. I bring him around back to affirm this independent action taken by the universe. He sizes it up and figures he can get about half of it with his chain saw. Home-grown firewood, an unexpected crop.

All the garden tools are hibernating safely in the garage, the squirrels have already found the pumpkins, and a cardinal, bright ornament, sits looking down on them, interested in the seeds. This evening a few deer will join them, breaking up the harder rinds with their sharp hoofs, and together they will dispose of this wayward harvest before enough snow falls to cover it.