Thursday, January 27, 2011

Winter's Contrast

Winter brings a stillness and beauty all its own. Early morning, deep-purple skies against the lacey frost cover of a new day leave me speechless as do snowladen trees and drifts so high they make you wish you were a kid again.

In stark contrast, winter brings a harshness that dares you to survive. White-outs; frozen pipes; sub-zero temperatures that make the house crack; power outages; cars that won't start; highways turned ice rinks; school closings that ruin morning's routine and a mother's patience; cancelled flights; runny noses; and boots that really don't keep your feet warm. Old Man Winter keeps it coming; teasing us with sunrises and sunsets that are a photographer's dream while bringing us to the point of despair-almost.

Whenever it seems that winter is winning the battle I remember what my grandparents and their six daughters endured in winter's grip-back when winter was winter. They certainly had more snow; drifts so high they reached the top of the back woodshed. There were no fancy snowblowers to clear a path. Shovels did the trick. My mother used to tell how she and her sisters would huddle around a floor register in a bedroom above the kitchen. Heat from the woodstove below would provide the only heat in the house. They'd dress quickly and run down the backstairs to the kitchen.

Before bundling up and walking to the one-room school up the road, my mother had to bundle up and walk down the back hill, over the flatrock hidden under ice and snow; then up the buried pathway to the barn surrounded by drifts. The barn itself, with cracks in its woodframe allowing bits of snow to get inside, had no source of heat unless you counted cow pies freshly dropped on the floor and hay serving as both a food source and insulation.

My grandfather, bundled up in a fur coat and cap, would harvest ice from the river; then bring the chunks by horse and flat-bedded sleigh to another barn and store them there in sawdust. They'd have ice usually through the summer. Those were hard winter days with no technology to help. But they were tough. They went into that bitter cold every single day and did what they had to do to get to the next day. Of course my grandmother's cooking, started in the early morning as the snow fell and north wind demanded their attention, was certainly a reason to endure the elements-at least to the dinner hour.

Thoughts of those who lived in that farmhouse, surviving winter's furry, is what just got me through four long days with frozen water pipes. When something as basic as water coming out of a faucet is taken away it is a reminder how spoiled we are with our push-buttons and downloads and tweets and twitters and energy-efficient windows and furnaces.I bet those sitting around the kitchen table in that farmhouse with winter trying to get in felt a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day-not because of any technology but because they worked as one. There's something to be said about hard work-even better when it's a family doing it.

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