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.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ahhh Sweet January!

January has always been my favorite month. Yes, I'm serious-my most favorite month and the older I get the more favorite it becomes. There's no single reason why. When I was younger I'm sure it had lots to do with digging into all those Christmas presents just received even though the vacation ended and the school bus was rolling again. Didn't it seem back then that it'd been forever since you'd seen your classmates? After all, it'd been since the year before! Remember how everyone was wearing brand new clothes even if they didn't quite fit?

Included in all the loot my cousins and I'd collected Christmas morning, there most always was something for playing outdoors. Not that we needed toys or props. The outdoors was our year-round playground all on its own. Winter was the best season. Back hills became Olympic mountains perfect for wooden skiis with wooden poles. Simple skiis that you slipped your snow boot into-the front of a boot fitting into a single leather strap. Then off you went on adventurous runs that not even the real Olympics could top.

Just up the road a bit was a bigger hill with a toe line. My aunt and uncle would pack all of us in a car. Then they'd tie a toboggan to the top along with some of those skiis and off we'd go. Both my aunt and uncle were skiers. I remember doing the snowplow down the hill thinking I wanted to ski as beautifully as my aunt way ahead of me-working her way down to the bottom like a swan dancing on water. Later we'd have hot chocolate and saltines in an adjacent country restaurant while our boots and snowpants dried before we headed home.

Of course the creek was where Olympic-style ice skating competitons were held after school-all weekend long and into the night. Going at top speed was exhilarating unless you caught a skate on a clump of reeds!

That uncle of ours was always outside too. Sometimes he'd make us forts out of blocks of snow. We'd make a whole bunch of snowballs. We'd have them ready just in case. We'd carve out peek holes in our forts-making us able to spy on any approaching enemy. We'd divide the fort into areas. There'd be places for secret stuff. Places to store our food supply. Those forts lasted into spring when they'd be replaced by tents that'd get too hot in the summer sun.

January is still my most favorite month of all. I love the snow. I love the harshness and breathtaking beauty of winter. Its stillness fills me with hope. Inspires me. Its freshness invigorates me. Fields decorated in shimmering diamonds-cornstalks left haphazardly-abandoned old barns surrounded by snowdrifts like blankets against the elements add to my feeling Winter in the country is possibly the closest thing to heaven on earth-if you take into consideration making those snow angels underneath millions of dancing silver stars. Ahh sweet January-sweet, sweet January!