Westcliffe is bone cold. – -15 degrees farenheit this morning – a morning like weeks of others. It is the kind of cold that makes you wish that your fingers were fatter. Gloves don’t quite cut it. My hands are bloodless. I look at them: they appear to be those of a cadaver. Or those of a manikin. Or artificial blue hands straight from the hospital freezer and buttoned onto my wrists.
We keep adding insulation to the house. Every year the house is warmer, yet every year I’m colder. I am haunted by childhood memories of going to my grandparents’ house. It was like walking into an oven. In the winter, their house was warm and close – as close as an over-stuffed, antimacassared armchair covered with cat hair. Can it be possible that I am a growing older – that I am the grandparent longing to live in a hothouse?
The winter solstice has come and gone. Daylight lingers longer every day. That in itself should cheer me up. And it does. If snow or fog doesn’t mask The Sangres, the sun rising in the east bathes the mountains in warming rays. With a little imagination, you can hear the timpani roll – it is the music played in Creation movies. “In the beginning… ” The only thing missing is Charlton Heston playing the part of Adam.
I fight cold and the post-holiday slump with reading books that deal with cold. Reading a biography of Ernest Shackleton‘s mis-adventures and death as he attempted to transverse the Antarctic is guaranteed to remind you of the relative nature of cold. Other mid-winter reads that I can recommend are The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley and Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag. Giants was translated from the Norwegian in 1924 and is a beautiful pice of writing – a brutal and truthful look at the Norwegian-American pioneer experience in the Dakotas.
My fourth and final recommendation is Independent People by Halldor Laxness and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1955. The story is set in Iceland in the early decades of the 20th century. It is man against nature for Bjartur, and in the end, fighting through a blizzard, he is reduced in the end to all fours, like the sheep he has searched for in vain. And you are thinking, “This is uplifting!!” Perhaps not, but the setting, the characters, and the sheer poetry of the writing will warm your heart.
Aside from a glorious sunrise and books steeped in snow, I recommend a gardening catalog to cheer you. Typically, the catalogs come between Christmas and New Years. First to arrive this year was the catalog from Gurneys Seed and Nursery (Gurneys.com) How lovely to look at the pictures and dream of warmer gardening weather.
Given Custer County’s very short growing season of a mere 90 days, the cold weather vegetables catch my eye. In my case, it is form over function. My gardening is all in my head. It is more about looking than eating. Consider this Veronica Hybrid cauliflower – ready to harvest in just 85 days. Have you ever seen a more intriguing work of art? It is more than a vegetable. I see it as a centerpiece in the middle of my table. I can imagine growing just Veronica Hybrids and having great fun at our local farmers’ market.
Forget about “perking up meals.” For me, the colors perk up my soul. Ordering the seeds now is enough to tide me over and take the blue out of the mid-winter blues.
I am not alone thinking that color symbolizes the end of winter and the emergence of spring. Poet Linda Pastan concludes her poem “Flowers” with the lines: secular lilies engorged / with scent, / notched tulips, crimson / and pink, ablaze / in the icy / corridors of winter. (You can find Pastan’s poem in its entirety by going to today’s, January third, Writers’ Almanac.)
Using Pastan’s poem as a trigger, write a piece in which color moves the reader beyond the snow and ice of winter.
Pen a journal entry which explores your personal relationship with winter.
Watch a child at-play in winter. Capture their joy. What do they experience that you have long forgotten?
Write a piece which features man against nature. Who wins?