February 6, 2014

A Hard Winter

Geese float down from the sky in wavering V formations, their raucous honking filling the air with discordant riffs worked out over millions of years. They settle onto a nearby field and work in silence, gleaning the remnants of last year's corn crop through a thin layer of crusty snow.

It's been a hard winter. One storm after another. Last week's was spun out of a polar vortex, bitterly cold air that produced light powdery snow perfect for skiing and shoveling. This week's storm carried in moister air from from the tropics that made for large flakes that quickly aggregated into dense-packed snow that pulled against the shoulders as you tried to lift the shovel ... what folks call a heart attack snow. We are expecting another by the end of the week. And another after that.

I think back to childhood days in New England, when winter routinely came and stayed for long visits. I remember the intense silence of wintry landscapes, where the only sound was of dripping water thickening into icicles that would hang like fruit, waiting to be plucked. Bundled up from head to toe by harried mothers eager to get the kids out of the house, we run out and quickly gather up small bits of snow on the end of our woolen mittens and delicately lick at it with outstretched tongue. Then we would confirm that it was cold by studying the mist that formed when we exhaled the warm air from our lungs in large puffs. Dry snow crunched underfoot as we pulled our sleds back up the hill for another run. Snow-covered marshes and fields stretched out to a horizon that drew a sharp line across a clear blue sky that seemed as endless as winter itself.

The child is grown ... the dream not quite gone. For all of the aggravations of winter, there is a beauty in the stillness of the silent snow before which the universe surrenders. Coming home last night, I looked across a nearby farm to a line of ice-covered trees at the foot of the mountain, forming waves of delicate white fans glowing softly in the fading afternoon light, a Japanese print come to life ... ineffable beauty as fleeting as the melting ice that would soon be gone.

Geese Under a Winter Sky

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