the icicles must be considering a strike: one day they’re dripping away, growing into winter’s stalactites, next day they’re on their way to oblivion, drop by splashy drop–an existence tied to the rise and the fall of the mercury. same with the slush. hasn’t a clue what form it should take, though frozen or slop, it’s all shades of gray. gray and grayer.
it’s a postcard of winter worn-thin, only we’re the ones worn to the bone, gasping for hope, muttering foul grunts as we jam our toes into our boots (our boots taking on that february aroma, the one that begs to be cloaked, doused, or disguised under a thin veil of anything gentler on the nose).
i’ve long been convinced that february is the shortest month–interrupted by the national explosion of valentine hearts, and chocolate-doused brownies–for a reason. and the reason is plain old survival. we might throw in the towel if we had to stick with it any longer than 28 days (some wisecracker somehow decided long, long ago to sneak in that make-up 29th, but only every four years, the next being two years from now).
all of that is to say, i sense we might be in need of something akin to spiritual transfusion, a hearty reminder of why it is some of us preach winter as the soulful season. (um, that would be me, i confess.) so as i sit here contemplating ways to make it through to the ides of march, and the onslaught of april, i thought i’d bring in the masters for a little shot of espresso-strength reminder: this is good for the soul, all this dreariness out the window. (and those of you reading under the swaying of palm trees, exercise compassion–in the form of imagining a landscape where trees look like so many uninspired sticks, the earth is covered in gray, and the wrong step on the sidewalk can send you flailing and broken, splat on the ground.)
let us begin with rilke, who insisted this is the season for tending to the inner garden of the soul. or albert camus, who wrote, “in the depths of winter, i finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” (sunscreen and popsicles must be hiding somewhere down in the toes of my snow boots.)
but for a wintry vitamin in the form of wisdom, i’m walking into the woods with h.d. thoreau, who left this reminder:
There is a slumbering subterranean fire in nature which never goes out, and which no cold can chill…. What fire could ever equal the sunshine of a winter’s day, when the meadow mice come out by the wallsides, and the chicadee lisps in the defiles of the wood? The warmth comes directly from the sun, and is not radiated from the earth, as in summer; and when we feel his beams on our backs as we are treading some snowy dell, we are grateful as for a special kindness, and bless the sun which has followed us into that by-place.
This subterranean fire has its altar in each man’s breast, for in the coldest day, and on the bleakest hill, the traveller cherishes a warmer fire within the folds of his cloak than is kindled on any hearth. A healthy man, indeed, is the complement of the seasons, and in winter, summer is in his heart. There is the south. Thither have all birds and insects migrated, and around the warm springs in his breast are gathered the robin and the lark.–Henry David Thoreau, “A Walk in Winter”
and so, he reminds, here in the deep of winter, summer stirs in the heart. he goes on to declare that “in winter we lead a more inward life. our hearts are warm and cheery, like cottages under drifts, whose windows and doors are half concealed, but from whose chimneys the smoke cheerfully ascends.”
i’m taking that as a challenge, this notion that my heart is puffing up cheery whirls of smoke from its cheery little cottage. in fact, i am marching straight to the stack of blankets there on my couch, surrendering to the notion that a long day’s reading is just what the transcendentalist ordered.
he leaves us with prescription:
We must go out and re-ally ourselves to Nature every day. We must make root, send out some little fibre at least, even every winter day. I am sensible that I am imbibing health when I open my mouth to the wind. Staying in the house breeds a sort of insanity always. Every house is in this sense a hospital. A night and a forenoon is as much confinement to those wards as I can stand. I am aware that I recover some sanity which I had lost almost the instant that I come [outdoors].–Thoreau
guess it’s time to slip on my stinky boots and embark into this slushy february day.
how do you re-stoke your wintry hearth come the depth of this shortest month?
**image above is from a page of a children’s book i pulled from our shelves (i will not give up those shelves of books i know by heart, forward and backward), one titled, A Winter Place, by Ruth Yaffe Radin, with illustrations by Mattie Lou O’Kelley.