The horses showered the fine dry snow on the faces of those in the sledge — beside them sounded the quick ringing bells and they caught confused glimpses of swiftly moving legs and the shadows of the troyka they were passing. The whistling sound of the runners on the snow and the voices of girls shrieking, were heard from different sides.
Again checking his horses, Nicholas looked around him. They were still surrounded by the magic plain bathed in moonlight and spangled in stars.
my fingers urge me to write; To spill this electronic ink.
My companion, a middle-aged border collie, nestles up to my side seeking a scratch under his chin. The music of Sting’s Mercury Falling surround my ears. I’m seeking the embrace of a winter hearth; warm shelter from the hounds of winter.
Forty years ago, in a cinema in Morton Illinois, I marveled at the opening Hoth scenes from The Empire Strikes Back. It was my first cinema experience, the story and imagery instilled a love of snow and winter. Winter is where the rebels gather.
Yet there must be more?
My father made a wooden sled with four runners. You could steer with the front two. Before, we’d go out, we’d rub wax paper on the runners, ensuring we’d have the fastest sled on the hill.
I’ve carted that sled to many hills. And zipped down one or two at a time. As I trudged up the sides of the hill, I lament those who would walk up the middle of a sledding hill, destroying the smooth slick ice that gave the best run.
Or perhaps it’s that one day stomping through knee high snow as I walked to kindergarten. I remember the stinging cheeks, certainly red and cold, as I ploughed my way to that brick and steel school building. I felt a sense of achievement, I had overcome winter’s wrath. I was part of the rebellion trudging Hoth’s bleak lanscape arriving at the enemy base.
Maybe it’s the quiet hush of fresh snow at midnight. In those moments, muting and silencing the machines of commerce and industry. Only the rustling sounds of the wind dancing through the oak leaves that still cling to their branches. Those nights, I hear the aching softness in the air.
What about that one Saturday at Camp Friedenswald when the day’s sun turned the night’s sled run to ice? We raced further onto the flats than anyone ever before.
It could also be our annual January visits with friends in remote Vermont; Gathering around a ceramic stove with its bed of coals. Each of us laughing as we make tasty Chinese dumplings.
Certainly there’s the anticipation and winter’s deliverance of reprieve from school or work. The gifted day that is a Snow Day
Could it be that one day at the office? That February when one the company owners said “Hey, it’s snowing real hard, let’s knock off work and go sledding. I’ll buy the pizza afterwards.”
With everyone else in school or at work, we sledded down the hill for an hour or two. That day no one walked up the middle of the sledding run, something I’ve never seen before nor since.
Or maybe it was that bitter cold winter in the last year of high school, when factories and schools closed. That day, only one friend’s car started. There’s was the one with a broken heating element, so they taxied us in their icy chariot to a friends house. There we gathered and played a 10 hour session of Dungeons and Dragons—Second Edition if you must know.
I suppose it could also be that day working at Penn State’s campus, when the university was closed, but my fellow Samverans and I hacked on code and played hackeye sack in an old Raytheon building.
As the years drift by, I realize the allure of winter is its apparent permanence. Spring arrives. Summer fades. And autumn falls.
Yet winter sets in. A visitor, with white blanket and dark cloak, driving me inward. No lawn to mow nor weeds to pick, simply a world resplendent in its naked beauty.
In Northern Indiana, it’s hard to escape the grizzled aging collective memories of the Blizzard of ‘78. I didn’t live here then. If I did, I wonder if I, as a toddler, would’ve remembered that blizzard. I suspect I would. Snow is magic.
The collective memory of that blizzard clings as a perenial touchstone of winter life in Northern Indiana. But as time slides by, fewer remember that storm, relying instead on the recitation of talking heads and the gray haired elders.
The illusory permanence of winter hides the subtle changes. Winter transforms water, the essence of life, through shapes to its shapeless retreat.
Here, we even change our walk. Winters step is slower, with one leg perpendicular to the ground and the other reaching just a foot forward. Important is ensuring your torso forms a straight line with that perpendicular foot, then to shift once that forward foot finds fixity.
The daring will slide a small hut onto ice and drill for fish. Inside this diminuitive version of their home they seek shelter on the impermanent. Yet as in life, there is no lasting shelter.
Those that can, lower their gear to 2 and drive themselves just a bit slower. Relying on ratios of physics to stay under that coefficient of friction. Failure, as my daughter found out, can mean a few spins, shattered mailboxes, and a ride in an ambulance.
And that fresh blanket of fluff and powder? If the grey cloud lords grant the sun a moment, that radiant spirit makes haste to bake the powder into a crusty brittle layer of icing. Instead of the padded footfalls on fresh snow, you hear the bracing crunch of breaking ice.
I lament that some municipalities are closing their sledding runs. It appears that our litigious nature must kill all joy in its futile effort to chase away risk.
And beneath the snow, the warm ever changing earth gently drinks; Refreshing aquifer and the once baked clay.
In a few weeks, buckets will collect the sticky sap of the day’s thaw. Those buckets rely on the rise and fall of mercury, a dance interrupted by springs first thrust.
I knew that my grand parents had a sugar shack just southwest of where I write. I remember a faded photo, perhaps from a newspaper clipping, showing my grandparents stirring the large cauldron of sap turned syrup.
Here, we need winter. I need winter.
Winter is a time for introversion; To gather words, energy, and fellow travellers for the hastening changes to come.