Sunday, January 06, 2013


It was looking like we weren't going to have winter this year. I harvested my last tomatoes in mid-December before the first frost, more than a month after it should have come. No winter to speak of last year.

D.C. was cold. The temperatures were mostly in the 40's, at least one day in the 30's. Which wouldn't have been so bad except for the wind. Relentless wind. And rain - and cold, and wind - one day. Bundle up. Coat, scarf, hat, gloves. Brace yourself as you walk out the door. Walk quickly.

Since we got back, there has been winter, at least as Texans define it. This morning the sun rose into a sky so clear, so blue. The sunlight dazzled, the thin frost on the planks of the porch sparkling like glitter.

As much as I complain about how much I hate being cold - and I do - there's something I love about winter. I should say that I've never suffered through a real winter. I'm sure I would purely hate the endlessness of bone deep cold and wind and snow that piles up and just stays, lumpy and dirty, for days or weeks. I don't want to even think about having to spend an entire winter in Chicago or Ottawa.

But Texas winter, Pacific Northwest winter, that is something I can appreciate. When I lived out in the woods near Snohomish, Washington, my roommate and I lived in a vacation cabin with electric heat. Electricity was expensive, wood was cheap, so we bought a cord of wood so we could use the fireplace to stay warm. Melody told the guy we bought the wood from not to split it because she thought splitting wood would be "fun." Then she went back to Louisiana.

Where the cabin was

Every day I split wood. Probably not the way you're supposed to split wood. I'd balance the log on its end by smashing it into a puddle with a layer of ice on top of it. The ice and the mud would hold it upright while I swung the axe from overhead down onto it with a satisfying crash.

Every day I had a reason why I had to be outdoors, doing something, no matter how much I hate being cold. When I look back at those few months in the northwest woods, being outdoors in the cold, frozen puddles, sometimes an inch or two of snow, splitting wood under the towering Douglas firs are some of my best memories.

A few years later I was outside in the Texas hill country's winter cold, smashing wooden motorcycle crates apart for my wood stove. A golden field of winter's dead grasses stretching to the line of dark green cedars along the creekbed.

In recent years it's been dog walking that got me outside in the winter on a regular basis. It's always good to have a reason why I have to go out in the winter. Because I really do hate being cold, and I won't leave the warmth of indoors if I don't have to.

And if I don't go outside in the winter, there's so much I wouldn't see. The light is different in the winter. Sparkling crisp light like this morning's, or grey gloom other days, but always different from the light at any other time of year. Trees' bare limbs. Piles of brown leaves filling gardens. Squirrels and birds so easy to see in the leafless trees.

It's beauty I'd miss.

I love this movie. This scene . . . it's so hard to be so honest. It's hard to say something like this out loud for fear of being thought pretentious and sentimental. But we think these things, yes? The beauty of a plastic bag dancing in the wind  ". . . when it's minute away from snowing . . . ."

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