It snowed last week, a gentle fall of powder that covered the ground, softened the world, made indistinct all the hard shapes and the sharp edges. It lay, undisturbed, for a day—maybe two—for my children are almost grown and past the stage of frantic snowball fights and rolled-up snowmen and determined tromping across pristine stretches of beautiful white. So it snowed, and we enjoyed the beauty of it, until we had visitors, among them my niece, age six, all motion and movement and questions and imagination, and my son took her by the hand, and together they walked through the yard, making short, deep footprints like wild animals stalking through the snowy wilds, and quick, scuttling prints like ferocious dinosaurs, and long, gliding prints like skaters and dancers and pirates, because pirates glide, of course they do, according to my niece, all swashbuckling grace and nimble fierceness, and at the end of it all they flopped on the ground and made snow angels, with wide, sweeping motions of arms and legs and delighted laughs from a six year old with a pink hat, pink glasses, and a pink nose. It was, I think, a vast improvement to the landscape.
Let us consider, you and I, the winter, with its wailing wind and soft falling snow, the drift and drafts and dark of short days. Let us talk of silence and sleep and soft edged wonder, of walks punctuated with the slipshod crackle of salt and silt and slick iced surfaces made hard. Let us talk of winds that rattle through the brush and bracken, of the bare branches that tap on the side of our windows, a morse code of percussive pats and taps and slips and slides, the air in translation, a promise and a premonition that speaks loneliness and isolation, but enacts interdependence, makes material the natural world, and underneath it all the quickening of the sacred, the spiritual, the sacraments of snow and sun as we await the return of long days full of the warmth of growing things.
I have been informed by my children, who know such things, because of course they do, there is no one as full of bluster and belief as young people who are new to exploring this great and sacred life, and in their confident certainty of how things are and how things should be, they have told me that no one loves winter. That, if one is to have a favorite season, it is more appropriate to embrace the soft rains of a gentle spring, or the blistering heat of long summer days, or the blaze of brilliant light and color that is fall, and yet, despite their assertions to the contrary, I love the cold, the dark, the short days and long nights, the ways in which we are forced to come together, for warmth, for nourishment, for the communion of companionship. I should find it too long and too empty, for I love to garden, and there is little to do while the land lies frozen. But winter has become, for me, a beautiful observance, a stint of seasonal symbolism, a ritual of dark and chill that highlights the ways we choose to embrace light, each one of us a flickering flame in the long, cold night.
There is a spiritual quality to winter, I think. A shiver of silence that seems holy. An air of grace and celebration, of glorious contemplation and expectation and anticipation. I think of the verse in Job, where the Lord commands the snow, “Be thou on the Earth,” even as Job is commanded to “consider the wondrous works of God,” and I can’t help but consider the season itself wondrous, for the connections we make, one to another, when we have little else to do. It is important work, this connecting and conversing and coming together. This rest. This season of waiting. This symbolism of the land made barren and bare, while we revel in the healing, the renewing, the restoring, the rebuilding. The miracle of what lies beneath white, blank drifts, our landscape vanished—plants not dead but sleeping, resilient, faith made manifest in a knowledge that new life will grow, that the cold and frozen landscape will give way to gentle spring suns and the blossoming green tendrils of life peeking out from under even the latest of spring storms.
Hope, endurance, love, these things all spring forth from frozen fields, from fallow land at rest, when, with the fullness of harvest past, land and life is furrowed, turned over and tucked in, tended and bedded and made ready for respite. For meditation. For anticipation.
For allowing each one of us the time to ruminate on the fullness and wholeness of living. It is this knowledge that leads me to page through seed catalogs during the darkest parts of the winter season, to plan the layout of my garden beds even when they are buried under two feet drifts, to envision plants grown lush and full and fertile.
To enact faith. To enjoy a time for slowing down. For contemplating. For waiting.
In the short, gray days of January, I see hundreds of birds in the windblown tops of the trees, wheeling low over the barren ground to land and walk on their bone stick feet, wobbling unsteadily over dirty drifts, scratching through the snow to the soil beneath, leaving marks like pterodactyls, like ancient hieroglyphs, like maps to be read and puzzled over and decoded as they search for sustenance and straw and seed, and through the disturbed landscape I see slashes of dark dirt, rich and fertile, waiting for a new season, for warmth, for hands to delve deep and plant. And over them the faint marks of arms and legs, of angels made from ice and snow.