Monday, January 31, 2011

Cold Comfort

Ice hung off the eaves of the carport like jagged dragon teeth in a pre-schooler’s drawing of scary. Stiff and unresponsive to the wind that came rushing across the field and crying like a banshee, the ice-covered limbs of the sycamore tree could have been the dragon’s claws, sharp and pointed and crooked at awkward angles. Standing in the doorway, huddled inside my overcoat, I would have welcomed a quick puff of the dragon’s fire breath – just enough to break the chill until I could get into the car.

I nearly slipped going down the steps, muttered something unintelligible even to myself. I cranked the car, turned on the wipers, discovered that what I thought was water on the windshield was, in fact, ice. I turned on the defroster and waited. The glass got warmer; I didn’t. I tucked my gloved hands into my armpits. It didn’t help.

Once on the road, the tires crunched the ice and the frozen ground. The car seemed to move forward without traction, like a train skidding smoothly down a rail. The scenery was all white. I was in a lace bubble.

That was two weeks ago.

The deck was still wet with two days’ rain and the ground was soggy and slick. The wind was whipping around like a lariat in the hands of a rodeo cowboy and the sycamore tree limbs jerked back and forth in a St. Vitas dance of erratic jolts and twitches. Strands of my hair got caught in the free-for-all, snagged in my eyelashes, nearly inhaled as I gasped at the gust that rushed under the carport just as I opened the door.

When I turned on the windshield wipers they swiped easily across the cellophane-thin layer of water, leaving the glass completely clear, but for the thin squiggles sliding down the far sides like red wigglers out of a bait bucket. The road was muddy; the tires sank in the ooze of ruts already eight or ten inches deep. It made me think of the valley a four-year-old’s finger makes in still-warm cake icing.

That was this morning.

Winter. Not my favorite season. It is cold and dark. It is claustrophobic. It is too long. But it has its moments.

Like last Sunday afternoon. I could stand the incarceration no longer and went to get the dogs. They were as eager to get outside as was I and the three of us set out like kids at recess, eager and breathless. The breeze was a tad cool, but gentle, licking at my face and their fur. The few bird calls we heard came darting through the crisp air in irregular rhythms and the winter light, that angled laser that can transform frost directly into mist without becoming water, was so sharp that it made everything in the landscape look as though it were drawn by a pin-prick sharp No. 2 pencil.

I found a dead bird in the middle of the road and stopped to be amazed at the infinitesimal number of feathers, each one shaded in three different colors, that came together to make three broad horizontal bands. I found a scrub oak, no more than three feet high, growing in the sandy ditch and sprouting tiny acorns the size of a thimble. The dogs found an armadillo to chase into the branch, only to lose as it burrowed into perfectly round hole, and still came away with their tongues wagging in that gleeful, generous dog way.

It is four miles to the highway and back. (The dogs don’t go quite that far; they stop when they get in sight of the asphalt – something telling them that they don’t belong there – and wait for me to circle around.) It is a good distance for walking and, on this day, for finding things. I found beauty in death and promise in smallness. The dogs found joy in the unattainable. And we all found a vision of winter that was something more than cold.

Winter. Not my favorite season. But, like everything, it has its moments.

Copyright 2011

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