In the long dark of winter, I usually long for sun and rain and melt. Like a grouse, I hunker down below the snow, wait out the storms, and dream of spring. After every snowfall, the New England trees shudder, straighten up, and release their burdens in a slightly longer day and a slightly warmer sun.
Like the trees, we weather our nor’easter, shake off the foot of snow, and venture out into the bitter cold and screaming wind that so often follow such storms. It feels like winter today. Yet, it is also one of very few days that feel like winter of late. Just a few days ago, ice and snow came in the night, but it melted into 40-degree rain by morning.
As it has a dozen times this past month. Instead of the deep winter of January and February, we seem to be stuck in a protracted April. January showers bring February showers bring March showers; winter wanders farther north in search of more hospitable conditions
Winter Solstice: the start of a season that came in early, as it so often has (though less often lately). The darkest day of the year, and in dark times. Yet also, halfway out of the darkness. From here, as the winter settles over the landscape, we are just waiting for the Spring and new growth.
Yet I love the contrasts of winter. The bitter winds and deep snow bury the landscape, making everything at once more dynamic and more still. The woods seem deeper, and yet more welcoming. The mountains seem higher, and yet more fulfilling. The cold is chilling, but invigorating.
I met a wonderful man from Iran the other day, and he told me that his family celebrates the new year in the Spring—when everything is new and reborn; when celebration is warranted and longed for. In this country, we celebrate the new year in the dark.
Yet, I think the dark times make everything more meaningful. Only that which is most firmly itself can carry through.
Image Credit: My own
I love hiking above treeline. But perhaps more than that, I love hiking above cloudline.
Here in New England, getting above the clouds is a rare gift. It’s not that our clouds never come in low and heavy; they do, and often. In fact, our clouds are monstrously unpredictable, sometimes building up to unreachable heights, sometimes collapsing damp and tired in the valleys, sometimes racing by far above as trailing wisps or untidy cannonballs.
But our peaks are comparatively low, so it takes a special sort of day to get above the clouds. It takes a day when the clouds are wet and heavy, weighed down by exhaustion from a storm the day before, and with brilliant sun and wind at their backs. Then, if you’re lucky, and you don’t mind climbing through the mist, you may find yourself in an inverted sky.
Spring in New England has always felt like a tug-of-war between winter and summer. Some years, April brings harsher winter weather than March, even harsher than we’ve had since December. Other years, it feels like summer arrives early and April is more like a June without shade. Most years, regardless, there is a cascade of clean snowmelt off the peaks and mountainsides, flushing the forests and brookbeds of winter’s accumulated detritus. Most years, the melting snow is a cue for us to wake, and stretch, and explore.
This year there is no snow to melt.