The thermometer sat at -13 degrees at 9:45 this morning. We’ve made some improvement in the last hour; the thermometer now rests at -11, but the windchill remains -33. I am so heartened by this rise in temperature, though, I have decided to put on my snowshoes and venture outdoors. I will stay in the vicinity of the house where the trees will block a direct hit from the wind. The sunshine is my temptress — that and the fact it is Sunday, a day off work. I don’t want to waste it.
Snowbound. We are deep into winter. I snowshoed yesterday in the sun and relative warmth. The sun shone brightly after a morning snow squall. The snow lay hard on the open field worn smooth by the action of the changing wind. I hiked south on the outside perimeter of the woodlot looking for signs of life. A chickadee called from the trees. Mice and rabbit tracks spoke of nearby nests and dens. The wind played a winter melody through the oak and aspen branches. Last season’s cattails reached above drifted ditches. I lay on the snowpack to photograph their seeds parting in the wind.
“The human brain,” Thoreau wrote, “is the kernel which the winter itself matures.” I reflected upon Thoreau’s words as I paused before the work of a pileated woodpecker and analyzed the twisted artistry of a cottonwood…drifts, sculpted like stiff peaks of meringue, stretched long against the tree line. My world became a study of shadows, dark against white, as the afternoon sun waned. If I were an artist, I thought, winter would be my canvas. If I were a writer, winter would be my story. If I were a poet, winter would be my poem. As I am human, I thought, let winter be my teacher.
We are now deep into winter. I read poetry in the evenings and on weekends. I make soups from last summer’s squash. The season, begun suddenly in late-October, has acquired a certainty. Waking in the morning, I expect the cold. I am not surprised by snow squalls followed by subzero temperatures. I am not surprised by wind-biting cold; I am not surprised by the sameness of the days. In fact, I welcome the pace, slowed of summer’s activity.
“The human brain is the kernel which the winter itself matures.” As I latch my snowshoes this Sunday, I think again of Thoreau’s words, and step outdoors.
Thoreau, Henry David. The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, Vol. 6, edited by Bradford Torrey, 85. Pittsburgh: Sportsman’s Vintage Press, 2016.