The air was soft, the ground still cold. In the dull pasture where I strolled Was something I could not believe. Dead grass appeared to slide and heave, Though still too frozen-flat to stir, And rocks to twitch and all to blur. What was this rippling of the land? Was matter getting out of hand And making free with natural law, I stopped and blinked, and then I saw A fact as eerie as a dream. There was a subtle flood of steam Moving upon the face of things. It came from standing pools and springs And what of snow was still around; It came of winter’s giving ground So that the freeze was coming out, As when a set mind, blessed by doubt, Relaxes into mother-wit. Flowers, I said, will come of it. ~Richard Wilbur “April 5, 1974”
As the ground softens with the warming sun, so do I. Winter freeze was comforting as nothing appeared to change, day after day.
Neither did I, staying stolid and fixed and frozen.
But now the fixed is flexing its muscles, steaming in its labor, greening and growing transformed.
Your cold mornings are filled with the heartache about the fact that although we are not at ease in this world, it is all we have, that it is ours but that it is full of strife, so that all we can call our own is strife; but even that is better than nothing at all, isn’t it?
…rejoice that your uncertainty is God’s will and His grace toward you and that that is beautiful, and part of a greater certainty…
…be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it. ~Paul Harding in Tinkers
Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. John 21:12
It is so easy to let go of Easter — slide back into the work-a-day routine, and continue to merely survive each day with gritted teeth as we did before.
God knows this about us.
So, in our anguish and oblivion, He feeds us after He is risen, an astonishingly tangible and meaningful act of nourishing us in our most basic human needs though we’ve done nothing to deserve the gift:
Sharing a meal and breaking bread in Emmaus to open the eyes and hearts of the blinded.
Cooking up fish over a charcoal fire on a beach at dawn and inviting us to join Him.
Reminding us again and again and again – if we love Him as we say we do, we will feed His sheep.
When He offers me a meal, I will accept it with newly opened eyes of gratitude, knowing the gift He hands me is nothing less than Himself.
When it snows, he stands at the back door or wanders around the house to each window in turn and watches the weather like a lover.
O farm boy, I waited years for you to look at me that way. Now we’re old enough to stop waiting for random looks or touches or words, so I find myself watching you watching the weather, and we wait together to discover whatever the sky might bring. ~Patricia Traxler “Weather Man”
My farm boy always looked at me that way, and still does — wondering if today will bring a hard frost, a chilly northeaster, a scorcher, or a deluge, and I reassure him as best I can, because he knows me so well in our many years together: today, like every other day, will always be partly sunny with some inevitable cloud cover and always a possibility of rain.
It’s easy to love a deer But try to care about bugs and scrawny trees Love the puddle of lukewarm water From last week’s rain. Leave the mountains alone for now. Also the clear lakes surrounded by pines. People are lined up to admire them. Get close to the things that slide away in the dark. Be grateful even for the boredom That sometimes seems to involve the whole world. Think of the frost That will crack our bones eventually. ~Tom Hennen “Love for Other Things” from Darkness Sticks To Everything: Collected and New Poems
Some people complain that this constricted life — due to pandemic COVID limitations and the restrictions placed upon us — is boring.
Nothing to do, no places to go, no people to see.
Yet I haven’t been bored – not even for a minute. There is so much to see and do right in my own backyard which I rarely had time to observe and appreciate previously. Rather than spending 6-8 hours a week in my car commuting, I’m gifted that time to work at my desk, do chores on the farm, walk with the dogs, and muse about how things have changed.
One person’s boredom is another person’s liberating freedom.
But we have it easy compared to those whose jobs can’t be done from home. We can grow our own food here, but that isn’t an option for those living in a high rise. We can isolate and still maintain our connections virtually with our friends and family. I know I am blessed with options.
This COVID-tide will end eventually and our stack of responsibilities will resume, but I’m wiser than I was before. I don’t need to live life at break-neck speed. I don’t need constant entertainment and novel experiences. No longer do I need to feel indispensable because it is so completely obvious that I’m not.
I didn’t need this virus to remind me of my mortality and my shortening days on earth, yet it has.
Our time here is too brief to waste even a minute. So I live each moment to the fullest, knowing it will never come again.
The glittering roofs are still with frost; each worn Black chimney builds into the quiet sky Its curling pile to crumble silently. Far out to the westward on the edge of morn, The slender misty city towers up-borne Glimmer faint rose against the pallid blue; And yonder on those northern hills, the hue Of amethyst, hang fleeces dull as horn.
And here behind me come the woodmen’s sleighs With shouts and clamorous squeakings; might and main Up the steep slope the horses stamp and strain, Urged on by hoarse-tongued drivers–cheeks ablaze, Iced beards and frozen eyelids–team by team, With frost-fringed flanks, and nostrils jetting steam. ~Archibald Lampman “A January Morning”
The vast majority of the world no longer depends on horse power on hooves to bring us the things we need to live every day.
Few of us depend on wood heat in our homes during these chilly January nights. Chimneys have become obsolete or merely decorative.
We live in a farm house that depended solely on wood heat to keep its original family warm through decades of brisk Pacific Northwest winters – in our remodel twenty plus years ago, we removed two wood stoves and installed a propane furnace and gas stove instead – now dependent on fossil fuels but trying to keep the air clean around us.
We also no longer have to wait, as our parents and grandparents did, on teamsters with frosted beards urging on their teams of steaming horses – pulling sleighs and wagons loaded with firewood or other goods. Now, sleek semis back up to the ramps of grocery stores and off-load their cargo into warehouse and freezers so night stockers can ensure the shelves are full for shoppers each morning.
For most of us living in a time of modern and immediate conveniences, we have little connection to the original source of the daily supplies we need and how they get to us. As descendants of subsistence farmers, my husband and I feel a relationship to the land we live on, fortunate to be able to store much of our garden and orchard produce right here in our pantry, root cellar and freezer.
And what of the horses who were so critical to the economy up until a century ago? Their role has been reduced to recreation and novelty rather than providing the essential horse power that supplied the goods we needed to live and moved us where we needed to go.
No fossil fuel necessary back then. No exhaust other than steaming nostrils and a pile of manure here or there.
We are the aging bridge generation between the end of horse power on hooves giving way to universal horse power on wheels. I remind myself of this each day as I do the chores in the barn. I’m a fortunate farmer, working alongside these animals on the edge of a frosty morning, knowing few people will remember how essential they were or have the privilege to continue to care for them as they deserve.
Two days of an icy prairie fog and every blade of grass, and twig, and branch, and every stretch of wire, barb, post and staple, is a knot or a threat in a lace of the purest white. To walk is like finding your way through a wedding dress, the sky inside it cold and satiny; no past, no future, just the now all breathless. Then a red bird, like a pinprick, changes everything. ~ Ted Kooser, “Hoarfrost” in Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems
When the landscape emerges in the morning light frost-bitten, all iced up and white-crisp, I yearn for color, any color, to reappear with the day’s thawing out. My breath hangs like a cloud in the dry air as I crunch my way to the barn, living proof that I breathe for another day even though too many others right now can not.
We are a breathless people, wondering what comes next, feeling frozen and suspended in a pandemic and smoke-filled burning world.
We are a breathless people, wondering who or what will choke our life from us.
We are a breathless people, dressed as a bride in frosted satin, waiting at the altar for the Groom who bleeds red to save us from our fate.
Now constantly there is the sound, quieter than rain, of the leaves falling.
Under their loosening bright gold, the sycamore limbs bleach whiter.
Now the only flowers are beeweed and aster, spray of their white and lavender over the brown leaves.
The calling of a crow sounds Loud — landmark — now that the life of summer falls silent, and the nights grow. ~Wendell Berry “October 10” from New Collected Poems.
Mid-October and we’ve already had our first hard frost – the leaves turned almost overnight. They are letting go, swirling and swooping in the breezes and pittering to the ground like so many raindrops.
A few more cold nights and they will be dry and crunchy underfoot; it is one of life’s great pleasures to trudge through leaves ankle deep, each footstep memorably rhythmic and audible. I would never be able to sneak up on anyone outside this time of year.
Nor do I want to. Instead I want to link arms, join hands, sing and dance in the leaves to celebrate these crisp and colorful moments.
Just singing in the leaves, just singing in the leaves. What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again!
Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate To say that for destruction ice Is also great And would suffice. ~Robert Frost “Fire and Ice”
Whether we are consumed by flames or frost, if we rendered ash or crystal — both burn.
Yet ashes remain ashes, only and forever mere dust.
If encased in ice, a thaw can restore. Frozen memories sear like a sculpture meant to melt, and thereby the imprisoned are forever freed.
The cold has the philosophical value of reminding men that the universe does not love us…cold is our ancient companion. To return back indoors after exposure to the bitter, inimical, implacable cold is to experience gratitude for the shelters of civilization, for the islands of warmth that life creates. ~John Updike from an essay on the cold of winter in Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season
We’re in the midst of a string of sub-freezing temperature nights and days with crystal clear skies while a nor’easter sends the windchill plummeting.
Even though it is often called the “Arctic Express” it is not nearly the cold of the midwest plains or the Alaskan frontier. This is civilized, “kill the bugs and the allergens” cold that helps balance out the ecosystem as well as our internal thermostats. It is just not seemly to live at 70 degrees year round, toasted by the stove in the winter, soothed by conditioned air in the summer.
The cold that descends from the Arctic can blast through the strongest Carhartt clothing, sneak through drafty doors and windows, pull down power lines and freeze pipes not left dripping. It leaves no one untouched and unbitten with universal freezer burn.
A bitter cold snap ensures even independent fair-weather individualists must become companionable when the going gets rugged, mandating shelter with others for survival. It can even mean forced companionship with those we ordinarily avoid, with whom we have little in common, with whom we disagree and even quarrel, with whom sharing a hug or snuggling for warmth would be unimaginable.
Our nation is in such a cold snap today, terribly and bitterly divided. If we all together don’t come in out of the deep freeze, we each will perish alone.
It is time to be thankful we have each other, such as we are. At least we generate heat, even if we can’t seem to lighten up.
By the road to the contagious hospital under the surge of the blue mottled clouds driven from the northeast — a cold wind. Beyond, the waste of broad, muddy fields brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen
patches of standing water the scattering of tall trees
All along the road the reddish purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy stuff of bushes and small trees with dead, brown leaves under them leafless vines —
Lifeless in appearance, sluggish dazed spring approaches —
They enter the new world naked, cold, uncertain of all save that they enter. All about them the cold, familiar wind —
Now the grass, tomorrow the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined — It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf
But now the stark dignity of entrance — Still, the profound change has come upon them: rooted they grip down and begin to awaken ~William Carlos Williams “Spring and All”
January wraps up with much of the country in deep freeze, covered in snow and ice and bitter wind chill.
Yet outside begins to awaken– tender buds swelling, bulbs breaking through soil, in reentry to the world from the dark and cold.
Like a mother who holds the mystery of her quickening belly, so hopeful and marveling, she knows soon and very soon there will be spring.